Qualifying report – Round 22 (Race 1)
After a rollercoaster of a qualifying session at RedBull Ring Esteban Ocon (Prema Powerteam) finally emerged to claim pole for tomorrow morning’s race, just beating Max Verstappen (Van Amersfoort Racing) to the position in the closing seconds of the session, while Tom Blomqvist (Jagonya Ayam with Carlin) finished 3rd, suggesting that his luck may have finally changed for the better, and that he is perhaps no longer the man most likely to be struck by lightning in a storm. Might be time to finally buy that lottery ticket, Tom…
After a somewhat sparsely attended Moscow weekend, the field was back to full strength, with Ed Jones (Carlin) back in action after being sidelined with a back injury, albeit with Alfonso Celis taking the place of Mitch Gilbert at Fortec Motorsport, the Australian having defected to GP3 where his budget will stretch a lot further.
T-Sport were also back and as always their pair of Richard “Spike” Goddard and Alexander Toril were first out on track, for reasons best known to themselves. Eurointernational’s Michele Beretta was also on track, but that was pretty much it for the initial few minutes. No one seemed to be in much of a hurry to join in right now. It wasn’t then especially surprising to see Beretta occupying the top slot early on, ahead of Toril. With just a handful of drivers on a flying lap, that would soon change when the others joined in.
And so it proved, Verstappen going to provisional pole by a good half second as the times started to fall. Really given that they only have 20 minutes in which to find the space to set a good time, there didn't seem to be much sense of urgency. In fact there was almost a sense of resignation as Ocon came round to complete his first flying lap and went quicker than the Dutch sensation, and than his own young team-mate Antonio Fuoco by 0.8 seconds. There was a feeling that this was getting ridiculous. Could anyone mount a challenge to the Frenchman?
As it turned out, yes they could but it would take a little more time. John Bryant-Meisner (Fortec Motorsport) came round for 4th splitting Toril (in 4th) from Goddard (who remained 5th), so clearly there was much scope for change before the end. Dennis van der Laar (Prema Powerteam) was next to show in 3rd, but the changes were now beginning to come thick and fast. Jules Szymkowiak (Van Amersfoort Racing) was 2nd for about a nano-second, but was pushed down by Verstappen, as he tried to challenge the increasingly rapid Ocon.
It was unfortunate that along with the increasingly rapid laps, there came an increasing number of disallowed times, track limits being exceeded by pretty much everyone by the end of the session. In fact once the dust settled only Ocon and Bryant-Meisner had not had any times deleted. The track limits issue is getting beyond a joke now, and it really is time that the powers that be took a long, hard look at this matter and got it sorted out. If you don’t want drivers going beyond the track limits, surely there are saner ways of handling it?
Anyway, a lap later and Szymkowiak was back to 2nd, and again he was pushed out by Verstappen, a Dutch scrap showing signs of breaking out. Lucas Auer (kfzteile24 Mücke Motorsport) was 4th, just ahead of Tatiana Calderon, the Colombian flattering the Jo Zeller Racing car as she hauled it round at speeds her team-mate Sandro Zeller seemed unable to get close to.
The next round of changes saw Roy Nissany (kfzteile24 Mücke Motorsport) move up to 3rd, get displaced by Fuoco and then all of them be pushed down by Blomqvist who was now 2nd. And still Ocon stayed on top as the others fought among themselves instead of getting on terms with him. Fuoco was pushing hard, and was soon back on top of the fight for 2nd, which was when Antonio Giovinazzi (Jagonya Ayam with Carlin) joined in, hitting 4th just ahead of Felix Rosenqvist (kfzteile24 Mücke Motorsport).
The speed with which the order was changing was becoming dizzying, next to 2nd being Nissany, but then Jones was there, proving that his performance in British F3 last weekend at Spa was no fluke and, while he may not be 100% recovered from the back injury, he’s certainly well enough to race again. With Rosenqvist and van de Laar trading 5th between them, it was still all on for pole. Even though Ocon still appeared to be untouchable.
Blomqvist dug a little deeper to go 2nd, then lost it to Verstappen who was now as close as anyone had got to Ocon, the gap down to a mere 0.2 seconds from the massive half second plus that it had been till now. The constant shifts in order continued, with Jake Dennis (Carlin) hauling himself into 7th from 25th, with Gustavo Menezes (Van Amersfoort Racing) doing much the same to 8th from 26th.
The changes in the top ten were constant, if you ignored the fact that Ocon was clinging to pole like a particularly persistent limpet. His response to Verstappen closing in was to increase the gap to 0.5 seconds, but Verstappen reduced it again, while the others shot up and tumbled down the timing tables, Menezes plummeting back to 26th almost before anyone had registered he had managed to move away from there.
As the session built to a crescendo and time began to run out, Giovinazzi came back to 3rd ahead of Rosenqvist and, while Fuoco took a tilt at Ocon and missed. Progress came finally when Giovinazzi came round again and suddenly the gap to the pole man was a mere 0.056 seconds. Maybe it could be done!
Ocon didn’t think so, and promptly went even faster, while behind him Jones was next to challenge, edging into 2nd ahead of Menezes and Verstappen. It was still anyone’s guess who would end up 2nd, even if pole looked as if it belonged to Ocon for the 17th time this season. Except maybe it didn’t. Giovinazzi suddenly topped the times, a whole 0.096 seconds ahead of Ocon, with Jones now 3rd and King 5th. Blomqvist turned out to have more speed as well and as Giovinazzi dived into the pits, his team-mate was the fastest man out there, at least temporarily.
It still wasn’t over. Verstappen went even quicker but Ocon was still motoring on, determined not to give in until he ran out of time. He squeezed ahead of Giovinazzi for 3rd, while Fuoco was 5th from Rosenqvist, Jones Menezes, King and Auer, but still the breakneck pace of change continued. Blomqvist went faster than Verstappen, but then Ocon dug even deeper, snatching pole back on his penultimate lap, and just to prove that he’s also on form, Verstappen pushed the Carlin man down to 3rd on his final lap.
When the dust settled, and all the penalties had been applied, Ocon was on pole yet again, though at least not by the sort of crushing margins we saw in Moscow. Verstappen was 2nd, from Blomqvist, Giovinazzi, Fuoco, Dennis, Menezes, Auer, Rosenqvist and Jones. Jordan King (Carlin) was 11th, ahead of Nicholas Latifi (Prema Powerteam), van de Laar, Felix Serralles (Team West-TecF3), Nissany, Sean Gelael (Jagonya Ayam with Carlin), Santino Ferrucci (Eurointernational), Toril, Goddard and Calderon. 21st place went the way of Szymkowiak, from Hector Hurst (Team West-TecF3), Zeller, Bryant-Meisner, Beretta and Celis.
Race 1 Grid (Fastest Qualifying Laps of Qualifying Session 1):
1st – No. 2, Esteban Ocon*, FRA, Prema Powerteam, Dallara F312, Mercedes-Benz, 1:24.856
2nd – No. 30, Max Verstappen*, NLD, Van Amersfoort Racing, Dallara F312, Volkswagen, 1:25.006
3rd – No. 31, Tom Blomqvist, GBR, Jagonya Ayam with Carlin, Dallara F312, Volkswagen, 1:25.045
4th – No. 19, Antonio Giovinazzi, ITA, Jagonya Ayam with Carlin, Dallara F312, Volkswagen, 1:25.206
5th – No. 25, Antonio Fuoco*, ITA, Prema Powerteam, Dallara F312, Mercedes-Benz, 1:25.353
6th – No. 28, Jake Dennis*, GBR, Carlin, Dallara F312, Volkswagen, 1:25.367
7th – No. 16, Gustavo Menezes, USA, Van Amersfoort Racing, Dallara F312, Volkswagen, 1:25.450
8th – No. 3, Lucas Auer, AUT, kfzteile24 Mücke Motorsport, Dallara F312, Mercedes-Benz, 1:25.454
9th – No. 27, Felix Rosenqvist, SWE, kfzteile24 Mücke Motorsport, Dallara F312, Mercedes-Benz, 1;25.473
10th – No. 6, Edward Jones, UAE, Carlin, Dallara F312, Volkswagen, 1:25.474
11th – No. 5, Jordan King, GBR, Carlin, Dallara F312, Volkswagen, 1:25.489
12th – No. 1, Nicholas Latifi, CDN, Prema Powerteam, Dallara F312, Mercedes-Benz, 1:25.555
13th – No. 26, Dennis van de Laar, NLD, Prema Powerteam, Dallara F312, Mercedes-Benz, 1:25.769
14th – No. 21, Felix Serralles, PRT, Team West-TecF3, Dallara F312, Mercedes-Benz, 1:25.876
15th – No. 4, Roy Nissany, ISR, kfzteile24 Mücke Motorsport, Dallara F312, Mercedes-Benz, 1:25.920
16th – No. 20, Sean Gelael, IDN, Jagonya Ayam with Carlin, Dallara F312, Volkswagen, 1:26.047
17th – No. 29, Santino Ferrucci*, USA, Eurointernational, Dallara F312, Mercedes-Benz, 1:26.133
18th – No. 12, Alexander Toril, ESP, ThreeBond with T-Sport, Dallara F312, NBE, 1:26.151
19th – No. 11, Richard Goddard, AUS, ThreeBond with T-Sport, Dallara F312, NBE, 1:26.265
20th – No. 18, Tatiana Calderon, COL, Jo Zeller Racing, Dallara F312, Mercedes-Benz, 1:26.340
21st – No. 15, Jules Szymkowiak*, NLD, Van Amersfoort Racing, Dallara F312, Volkswagen, 1:26.372
22nd – No. 22, Hector Hurst, GBR, Team West-TecF3, Dallara F312, Mercedes-Benz, 1:26.544
23rd – No. 17, Sandro Zeller, SWI, Jo Zeller Racing, Dallara F312, Mercedes-Benz, 1:26.549
24th – No. 10, John Bryant Meisner, SWE, Fortec Motorsports, Dallara F312, Mercedes-Benz,1:26.683