Zandvoort this weekend, for the latest round of the FIA European F3 Championship, was all about Felix Rosenqvist (kfzteile-24 Mücke Motorsport), the Swede arriving at the circuit knowing he needed to repeat his 2013 Masters of Formula 3 performance if he was to arrest what looked like the inexorable progress of Raffaele Marciello (Prema Powerteam) towards the 2013 title. He had a deficit of 34.5 points to try and make up on the Italian.
By the end of the weekend, in which the Swede scored the maximum possible number of points, that deficit had been reduced to 9.5 and with two meetings (and six races) left to run, the contest is now looking very different. It's all still to play for and this is most definitely not over.
Round 22 (Race 1):
Under sunny - if cool - skies the first race saw Daniil Kvyat (Carlin) win over Rosenqvist, but as the Russian is a guest driver, he does not score points. In effect that made Rosenqvist the winner, from Alex Lynn (Prema Powerteam) and Jordan King (Carlin), the newly crowned British F3 International Series champion.
Kvyat made an excellent start, getting ahead from the get-go, while behind him Lynn was holding off what seemed to be the entire pack, or at least the top half of it. However there was a Safety Car period almost immediately after Lucas Wolf (URD Rennsport) stopped on the track in an unsafe place. It would turn out to be that sort of race... Whether he'd been the victim of someone else was hard to tell. However, Luis Felipe "Pipo" Derani (Fortec Motorsport) was now in the pitlane having his Dallara's broken nose fixed up, after he had run up the rear of Lucas Auer (Prema Powerteam) at the start.
Meanwhile, the pack settled in behind the Safety Car, Kvyat ahead of Lynn, Rosenqvist, King, Marciello, Harry Tincknell (Carlin), Michael Lewis (kfzteile-24 Mücke Motorsport), Nicholas Latifi (Carlin), Auer and Sven Müller (Van Amersfoort Racing). The restart came after four laps (of a scheduled but now unlikely 23) and Kvyat had it all nicely under control. So did Rosenqvist, sweeping round the outside of Lynn as they charged through Tarzan for the first time at racing speed. Further back, Auer got the drop on Latifi for 8th, and Blomqvist made a textbook move to relieve Mueller of 10th place.
However, just as it looked like we might have a race on our hands, we had a second Safety Car period. This time it was because Felix Serralles (Fortec Motorsport) had gone off heavily into the barriers after he got his wheels on the slippery green stuff on a corner. He appeared to be OK, but the car could not be left where it was.
Kvyat was still leading, from Rosenqvist, Lynn, King, Marciello, Tincknell and Lewis. The clear up was soon achieved, and the race restarted again with 17 minutes left. Kvyat, who was getting used to this whole restart business now, again didn't put a wheel wrong. He held onto his lead while behind him, Lewis went off into the barriers. It looked as if we might end up with yet another Safety Car. Perhaps they should just give the trophy to the Safety Car driver. This time, though, the marshals leapt into frantic action and hauled the American's car out of the way.
The marshals, in fact, seemed to be getting a lot of practice. Their next target was Alfonso Celis (Fortec Motorsport), the Mexican having gone off. This was beginning to get ridiculous)! To give you an idea of how many people had now bitten the dust, Dennis van de Laar, the local hero driving for Van Amersfoort Racing, had started 19th and was now 12th without needing to overtake anyone. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there were an awful lot of drivers under investigation for all sorts of reasons.
The worst of it was that they weren't done yet either. Alexander Sims (ThreeBond with T-Sport) was next to go off, the Englishman limping slowly back to the pits. Next to bite the dust (or gravel anyway) was André Rudersdorf (ma-con), who ended up in the gravel, his race at an abrupt end. With less than five minutes to run, it was starting to seem as if no one wanted to finish.
And so Kvyat won his first F3 race, from Rosenqvist, who thus claimed 25 points for a win. Lynn was 3rd, King held onto 4th despite Marciello mounting a late charge which didn’t quite come off. 6th went to Tincknell, from Auer, Latifi, Blomqvist and Müller. 11th was van de Laar, from Mitchell Gilbert (kfzteile-24 Mücke Motorsport), Eddie Cheever (Prema Powerteam), Antonio Giovinazzi (Double R Racing), Roy Nissany (kfzteile-24 Mücke Motorsport), Jann Mardenborough (Carlin), Sean Gelael (Double R Racing), Richard “Spike” Goddard (ThreeBond with T-Sport), Luis Felipe “Pipo” Derani (Fortec Motorsport) and Sandro Zeller (Jo Zeller Racing). In 21st was Tatiana Calderon (Double R Racing), with the final classified runner being Rudersdorf.
Fastest lap of the race went to Kvyat.
Round 23 (Race 2):
Saturday evening’s race was delayed after a Porsche in the previous race made a massive hole in the barriers that had to be repaired. Thus, as the temperature dropped, and the sun started to dip over the horizon, the field lined up 20 minutes late, the race cut short by five minutes to comply with curfew times. If we were lucky we might get 18 laps.
Whether the pressure at Ferrari is getting to him, or whether it was cold tyres, or something else altogether, as Rosenqvist stormed into the lead, Marciello stalled on the grid. By the time he got going, the leaders were long gone, even with the instant Safety Car (just add F3 cars…) that had to be scrambled after Cheever and Giovinazzi clashed, leaving the Double R driver to stagger round to the pits and Cheever stranded in the boonies.
The incident appears to have kicked off when Giovinazzi clipped the stalled Marciello, and then collected Cheever. Either way there were three pretty aggravated Italians in the Netherlands right now.
Behind the Safety Car Rosenqvist settled in to wait it out, with Lynn in 2nd, from Kvyat, King, Derani, Tincknell, Blomqvist, Müller, Gilbert and Lewis. 11th was Mardenborough, then came Sims, Auer, Serralles, Latifi, Wolf, Nissany, Celis, Marciello and Goddard. Van de Laar was 21st from Gelael, Rudersdorf, Zeller and Calderon. It was getting messy out there again, it seemed.
Rosenqvist controlled the restart well, while Müller seemed to almost jump the restart, pulling alongside Blomqvist rather too early. Meanwhile Marciello had passed Celis for 17th but he was a long way adrift of the points, and Rosenqvist was pushing very hard to open a good gap.
With only 18 minutes left, Marciello looked unlikely to get back into the points, especially with so many cars to pass. It just looked unlikely to happen. This race was proving very costly for the Italian. He wasn’t the only one whose afternoon was not going to plan. Wolf had gone off, and was the pushed out of the way by a couple of burly marshals. The Safety Car was scrambled, and Wolf promptly got going, rejoining the race despite having received outside attention.
After a lap, the Safety Car pulled in and the race went live, and almost immediately Serralles went off, perhaps suffering from cold tyres. Luckily, he came to a halt so far off that the Safety Car didn’t have to come back out again and the various scraps breaking out could continue.
Auer was up to 12th now, and was having at Sims - who was having none of it! Sims continued to hold Auer off and the result was that Latifi came through instead to snatch the place from both of them. Meanwhile, Mardenborough tried to pass Lewis for 13th round the outside in an alarmingly optimistic move. It was all quiet in the top 10 so at least that gave the few remaining spectators something to watch.
Lynn was close to Rosenqvist but not close enough to make a move, and although Derani was having to hold off Tincknell for 5th, but neither situation looked likely to develop into a serious challenge. And so it proved, despite Lynn ending the race a mere 0.8 seconds behind Rosenqvist. 3rd this time went to Kvyat, from King, Derani, Tincknell, Müller, Blomqvist, Gilbert and Sims. 11th was Latifi, from Auer, Lewis, Nissany, van de Laar, Marciello, Celis, Goddard, Zeller and Gelael. Rudersdorf came home 21st, from Calderon and Mardenborough.
Predictably Wolf was later excluded from the results for receiving outside assistance.
Fastest lap went to Rosenqvist this time.
Round 24 (Race 3):
Sunday morning’s race was again run under sunny, blue skies, and once again Rosenqvist dominated proceedings. He made a good getaway, followed into the first corner by King and Lynn, and a pushing, shoving mob of cars that tangled behind them.
Van de Laar dived into the pits after a clash with Latifi, and Lewis just missed out getting involved. Marciello was 5th behind Kvyat and looked as if he was planning a move, but so did Derani who was 6th just behind Marciello. The upshot was that Marciello might just opt to hold his position and claim the points rather than taking any sort of unnecessary risk.
Shortly afterwards Müller made contact with something and broke his wing, necessitating a trip to the pits for repairs. At the same time Latifi was being craned away after hitting the barriers, while the fight for 11th had become a full scale scrap between Gilbert, Nissany and Lewis.
As Rosenqvist continued to lead, Derani fell back a bit, leaving Marciello to menace Kvyat. The Russian wasn’t impressed, and he certainly wasn’t intimidated by what was happening behind him. Just behind Marciello, it was also close between Tincknell, Blomqvist and Auer as they battled over 7th place.
Meanwhile, King had a look at Rosenqvist but couldn’t quite get close enough to make a move. If they finished in this order, then it looked as if Rosenqvist would be just 25.5 points down on Marciello, with just six races left (Vallelunga and Hockenheim).
However, that was bargaining without the other drivers and the amount of mayhem the meeting had so far delivered. Celis was next to run into trouble, hitting the barriers in much the same spot that Latifi had. He too was quickly removed and the race continued unabated.
In the pack, Auer took a look at Blomqvist, but couldn't quite make it stick. However he was hot on the trail suddenly. Giovinazzi, on a recovery drive, passed Lewis for 13th, with Mardenborough pushing hard and looking likely to get the American too.
That all became moot when we had another Safety Car period. This time it was something no one would have predicted. Marciello had gone off into the barriers. He was Ok but the car was a mess, and he didn’t look at all happy. The Safety Car came out with ten minutes to spare and took over the field.
The order was Rosenqvist, from King, Lynn, Kvyat, Derani, Tincknell, Blomqvist, Auer, Sims and Gilbert. 11th was Nissany, ahead of Giovinazzi, Lewis, Mardenborough, Goddard, Serralles, Cheever, Rudersdorf, Wolf and Gelael. Zeller was 21st from Calderon.
That was pretty much the end of any racing, because there were scant minutes left by the time the race went live. In fact it ended up as a one lap sprint, with Rosenqvist fending off King to hold his lead all the way to the finish. Auer nabbed 7th from Blomqvist by forcing him wide at Tarzan, and that was it for this round of the series.
Rosenqvist again scored the maximum points to move back into serious contention in the 2013 championship, with King just behind him in a very fine 2nd. 3rd was Lynn, from Kvyat, Derani, Tincknell, Auer, Blomqvist, Sims and Gilbert. Giovinazzi came home in 11th, ahead of Nissany, Lewis, Mardenborough, Serralles, Goddard, Cheever, Rudersdorf, Wolf and Gelael.
The last four places went to Zeller, Müller, van de Laar and Calderon.
Rosenqvist is now just 9.5 points behind Marciello as the title chase heats up. Vallelunga promises to be very interesting indeed.
Fastest lap – for the second time this weekend – went to Rosenqvist.
Next Rounds: Rounds 25, 26 & 27, Vallelunga, October 11th/13th