Joshua Dufek showed that he could be a contender at the highest level of F3 racing, despite a promising showing at the final round of the FIA F3 series going unrewarded.
Stepping into the Campos Racing car previously occupied by Australian rookie Hugh Barter, Dufek faced the not insurmountable task of adapting to the more powerful Dallara-Mecachrome machine in the limited time allowed for practice before the equally-short qualifying session that would set the grid for Saturday's opening race. Despite a couple of red flag stoppages, the rookie pounded around throughout the opening session, gaining valuable experience and data for the remainder of the weekend while also finishing ahead of his title-challenging team-mate.
Qualifying was a different story, however, with Dufek one of the victims of a chaotic session that began with cars queueing on the back straight in search of a clear track and ended early with the provisional polesitter crashing heavily to bring out the red flags. Dufek's own incident came after only three laps, limiting the opportunity to improve his lap time and leaving him on the inside of row 10 for Saturday morning's sprint race.
With the goal of staying out of trouble and adding to his FIA F3 experience, the Swiss youngster spent the early part of the race getting to grips with the car before showing how quickly he had adapted by rising up the order later on, gaining ten positions to take the chequered flag in 14th position, just four spots from a point on his debut.
A similarly early start on Sunday, which was headlined by the Italian F1 Grand Prix, saw Dufek again lining up 19th on the grid, but now with more confidence in the #25 Campos machine and eager to move forward. Quickly up to the sort of position in which he finished race one, the 18-year-old battled continuously, swapping places on a regular basis as the closely-matched field diced around the historic Monza circuit. As is commonplace in F3 competition, however, the racing got a little too close at times, with several safety car interruptions bunching the pack together and, during a late-race restart, Dufek suffered a puncture that sent him to the pits — but also prompted an impressive fightback in the closing stages that allowed him to collect another 14th place finish.
"What a blast it has been to drive the FIA F3 machine," Dufek surmised. "After learning as much as I could during race one, a hard-fought second race — where I was always just outside the points positions — ended on a slightly disappointing note as, avoiding a collision ahead of me on a particularly chaotic restart, I suffered a rear puncture that forced me to pit. Having dropped to the back of the pack, and with only a lap left to run, however, I still managed to claw my way back to 14th position by the end, mirroring my race one result.
"All in all, and with thanks to Campos Racing and PPM, I gained a lot of valuable experience — which was our main objective going into the weekend — and I was happy to have demonstrated a competitive edge in both races, especially after a challenging qualifying session on Friday. There will always be that thought of 'what might have been' if not for the puncture in race two, however."