F3

Di Grassi snatches Macau victory from Kubica

With the exclusion of Taku Bamba (NOW Motor Sport) from the event for causing an avoidable collision on the grid in the qualification race, 29 drivers lined up to start the 52nd Macau Grand Prix. It could so easily have been 28 after the morning...

With the exclusion of Taku Bamba (NOW Motor Sport) from the event for causing an avoidable collision on the grid in the qualification race, 29 drivers lined up to start the 52nd Macau Grand Prix. It could so easily have been 28 after the morning warm up, which saw Guillaume Moreau (Signature-Plus) come to grief in a big way at R Bend halfway through the session. Luckily for him and his team, after the mayhem that was the Formula Renault race, to say nothing of the shambles some of the WTCC drivers managed to make of their race, the Grand Prix itself was somewhat delayed. As it had been scheduled for a late start anyway this year, that allowed the team time to rebuild what had been rumoured to be a very heavily damaged car.

Needless to say, after all the chaotic behaviour in the other races, the track was now very dirty which would make life more difficult than usual for the F3 drivers. It remained to be seen how they would cope with the conditions. Of course, with Loïc Duval (ASM F3) on pole, everyone and his dog were predicting a Mercedes engine victory, and the fourth French win in a row. However, that was not to be, after Duval threw it all away at the start. Before the lights went out to signal the start of the race, he started to move, realised what he was doing and stopped. However, by then his front wheels were squarely in front of the line marking the front of his grid spot, which meant it was only a matter of time before the stewards imposed a penalty of some sort. It didn't stop Duval taking off like a rocket when the signal to go was actually given. He didn't have it all his own way even so, as Robert Kubica (Carlin Motorsport) also made a superb start, getting very close to squeezing the Frenchman out as they arrived at Lisboa. To the amazement of most spectators, not only did the two front runners get through cleanly, but so did the rest of the field. Everyone heaved a sigh of relief, then promptly got on with the race.

Interestingly, although Duval was leading on the road, the timing screens had Kubica leading. Of course once the officials reported back, it was likely to be the case in reality too. Further back in the back, Danny Watts (Team Midland Euroseries) was the loser as everyone sorted themselves out in the initial melee, while further up the order Macau rookie Sebastian Vettel (ASM F3) managed to get the drop on Paolo Montin (Ombra Racing) for 4th. While all that was going on, Duval's drive-through penalty was announced. In effect this meant that Kubica was the leader, with Lucas di Grassi (Manor Motorsport) behind him, then Vettel, Montin, and Mike Conway (Manor Motorsport), the young English driver managing to run into the back end of Montin, giving himself a slow puncture which would cost him dearly. Kazuki Nakajima (Signal Media) was ahead of Joao Paolo de Oliveira (Signal Media TOMS), Charlie Kimball (Carlin Motorsport), Dan Clarke (Prema Powerteam) and Christian Bakkerud (Carlin Motorsport).

Having survived the first lap scramble, di Grassi edged out Kubica for the lead on lap two at Lisboa in a very brave move round the outside, while towards the end of the field there was a blockage at Melco, which took a bit of sorting out. This was caused by a clash between Bruno Senna (Double R Racing) who started dead last, and Kohei Hirate (Team Rosberg), who isn't the fastest driver on the planet. They were both out of the race immediately, Senna bringing a terrible weekend to a premature halt. It looked as if Conway might be out of the race too, when he limped into the pits to get his punctured tyre replaced, but he was quickly out on the track again, albeit it a very long way down. Someone making more progress was Franck Perera (Prema Powerteam), the Frenchman now all over Bakkerud, trying very hard to take 10th place off the Dane, who didn't seem very keen to give it up. In a case of team solidarity, Kimball was now having to defend his position fiercely too, coming under pressure from the more experienced de Oliveira, while at the front, the third of the Carlin boys, Kubica, was trying everything he could think of to get ahead of di Grassi, only to be repeatedly beaten off by the Brazilian. The Polish driver may well have been faster - his lap times suggested as much - but he was having trouble finding a way through. He was going to need a lot of courage and no small amount of luck.

Luck was a commodity in short supply in the pack. The next retirement of the race came on lap 4, when the Czech driver Filip Salaquarda (HBR Motorsport) pitted and never went out again. Elsewhere, the ever unreliable Naoki Yokomizo (Three Bond Racing) exited the race never to be seen again, having outbraked himself at Lisboa. At the very front, Duval was pushing very hard to try and build up as much of an advantage as possible before he came in to serve his penalty, which was strategically extremely sensible of him. The sort of gap he'd opened up, it looked as if he might still be in the top ten by the time he returned to the fray.

A lap later, with Kubica still all over di Grassi, the Brazilian responding to all of this pressure with a fastest lap. Vettel was 3rd and appeared to have no friends (and was probably thankful for it), while de Oliveira was now 5th and harassing Montin for 4th. Duval finally came in to serve his penalty, just as the officials were preparing the black flag to disqualify him from the race. He would rejoin in 10th place, right in the middle of the main pack. After only 6 laps it was a remarkable effort. Clarke, meanwhile, finally found a way past Kimball, while back in 13th Stephen Jelley (Menu Motorsport) had his own personal traffic jam building up behind him. He had something of a disadvantage though, as he'd lost most of his front wing on the back end of Karl Reindler (Alan Docking), the Englishman running into the Australian's gearbox.

The battle for the lead was still raging, and it looked like just maybe Vettel might win, if di Grassi and Kubica kept on like that. On lap 8, Kubica has a real go at Lisboa, trying the outside line and nearly falling off as a result. He couldn't have pushed harder and still survived, sitting a mere 0.04 seconds behind di Grassi, even giving him a little nudge at Melco when di Grassi braked earlier than expected. After the overtaking attempt failed, Kubica seemed to back off a little and take a deep breath before going back on the attack.

While local hero Rodolfo Avila (HBR Motorsport) took a brief off- course excursion, there was yet another reshuffle in the bottom half of the top ten, as Duval hacked his way past Watts, and set off after Kimball. There was little point in trying to keep up with the Frenchman, and Watts sensibly didn't try, settling down to concentrate on his own race. Lower down the order, the traffic jam behind Jelley dispersed after Jelley himself finally paid the price for trying to continue without a front wing. Coming round through the R Bend, the car snapped away from him, clipped the barrier, and then slammed to a halt up by the pit wall. There was plenty of room for everyone to get by, and it didn't look as if the wreckage would be too much of a problem. Everyone heaved another sigh of relief and went right on racing.

Kubica was still plotting to get past di Grassi, and on lap 10, he finally made it. As the pair of the came up to Mandarin Bend, a backmarker got in the way. Kubica jinked towards the inside, and was able to get through while di Grassi was forced to take evasive action. It was a lovely move, and Kubica must have been very happy with it. Almost immediately he began to try and open up a gap. Vettel was still a steady 3rd, while de Oliveira snatched 4th from Montin. However, it was all about to get rather messy out there. Duval passed Kimball, and a little later went after Clarke. The Frenchman got past him too, and Clarke decided to try and follow him through the next few bends. As a result Clarke left his braking way too late for Faraway Hill, and when he tried to sort it out, he ended up hitting the barriers. Kimball, just behind, had to guess which side Clarke would end up going off on. He would have guessed right, but them Clarke tried to correct it and the two of them made contact, only to get smashed into by Danny Watts (Team Midland Euroseries). Watts' car then tore itself apart on the barriers and ended up several yards further down the track.

The inevitable result was a Safety Car period. Once they managed to pick up the leaders, the field settled down for a very slow handful of laps, while the rescue workers struggled to get a snatch vehicle to Watts' car. Oddly enough, at the back there was a great deal of shuffling about, with Cheong Lou Meng (Edenbridge Racing) pitting and giving up, while Daisuke Ikeda (ZAP Speed) seemed to be having a great deal of difficulty deciding where he was supposed to be. It wouldn't make a lot of difference in the long run, but it seemed a bit silly.

The order at the front was in no doubt. Kubica was leading, from di Grassi, Vettel, de Oliveira, Nakajima, Montin, Duval, Bakkerud, Perera and Romain Grosjean (Signature-Plus). His teammate, Moreau, was 11th from Steven Kane (Promatecme F3), Reindler, Fabio Carbone (Signature) who managed to make a pit stop from behind the Safety Car and not lose any ground, Michael Ho (Team Midland Euroseries), Avila, Conway, Lei Kit Meng (Swiss Racing Team), Jo Merszei (Double R Racing) and the confused Ikeda.

It would be three laps before they could go racing again. When they did, we were faced with the prospect of a two-lap sprint race. It was possible that this had changed the whole face of the race. As they screamed into Lisboa at full tilt again, di Grassi found a way round and took the lead from Kubica. Even then, Kubica wouldn't quit, and he kept right on looking for a way through, all the way to the chequered flag. Vettel came close to losing out to de Oliveira in the closing moments, but again he showed his mettle, refusing to give way to the much more experienced man. Nakajima came home in 5th, just ahead of Duval, while Bakkerud got the better of Montin as they came home, taking 7th place from the Italian. Grosjean was 9th, from Perera, Moreau, Carbone, Reindler, Conway (who'd squeezed past the locals unscathed), Ho, and Avila. Ikeda finished a lap down in 17th place, from Leng, Merszei, and the last classified runner, Kane, who went out with two laps to go, spinning and then being unable to restart because the engine was too hot by then.

Afterwards, Lucas admitted that the Safety Car had been to his advantage. "My car is a bit different from Robert's, the engine, the set- up. It's quicker on the straights and slower on the slower parts. If there was no Safety Car I couldn't have beaten Robert for sure. After the Safety Car I pushed for 1 lap, and then I saw that Robert couldn't make a move because it's too difficult to overtake on the mountain." There was a suggestion that he'd sustained some tyre damage, but the Brazilian seemed untroubled by it. "I didn't know there was any damage. There was a problem in the flat shift, but I didn't realise there was anything wrong with the rear tyres."

The fastest lap of the race, and a new lap record, went to Duval, whose recovery drive saw him set a blistering 2:11.929, an average speed of 103.76mph (166.99kph).

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