At the end of the first race of this final meeting of the British F3 International Series here at the Nurburgring, Jordan King (Carlin) is now within a hand’s reach of claiming the title after his main rival, William Buller (Fortec Motorsport) had a morning he will want to forget, his championship hopes literally going up in smoke.
Second went to Antonio Giovinazzi (Double R Racing) from Felipe Lopes Guimaraes (Fortec Motorsport). The National Class was won by Sun Zheng (CF Racing), the Chinese driver having already taken the 2013 category title.
There was major drama as the field lined up to take the start. Buller, starting second alongside King, and with it all to play for, suddenly found the rear of his Fortec Dallara engulfed in flames. The Northern Irishman duly started to unbuckle his belts, ready to dive for safety, when the fire just as abruptly went out again.
In the meantime, the start was aborted and the marshals rushed to drag the stricken F3 car to the relatively safety of the pit lane. Buller’s team duly scrambled to his aid, swarming over the car and arguing the case for letting him start the race from the pitlane. Meanwhile, the race was shortened to 27 minutes and they were all given an extra formation lap.
As Fortec’s Team Manager argued his case, and lots of red-and-black-clad engineers peered intently at the Mercedes power unit, the race got underway.
King got a tidy start, pulling ahead of Giovinazzi, while Nicholas Latifi (Carlin) and Jann Mardenborough (Carlin) scrapped over when would end up being 4th place, Mardenborough squeezing his team-mate out quite forcefully. All of that let Guimaraes settle into third, presumably grateful to be out of that particular battle.
In the middle of the pack Sean Gelael (Double R Racing) and Tatiana Calderon (Double R Racing) were fighting over 6th, Gelael getting ahead as the lap progressed.
Further back, newcomer Alfonso Celis (Fortec Motorsport) had messed up his start and stalled on the grid, getting away dead last, while in the pack Chris Vlok (Team West-Tec) and William Barbosa (Team West-Tec) tangled at the first corner. They both survived. The upshot was that Zheng led the National Class comfortably.
At the end of the first lap King was already starting to open up a gap over Giovinazzi, while Guimaraes was beginning to come under pressure from Mardenborough, who was towing Latifi with him. Gelael was holding off Calderon, who wanted her place back, while Richard “Spike” Goddard was just behind them. Zheng was 9th, from Vlok, the recovering Celis and Barbosa.
Two laps later they were back up to 13 cars, when Buller was permitted by the Race Director to rejoin the fray. He was three laps down and not what you would call happy, but if he could finish the worst he could expect was a point for 10th place, and possibly an extra one for the fastest lap of the race. And there was always the possibility – no matter how unlikely – that something might happen to King.
Nothing seemed to be happening, at least at this stage, as King continued to steadily extend his lead, while Giovinazzi could do nothing to rein him in, and Mardenborough continued worrying away at Guimaraes with terrier-like tenacity.