At the RedBull Ring this past weekend the shape of the 2013 FIA F3 European Championship took an unexpected turn, with the runaway series leader Raffaele Marciello (Prema Powerteam) having a weekend he will want to forget, while his nearest rival, Felix Rosenqvist (kfzteile24 Mücke Motorsport) found a fine run of form to claim three victories as he battled guest driver Daniil Kvyat (Carlin) to three podium finishes. With Marciello way off the pace, by the end of the weekend the 77.5-point deficit had been reduced to 27.5, meaning that the battle for the title no longer looks quite as clear cut as it did. We might even have a proper fight on our hands now.
The Prema boys as a whole seemed to be in trouble during qualifying, with Alex Lynn unable to get into the top half of the grid, and Marciello qualifying 13th and 16th for the first two races and only getting near the front for the final race. In fact the class team of the weekend appeared to be Carlin, Kvyat dominating practice, and his team-mates Jann Mardenborough, Nicholas Latifi, Jordan King and Harry Tincknell all well up the order at the end of two wet sessions.
Race 1: Rosenqvist and Kvyat drag race for the lead
The action was concentrated a little further back though, with Auer suddenly found he had Sven Müller (ma-con) with him, the latter having found his way past King. The result was a fierce fight for 4th that culminated in Auer turning across Müller and leaving him nowhere to go. Auer came off worst, dropping down to 22nd, though he also cost Müller a couple of places, Latifi and Marciello both getting past as he tried to sort himself out.
Elsewhere Josh Hill (Fortec Motorsport) was the first retirement of the race, limping into the pits with broken suspension. It wasn’t clear what had happened to him, but given the sheer numbers, a certain amount of contact seems inevitable. Certainly Latifi was going in for his share of it as Marciello set about him for 5th and the Canadian resisted for all he was worth. Müller was with them as well, intensifying the fight exponentially, Müller eventually getting the better of the Italian.
As if that were not enough, King was now embroiled in a monumental fight with Wolf over 3rd with neither of them about to give in. For good measure, Lynn was on the move through the pack and was up to 8th having gained nine places, while Auer who had recovered to 13th was on a charge, possibly in the grip of a severe red mist. None of this trouble Rosenqvist in the slightest, the Swede a good six seconds clear of the rest as they reached the halfway mark.
Kvyat remained 2nd, from Wolf, King (still looking to claim the place from Wolf), Latifi, Muller and Marciello. The Carlin boys were certainly having a good run. Fortec, on the other hand, were not, with Felix Serralles joining Hill in retirement, leaving William Buller in 14th and Pipo Derani in 18th. It’s a long way from Daventry for pretty much no reward.
Shortly afterwards King finally got past Wolf, whose morning started to go downhill after that. Behind him, Marciello nearly lost out to Lynn, but then fought back and battled his way past Müller for 6th. It was no surprise that the screens suddenly started to show warnings for exceeding the track limits, given how hard everyone was trying. Kvyat, Tincknell, Wolf and Sandro Zeller (Jo Zeller Racing) were all mentioned in dispatches, though Wolf took it to extremes when he was first passed by Latifi and Marciello, then by Lynn. He then clashed with Tom Blomqvist (Eurointernational), when the latter also tried to pass.
Elsewhere, regular offender Sean Gelael (Double R Racing) was awarded a drive through penalty for "leaving the track without justifiable reason". There does seem increasingly a case to be made for something beyond the track limits apart from nice smooth Tarmac if you don’t want drivers using that area. He was joined in the pits by Wolf, who was penalized for hitting Blomqvist. It was all go out there!
Rosenqvist continued to pull away, with Kvyat clear of the battling horde behind him too. With four laps left, the order behind them was now King, from Latifi, Marciello, Müller, Lynn, Wolf and Eddie Cheever (Prema Powerteam), the latter now coming under pressure from Auer, who was soon through. Cheever fought back as the two of them went two abreast into the next corner. With Michael Lewis (kfzteile24 Mücke Motorsport) and Roy Nissany (kfzteile24 Mücke Motorsport) right on their rear wings, a collective holding of breath was in order, and in fact it was Lewis who came out ahead, gaining three places in one move!
Rosenqvist crossed the line at the end of the race 14 seconds clear of Kvyat, the Russian a further 10 seconds clear of 3rd placed man, King. 4th went to Marciello after a last lap lunge saw his past Latifi, while Müller was 6th from Lynn, Cheever, Lewis and Auer. Nissany, in 11th on the road, claimed the final point, leading home Tincknell, Mardenborough, Buller, Antonio Giovinazzi (Double R Racing), Wolf, Blomqvist, Derani, Zeller and Andre Rudersdorf (ma-con). 21st was Tatiana Calderon (Double R Racing), from Gelael, van de Laar, Richard “Spike” Goddard (ThreeBond with T-Sport) and Mitchell Gilbert (kfzteile24 Mücke Motorsport).
Måns Grenhagen (Van Amersfoort Racing) joined the list of retirements in the closing stages of the race.
The fastest lap of the race was set by Rosenqvist.
Race 2: Rosenqvist was wide awake to sneak past Kvyat but red flags ended the show early
At the start Rosenqvist was again wide awake and he shot past Kvyat (on pole but slow to get away), and out braked Wolf to move into a lead that was never threatened again. Kvyat recovered enough to charge back ahead of Wolf, and at the end of lap 1 the order at the front was pretty much settled for the top three but behind them, with Latifi in 4tdnh, and Müller in 5th it had the potential to be another interesting race. This was especially so with Auer on the move and up to 7th, just behind Cheever. Lynn was a distant 17th with Marciello a place behind him after the series leader ran wide at the start.
Rosenqvist soon pulled out a gap again, with Kvyat untroubled by Wolf. However, there was excitement aplenty in the shape of the Müller/Latifi battled, while Auer barged past Cheever for 7th, and towed King with him. Hill got between them and it was suddenly game on as they caught the battling pair ahead. Latifi had his work cut out as Müller went on the offensive, presumably spurred on by Auer, Hill and King looming large in his mirrors, the three of them locked together.
The wheels came off (literally) on Lap 7 when Latifi, Müller and Auer tried to run three abreast and found out the hard way that it wouldn’t work. With Auer trying to get up the inside at Turn 3, he clipped Müller’s wheels and pushed him into Latifi. Latifi was launched over the German’s car and narrowly missed flipping over. Auer was the only survivor, and was lucky to get away with it. Müller would later be adjudged guilty of causing a collision and handed a five grid place penalty for Race 3.
With yellow flags in place while a clean-up was effected, Rosenqvist still led from Kvyat, Wolf, Auer, Hill, King, Tincknell, Cheever, Blomqvist and Lewis. Surprisingly perhaps, the Safety Car was not scrambled. However, when a batch of drive through penalties were issued for going faster under yellows, it caused some speculation as to whether it might have been better to take control of the field rather than risk the marshals. The offenders were Serralles, Grenhagen, Mardenborough and Giovinazzi.
Once the dust settled, Rosenqvist was a good five seconds ahead of Kvyat and still pushing on. Marciello was still on the move too, and he was now 14th behind Lynn after a neat pass on Nissany, but he still had a lot of work to do. Another place was gained when he passed Gilbert, and then came the event that brought out the red flags.
Lynn passed Derani and the Brazilian tried to fight back, running alongside the Englishman as they raced down towards Turn 2. They made contact and Lynn smacked into the barriers, pretty much destroying his car in the process. He was out on the spot. Derani limped round to the pits with his suspension askew and was also out. The Safety Car was scrambled but it soon became obvious that the marshals would not be able to clear the wreckage away in the time left. There was really no choice but to haul the red flags out and declare the result a lap back.
Rosenqvist was declared the winner, from Kvyat, Wolf, Auer, Hill (later to also receive a five grid place penalty for not slowing sufficiently under yellows), King, Tincknell, Blomqvist, Cheever and Lewis. Derani was classified 11th and thus claimed the last point, while 12th went to Lynn, from Marciello, Gilbert, Nissany, Buller, Gelael, Rudersdorf, Goddard and Zeller. Calderon was 21st ahead of Mardenborough, Serralles, Giovinazzi, Grenhagen and van de Laar.
Rudersdorf was later disqualified for a technical infringement (his car’s lubrication system was found not to vent into a catch tank), though clearly it made no difference to the points.
Fastest lap this time went to Rosenqvist for the second time in the weekend.
Race 3: Even on a damp track, Rosenqvist is in command as 3rd win moves him closer to the points lead held by Marciello
Despite a slightly damp track on Sunday morning, Rosenqvist again made a great start though Marciello also got away well, pulling into the lead very briefly as Kvyat was once more a little tardy getting the power down. Rosenqvist came back at the Italian and Kvyat also found a way past, leaving Marciello in 3rd ahead of Latifi. With a lot of manoeuvring in the pack, though, it all suddenly got very chaotic.
Mardenbrough lost it completely and spun, sliding across the track where he was collected first by Blomqvist, breaking the suspension on the Eurointernational car. Blomqvist speared off into the barriers, while Grenhagen arrived and finished the demolition job on the front end of the Carlin car, ripping a large part of the front suspension off as he went). Van der Laar then cannoned into the wreckage and was launched, while Gilbert was also caught up in the mayhem.
With five cars off (well, Grenhagen was dragging the wreckage, festooned now with an extra front wheel and a fine selection of suspension struts that didn’t belong to him, back to the pits) there was really nothing for it but to send out the Safety Car. The hard working marshals set to work with brooms, and eventually a street cleaning vehicle, but it still took a good seven laps to restore the track to a useable condition.
Rosenqvist simply settled in behind the Safety Car, leading from Kvyat, Marciello, Auer, Latifi, King, Wolf, Tincknell, Serralles and Giovinazzi. 11th was Nissany ahead of Cheever, Müller, Buller, Lewis, Derani, Hill, Lynn, Rudersdorf and Gelael. In 21st was Goddard from Zeller and Calderon.
With the Safety Car still out at what should have been the halfway mark it was obvious that this was not going to run for the planned 24 laps and in fact the restart was finally given with 17 minutes of the 35-minute race left. Rosenqvist again controlled the field beautifully, while Kvyat held position too. Marciello, on the other hand, made a less than stellar restart and lost out right and left, ending up 8th as Auer stole 3rd, and King, Tincknell, Latifi and Derani all passed the Italian.
Marciello didn’t take it lying down and came straight back at Derani for 7th, but he’d given himself a lot to do. It didn’t help that there were several fights going on ahead and behind him, as King tried to deal with Auer and Lynn started to charge from the back again. Also further back, Nissany and Giovinazzi charged past Wolf, three abreast into one of the tight corners. Giovinazzi then got involved with Cheever and it all came to a crashing halt. Cheever spun his fellow Italian round and they were both out of the race. Judging by the body language (and the waved fists) they both reckoned the other was to blame…
As his compatriots made less than friendly gestures at each other in the gravel trap, Marciello passed Derani for 6th and Müller pulled into the pits, and out of the race. We now had just 20 cars left; it was as well the race wasn’t going to last much longer if we were to get any of them back.
Team mate Lynn was up to 10th as he fought back from yet another bad starting slot, passing Wolf easily, but no one could keep pace with Rosenqvist or for that matter Kvyat, which bodes well for the future of the category as it suggests that at least two teams can now challenge Prema’s erstwhile supremacy. Certainly the battle for fastest lap reinforced that belief.
Kvyat was only 1.1 second adrift of Rosenqvist when he set the fastest lap of the race. It was taken away from him almost immediately by Marciello, and then Rosenqvist went even faster. The second half of the season looks like it is going to be very interesting indeed as these three appear to have the measure of each other.
With less than 10 minutes left now, Rosenqvist still headed Kvyat, Auer remained 3rd and King, Tincknell, Marciello, Derani, Latifi, Nissany and Lynn rounded out the top 10. Behind them, Hill was now all over Wolf for 11th while Lynn was pushing hard to improve further. The next change came when King could no longer hold off the more experienced Tincknell, although he had Marciello to think about as well so was possibly a little more cautious than he might otherwise have been.
It wasn’t long afterwards that Lynn nabbed 9th from Nissany by going around the outside of the rookie in a very smooth move. Another good move came from Latifi on Derani for 8th when he left his braking very late and dived past the Brazilian, banging wheels as he went. That was all the invitation Lynn needed before he was through as well and looking to demote the Canadian next. Clearly Saturday’s shunt had now affected the Englishman in any significant way.
And with two minutes left to run, Gelael bit the dust, after being clobbered by an out of control (is there actually an in control version? He’s not been seen so far this season) Rudersdorf, putting paid to the Indonesian’s race on the spot. Rudersdorf continued on his merry way, which seemed rather unjust.
And so Rosenqvist came home for a hat trick of wins, the first driver to achieve that feat this year. Kvyat scored another 2nd place while Auer was on the podium again in 3rd overall (2nd in the points). Tincknell was 4th overall, from King, Marciello, Latifi, Lynn, Derani and Nissany.
Wolf was 11th, in the last points scoring position, while Hill was 11th from Serralles, Buller, Lewis, Goddard, Calderon, Rudersdorf, Zeller and Gelael.
Fastest lap went to Rosenqvist.
Next Meeting: Rounds 16, 15 & 16, Norisring, Germany, July 12th/14th