Having been forced to withdraw from the Protyre Formula Renault Autumn Cup after injuring his back at Snetterton , Matteo returned for the final round of the BRDC Formula 4 Winter Championship at Brands Hatch.
Matteo joined the testing Thursday afternoon at the Kent circuit ahead of the race weekend, finding good pace in the mostly damp conditions on the Indy circuit.
In Saturday morning’s opening qualifying session, Matteo was quickly on the pace on a cold, slippery track and was improving his times with every lap. Unfortunately his qualifying ended early when he just touched a still damp piece of track entering Paddock Hill Bend and he spun into the gravel. As track conditions were continually improving, Matteo’s times, which had him in the top four, in the final minutes of the session ultimately left him starting Race One from 9th on the grid.
Matteo made a very good start making up places into the first corner, but unfortunately lost more places than he had gained when teammate Pietro Fittipaldi spun at Druids forcing Matteo to take avoiding action. Undeterred and pushing on to make up the places he had lost, Matteo was battling for 7th position when Malgosia Rdest tried to close the door late at Clearways and the two tangled. He was delayed by her resulting spin which pushed him to the inside. With Rdest car stranded on the kerb at Clearways, a safety car was deployed, allowing Matteo to catch up to the pack to line up 8th behind the safety car before the restart. He then proceeded to track down Fredrik Johansen and was able to take the position from the Swede as they turned into Clearways before the chequered flag.
Race One’s best lap times determined the start positions for Race Two, meaning Matteo would start from 7th on the grid. Matteo again made a good start and was close behind Will Palmer in the opening laps, however he struggled with oversteer which became progressively worse through the course of the race and although he was able to maintain his position and stay in touch with the pack, he was unable to improve his position.
Sunday’s qualifying session yielded similar conditions as the previous day but maybe a little more damp. Most drivers decided to start on wet tyres, while the MGR cars both went out on slicks. Despite a slippery track, Matteo was quickly on the pace consistently putting in times that saw him in the top two even before a dry line started to appear. However as the track dried and the conditions improved further in the last 5 minutes of the session, Matteo’s limited experience with the Yokohama tyres hindered him and he missed the opportunity to make more of the drying track. He slipped to sixth at the flag for a third row start for Sunday mornings Race Three.
Matteo was optimistic about his race chances and made a good start, scything past Jake Cook on the outside to take 5th into Paddock. Matteo had a strong exit from Paddock and was closing in on Kieran Vernon on the run up to Druids, with the Hillspeed driver in the middle of the road, but Vernon saw the challenge coming, moved to the left and braked a little early. Vernon’s early braking forced Matteo to also slow early, but being stuck on the outside he was unable to close off the recovering Cook early enough, which meant Cook was on Matteo’s tail as they entered the corner. Matteo’s tightening line as he turned into the apex should have been the end of Cook’s challenge but Cook understeered into Matteo, tipping him into a spin and retirement on the spot.
With his retirement on the first lap and no lap time set, Matteo was relegated to 11th on the grid for Race Four. Matteo faced the prospect of a hard race to make any positions on the tight Brands Indy circuit where it is notoriously difficult to pass. He made a decent start but was unable to gain any positions, and lost a little time with a challenge on the outside at Druids. He soon recovered and quickly closed to force his way past Dimitris Papanastasiou into Surtees Bend and then set about closing the gap to Johansen. With five laps remaining and a clean move into Paddock Hill Bend, he passed Johansen and set his sights on Nowegian Falco Wauer. Unfortunately the gap to Wauer was too great and Matteo finished 8th.
Matteo made positions in every race he completed, and improved his qualifying experience and race craft. His strategy and speed in the second qualifying session in treacherous conditions was very impressive, although his limited experience on Formula 4’s Yokohama tyres meant he wasn’t as far forward on the grid as his potential.
Matteo was disappointed with the results overall but valued the experience, “I didn’t really know what to expect with the F4 car and Yokohama tyres. Although there are some quite big differences in the personality and behavior of the F4 and Formula Renault cars, I have learned some valuable lessons and had my first taste of a podium finish. I’m looking forward to taking this experience into battle in the future.”
Allinsport’s Samantha Collins is pleased with Matteo’s progress, “This season has been a big step forward for Matteo, and he has added greatly to his race driving skills and approach. There is every reason to be optimistic about the future and that Matteo still has more to offer.”
Matteo’s winter programme and 2014 racing schedule will be decided in the coming weeks with a view to adding further to his performance and experience.