The third round of the 2019 New Balance Esports Pro Series took place on 6 November at London’s Gfinity Esports Arena, with all ten Formula 1 teams taking part in rounds 7,8 and 9 at Hockenheim, Spa-Francorchamps and Monza respectively. The final three races will take place on 4 December. There were two Italian debuts at this event, with the Italian Grand Prix making its first appearance in the virtual F1 World Championship and Manuel Blancolilla from Syracuse was making his sim-racing debut for Scuderia Toro Rosso Esports, competing in the German and Belgian rounds, replacing Cem Bolukbasi, who only drove at Monza. Patrik Holzmann drove all three races.
Germany. Manuel Biancolilla qualified a great fifth at his first-ever F1Esports event, with Patrick Holzmann eleventh for the start of his home race. Both of them got away cleanly avoiding any collisions. Manuel stayed P5 for the opening laps, while Patrick passed three other drivers to move up to eighth. They had both started on the soft tyres before switching to the mediums for the final 12 laps of the 17 lap race. After the stops, Manuel dropped a few places when he was overtaken in a tough but fair manner so that our two drivers were running nose to tail heading for a seventh and eighth place finish. Unfortunately, while trying to move up the order, Manuel was given a 3-second penalty for not respecting track limits and thus finished tenth, with Patrik P7, the same position he finished at this track last year. It was not a bad result for us, given that Manuel finished his maiden race in the points and it was the first time this year that we got both drivers home in the top 10. The race was won by Renault’s Jarno Opmeer.
Belgium. This race didn’t go as well for us, starting with the fact we qualified 10th and 15th with Patrik and Manuel respectively. Once again, all 20 drivers were very evenly matched. Both our drivers lost places at the start, which made the remainder of the race an uphill battle as Manuel dropped to P19 and Patrik to P11.
They pitted early, replacing the medium tyres with softs once it was clear that these tyres were capable of lasting for quite a long stint. Unfortunately, the two Toro Rosso drivers found themselves in a long line of cars for much of the race. As everyone had DRS, overtaking proved difficult with all cars running at a similar pace. In the closing stages, Patrik was running just outside the points in 11th, but he was involved in a collision with the Mercedes of reigning champion, Brendon Leigh, who hit him from behind. The German spun and dropped down the order to P20. After making a final stop for fresh rubber, he was at least able to console himself with the race fastest lap and is in the running for the DHL Fastest Lap Award at the end of the season. Manuel finished 16th and the race was won by Daniel Bereznay for Alfa Romeo.
Italy. In Italy, Cem was again paired with Patrik and qualified well to start from 8th, with Patrik 14th on the grid. The gap from P14 to Bereznay on pole was very small; less than two and a half tenths. Both our drivers started on the medium tyres. Cem lost two places at the start but immediately got one back but unfortunately, he sustained front wing damage from various battles. Patrik decided to pit immediately to fit the soft tyres and Cem did the same one lap later but lost a lot of time replacing the damaged nose. At half race distance, Patrik was up to ninth but Cem was down in 19th. Patrik crossed the line tenth after a long battle with Racing Point’s Haddad, while Cem damaged his front wing again and picked up a penalty for cutting the first chicane and finished last. Alfa Romeo’s Bereznay won again.
Patrik Holzmann (Germany)
Round 7 – Germany (Hockenheim): P7
Round 8 – Belgium (Spa-Francorchamps): P20
Round 9 – Italy (Monza): P10
Driver Standings: P15 – 11 points
“I scored points in two out of three races, but the positions weren’t great, although at least we managed to extend the gap over Haas, so we look a bit more secure in the Championship. The second race was a bit of a mess and I was unlucky to get taken out. But at least I went for the fastest lap, a category I’m leading right now. At the end of the year, the driver with the most fastest laps wins an award, so at least I have that in the bag right now, with three races to go. I need to find a little bit more pace before the final round so we can compete for more than just a few points.”
Manuel Biancolilla (Italy)
Round 7 – Germany (Hockenheim): P10
Round 8 – Belgium (Spa-Francorchamps): P16
Driver Standings: P21 – 1 point
“My first race was something of an introduction to the Esports world. It was good fun, but also quite stressful because this environment is not what I am used to. Everyone taking part is so fast, which means you cannot relax for a second. I was P5 at the start, but then after a few laps, I began to drop back, as I was overtaken by various drivers at the hairpin. I was playing it too safe and I didn’t defend enough, plus I lost a place with a penalty, for not respecting track limits. In the Spa race, I made a poor start. It could have been way better and then I pitted on lap 3 to try and gain some places, but everyone was so close, you couldn’t overtake as everyone was able to use DRS. From eighth place to where I was in 16th it was a DRS train, with just two tenths between those two places.”
Cem Bolukbasi (Turkey)
Round 9 – Italy (Monza): P20
Driver Standings: P20 – 4 points
“I had a great qualifying session to be P8, my best position of the season and it was good to see that all my practice had paid off. I had a good strategic plan to get up to the front of the field and gain some positions. But on lap 1, I was in the middle of everything and I lost the front wing and after that, it was game over for me. Now, I’m just looking forward to a chance to do better in the next round.”
Team Standings: P9 – 16 points