GB3 Championship rookie Max Esterson took advantage of a last-minute opportunity to get his first taste of an FIA F3 car with Van Amersfoort Racing (VAR) on the final two days of the post-season FIA Formula 3 Championship test at Jerez last week.
While still highly focused on the final round of the GB3 Championship in October, Esterson used the Jerez test to explore his potential graduation options for next year, especially as there are no other FIA F3 test opportunities before official 2023 pre-season testing begins in January or February.
Esterson proved a quick learner, taking only one session to get up to speed. With a mix of returning F3 veterans and newcomers, most of the drivers in the 30-car field ran the full three days, so the New Yorker had a tall task to catch up to the others and be on pace on his first day out.
“I did feel a bit like I jumped into the deep end, especially as I wasn’t able to do all the prep work I wanted, since I was still recovering a bit from my big crash with Callum Voisin at Brands Hatch ten days earlier, but Van Amersfoort were fantastic in working with me on a compressed schedule.
“Given the morning session on Thursday was the first time I’ve ever turned a wheel in the car, each time out I was knocking tenths off of each segment. Coming in I was a little worried as the FIA F3 car has a lot more downforce and is 100hp-plus more than anything I’ve ever driven, and for sure it's also a lot more physical than anything I’ve driven, but we were able to get comfortable pretty quickly. In the second session on Thursday I was six tenths of a second off the quick time and in 16th position. I still have work to do but I have lots of places I can find time.”
Esterson completed over 900km across the two days, including two race-length runs and jumped right into the fray of the Friday morning session where all the front runners fitted new tyres and ran a qualifying sequence of build-lap, push-lap, cool-lap, repeating three times in an attempt to extract the most from each set of Pirellis in qualifying.
“Friday morning was go-time and pretty intense. You have to stay in sequence with all the other runners and focus with your engineer to maximize your chances of a good time. It's pretty hectic with 30 cars on track all looking for space and a clean lap. I was 13th in the first new tyre run, and then four or five tenths up on my best time on my second set of new tyres through the first two segments but made a mistake with two corners to go. The team reckoned the time would have been between seventh and ninth quickest, so that would have been something to have been in the top ten on like for like tyres with everyone.”
Going forward Esterson’s goal is to be in a position to challenge for the 2024 FIA F3 title, but he’s still evaluating options for next year, including a potential FIA F3 graduation, a move to Europe in Formula Regional, or a second stab at the GB3 Championship with a year’s experience under his belt.
“The test in Jerez provides a great data point for me. When I look back a year ago, I was running a 110hp Formula Ford and getting ready for the Festival. It's been a big learning year in GB3 and I feel I was well prepared to have my first run in the FIA F3 car, and happy to end the final Friday session in Jerez in 9th overall.”
Esterson finished the afternoon one spot ahead of GB3 championship contender Joel Granfors and quickest of his teammates.
“It was certainly reassuring to see so many GB3 graduates – including Kaylen Frederick, Zak O’Sullivan, Christian Mansell and Reece Ushijima – running up front and it clearly shows the quality of the GB3 series.”
Esterson now wants to build on his strong showing and carry that momentum into the final round at Donington.
“We’ve had a real struggle in the last two championship rounds, Brands Hatch being particularly disappointing given how well we ran in testing. After the let down there it was great to be able to focus on the Jerez test and I’m happy with how well we went there. I’m hoping we can carry that positive momentum to Donington and finish the championship on a high note.”