A force to be reckoned with in F1 ACADEMY, Léna Bühler was a regular feature on the podium last season, securing two wins and 13 top three finishes. After contending with Marta García for the title, the 2023 Vice Champion has taken another step along the road to F1, competing in the Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine.

Remaining with ART Grand Prix, the move came as part of a milestone agreement, which saw FRECA’s top teams granted a fourth entry if they signed a driver who finished inside the top three in F1 ACADEMY last year.

Racing in the inaugural season of the all-female series proved to be a monumental year for the Sauber Academy junior and one she reminisces on fondly.

“I have good memories from last year,” says Bühler. “Sometimes I want to be back in F1 ACADEMY, but I think it’s good to do FRECA and to progress in the next Championship. I’m always watching the races and I’m still in contact with some of the girls. You can see the progress and I think it’s good for all of the girls to be with F1 and to develop everything with the F1 teams and sponsors.

“It was easier to drive and also when you get results you have confidence. The racing was quite fun and it was a really good year for me. I enjoyed it a lot!”

Having two previous Formula Regional campaigns under her belt, Bühler hasn’t underestimated the task ahead of her in adapting to the series. Heavier cars combined with a 20km/h higher top speed mean her strength, endurance and racecraft are all being put to the test in a 33-car field.

Bühlers 2024 FRECA campaign got underway in Hockenheim Germany last month. Credit 2024 Dutch Photo Agency
Bühler's 2024 FRECA campaign got underway in Hockenheim, Germany last month. Credit: 2024 Dutch Photo Agency

Believing that her experience fighting upfront in F1 ACADEMY have made her a more all-rounded and complete driver, the Swiss racer understands that success won’t be overnight as she takes the time to adjust to the machinery.

“The car is more difficult to drive because there are more aerodynamics,” Bühler notes. “The tyres are also bigger, so you need to use every bit of grip in the tyres. Also, doing the warm-ups, you need to be very careful on the first lap not to destroy the tyres.

“The tyres are not performing for a lot of laps, you need two to three laps and after that, it’s done. Also, it’s a bit more physical and the level is higher. I trained a lot this winter to get ready for the car. My physique was good, but not to drive a FRECA car. So, I trained a lot and now it’s okay, I feel better.”

READ MORE: The 2024 F1 ACADEMY season so far: The year’s early storylines and what to watch for now

When asked how her time in F1 ACADEMY aided her development, she explains. “I learnt a bit of everything. When you’re in P1, how to stay calm and focused in the car. When I got a bad result, (I knew how) to stay calm and focused for the next Qualifying or race. This year is a bit different, so I was better last year in terms of confidence, but I try to remember some of the things I did well last year and keep pushing.

“For sure, I have more experience, so I feel a bit more comfortable (now). I still struggle in some parts. Mentally, I was not 100% so it didn’t help me for the races and Qualifying. Also, I think I missed some confidence to be better in the car because many things around me didn’t work like I wanted. It’s difficult not to think about this and stay focused on my goals (...) and not to think about what’s happening around me.”

The Swiss racer became the first-ever female Sauber Academy driver when she joined their junior programme in 2023. Credit 2024 Dutch Photo Agency
The Swiss racer became the first-ever female Sauber Academy driver when she joined their junior programme in 2023. Credit: 2024 Dutch Photo Agency

Although the opening three rounds of her 2024 FRECA campaign haven’t delivered the results she had hoped for, Bühler is not slowing down in her pursuit of success and is focusing her improvements inwards rather than on specific results-based targets.

Whilst points alluded her in Hockenheim, Spa-Francorchamps — with a best result of P25 at the Belgian circuit — and Zandvoort, Round 4’s visit to the Hungaroring next weekend gives her a chance to turn things around before the halfway mark.

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Assessing how she’d fared across the opening six races, she says: “I’m a bit disappointed about the first three rounds because the performance was not there. Maybe Hockenheim was not bad, but I was involved in contact. Spa and Zandvoort were not really good because I thought about many things, so it’s difficult to stay focused on the goal. I will try next week to be better, to forget about everything and just drive.

“I want to build up my driving step by step and with this I’ll get some better results. I don’t think too much about what I need to do because the times are very close. I just need to focus on the driving, enjoying the car and the times and results will come.

Bühler adds: “(I need) to be happy in the car, driving with the feeling and not with too much information in the head. I want to progress throughout the year, to get some good results at the end and to have a good progression from the first round to the last.”

After racing in Budapest next week shell face a double header of Mugello and Paul Ricard in mid-July. Credit 2024 Dutch Photo Agency
After racing in Budapest next week, she'll face a double header of Mugello and Paul Ricard in mid-July. Credit: 2024 Dutch Photo Agency

With the 2024 F1 ACADEMY field heading to the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya next weekend for Round 3, it’s a track Bühler knows all too well. Rapid from the outset there last year, the Sauber junior earned two front row starts in Qualifying.

On course for victory in Race 1, the opening race ended in disappointment after a mechanical failure forced her into retirement. However, she managed to turn things around, ending the weekend on a high with a lights-to-flag domination of Race 3. That maiden victory proved crucial, as success bred more success and set her on the path to fight for the title.

READ MORE: 2023 Rewind: De Heus seizes maiden single seater victory as Bühler bounces back in Barcelona

“I had a good race and a bad race because in the first one I had a gearbox issue, but I was happy to win Race 3,” she reflects “The second day was not easy because I really wanted to win, I was just thinking about it. My family was there and my goal was to win, so (there was) a lot of pressure, but I did it!

“I was quite happy, a bit sad but in the end happy because I wanted to win the two races. It’s a good memory, one of the best and to finish P1 is always very good. I was confident in the car. It was the first time for the team in F4, but we built the set-up and worked a lot. I was confident, pushing a lot and just thinking about the win. When you win, you get confidence and it’s easier to push and to get results.”

Bühlers victory in Barcelona moved her into the top three in the Drivers Standings and was followed up with a three podium sweep in Zandvoort
Bühler's victory in Barcelona moved her into the top three in the Drivers' Standings and was followed up with a three podium sweep in Zandvoort

With all that in mind, there was no better person to give their advice on how to best to approach the upcoming weekend at the Spanish track, as Bühler passed on some words of wisdom to this year’s grid.

“For sure, the times will be close in Barcelona,” she remarks. “Also, it’s quite difficult to time the first or second push lap because it’s a track where there is a lot of degradation. They need to do a good warm-up and to get the best lap on the first or second push — it depends on the weather and if it’s quite hot or not.

“They have to stay focused on Quali. It’s more important because (although) in the race, it’s possible to overtake, it’s not very easy. During the race, the most important thing is to be smooth and not aggressive because the track is quite abrasive, so the tyres degrade a lot.”

She concludes: “I think the most important thing is to be happy in the car and to enjoy every time being in the car. If you don’t enjoy it, you can’t drive well and you think too much. Enjoy it and keep pushing every time. It’s not easy to do, but if you have no pressure, you can progress.”