Lynne Waite and Stella-Maria Thomas, F3 Correspondents
This afternoon’s second and final qualifying session saw a battle between Marco Wittmann and Roberto Merhi, the Signature pair battling it out now the weather had improved though some people might have disagreed with that, Kevin Magnussen in particular saying that it was worse than being in a sauna and that it physically hurt to breathe in the car). In the end it was Wittmann who came out on top, probably to the surprise of many, as we all seem to have overlooked him when picking favourites to win. It wouldn’t have matter that much if he hadn’t though, as Merhi has a seven-grid slot penalty now, though the original three-grid slot one has been rescinded. Another unexpected contender for the top slot was Antonio Felix da Costa (Hitech Racing), the Portuguese ending the session in 3rd despite having wiped the car against the barriers at the start of Friday’s free practice session, thus ensuring that his first dry run was in qualifying itself. Also at a supposed disadvantage was the man who finished 4th, Valtteri Bottas, who was delayed leaving the F1 rookie tests that have been running all week and who consequently missed his flight by 7 minutes, ending up arriving in Macau yesterday afternoon, well after the first practice session had been run, and a good few minutes into first qualifying. However, as it was wet on Thursday, it was unlikely that any of the times would stand once the first flying laps were run. Luckily for the Finn…
Less lucky was Mitch Evans, the Kiwi not even completing his out lap when the engine failed on his Double R Racing Dallara, leaving him a frustrated bystander. His mood would not have improved when the first laps were completed as Thursday’s times were demolished and the whole process started from first base once more. First to post a massive improvement was Jazeman Jaafar (Carlin), who topped the tables by three seconds from Carlos Huertas (Carlin), team-mate Magnussen, and Lucas Foresti (Fortec Motorsport). Meanwhile Felipe Nasr had got off to the less than stellar start by losing his front wing and having to pit for a new one, and while he was doing that Hywel Lloyd (Sino Vision Racing) was up to a slightly unlikely 2nd.
Marko Asmer (Double R Racing) went faster then Merhi to get into the 2 minute 14 second bracket, and was followed by Kimiya Sato (Motopark) and then da Costa who slotted into 3rd. Not doing so well – but at least proving consistent – was Three Bond Racing’s Hironobu Yasuda, a man with a seemingly irresistible attraction to the barriers, especially at Melco. OK, he’s a rookie, but even so, he has now been off, on his own, at least five times and seems set to make it as many more as possible. He was craned away and at the same time Richard Bradley (TOM’S) was rescued and sent on his way. At the front, meanwhile, Wittmann was now leading from Laurens Vanthoor (Signature), while in another Signature entry Carlos Sainz Jr was now up to 4th. With Signature having pretty much locked out the front two rows, at least for the time being, Jaafar was in 5th heading up the British series pack, while Nasr, now with a full complement of wings, moved into 6th. They were pushed down a place by Carlos Munoz (Signature) going 5th and shuffled round a bit when Magnussen went 7th, ahead of Nasr and Carlos Huertas (Carlin).
The next mover was Daniel Juncadella (Prema Powerteam) who claimed 3rd only to lose it to Yuhi Sekiguchi in the Mücke Motorsport car. However, Bottas was now starting to look like a serious threat as he got the car set the way he wanted it and began to press for pole. 2nd was his reward on his first run, though Merhi had other ideas, rocketing up to pole and leaving the rest of them to try and figure out the answer. Nasr thought he knew what was needed and was soon up in 4th. He wasn’t the only one trying hard; da Costa went off at Lisboa when his throttle started to stick open, and again further round, but was able to rejoin both times. It made him a bit nervous though and he might well have qualified even further up if he had been confident that he wasn’t about to slam nose first into the barriers at Lisboa. While he was considering his options, Nasr nabbed 2nd and continued to push for pole.
Someone not pushing anymore was Sainz, who had stopped at Melco and suffered the ignominious fate of those who do that; he was craned away and would take no further part in the session. Meanwhile, at the very sharp end, Merhi was still fastest from Nasr.
There was a brief case of more yellows as Richie Stanaway (van Amersfoort Racing) joined the ranks of those convinced there is something to see up the escape road at Lisboa. He was not alone in this as Jimmy Eriksson (Motopark) also had a good look down there and presumably also decided there’s nothing there. Eriksson then went on to apparently blow an engine big time, so it wasn’t really his day. More interesting, however, was the fact that Nasr had now gone faster than Merhi and was sitting on provisional pole. The trouble was he might have shown his hand too early with around 13 minutes of the session left. Bottas made the next move for 3rd but then Wittmann put it on pole. Merhi responded with a time that was good enough for 2nd before they all had to slow down. Daniel Abt (Signature) had slammed into the barriers somewhere up round Moorish and having been missed by the next two cars coming through, was clobbered by Bradley who tried to go between Abt and the barrier, which would have been a smart trick if he could have managed it!
The changes to the order were coming thick and fast now, with Sekiguchi 5th and Alexander Sims (TOM’S) moving into 9th as he started to stake his own claim. At the front Wittmann was still ahead but Merhi was pushing very hard, skimming the walls and looking very fast indeed as time ran out. Felix Rosenqvist (Mücke Motorsport) suddenly shot up to 4th for all the good it would do him given that he’s got a penalty that will put him at the back of the grid regardless, while just to show what he’s capable of Merhi got into the 2:12s going fastest of all. A further improvement from Bottas moved the Finn to 3rd while Sims grabbed 4th but then da Costa shot up to 2nd. With seconds left the order was Merhi from da Costa, Wittmann, Bottas, Sims, Nasr, Rosenqvist, Sekiguchi and Vanthoor but it still wasn’t over. Magnussen snatched a last minute improvement to go 7th, and Wittmann took pole just as the chequered flag was shown, at much the same time as Nasr crashed out on his final flying lap.
The order before the remaining non-rescinded penalties were applied was Wittmann from Merhi, da Costa, Bottas, Sims, Nasr, Magnussen, Rosenqvist, Huertas and Sekiguchi. 11th was Vanthoor, from Asmer, Munoz, Juncadella, Sato, Fantin (who ripped a wheel off during the session), Jaafar, Sainz, Abt and Hannes van Asseldonk (Hitech Racing). 21st went to Stanaway, ahead of Buller, Hideki Yamauchi (Toda Racing), Lloyd, Foresti, Bradley, Adderly Fong (Sino Vision Racing), Yasuda, Eriksson and Evans.
If we have this correct, then once the penalties are imposed it will look like this. The order before the remaining non-rescinded penalties were applied was Wittmann from da Costa, Bottas, Sims, Nasr, Huertas, Sekiguchi, Merhi, Sato and Vanthoor. That makes Asmer 11th from Munoz, Fantin, Jaafar, Abt, van Asseldonk, Stanaway, Sainz, Buller and Yamauchi. Lloyd is thus 21st ahead of Foresti, Bradley, Fong, Yasuda, Eriksson, Evans, Magnussen and Rosenqvist.
Weather: Hot, extremely humid.