There were changes to the grid before we even started. After a review of video evidence, and various observers' reports, it was decided that Lucas di Grassi (Manor Motorsport), Franck Perera (Prema Powerteam) and Karl Reindler (Alan Docking...
There were changes to the grid before we even started. After a review of video evidence, and various observers' reports, it was decided that Lucas di Grassi (Manor Motorsport), Franck Perera (Prema Powerteam) and Karl Reindler (Alan Docking Racing) had all set their fastest qualifying times under yellow flags. They would therefore both have their two fastest lap times disallowed. For di Grassi this wasn't too big an issue, as it moved him from one side of the second row of the grid to the other, and Reindler lost two places (16th to 18th). For Perera it was catastrophic, dropping him from 5th to 21st. It was hard to feel much sympathy for him after his times had already been disallowed in the first session (ignoring a weigh-in), as yellow flags are waved for good reasons.
On any circuit, and especially on a street circuit as demanding as this one, ignoring the flags is putting the marshals, your fellow competitors, and yourself in danger. It's seriously irresponsible, and the officials can and will take a dim view of it. Just to further juggle things, Taku Bamba (NOW Motor Sports) contrived to run into Cheong Lou Meng (Edenbridge Racing) after the Chinese driver had already come to a halt on his grid slot! Quite what the Japanese thought he was doing is anyone's guess, but it wasn't impressive. The upshot of the accident was an injury to a bystander, as Cheong's car was shunted forwards into her, as well as substantial damage to Bamba's front suspension. As a result Bamba would take no further part in the meeting once the stewards got through with him, as he had been deemed to have caused an avoidable collision. Cheong was unable to start the race until well after the others had gone. Of course every cloud has a silver lining, and the absence of Bamba meant that Reindler got one of his grid spots back.
It was to be hoped that the race would be calmer. At the start, Robert Kubica (Carlin Motorsport) made a tremendous getaway to snatch the lead from Loïc Duval (ASM F3) as they screamed down into Mandarin Oriental bend, but - as is often the case - the man who gets to Mandarin first can't hold the lead into Lisboa. So it proved with Kubica, as Duval snatched it back, and di Grassi (who had out-dragged teammate Mike Conway off the line) made a dive round the outside. Kubica had no option but to let Duval go, but he wasn't about to let di Grassi go as well. Perhaps deciding discretion was the better part of valour, the Brazilian dropped back behind the Pole, and concentrated on keeping Conway at bay. He was probably assisted in this by the fact that Conway is a Macau rookie, and would not want to knock his teammate into the scenery (well, not with team boss John Booth liable to read him his horoscope afterwards anyway).
A slow starter, on the other hand, was Fabio Carbone (Signature), who started 9th but was about ten places further back by the time the field crossed the start/finish line for the first time. Maybe he just went to sleep. It wasn't proving to be the best of days for the Brazilians, with Bruno Senna's (Double R Racing) race ending abruptly. The youngster coasted to a halt at Teddy Yip Bend on lap 2, his engine having died on him on the way, and presumably having left a trail of oil out there. Certainly there were oil flags out after his untimely exit.
Elsewhere on the grid, Team Rosberg's Kohei Hirate had made a fast start, so fast in fact that he was judged to have jumped it and was awarded a drive through penalty. Another fast - but apparently legal - starter was Danny Watts (Team Midland Euroseries). He'd been 13th on the grid, but by the time they got to Lisboa he was 8th, ahead of Guillaume Moreau (Signature-Plus) and Sebastian Vettel (ASM F3). Carlin Motorsport's Charlie Kimball and Christian Bakkerud had obviously both tried to go with Watts, judging by the fact that the American was 11th, and the Dane was 13th, with Naoki Yokomizo (Three Bond Racing) in between them. All six drivers would spend most of the next ten laps jockeying for position, providing the crowd with some much-needed entertainment in what was otherwise a fairly staid race, largely because most people were just trying to survive out there, knowing perfectly well that they had to do it all again on Sunday.
Duval was pulling away from Kubica while di Grassi and Conway fought for 3rd. Behind them Paulo Montin (Ombra) had Joao Paulo de Oliveira (Signal Media TOMS) all over him for 5th. With Montin back for yet another run at this race, but the team only having tested once with him, it was a truly remarkable performance. At the front Duval and Kubica had left the squabbling duo of di Grassi and Conway in the distance, the Pole setting an early fastest lap. The action, though, was still just behind Kazuki Nakajima (Signal Media TOMS), who was 7th, just ahead of Watts. Meanwhile, Vettel was still on the move, passing Moreau and heading off in pursuit of Watts, while Kimball, Yokomizo and Bakkerud were sizing each other up. And just in case anyone was getting too complacent, meanwhile, Carbone managed to have a moment at San Francisco, though he was able to collect it all together again.
A lap later and Duval set a new fastest lap, which he was allowed to keep for the second or so before Kubica crossed the line. Kubica wasn't going to let Duval get away if he could help it, and he wasn't going to take being beaten by the Mercedes-powered car lying down. Back in the tussle for 8th, Vettel found a way past Watts, but was unable to make it stick. The Englishman was back ahead almost before the German youngster could blink. Coming round at the end of the lap, Bakkerud found a way past Yokomizo, and then managed to get the drop on Kimball into the last corner, only to have the American slip-stream back ahead as they came out onto the long straight. Afterwards the Dane admitted he'd learned something from that! It didn't help Yokomizo any, although it was clear that he still hadn't given up.
Nor, however, had Duval, who was attempting to put as much distance between himself and Kubica as he could. In doing so, the Frenchman set a new lap record, but his and Kubica's progress was badly slowed when they came up behind the backmarkers. With everyone fairly spread out at the front, apart from Montin and de Oliveira, who seemed to be glued together, it wasn't too much of an issue to get past, but Kubica had the ill luck to get stuck behind Cheong, who was five laps down anyway, on the run round to the Melco Hairpin. The Chinese was struggling to control his car, as one of his wheels was buckled in the start-line accident, so Kubica waited till they reached a wider part of the track before he edged through and set off after Duval.
As the race moved into its final laps, Montin couldn't shake de Oliveira off, while Watts lost a place to Vettel, and Kimball and Bakkerud traded places, then traded them back again. A lap later and Watts had fallen back into Kimball's clutches, while Moreau was behind all of them, probably pondering the unfairness of life. He came back at Bakkerud, nonetheless, getting that place back, while Kimball tried to find a way round Watts at Lisboa. The first time, Watts was able to shut the door on Kimball. A lap later and Kimball sold him a dummy before taking the place in a classic Lisboa overtaking manoeuvre. And to prove that the Carlin cars were really on the pace, Kubica shattered the newly-set lap record, with a time of 1:12.003. It was a remarkable drive from the pole, all the more so because coming here almost everyone had expected the Mercedes powered cars of ASM and Manor to be unbeatable. It seems they may not be, as Kubica closed Duval right down on the final lap. He wasn't about to try anything clever as they raced round to the finish, but he'd probably given the Mercedes engine technicians something to think about.
And so, perhaps predictably, Duval won the qualification race, while Kubica followed him home, less predictably. Di Grassi held off Conway for 3rd, from Montin, de Oliveira, Nakajima, Vettel, Kimball, Watts, and Bakkerud. 11th was Moreau, from Dan Clarke (Prema Powerteam), Yokomizo, Franck Perera (Prema Powerteam), Romain Grosjean (Signature-Plus), Reindler, Steven Kane (Promatecme F3), Carbone, Daisuke Ikeda (Zap Speed) and Stephen Jelley. Hirate was 21st after his drive through, ahead of Fillip Salaquarda (HBR Motorsport), Rodolfo Avila (HBR Motorsport), Michael Ho (Team Midland Euroseries), Jo Merszei (Double R Racing) and Lei Kit Meng (Swiss Racing Team).
Cheong retired his ill-handling car at Lisboa on the final lap, and Senna was the only other non-finisher.