At Zandvoort today, in front of a 43,000 strong crowd, Valtteri Bottas (ART Grand Prix) became the first man in history to win the Masters of Formula 3 title for the second time, the first of four drivers who have attempted to defend their title to actually succeed. In a sure-footed performance in treacherous conditions, he out-paced his team-mate (and pole sitter) Alexander Sims to win a damp race in the Dutch sand-dunes. In 3rd after a fraught battle with his team-mate, was Marco Wittmann (Signature- Plus) who got the better of Edoardo Mortara towards the end of the race and also held off rapid Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne (Carlin) who was awarded the trophy for fastest lap of the race after a determinedly flamboyant effort saw him rise up the order from 8th on the grid.
Before the start the weather took a turn for the unpleasant, after three days of fine sunny running. Around noon a storm started to edge in and the wind changed direction, bringing with it a cold edge to the day and some nasty intermittent rain that wasn't enough to make the track completely wet but made tyre choice very difficult indeed. The officials clearly felt there was too much scope for mayhem and duly decided to start the race behind the Safety Car, which meant that Sims was able to hold the lead as they went into Tarzan for the first time. Behind him Bottas made a lunge for the lead but it was too soon, and Roberto Mehri (Mucke Motorsport) snuck through for 2nd instead. The Finn had to settle in and bide his time, while behind him was Wittmann, Carlos Munoz (Mucke Motorsport), Daniel Juncadella (Prema Powerteam), Mortara, Nigel Melker (Mucke Motorsport) and Vergne who had lost out at the start. Back in the pack the other two Signature-Plus boys, Laurens Vanthoor and Stef Dusseldorp were in trouble, Dusseldorp having joined the school of thought that opted for wet weather tyres, the wrong choice as it would turn out and Vanthoor being handed a drive through for overtaking under the Safety Car, a charge that turned out to be mistaken. The officials would later apologise but as Vanthoor was on slicks and had managed to haul himself up to 10th when he had to serve penalty it was no consolation for him.
Needless to say Dusseldorp wasn't the only one to pit; it wasn't long before several drivers would find that they really would have been better off on slicks. One person who wasn't though, was Jim Pla (ART Grand Prix), the youngster pitting and then promptly seeming to forget he had cold tyres on - he skated through the gravel at Tarzan and had to be craned away looking somewhat embarrassed. He wasn't the only premature exit though as we'd also lost Jazeman Jaafar (Carlin) very early on.
Meanwhile, Merhi made a lunge at Sims to claim the lead on lap 3. He promptly started to pull away but unfortunately for him, the rain began to ease and the track started drying out. It was only ever going to be a matter of time before his tyres would cry enough and Sims or Bottas would snatch the lead back. As it turned out it took four laps and the Spaniard started to plummet down the order, eventually ending up back in 12th a lap down after having to pit for slicks. Life wasn't easy for Sims though; for one thing Bottas really, really wanted to get ahead of him, and for another Juncadella was also on the case having leapfrogged up 6 places on lap 3, eventually making a dive at the Finn and then at Sims, the latter move going wrong for Juncadella as his tyres too went off, and meaning that Bottas could force his way past Sims for what would become the lead quite rapidly.
Further back Vergne had also found a friend and was battling with Nicolas Marroc (Prema Powerteam), before they both got tangled up with Juncadella, whose day was now getting worse. Vergne eventually forced a way through and set off on a determined charge that would put him on the tail of Mortara before too long. At the front Bottas was now starting to pull away, despite some hairy moments with a wide variety of back-markers and pit stoppers. It was turning into a very confusing race with so many pit stops that it was hard to tell who was on which lap at any point. However, there was a madly squabbling bunch in 6th, which was consisted entirely of British F3 International Series runners, having started with Wayne Boyd (Sino Vision Racing), Rio Haryanto (C F Racing with Manor Motorsport) and Lucas Foresti (Carlin). Boyd in particular loves these conditions and was having a fine old time allowing talent to compensate for the set up of the car. They would eventually be joined in a high-speed chase by Gabriel Dias (Hitech Racing) after the Brazilian saw off Antonio Felix da Costa in one of the Motopark Academy cars, Rupert Svendsen-Cook (Carlin) and Hywel Lloyd (C F Racing with Manor Motorsport), the whole eventually resolving in favour of Dias, then Foresti, Boyd, Lloyd and Haryanto (despite the latter being a lap down and crashing out after the flag!). Just for good measure, as the race wound down, William Buller (Hitech Racing) also joined in, ending the race just ahead of Merhi in 11th. They were well ahead of Munoz and Mehri, both of whom were now trying to recover lost ground, while at the front Bottas continued to push on, pulling away from Sims as the latter found he simply couldn't get the measure of his team-mate whatever he tried. Really that was the main story of the race, the ART cars simply strolling off into the distance yet again (for the seventh time in a row), leaving everyone else to fight over the leftovers. That fight was starting to hot up now as Wittmann had closed in on Mortara, towing Vergne with him. The German was all over Mortara as we moved into the final laps of the event and would eventually get the drop on him with two laps to go. To add insult to injury Vergne saw an opportunity too and demoted Mortara to 5th as part of the same move. Last year's Macau Grand Prix winner was not going to be too happy with 5th.
With only 9 drivers actually completing the distance it wasn't what you might call a classic Masters, but the crowd seemed happy enough, even if it was just with the promise of a Red Bull F1 demonstration afterwards. Whatever they were there, for they at least saw history being made as Bottas strolled home to victory from 2nd on the grid for the second year in a row, the delighted winner receiving his trophy from F1 driver Sebastian Vettel. Sims was a disappointed 2nd, from Wittmann, while Vergne was 4th and set the fastest lap of the event. In 5th was Mortara after all it went wrong for him at the end, while 6th was Dias, from Foresti, Boyd and Lloyd. Haryanto was a lap down in 10th, from Buller, the latter looking a bit wild in places (though not as scarily lary as Boyd), while 12th went to Mehri, followed by Svendsen-Cook, Melker, and Munoz. They were all a lap down. 2 laps down in 16th was Juncadella, then came Adderly Fong (Sino Vision Racing), da Costa, and Marroc. 20th was Matias Laine (Motopark Academy), three laps adrift, ahead of Dusseldorp and Vanthoor.
Finland, in the shape of Bottas and Laine, won the Nations Cup too, despite Laine only finishing 20th.
Weather: Cold, damp, drizzly