Heading into arguably his toughest challenge as a competitor, Hong Kong’s Matt Solomon was his typically buoyant self ahead of the opening round of the FIA Formula 3 European Championship in Silverstone where he would battle 34 of the world’s leading young drivers, all of them looking to make that vital next step in their careers.
Pre-season testing showed the 19-year old was more than capable of making the transition from running at the front of arguably the most competitive open-wheel category in Asia, to the toughest open-wheel development category in the world.
Joining Mercedes-powered Double R Racing – the team historically established by former Formula 1 world champion Kimi Raikkonen – Solomon was full of anticipation heading to Silverstone, and the mood only improved after the first day of practice, with the Craft-Bamboo Racing supported Dallara hovering around the tail-end of the top ten.
Frustratingly though Solomon was unable to replicate his testing pace during the three races, as the more experienced Formula 3 teams came to the fore. A quick review of the scorecard from the event may not reveal the kind of weekend the Formula Masters China Series runner-up – nor Double-R – were searching for, but on closer scrutiny there were plenty of positives, with a string of top ten sector times during races two and three a sign that Solomon’s notorious speed on worn tyres has followed him across the globe.
Understandably he was disappointed with the result, but at this level, teams and observers are looking at more than just outright results, and on that front, the teenager has a number of positives to carry into the second event in Germany in three weeks time. “It all started on Tuesday with our final pre-season test at Silverstone,” Solomon explained. “Testing went well, the car balance felt quite good and we were running solidly inside the top 15 all day which was quite positive. Friday morning’s first practice saw another good session carrying on our pace from Tuesday, and I was immediately 13th quickest, just six tenths behind the leaders and the car felt great.
“Unfortunately things changed on Friday, and the conditions changed too as there was quite a strong head wind down Hangar Straight which changed the dynamics of the car, and that was challenging, but all part of the learning experience,” continued Matthew. “Qualifying sadly was a little tough and I didn’t manage to put it all together, but we just didn’t have the pace to be where we should have been after what had been some very positive pre-season testing.
Matthew started 29th in race one which was a very messy race after rain in the morning, although by race time it had started to dry up. There were still a few damp patches so we started behind the Safety Car. After that there were a couple more Safety Car periods, which was frustrating for Solomon because he didn’t get a chance for too many racing laps, although with all the action on track he still managed to make up a few positions.
Race two though was a disaster. Going to the grid the driver in front of Matthew stalled just in front of his starting position. He was waving his hands and the officials were waving the yellow flags so he expected another formation lap, but they let the field go. Unfortunately Matthew made an error and stalled also. That meant he had to be pushed back into pit lane, and start from there.
During all of this Matthew’s rear wing had becomes slightly damaged which forced him to pit again seeing him lose a lap to the leaders.
Summarising his weekend Matthew was still being positive. “Overall I would say it has been a challenging weekend, but I’ve definitely learnt a lot, so I’m really looking forward to Hockenheim to put all this newly acquired experience into play! It’s going to be an interesting season!”