It was very nearly a dream debut for Formula 2 and Formula 3 newcomers Van Amersfoort Racing, who at one point looked set to take pole in both Championships, before Jake Hughes dropped to eighth in the final timesheets.
Hughes was rapid on the first set of tyres and led for a lengthy period with a time of 1:41.121, before diving into the pits for a fresh set of soft rubber.
Despite the promise shown in the opening half of the session, and a spurt of confidence, Hughes wouldn’t better his initial time, with the British racer explaining that “due to various factors, we weren't in the working window for the tyres on the second set.”
Prior to F2 Qualifying, F3 rookie Franco Colapinto had taken a surprise pole for the team on his Van Amersfoort debut.
"First of all, congratulations to the F3 team after Franco (Colapinto) took pole. It put me under pressure going into the session!” Hughes began. “For me, on the first set of tyres the car was unbelievable and the laptime showed it.
“In the end, it’s a bit frustrating because I feel like we had a car good enough for pole, but I think underneath that it’s been a very good day and start to a long season. I said beforehand that I’d be disappointed if I wasn't in the top five, so I am disappointed with P8, but I will cheer up in 10 minutes.
“To be P1 on the first set wasn't a surprise, but it was proof of the work that we have done and evidence of what we thought, hoped, and knew from the conclusions we’d drawn from testing and Free Practice. Nevertheless, when we were sat in the pitlane in the middle of the two runs, we were probably exceeding expectations.”
Van Amersfoort are a new entry for 2022 after taking the place of HWA RACELAB at the end of last season.
The Dutch outfit only got hold of the cars for the first time at post-season testing in Abu Dhabi last December, and Hughes says they’ve gone above and beyond with the work they’ve done since.
“The way we arrived at testing with a good baseline on the first day at the first attempt is probably the biggest thing that has led us to this point,” he explained. “If we had started that first day miles away, we would have spent the next two-and-a-half days chasing our tails a little bit. Instead, we were able to get straight into the nitty-gritty stuff.
“We never really adapted the setup, to be honest. From where we started the first day in testing to where we were in Qualifying, there is one change on the car.”
Qualifying eighth, Hughes will begin the reverse grid Sprint Race from P3 on the grid, giving him a chance at his first F2 podium, two seasons, but only 10 races on from when he originally made his debut in 2020 with HWA.
“In the same way that I said I would be disappointed to be outside of the top five in Quali, I would be disappointed to not finish on the podium in the Sprint Race,” Hughes continued.
“There are a lot of quick guys around us, as there always will be in F2, but I think that we have a good race car from what I saw in testing. Starting P3, let’s try and aim for a trophy and anything more than that is a bonus.”