Josh Dufek experienced all the highs and lows that motorsport can offer at the latest round of the Italian F4 Championship, but left Mugello having dominated qualifying and, most importantly, by adding his name to the list of race winners for 2021.
Running a dual programme in both Italy and Germany, the 16-year-old has been inching closer and closer to that maiden victory — only being denied by a safety car intervention last time out at the Red Bull Ring — and set himself up for success in Tuscany by taking a clean sweep of all three pole positions during Friday's qualifying session.
Fastest in the opening practice session on a wet track, Josh carried his strong pace into FP2 and ended the session just 0.171s behind the only driver ahead of him. Come qualifying, however, the Van Amersfoort Racing driver was unbeatable. Having allowed others in the talent-filled field to set the early pace, Josh initially jumped to sixth place before blitzing a final effort to move to the head of the table, 0.144secs faster than Leonardo Fornaroli. The second session followed much the same pattern, with Josh not vaulting to the top of the times until the final five minutes of running, but then doing enough to ensure that he remained unchallenged. Cleverly, however, the Swiss resident stayed out on track after claiming pole to post the second-fastest lap of the session and claim top spot for race three, earning a rare hat-trick.
"Qualifying couldn't have gone much better, to be honest," Josh smiled. "We may have been quiet in the early part of the sessions, but clearly saved our best for last — although claiming all three poles is probably more than myself and the team could have expected!"
Despite leading the opening lap of race one on Saturday, Josh knew that the closely-matched field would not sit by and allow him to coast to victory, and duly found himself in a typical F4 scrap for honours. Duelling for the lead until the final stages, the teenager eventually had to accept second spot — adding to his burgeoning podium tally for the season — as rain made track conditions unpredictable.
Race two followed a similarly competitive vein although, ironically, Josh was initially unable to make the most of his pole position. Having slipped briefly to third, however, he was able to take advantage of a safety car period to launch a charge over the final quarter hour of racing, demoting champion-elect Oliver Bearman before homing in on leader Sebastian Montoya, setting the fastest lap in the process. Having pressured the Colombian into a couple of minor errors, Josh was able to sweep through into the lead at San Donato with time running out and held his nerve to claim that elusive first victory — to the delight of his team and supporters in the paddock.
"I'm obviously super-happy to have finally got this win," Josh admitted. "I didn't make the best of starts, but was able to pull it together at the end and reel in both Ollie and Sebastian. I had good battles with both of them and it was close right to the end, but this time things went in my favour and we had the pace to open up a small gap and take the win."
If race two provided the high point of the weekend, the final outing could not have been much lower as Josh, having led initially, was tipped out of second place by Montoya with another podium beckoning.
"Retiring from race three was a frustrating way to end what was probably my best weekend of the season so far, but the DNF can't take away what went before," the VAR driver insisted. "Three pole positions, two podiums and a race win is a great return from Mugello and we can head to the final rounds of the season confident of chasing more of the same.”
Josh will next hit the track for his final outing in the ADAC German F4 series at Hockenheim over the weekend of 22-24 October, before the culmination of the Italian F4 season at Monza a week later.