By: Lynne Waite and Stella-Maria Thomas, F3 Correspondents
- Merhi in control at Spa
- Buller takes British Series win
- Great recovery driving by Jaafar
At Spa-Francorchamps this afternoon Roberto Merhi (Prema Powerteam) streaked away from the pack to come home a convincing victor in the latest round of the FIA Formula 3 International Trophy series, which was also Round 19 of the British F3 International Series. 2nd overall and winner of the British round was William Buller (Fortec), the latter holding off a very determined Jazeman Jaafar (Carlin), who had made a stunning start to haul himself up from 9th on the grid. 3rd in the British category was Jack Harvey (Carlin) after a tough race long battle with Carlos Munoz (Signature) who was 2nd in the Invitation Class ahead of Daniel Juncadella (Prema Powerteam). Kotaro Sakurai (T-Sport) won the Rookie Class to move into the series lead now that he’s the only runner.
At the start, Merhi got away smoothly, while behind him Marco Wittmann (Signature) chopped across to the inside and managed to tangle with Lucas Foresti (Fortec Motorsport), causing damage to both cars and leading to their eventual slide down the order. That was yet to come however. By the end of the first lap, Merhi had started to open a gap and the young Spaniard would continue to pull away from Buller lap by lap until he was a tiny dot in the distance, having increased his lead by a second a lap on average. Buller, meanwhile, had his hands full with Jaafar, the Malaysian in fighting form despite his swollen knee (which he reckoned made flexing his leg tricky – all the better for keeping his foot in perhaps). He was on Buller’s case and would remain so throughout the 13 laps of this race.
All the Carlin drivers seemed to have a point to prove and were pushing hard from the start, but they weren’t alone in that. Bart Hylkema (T-Sport) was the first victim of the tough nature of Spa, getting pushed out at the exit from the Bus Stop and ending up in the barriers before the race was a lap old. If he thought getting out of the Rookie Class would make him safer, he’s been proved sadly and spectacularly wrong. A lap later and Raffaele Marciello (Prema Powerteam) was missing in action. It looked as if he might be joined by Felipe Nasr (Carlin), the Brazilian another who had hauled himself up several places at the start. The car was smoking alarmingly and looked as if its engine was less than healthy, but it didn’t seem to be slowing him down any and he was busy trying to find a way past Foresti, while ahead of him Kevin Magnussen (Carlin) was locked in battle with Hywel Lloyd (Sino Vision Racing), a battle that eventually went Magnussen’s way and saw the young Dane snag a point for fastest lap of the race as well. Lloyd would fall away eventually though not as badly as his team-mate, Adderly Fong, who was last but one now, ahead only of Sakurai, the latter trailing the field by quite a gap.
A surprise exit from the race was Marko Asmer (Double R Racing), the Estonian starting well up the order but getting punted into the air by Laurens Vanthoor (Signature). The car took off and landed on the edge of the barriers at the Bus Stop and its slightly shaken driver crawled out and helped the marshals push it away to safety. Vanthoor appeared to be unscathed. Meanwhile Lloyd had fallen back into the clutches of Menasheh Idafar (T-Sport), the Bahraini having his hands full trying to keep Wittmann in particular at bay. Wittmann was soon through, and was Vanthoor, which meant Idafar was now within reach of Yann Cunha (T-Sport). It wasn’t long before Idafar retired from the race on lap 8 with a bit of help from Cunha Pipo Derani (Double R Racing), bringing a less than perfect race to a decidedly less than perfect end after some wheel banging at the Bus Stop.
Most of the action now was at the back of the field where Harry Tincknell (Fortec Motorsport) was attempting to salvage something after crashing out of qualifying before he could set a competitive time. He was locked in a fight with Fahmi Ilyas (Fortec Motorsport), and collecting cones as a consequence. He really didn’t look at all happy and the fact that the others around him kept cutting the chicane wouldn’t have helped his mood any. The only other interest now – apart from speculating just how far ahead Merhi would be by the end – was in whether Nasr would make it to the finish with the increasingly smoky VW engine, and how far back Foresti would drop as the race wore on. The answers soon became apparent, and as Merhi crossed the line to a well-deserved victory, with Buller 13 seconds behind, Nasr dragged it over the line in 9th (6th in the British category), while Foresti dropped right back to come home 13th overall. Jaafar was 3rd, just behind Buller, and Munoz held off Harvey all the way to the flag. 6th was Rupert Svendsen-Cook (Carlin), with Magnussen close behind, the Juncadella, Nasr and Huertas. Wittmann ended up 11th, leading home Hannes van Asseldonk (Van Amersfoort Racing), Foresti, Daniel Abt (Signature), Lloyd, Pye, Vanthoor, Derani, Fantin and Ilyas. Fong ended up 21st from Tincknell, Cunha and Sakurai.
Fastest race laps went to Merhi, Magnussen and Sakurai.
Weather: Cool, cloudy but clearing.