DRIVER NEWS: Al Khalifa enjoys Spa debut despite weekend of mixed conditions
DRIVER NEWS: Bahraini racing driver Salman Al Khalifa enjoyed his first ever visit to Spa at the weekend despite adverse weather severely affecting the British F3 International Series’ visit to the Belgian circuit.
Al Khalifa, racing for new team T-Sport for just the second time, improved his overall performance significantly from the last round at Brands Hatch and maintained his place in the top six of the National Class standings.
Having qualified an impressive fourth in class for Friday’s first race, the 2005 Formula BMW Asia champion was unfortunate to lose a couple of places when avoiding an incident heading into Eau Rouge early in the race. However, he was able to battle back to finish fifth, ahead of five of the top-category championship class cars as well as several of his National Class rivals.
Race two took place on Saturday and was ruined for everyone by torrential downpours throughout the 30 minutes. Having started behind the safety car due to the volume of water on the track, racing got underway after a couple of sighter-laps, but still in horrendous conditions. As racing began Al Khalifa made slight contact with Fortec Motorsport’s Leo Mansell, whilst trying to pass the championship class driver, causing both cars to spin. Despite dropping to the back of the field Salman had recovered to sixth in class and was plotting his next move on the fifth placed Alex Waters when a nasty accident for Ricardo Teixeira brought out the yellow flags once more, with the race ultimately finishing under safety car conditions.
Salman said: “I was pleased with how qualifying went, particularly for race one where I wasn’t far from the pace of the top guys such as Sergio Perez and Frankie Cheng. In the race itself I lost some places avoiding the carnage at Eau Rouge, but I fought back and was pleased to finish fifth and score some championship points when I could easily have been taken out of the race in that early incident.
“I have never driven in worse conditions than those we saw in race two. Visibility was zero. The spray was simply incredible and it felt like I was driving through the clouds! That was daunting because you just didn’t know what was lying ahead around the next corner. I made some contact with Leo, which forced both of us to spin, but I was back up to sixth and ready to attack Alex (Waters) when the final safety car came out.
“It was great to drive at such an historic track though. I have dreamt about tackling Eau Rouge ever since I started racing and it was a fulfilling moment for me when I first went round there. It wasn’t quite as scary as it looks from an onboard camera in Formula One, in fact you can take it flat without lifting in an F3 car, but it was still a moment I will always remember.”
T-Sport Team Prinicpal Russell Eacott was pleased with Salman’s improvement in comparison with his debut for the team at Brands Hatch. “In Q1 he was just 0.075s from qualifying third in class and that was a very impressive effort when you consider where we were at Brands. Overall, this weekend was a stronger performance from Salman. All we are asking of him is to keep improving and he seems to be doing that every time he sits in the car. That is very encouraging.”