At Hockenheim this afternoon, the battle that has raged in this year's FIA F3 European Championship showed no sign of being over yet, with series leader Raffaele Marciello (Prema Powerteam) and Felix Rosenqvist (kfzteile24-Mücke Motorsport) dominating proceedings with the front row occupied by the pair of them for all three grids (Marciello has a slight advantage with two poles to Rosenqvist’s one, but that doesn’t actually prove anything). 3rd on the grid for Race 1 and Race 3 is Harry Tincknell (Carlin) while Alex Lynn (Prema Powerteam) will start from 3rd for Race 2.
With the weather veering between overcast and sunny the session got underway bang on time, and the usual suspects were first out of the pits (someone has to be) while Marciello and Rosenqvist waited around for the track to be cleaned up enough to make it worth going out. Although 15 of the 27 cars were soon out, the early stages of the session as ever proved to be more than a little pointless. Kevin Korjus (ThreeBond with T-Sport) was fastest initially but none of the regular front runners had even set a timed lap, never mind a flying one. That was evidenced by the fact that Richard “Spike” Goddard (ThreeBond with T-Sport)) was 2nd and Tatiana Calderon (Double R Racing) was 3rd, which is not where you would expect to find either of them.
Felix Serralles (Fortec Motorsport) was 8th but the session was only really just beginning. His team-mate John Bryant-Meisner appeared on the order just behind him, just as Marciello emerged from the pits, followed shortly after by Rosenqvist. It was now definitely a case of watch this space. Meanwhile Antonio Giovinazzi (Double R Racing) and Sean Gelael (Double R Racing) outpaced Korjus’ initial time. Lucas Wolf (URD Racing) meanwhile was up in 4th.
He was demoted almost immediately by Calderon who leaped back to 4th, the Colombian again demonstrating that she really likes the big tracks, and has improved as a driver throughout this season. Meanwhile a fresh improvement from Serralles was enough for 5th with Bryant-Meisner still following in his footsteps in 6th.
And then it got a bit weird as pretty much everyone dived for the pits, starting with Lynn, Lucas Auer (Prema Powerteam) and Luis Felipe “Pipo” Derani (Fortec Motorsport) and culminating with everyone apart from Stefano Coletti (ma-con) in the pits. It seems likely that, having signed up to compete in the Macau F3 Grand Prix this year, he felt he needed all the track time he could get after a four year absence from the formula and a free practice session that didn’t go as well as he might have hoped.
With ten minutes left the order was now Giovinazzi, from Gelael, Korjus, Calderon, Serralles, Bryant-Meisner, Goddard, Sandro Zeller (Jo Zeller Racing), Wolf and Andre Rudersdorf (ma-con). In 11th was Roy Nissany (kfzteile24-Mücke Motorsport), ahead of Mitchell Gilbert (kfzteile24-Mücke Motorsport), Dennis van de Laar (Van Amersfoort Racing), Jann Mardenborough (Carlin), Nicholas Latifi (Carlin), Sven Müller (Van Amersfoort Racing), Coletti, Michael Lewis (kfzteile24-Mücke Motorsport), Alex Lynn (Prema Powerteam), Auer and Derani. That put Eddie Cheever (Prema Powerteam) 21st, with Marciello back in 22nd from Tom Blomqvist (EuroInternational), Jordan King (Carlin), Tincknell, Rosenqvist and Nick Cassidy (Carlin). Clearly this session was a long way from done.
With 9 minutes left everyone was back out and then the fun started. Derani leaped up the timing screens to go 5th, only to have it taken from him by Marciello, who was almost immediately demoted by Rosenqvist. Cheever improved to 2nd, and the Gilbert found an improvement for provisional pole. Another car over the line and Korjus was 3rd, while Calderon moved into 5th and Rosenqvist and Marciello were in 9th and 10th behind Goddard! That didn’t seem right somehow.
Müller, who has been running much better since his change of team moved up to 7th, while Derani plummeted to 27th. This was turning into quite a strange session. Blomqvist was very briefly on pole but was them bumped down a place by Marciello, and another when Rosenqvist set the 2nd fastest time. Korjus moved into 3rd, from Lynn, Cheever and Gilbert. Gilbert improved to 5th then Müller took it from him. 5th seemed to be the position everyone wanted...Except Lynn who promptly improved to 3rd.
The changes just kept right on coming. Auer went fastest next, then Korjus went even faster, proving that Alexander Sims’ pace in the T-Sport car was no fluke. The car and engine combination really is that good. However, it was all still happening at the front, with Marciello now 3rd and Rosenqvist 4th. Another driver showing remarkable well was van de Laar who improved for 2nd, the Dutchman seemingly energized by the presence of Müller as his team mate for the last couple of race. Müller too was showing well and was now 3rd.
The championship contenders now slipped back to 5th (Marciello) and 6th (Rosenqvist) but neither of them were done yet either, and with four minutes left Rosenqvist went fastest of all, with Marciello still trailing him in 2nd. Korjus went 3rd while Giovinazzi settled in to 6th but then Müller went 4th swapping places with van de Laar. And then another contender for 5th turned up in the shape of Tincknell.
And still the improvements came. Auer went faster yet, getting into the 1.33s, only to have Rosenqvist come back at him. Lynn pushed him down another place, while Giovinazzi was 5th ahead of Marciello. However, Müller and van de Laar were back to fighting over 5th again with two more minutes of the session left.
Next Marciello moved to 4th but Rosenqvist was still fastest and if he could just hang on, it looked as if it might be two poles for him. However, that wasn’t going to happen if Marciello had anything to do with it. And he did. He went faster than Rosenqvist even it was only by 0.090 seconds. It was enough. Behind them now were Lynn, Auer, Tincknell, Müller, van de Laar, Giovinazzi, Korjus and King, while Serralles and Derani were now fighting over 12th just as the session ended. That meant Marciello and Rosenqvist had a pole position apiece, while Tincknell nabbed 3rd on the closing lap and shoved everyone else down a place.
And so Marciello starts Race 1 from pole, from Rosenqvist, Tincknell, Lynn, Auer, Müller, van de Laar, Giovinazzi, Korjus and King. Cheever ended the session in 11th, ahead of Serrallés, Derani, Bryant-Meisner, Cassidy, Blomqvist, Mardenborough, Latifi, Gilbert and Lewis. In 21st was Nissany, from Wolf, Gelael, Coletti, Rudersdorf, Goddard, Zeller and Calderón.
For Race 2, the grid order would be Rosenqvist, from Marciello, Lynn, Tincknell, Auer, Giovinazzi, Müller, King, van de Laar and Korjus. Starting 11th would be Cheever, ahead of Serrallés, Derani, Blomqvist, Cassidy, Bryant-Meisner, Latifi, Gilbert, Lewis and Mardenborough. The final batch of places went to Nissany, from Gelael, Wolf, Zeller, Coletti, Goddard, Calderón and Rudersdorf.
With no problems in the first session, the second session started on time as well. This was even slower to get going but eventually the pits emptied and the track filled up. This time Derani and Serralles were the early pace setters but as ever it took around five minutes to get everyone out and a little longer before they were all on the pace. It was obvious that we could probably disregard Nissany and Rudersdorf in a very temporary 1st and 2nd place. It wasn’t long before Derani got back in there as did Serralles.
Even so the session was proving very slow. At the seven minute point only a half dozen or so drivers had a flying lap to their name. Wolf moved up to 2nd and Müller was up there too. Nissany went fastest but then Marciello appeared in 2nd while Rosenqvist was 7th on their first flying laps. Mardenborough was next to show in 3rd but he was almost immediately bumped down by both Lewis and Latifi.
Nissany improved back to 2nd and then Derani went fastest. All of this put Marciello 6th, and Rosenqvist in 11th which meant they both had some work to do. The next showing was Bryant-Meisner who went 4th. The session was still proving slow to get going and we’d hit the halfway point now, with Derani ahead of Latifi, Nissany and Bryant-Meisner.
Serralles promptly upset the order by going faster than anyone before Derani pipped him to the lead. Rudersdorf moved into an unlikely 3rd ahead of Tincknell who was now 4th. Rosenqvist moved into 3rd while Marciello was now 14th. A lap later and the Italian was back on top, while King went 5th. Auer was still pushing and was 2nd, but then Tincknell hit the front. There were now six minutes left but it still wasn’t over. Marciello dug deep to go even faster and to prove that Prema were on form Auer went 2nd again. King was now 4th while Blomqvist hit 7th, pushing Rosenqvist down a place. Mardenborough pushed both of them down another place and it was not looking too good for Rosenqvist.
That meant that Marciello was now leading the pack from Tincknell, Auer, King, Latifi, Serralles and Korjus in 7th. Then Rosenqvist came round for 2nd and the fight was on again. It was really just going to come down to the two of them it seemed. There were changes down the order too when Cassidy suddenly appeared in 5th while Latifi took 7th from King. Giovinazzi was still running strongly too and was soon up to 6th while Serralles pushed his way to 7th. 5th was still proving popular and now it was in the possession of King who now stole 5th from Cassidy.
In the middle of the pack there were lots and lots of changes but everyone’s eyes were fixed on the front of the grid where Marciello and Rosenqvist were now trading fastest sectors as they scrambled for dominance. It could still go either way. The gap between them now was only 0.068 seconds and Rosenqvist was clearly not giving up despite the fact that Marciello was still fastest.
As the session ticked down through its remaining minutes Marciello and Tincknell both pitted, seeming to think there was no point staying out on the track. They may well have been right. Certainly Rosenqvist could not manage to find the final few fractions of a second he needed to displace Marciello. He would start Race 3 behind the Italian, bit ahead of Tincknell, Auer, King, Cassidy, Giovinazzi, Serrallés, Blomqvist and Cheever. 11th goes to Latifi from Derani, Müller, Bryant-Meisner, van de Laar, Lewis, Gilbert, Mardenborough, Wolf and Lynn. 21st will be Korjus, ahead of Rudersdorf, Nissany, Goddard, Gelael, Calderón, Zeller and Coletti.