On a blisteringly hot afternoon at Spa-Francorchamps, Felix Serralles (Fortec Motorsport) staked a claim to consideration as a potential champion with two stunning laps to claim pole position for both Race 1 and Race 3, just beating out Carlos Sainz Jr (Carlin) who will start both races from 2nd, ahead of Alex Lynn (Fortec Motorsport) for Race 1 and Daniel Juncadella (Prema Powerteam), running as part of the Invitation Class, for Race 3.
With the air temperature at an uncomfortable 28.5°C and the track heating up considerably it looked as if the weather gods were playing yet another joke on the Formula Three contingent after the intense rain that has plagued us all season all over Europe. This time the resultant heat was affecting the tyres badly and the Invitation Class men were all really struggling to get any sort of performance out of the unfamiliar Cooper Tires rubber. It was to act in large part to the advantage of the British Series runners who are used to the very narrow performance window of their official rubber.
Certainly in free practice the British-based competitors had had the upper hand and it soon became apparent that they would again. The Carlin team drivers took advantage of their pit space allocation and were first out, though they were joined soon enough by the rest of the 29 cars, with the exception of Lucas Wolf (URD Rennsport) who would not be seen until well into the session.
Meanwhile Sainz Jr was busy leading the charge at Carlin, with Jazeman Jaafar and Jack Harvey 2nd and 3rd ahead of the rest. The lead Invitation Class runner at this point was Tom Blomqvist (ma-con Motorsport) in 7th but no one was convinced that would be the last we heard from them, and while Sainz eased into the 2:15 second bracket (with no one vaguely close at that point) most people were eyeing the Prema Powerteam leader, Juncadella, and wondering just when he might make his move.
It came soon enough with a leap up the order to 8th, while the Angolan Racing Team’s Luis Sá Silva was being warned about not respecting track limits. He wasn’t the only one, perhaps not unsurprisingly, but he was the first and most noticeable in that he would keep doing it despite it seemingly not moving him up the order in any significant fashion.
Further up the order it was all change with Serralles digging deep and hauling the car round in cavalier fashion to claim provisional pole, ahead of Sainz Jr, Jaafar, Harvey, Hannes van Asseldonk (Fortec Motorsport), Harry Tincknell (Carlin), Pietro Fantin (Carlin), Felix Rosenqvist (Mücke Motorsport), Lynn and Blomqvist, now back down in 10th. Juncadella put in another quick lap to edge back up to 8th, but at the top there was no shifting Serralles, who put in another quick lap to stay on pole with Sainz Jr alongside.
The next significant improvements came from Lynn, who moved up to 4th, two places ahead of Pipo Derani (Fortec Motorsport) in 6th, after which it started to get very quiet out there with the pitstop rush starting relatively early as the tyres started to degrade in the heat. Harvey and Fantin both dived in early, with Juncadella one of the few to stay out as he put in a massive effort to move up to 7th on what was now an almost empty track.
As almost the entire field seemed hell-bent on getting into the pits for tweaks and new rubber, Andrea Roda (Jo Zeller Racing) and Emil Bernstorff (ma-con Motorsport) improved for 19th and 20th respectively, before they too pitted. Only Juncadella seemed inclined to stay out for as long as possible.
With half the session gone it was still Serralles ahead from Sainz Jr, Jaafar, Lynn, Harvey, Derani, Juncadella, van Asseldonk, Tincknell and Fantin. Rosenqvist was in 11th from Blomqvist, Michael Lewis (Prema Powerteam), Raffaele Marciello (Prema Powerteam), Sven Muller (Prema Powerteam), Pascal Wehrlein (Mücke Motorsport), Nick McBride (ThreeBond with T-Sport), Richard Bradley (Carlin), Roda and Bernstorff. 21st and on National Class pole was Adderly Fong (C F Motorsport), Fahmi Ilyas (Double R Racing), Sá Silva, Sandro Zeller (Jo Zeller Racing) Richard “Spike” Goddard (T-Sport), Geoff Uhrhane (Double R Racing), Duvashen Padayachee (Double R Racing) and Pedro Pablo Calbimonte (T-Sport).
Fong and McBride were now the only two out thus proving that it really was time for new tyres. The temperature was still high but was at least dropping, though not to a level that was comfortable for the engines or tyres. Gradually they all started to drift out, almost reluctant to bake in the heat, and Wolf finally showed up too, with less than half a second to go. Meanwhile the screens were indicating that there had been an incident in the pit lane involving car number 21 (Tincknell) and that it was under investigation.
While that was going on McBride put in a good effort and jumped to 12th while Sa Silva was busy being warned again, but not going faster. Wehrlein also got an improvement but stayed 16th while Ilyas edged into the top 20th. A superbly judged lap from Juncadella was enough to promote him to 3rd while his fellow Euroseries runners continued to be baffled by the unfamiliar boots, but Lynn had something to say about that and was able to reclaim one 3rd place before the flag fell.
He was just in time because a crash between van Asseldonk and Harvey caused yellow flags in and around Les Combes and everyone slowed down. Just ahead of that Blomqvist, despite still not knowing quite what to make of the Cooper Tires, was able to claim 2nd in the National Class with a time that moved him to 6th just behind Jaafar. Lewis was the only other improver with a time that was good enough for 11th and then the flag fell and it was all over bar the shouting – of which there was probably quite a lot with the Team Manager of car 21 (Tincknell) being called to the race director afterwards, as were both Harvey and Derani.
The order then for Race 3 (based on each driver’s fastest lap of the session) was Serralles, from Sainz Jr (despite the latter complaining of a misfire on the straights), Juncadella after what the Spaniard considered his best lap of the year, Lynn, Jaafar, Blomqvist, Harvey, Derani, van Asseldonk and Tincknell. 11th was the 3rd highest placed Invitation Class runner, Lewis, from Fantin, Rosenqvist, McBride, Marciello, Müller, Bernstorff, Wehrlein, Ilyas and Uhrhane. Bradley ended the session in 21st from Roda, Zeller, Wolf, Fong (on National Class pole), Goddard, Sá Silva, Padayachee and Calbimonte.
For Race 1, Serralles and Sainz Jr will again share the front row with Lynn 3rd. and Juncadella 4th. Next up is van Asseldonk, ahead of Jaafar, Fantin, Lewis, Tincknell and Harvey. 11th was Blomqvist, from Derani, Rosenqvist, McBride, Marciello, Wehrlein, Müller, Ilyas, Uhrhane and Bernstorff. 21st this time will be Roda, Bradley, Wolf, Zeller, Sá Silva, Goddard, Fong, Padayachee and Calbimonte.
Weather: Hot, sunny, dry