Jordan King: "I got out of the car after every session with a huge smile on my face, because it gave me such a massive buzz."
Jordan King betrayed no signs of race-rustiness as he returned to the cockpit for the first time in five weeks for the prestigious annual Masters of Formula 3 event at Zandvoort in the Netherlands – rapidly re-asserting his position as one of the category’s leading lights.Hamilton, Paul di Resta and Nico Hülkenberg all having previously triumphed around the legendary ex-F1 circuit nestled deep amongst the sand dunes of the Dutch North Sea coast, the blue riband race’s reputation speaks for itself – and King, too, has tasted victory champagne at Zandvoort in the past, prevailing in the Formula Renault Northern European Cup there in 2012 en route to clinching the runner-up laurels in the title standings. He admitted that he was champing at the bit to climb back behind the wheel.
“I’m still learning in F3 after stepping up to this level,” confessed the talented young Warwickshire ace, “and when you’re in that situation, a long break like the one we’ve just had can sometimes knock you back. In a way, I was happy that we had the Masters as a kind of ‘warm-up’ before the European season resumes, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t aiming to do well – and it was tremendously encouraging to be able to jump back into the car and be so fast straightaway.”
Indeed, despite having a lot to take on-board as he strived to get to grips with the Masters-specific Kumho tyres that – unlike the vast majority of his adversaries – he was encountering for the first time, King ably demonstrated just what a quick learner he is as he swiftly adapted to their nuances and optimum operating window and seamlessly picked up from where he had left off last time out in Austria, scene of his breakthrough European F3 podium.
A superb second-fastest amongst the 24 fiercely-competitive, high-calibre contenders in opening practice in his Carlin-prepared, Volkswagen-powered Dallara single-seater – barely a tenth of a second shy of the outright benchmark – the highly-rated Stoneleigh-based hotshot entered the first of the two qualifying sessions confident in the equipment at his disposal and in optimistic mood, but the outcome would be a disappointing one...
“One of the biggest challenges for me since moving up into F3 has been the speed difference compared to Formula Renault,” he revealed. “Zandvoort is the perfect F3 circuit – all fast, sweeping corners – and it’s flat-out in the sections where in Formula Renault you had to lift, which feels pretty amazing. There’s just so much grip available. I got out of the car after every session with a huge smile on my face, because it gave me such a massive buzz.
“On the flipside, though, that requires quite a mental adjustment in terms of how much you can really lean on the car. Looking at the data after qualifying, I could see that I was losing a fair chunk of time in two ultra-fast corners – which would have been enough to place me comfortably on the front row of the grid. It all comes down to experience – in Formula Renault, if you didn’t ease off there, you would have been in the barriers, so it’s a case of re-educating your mind that it’s ok to push right to the limit.”
Showcasing his remarkable maturity, King put everything he had learned to good use in the second qualifying session, but found his stellar efforts to move up the order stymied by a slower track that rendered any improvements academic and left him an unrepresentative ninth in the closely-contested field. That he was the sole front-runner to match his earlier time was some small consolation and proof at least of progress, but around a circuit at which overtaking is invariably at a premium, he knew he would have plenty of work to do come the race.
“I got a good start, but then heading into Turn One, another driver pulled straight across in front of me, which forced me to hit the brakes to avoid a collision,” related the McLaren Autosport Award finalist, British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC) SuperStar and MSA Academy member. “That cost me all the ground I had gained, but a tangle ahead later promoted me to sixth behind Tom Blomqvist.
“I was half-a-second quicker than him, and I knew if I could only close to within two or three car-lengths I would have a chance to lunge him and catch him unawares, because we were really good on the brakes. The problem was, with it being all medium-speed corners at Zandvoort, every time I got near I would pick up a whole heap of understeer and lose all my grip; I would spend a couple of laps tucked right up underneath his gearbox, but then had to back off because I was damaging my tyres in his turbulent air.
“That was really frustrating, since at almost any other track, I would have been past and away, but after about 15 laps of chasing him and just as I was getting close enough to warrant a move, he suddenly slowed with a problem which saved me the job.”
Once released, King was like a cork unleashed, and from thereon in he set some excellent lap times to take the chequered flag fifth, top rookie once more – a status he has made practically his own of late. As he looks forward to the second half of the campaign, though, he is no longer interested in being best of the new boys – he simply wants to be the best full-stop.
“We were definitely quick enough to have fought for the podium so it was annoying that we had to start the race down in ninth, but we did everything we could from there and recovered well – and it was really pleasing to be mixing it up at the front again,” the 19-year-old Hugo Boss brand ambassador reflected in conclusion.
“I’m pushing myself really hard and going into every meeting now expecting to be competing at the sharp end, and there’s no other F3 rookie out there who is consistently doing that. At the start of the year, if you’d offered me a podium by the end of the season, I’d have taken it, but we’ve already achieved that so the next step is to start winning races. We’re very nearly there.”