De Palo shines, Sztuka stays ahead: 4 takeaways from FWS Round 2

After Kapcer Sztuka dominated the opening round at the Circuito de Jerez last week, the Polish driver faced stiff competition in the second round of the Formula Winter Series. With five new faces on the starting grid, Matteo De Palo impressed the most, taking a race victory to tighten the championship fight. Feeder Series dives into some takeaways from the second round of the Formula Winter Series in Valencia.

By Grégoire Devaux

After the huge success of the first round of the brand-new Formula Winter Series in Jerez, another famous circuit welcomed the second round of the championship, as the drivers headed to the Circuito Ricardo-Tomo in Valencia.

AS Motorsport only fielded one driver, as Luca Roth doesn’t have a licence to compete in races, but five new drivers would expand the grid to a total of 15 cars. Female drivers Nerea Martí and Maite Cáceres competed alongside De Palo for Campos Racing.

Another new team, Phynsis by Argenti, joined the Formula Winter Series in this round. They came with three cars, driven by British F4 driver Isaac Barashi alongside Patrick Heuzenroeder and Jaden Pariat.

A rookie on top

One of the new drivers that we got to discover this weekend was De Palo. After some post-season testing over the last few months, the Italian driver has recently been confirmed to take part in the upcoming Spanish F4 season with Campos.

The Formula Winter Series is therefore an opportunity for him to get some experience and make his competitive debut in single-seaters, after stepping up from karting. Against the much more experienced Sztuka, who was far ahead of everyone in the opening round in Jerez, De Palo exceeded all expectations.

After topping three of the four free practice sessions, the Campos driver was again the quickest in both qualifying sessions, taking pole position for both races. Being the fastest in free practice and qualifying is one thing, but managing the pressure and tyres throughout a race is quite another. But De Palo managed to achieve both of these things, leading the first race from start to finish, breaking Sztuka’s streak of victories.

White car crossing the line while the chequered flag is waved
De Palo dominated Race 1 of Round 2 of Formula Winter Series in Valencia | Credit: Daniel Bürgin – Formula Winter Series

After winning Race 1 in such a dominant fashion, expectations were high for the second race. Unfortunately, the Italian driver’s car stalled at the start, dropping him all the way down to twelfth place. But what could have signified the end of the race for some drivers was just the start of a fantastic rise up the field for De Palo, showing all of his skills throughout the 30-minute race.

There were no less than four safety car interruptions within this time, but the rookie still managed to make his way up to fifth place. There is no doubt that he could have grasped more spots and risen even higher up the grid if the race hadn’t ended on a safety car period.

Race 2 saw Sztuka come back to his winning ways, having now topped three of the four races of the season so far. De Palo could have been a fierce rival for the two remaining rounds of the championship, but unfortunately the round in Valencia is the only one that he will compete in, so it seems that Sztuka now has a high possibility of winning the inaugural season of the Formula Winter Series.

The last two rounds of the championship will take place after the private testing deadline for the Spanish F4 championship, and consequently De Palo, along with Drivex duo Maximiliano Restrepo and Juan Cota, will not take part in the remainder of the Formula Winter Series.

However, Feeder Series has learned that Campos and Drivex might still compete in the remainder of the championship, with there being a possibility of fielding drivers from the newly created F1 Academy.

Track limit issues

The opening round of the Formula Winter Series in Jerez was particularly clean. There were no crashes, penalties, or collisions between drivers, and both races went smoothly without a single safety car procedure. This second round was quite the opposite, to say the least. Out of the fifteen drivers, seven received a track limits penalty in Valencia.

Heuzenroeder, one of the new drivers competing with Phynsis by Argenti, ended the day with a total of six track limit penalties across the two races. Despite good qualifying sessions – respectively starting in sixth and seventh position – the Australian driver finished thirteenth in the first race due to two track limits penalties. The second race was definitely no better for him, receiving four penalties and finishing dead last.

Driver in a red helmet sat in the cockpit of a blue race car
Heuzenroeder received multiple track limit penalties throughout the round | Credit: Daniel Bürgin – Formula Winter Series

The Phynsis by Argenti driver wasn’t the only one to have his races ruined by track limits penalties. Teammate Pariat received three 5-second penalties, resulting in him finishing last in the first race. At the end of the day, the only drivers who had managed to avoid receiving a track limit penalty were the four US Racing drivers, as well as De Palo, Restrepo and AKM Motorsport teammates Carl Bennett and Tina Hausmann.

AKM Motorsport’s troubles

Last week in Jerez, Hausmann made AKM Motorsport proud, concluding a sensational weekend by achieving a podium in her competitive debut in single-seaters. However, even though the San Marinese team managed to successfully avoid receiving any track limit penalties, the second round in Valencia ended up being a nightmare for both the Swiss driver and the whole team.

Hausmann had difficulty getting used to the challenging track, making only one appearance in the top 10 during the final practice session, but Bennett managed to show more potential, making an appearance in the top 5 during free practice. The team had some hope of redemption for the races on Sunday when he qualified in seventh place.

Red, white and black car on track in Valencia
Carl Bennett had a difficult weekend in Valencia, retiring from Race 2 | Credit: Daniel Bürgin – Formula Winter Series

However, it proved to be a difficult race, and a 10-second penalty would drop him down to ninth position. Hausmann, starting from the thirteenth spot on the grid, also received a 10-second penalty, after a collision with Heuzenroeder. She ended up retiring the car just before the end of the race.

In the second race, a mechanical issue forced the Swiss driver, whose performances were a revelation in the first round, to retire the car once again, after only three laps. During a race filled with safety car periods, Bennett also collided with Heuzenroeder after a spin from the Thai driver. A second spin marked the end of his race, concluding a round to forget for AKM Motorsport.

A dramatic Race 2

The San Marinese outfit weren’t the only ones to have some trouble in the second race. After dominating the first race of the day, De Palo saw his dream of a perfect weekend vanish as he stalled on the grid in the second race, allowing Sztuka to storm ahead and take the win. Even though Sztuka dominated the race from start to finish, it was nonetheless entertaining, but the four safety cars unfortunately reduced the racing time.

The first safety car came out following Hausmann’s engine problem, and even though the Swiss driver initially managed to get the car working again, it switched off once again a lap later, resulting in a second safety car being sent out. As we got back racing again, Sztuka remained unstoppable in front, while De Palo’s rise up the field offered us some fascinating battles. His fight with Alvise Rodella and Heuzenroeder for the eighth spot was the most notable of these.

A yellow car on track in front of a white car and a blue car
De Palo battled for eighth place with Rodella and Heuzenroeder | Credit: Daniel Bürgin – Formula Winter Series

However, De Palo’s progression was halted by Bennett’s spin, which forced the AKM driver to retire. Following this, an incident between Barashi and Restrepo caused another safety car period, which the race would finish under. This resulted in a full US Racing podium, made up of Sztuka, Frederik Lund and Gianmarco Pradel. With three wins out of the first four races of the championship, Sztuka now has a 33-point lead in the standings, ahead of his teammates Lund, Pradel and Ruiqi Liu.

De Palo and Cota, who are currently sitting in fifth and sixth position in the standings, will not take part in the remaining rounds of the championship. As we are now halfway through the championship, the drivers will get a one-week break before another double header early in March. The grid will head to the Circuito de Navarra, before the season finale in Barcelona a week later.

Feeder Series learned that while the addition of Monlau and Rodin-Carlin to the championship is still not confirmed, Jenzer Motorsport will be joining from the third round, ensuring some new faces, competition, and potential surprises for the end of the first-ever Formula Winter Series, which has exceeded expectations so far.

Header image credit: Daniel Bürgin – Formula Winter Series


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