Superb maiden podium for Malja at Hungaroring
Fantastic start to round seven sets Strakka Racing’s Formula Renault 3.5 rookie on course for impressive top three result
Swedish ace Gustav Malja took Strakka Racing back to the Formula Renault 3.5 Series podium at the Hungaroring near Budapest this afternoon, Sunday, 14th June, with a tremendous drive during race two of the weekend.
Having secured an impressive top 10 points scoring result during round six on Saturday, 13th June, after battling through from 20th on the grid following issues in qualifying, Malja starred in round seven to secure his first silverware in the ultra-competitive series.
Team-mate Tio Ellinas ended the fourth race meeting of the season with a best result of sixth place in round seven, a good end to the event after a challenging run on Saturday. He departs Hungary eighth in the standings with Malja an improved 11th.
“It’s been quite a good weekend,” said Malja, “First quali was terrible, starting from the very back, but I raced well to get back into the points.”
“Today was much better starting P6 and the race was fantastic, taking my first podium in World Series by Renault. Thanks to the team for a great job with the car which was really stable all race.”
Starting sixth on the grid for race two, Malja made a sensational start to leap into fourth at Turn One and after positioning his car perfectly on the exit, he was able to grab third shortly after.
Matching the race leader’s pace during the first few laps, Malja then settled into a rhythm in third place and remained there to his pit-stop at the end of lap 11.
After great work from the pit-crew, Malja was able to emerge back in third and although coming under some pressure from Jazeman Jaafar with 15 minutes to run, the Strakka racer was unflustered during the rest of the race to take a superb maiden podium.
Ellinas, beginning the race in eighth, held position off the start and after challenging Jaafar for seventh at Turn One, on lap two he was able to gain the place on the run into the next left-hander.
Setting his sights next on Roberto Merhi – who, of course, also competes in Formula One with Manor Grand Prix – Ellinas piled on the pressure and was certainly the quicker of the two.
Rather than risk losing time behind Merhi, Strakka pitted Ellinas at the end of lap eight and after the stops had played out he had jumped Merhi. The Cypriot was, though, still in seventh due to Jaafar moving back ahead during the pit visits.
Remaining in seventh all the way to the chequered flag on lap 27, Ellinas was then elevated into sixth place at the conclusion due to a 10 second penalty for Pietro Fantin.
Saturday’s race delivered a very strong showing from Malja who was determined to hit back from the car problem which prevented him from setting a representative lap in qualifying.
Making excellent progress from 20th on the grid, the Swede had risen into the top 12 by lap 10 and reeled off rapid lap times as he swarmed all over the back of Nyck De Vries’ car at mid-distance.
Giving the Dutchman plenty to think about lap after lap, Malja made the breakthrough on lap 23 when he pressured De Vries into a mistake at Turn One. He then completed his climb into the top 10 just before the finish to cap a superb drive.
Ellinas, meanwhile, encountered contrasting fortunes to those of his team-mate and eventually ended race one in 17th position after an unfortunate drive-through penalty.
Starting in 10th position, the Cypriot made a good getaway but contact led to a slip back to 20th place. Battling back through to 14th by lap 12, after the penalty he eventually finished in 17th.
Frustratingly for Strakka, and the drivers, the results weren’t at all representative of their pace – Ellinas lapped with a best time just 0.1 seconds shy of fastest lap with Malja only 0.2 seconds outside the ultimate pace.
Reflecting on a mixed weekend, Ellinas said: “Saturday was a shame, getting hit on the first lap, but today was better. Qualifying wasn’t where I should be, to be honest, but it was a good race with good pit-stops from the team and decent points.”
Next on the Formula Renault 3.5 Series calendar is a visit to the Red Bull Ring in Austria over the weekend 11th/12th July.