At Macau this afternoon it was all to play for in first qualifying because the forecast threatens rain all night and into tomorrow and may mean that only today’s times count. Certainly Antonio Felix da Costa (Carlin) wasn’t messing about setting a provisional pole time that edged him ahead of Felix Rosenqvist (Mücke Motorsport) and his own team mate Carlos Sainz Jr. At the start of the session it looked as if Carlin would be a force to be reckoned with after they dominated the morning’s free practice session with all 6 cars in the top ten. However, Prema Powerteam were first out of the garages with Daniel Juncadella aiming for a second victory here and Raffaele Marciello backing him up as the two of them tried to make inroads into the British series’ teams times.
Meanwhile, Da Costa had hit the ground running and was quickly at the top of the times where he was joined by Felipe Nasr (Carlin), the latter back with a point to prove having missed out on victory here last year. In 3rd after the pack completed their initial flying laps was Hannes van Asseldonk (Prema Powerteam), followed by Jack Harvey (Carlin) and Juncadella. Pipo Derani (Fortec Motorsport) was also looking useful round the Macanese streets and was soon in the top five while another returnee, Hideaki Yamauchi (B-Max Engineering) was also on the pace early on.
However, it was all about the Carlin/Prema fight at this stage. Nasr was now fastest, with Juncadella in 3rd, but that all changed when Marciello pulled out a faster time than anyone, and Sainz Jr. came flying round to snatch 2nd, having seemingly put the spell of bad luck that has dogged him through the latter part of the 2012 season behind him. Also getting in on the act was Alex Lynn (Fortec Motorsport) who was suddenly 3rd. No one was ready to call it quits yet though, as was demonstrated when Marciello fought back to claim 3rd and then Rosenqvist came from nowhere for 2nd.
That was enough to get Sainz Jr’s attention and he was soon able to edge back into 3rd, then a lap later he was on provisional pole, just in front of Nasr. Lynn then improved his time to go 4th again and Rosenqvist improved the times to go fastest. Back in the top ten Felix Serralles (Fortec Motorsport) was now showing well for a Macau rookie, and was 9th while Marciello was now 5th. Again the order changed though, with Nasr digging ever deeper to set a new target time of 2:14.076. Sainz Jr picked up the gauntlet and ran with it, his new best time seconds later a 2:14.006.
And then they all had to lift as van de Laar arrived at marshal’s post 16 in a cloud of tyre smoke and bounced the front end of his Dallara off the wall, demolishing the nose. He was quickly craned away though and the session soon went full course green again. As the remaining 28 runners settled down again, the top ten was Sainz Jr., from Nasr, Rosenqvist Lynn, Juncadella, Serralles, Da Costa, Marciello, van Asseldonk and Pascal Wehrlein (Mücke Motorsport). However, there were still around 20 minutes on the clock so no one could afford to relax.
Certainly da Costa wasn’t taking it easy – 4th was evidence of that, and while he was getting quicker, Nasr was bottled up behind Yamauchi for a couple of corners, eventually getting past while gesticulating unhappily. The next change came when Daniel Abt (Carlin) was able to set a time that would see him 9th, but his was the last improvement for several minutes. It seemed the tyres were starting to lose their effectiveness and most people came in for a change of rubber or a tweak or two.
Eventually Lynn started to push and surprised some observers by being the first driver into the 2 minute 13 seconds bracket. He was joined on the provisional front row by da Costa, while Serralles improved to 7th and everyone started to wind themselves up for the final push for pole. And that was when the second of the van Amersfoort cars came to grief, Lucas Auer hitting the wall at Police in exactly the same place that van de Laar had come to grief. Again, the car was quickly snatched clear by the super-efficient marshals, and it seemed we would not need a stoppage.
Or at least we wouldn’t have done had Andrea Roda (Jo Zeller Racing) not made a mess of things at R Bend. The result was a classic Macau crash with the Italian stuck in the middle of the track and bits of debris scattered all over the track. The red flags inevitably came out while the wreckage was rescued and Roda was extracted from the car safely. Given that he is going to be moved back three grid places on Saturday because of weighing irregularities in free practice, that really was not how he wanted his session to end.
As the remaining cars returned to the pits to wait out the clean up operation, the order was Lynn, from da Costa, Sainz, Nasr, Rosenqvist, Juncadella, Serralles, Marciello, Abt and van Asseldonk. 11th now was Alexander Sims (Three Bond with T-Sport), ahead of Wehrlein, Kevin Korjus (Galaxy Double R Racing), William Buller (Carlin), Derani, Jimmy Eriksson (Galaxy Double R Racing), Jazeman Jaafar (Tom’s), Yamauchi, Auer and Jack Harvey (Carlin), the latter having issues with the steering. 21st was Sven Müller (Prema Powerteam) followed by Tom Blomqvist (Euro International), Roda, Mitchell Gilbert (Mücke Motorsport), Luis Sá Silva (Angola Racing Team), Yuichi Nakayama (Tom’s) Lucas Wolff (URD Rennsport) and van de Laar.
With six minutes of the session left the pit lane re-opened and the remaining 26 cars streamed back out, each driver knowing that they would get two flying laps at best. It was going to be a matter of who could string the best possible lap together while avoiding traffic and dealing with tyres that in many cases were no longer at their best. Nothing daunted da Costa settled down to push as hard as he could and was well-rewarded for his efforts with a time that put him back on top, a lap of 2:13.400, which was just too quick for Rosenqvist, the Swede ending up 2nd after a lap on which he admitted he made a handful of minor mistakes. It was still a good effort though and suggests that the rocky patch he hit in the Euroseries is now in the past.
A last ditch push from Juncadella was sufficient to put the Spaniard on the second row temporarily, but he wasn’t the fastest Spaniard even so, as Sainz Jr snatched 3rd in the closing stages, and as he crossed the finish line, Lynn came back and pushed Juncadella down to 5th. An improvement from Sims saw him claim 7th on the line, but nothing could eclipse da Costa’s delight at the prospect of starting Saturday’s race from pole should Friday’s qualifying be lost to rain.
2nd was Rosenqvist, from Sainz Jr, Lynn, Juncadella (who has fresh tyres for tomorrow if necessary), Nasr, Sims, Marciello, Serralles and Wehrlein. Abt ended the session in 11th from Blomqvist, Derani, van Asseldonk, Buller, Harry Tincknell (Fortec Motorsport), Jaafar, Harvey, Müller and Korjus. The final 9 places went to Eriksson, Yamauchi, Gilbert, Auer, Wolf, Nakayama, Sá Silva, Roda and van de Laar. Dead last at present (and also with a three place grid penalty) was Ryo Hirakawa (KCMG by RSS) who didn’t set a time as the team were still rebuilding the car after his off in free practice.
Cloudy, breezy, cool.