In a sunny qualifying session in Monaco on Friday, Hitech’s Gabriele Minì stormed to the top of qualifying by a margin of six tenths to take his second pole position in three F3 races. Here’s what the first FIA F3 polesitter in the principality had to say after his fantastic performance.
By Daniele Spadi
Despite reporting issues in free practice on Thursday, Alpine Academy’s Minì looked in total control as he went out on track in the second group of qualifying, leading the majority of the session before putting up the impressive 1:23.278 that got him pole position. It put him 0.602 seconds ahead of Dino Beganovic, Group A’s fastest driver, and 0.874 seconds ahead of Paul Aron, his nearest rival in Group B.
Qualifying in Monaco in other championships has tended to be a close affair, but so dominant was Minì that his second- and third-best times were still marginally faster than Aron’s best attempt. His pole position margin, meanwhile, was the second largest in FIA F3 history behind only Jack Doohan’s 2021 pole position by 0.704 seconds at a wet Spa-Francorchamps – a circuit more than twice the length of Monaco.
Minì is currently third in the standings, 28 points off championship leader Gabriel Bortoleto, but his qualifying performance showed why he should be considered the Trident driver’s main rival at this point in the season.
“It was a really good lap, and doing it in Monaco feels very special,” Minì said after qualifying. “On the second to last push lap, I [made] a few mistakes, so I wasn’t really happy with it. But if there is a lap you can take more risks, it’s the last lap, so I did.”
On a track like Monaco, it’s crucial for a driver to find the rhythm early on in the session and start to push as their confidence grows – and Minì did just that. His laps kept getting better and better during the session, and the Hitech driver eventually put it all together in the final run, improving by almost a full second and setting a time that was unbeatable for the rest of the drivers in his group.
“I had some moments in the first laps [when] I was just trying to understand the setup of the car. But on the last lap, I had moments pretty much in every corner. It was a very risky lap, but I managed to stay out of the wall and to put in on pole.”
A fantastic day
Because of this weekend’s unique qualifying format, Minì was assigned to participate in the second part of qualifying. He therefore knew what time Prema’s Dino Beganovic had set to top the timesheets in the first group.
“Knowing the lap time the others have done, you can set a lap time for yourself to try and beat,” Minì explained. “We knew what the plan was going to be, so I just did what me and the team planned [before the session], and it worked pretty well.”
Though F3 held in-season tests at Imola and Barcelona in April, the series was coming off a seven-week break from racing after the cancellation of the Imola race weekend. That, along with Monaco’s known difficulty, made it even harder for drivers to return to racing.
“It’s not the easiest thing to arrive in Monaco after a month and a half of not being in the car,” Minì admitted to Feeder Series. “It was the first time for us with these tyres and in the wet with these cars, so [it wasn’t] the easiest task.… It only shows the drivers’ skill to adapt real quick.”
A return to the principality
Though Formula 3 is visiting Monaco for the first time, 12 out of its 30 drivers have already raced here in the Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine (FRECA) and predecessor series Formula Renault Eurocup. Minì was on the starting grid in both 2021 and 2022 in FRECA, finishing third in race 2 last season – his best result in Monaco thus far.
“From the previous years, we’ve all had good and bad memories. For me, the first year didn’t go so well. I just got two points in the whole weekend. Last year, I also lost pole position basically in the last sector, so today was kind of redemption day.”
Though Minì has raced around these streets before, he did so in the Tatuus F3 T-318, which is markedly different to the Dallara F3 2019 he now races. Nevertheless, he recognised the importance of experience at Monaco, s both he and his main two rivals in today’s qualifying, Prema’s Dino Beganovic and Paul Aron, have finished on the podium before in FRECA.
“It’s pretty different driving [the F3 car] compared to the Formula Regional. The car has the same weight, but it has got much softer tyres, much more power and aerodynamics. It’s much quicker, and you have to take much bigger risks,” Minì explained.
“Since we all have some experience from previous years, we knew more or less what we needed to do for quali. … Of course it makes it easier, but in the end the job needs to be done when it matters, which is always hard whether you have experience or not.”
Minì also talked about the circuit itself at the end of his qualifying efforts.
“Having Monaco in the calendar is something really special. I think it’s one of my favourite tracks, and for sure I’m not the only one to say this,” he said. “I think the hardest part [of the circuit] is the slow section after sector 1 because it’s the one where, by making really small changes, you can gain or lose so much time [as] it’s the slowest part. And then sector 3 because it’s the end of the lap, and especially if you’re on a good lap, you [get] there with some pressure – plus the tyres are already too hot and out of the temperature window we kind of aim for.”
Two very different races ahead
Though taking pole here is perhaps more important than at any other circuit on the FIA F3 calendar, Minì knows that it’s only a small part of the job. Sure, starting at the front of the field will be massively helpful on a street circuit as narrow as Monaco, but there’s still a lot for Minì to do to leave the principality with as many points to his name as possible.
“It’s really tricky to overtake in Monaco,” he explained. “We’ve seen in past races where the leader was three seconds slower but still maintained the lead. I think [pole position] is 50 percent of the job done, but then a lot will be [done] at the start because we know if you start P1 but you drop to P2 after the first corner, that’s pretty much what your finishing order will be.”
Before starting from pole in Sunday’s feature race, the Hitech driver will be hoping to make up as many places as possible in the sprint race from 12th on the grid.
“Tomorrow will be about getting experience and getting data in order to be able to push in the feature race, which is the one where you get the [most] points,” Minì said when asked about Saturday’s strategy. “I think especially for me that I start in P12, apart from Turn 1, there is no real reason to take big risks since I would have to gain two positions [to get into the points], and we know in Monaco it’s pretty complicated to do that.”
As for Sunday’s race, Minì says, “I just want to try to get a better start than the others, trying to be in front after Turn 1, and in Monaco it’s all about not crashing during the race because it’s pretty hard to overtake.”
Header photo credit: Formula Motorsport Limited
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