At Macau this afternoon Antonio Felix da Costa (Carlin) romped home to victory and claimed pole position for tomorrow’s 59th Grand Prix in a calm, controlled drive that left Felix Rosenqvist (Mücke Motorsport) trailing by over a second and a half by the end. In third was Alex Lynn (Fortec Motorsport).
With a number of penalties to be taken into account, the starting grid looked a little different from the combined qualifying results. Ryo Hirakawa (KCMG by RSS) had to drop three grid positions, after failing to comply with the weigh in regulations, Yiuichi Nakayama (Tom’s) and Kevin Korjus (Galaxy Double R Racing) were both moved back one space for infringing pit safety regulations and starting their cars by external means while in the fast lane of the pit lane. Andrea Roda (Jo Zeller Racing) had a three place penalty for a weigh-in offence, and then a ten place penalty for an engine change – given that he’d qualified 30th and last that presumably meant he’d be starting from Hong Kong.
Additionally, Felix Serralles (Fortec Motorsport) would be starting from last after the team changed the sump on his engine, a repair that was deemed to constitute an engine change by the officials. And there was one final issue… Daniel Juncadella (Prema Powerteam) could still be penalised after the meeting. The fuel sample taken from his car didn’t match up the control sample. The team have appealed which means they need to get their own tests done and these can only be done in an FIA-approved lab, the nearest one being in Japan. This will take around a week and until it is done, no penalty can be applied.
Incidents, penalties and fuel testing aside, what followed was a surprisingly incident free 10 laps. It came on the tail of one of the fastest starts in history, the lights going red and then out before anyone could as much a blink. Felix da Costa wasn’t caught out despite that and both he and Rosenqvist got off the grid in excellent order, swamping Lynn. In fact Daniel Juncadella almost went with them, but Lynn resisted and by the time they reached Lisboa for the first time, Juncadella was back in 6th after Carlos Sainz Jr (Carlin) saw an open door and reacted accordingly.
At the front though, Felix da Costa had started to push to open up a gap if he possibly could. It seemed he could judging by the fact that he was 0.6 seconds in the lead at the end of lap one. Lynn seemed reasonably comfortable back in 3rd despite the presence of Carlos Sainz Jr (Carlin) not far behind. Behind him Juncadella had a train building up, consisting of Felipe Nasr (Carlin), Pascal Wehrlein (Mücke Motorsport) and Hannes van Asseldonk (Prema Powerteam). Just behind them Raffaele Marciello (Prema Powerteam) was having quite a battle with Alexander Sims (ThreeBond with T-Sport).
By lap three it was clear that nothing short of a tactical nuclear strike would stop Felix da Costa from winning this. Other places were less clear, especially when Wehrlein snatched 7th from Nasr, while Serralles was now up from the back of the grid to 22nd and pushing very hard to make up as much ground as possible in as short a time as possible. It may have been the sight of the charging Puerto Rican that caused the first incident in fact when Nakayama ended up in the barriers at Lisboa – although it’s also fair to say he could have done it entirely on his own.
Back at the front though, Felix da Costa sailed on relentlessly, pushing the gap to a full 1.000 seconds on laps 4, while behind him Rosenqvist looked for ways to slow him up and Lynn continued to circulate calmly and cleverly in 3rd although he was certainly keeping a sharp eye on Sainz Jr too. Carlin’s Daniel Abt was also on the move now, stealing 13th from Derani, while Mitchell Gilbert (Mücke Motorsport) was promoted into the top 20 by Nakayama’s precipitous exit. However, the fiercest fight was now an all-Spanish affair as Juncadella tried everything he could think of to try and pass Sainz Jr to reclaim 5th. Sainz Jr was not about to give way to his compatriot and there were some hairy moments as the pair of them ran side-by-side into the right hander.
In the gaggle of cars behind the lead handful Marciello was able to claim his tenth place back from Sims while Pipo Derani (Fortec Motorsport) and William Buller (Carlin) both took advantage of Abt having picked up damage to the nose to push past him.
Also on the move was Hideki Yamauchi (B-Max Engineering), the Japanese finding a way past Tom Blomqvist (Euro International) to claim 16th, while Jimmy Eriksson (Galaxy Double R Racing) also moved up a place at the expense of Gilbert. However most eyes were on the Sainz Jr/Juncadella pairing as they battled it out for 4th, Tincknell and Wehrlein now looming large in their mirrors as they slowed each other up.
A lap later and Juncadella tried to get round the outside of Sainz Jr at the Lisboa, once more finding himself forcefully rebuffed by the youngster. This was starting to look more than a little personal in fact and the risk of someone else taking advantage of both of them was growing with each lap.
The back half of the field was still providing excitement too – even if nowhere near as much. Eriksson was now up to 19th as he got the better of Jazeman Jaafar (Tom’s), the latter struggling with the car for much of the race. Blomqvist meanwhile lost another place, this time to Sven Müller (Prema Powerteam) while Serralles improvement campaign came to an abrupt halt at roughly the same marshal’ post where he crashed yesterday, the car ending up getting wiped against the walls again. At least this time the stricken Dallara was easy to remove and the track was soon green again.
With two laps left Juncadella seemed to be calming down, and this time round he sat back and let Sainz Jr get on with it as he saw fit. That was just as well because behind them Wehrlein took a long hard look at Tincknell before backing off again, and Rosenqvist dug deep to claw back half a second from da Costa. Perhaps he could catch the leader? Actually, he couldn’t. Da Costa’s response was to simply open the gap up again and start to push even harder than before.
Behind the leaders the fight for 4th was now becoming even more heated, with Nasr now having to defend from van Asseldonk, while trying to figure out how to pass Wehrlein, who in turn was being frustrated by Tinckell, the latter doing a find job despite a broken damper. There was a worry that someone in there might do something stupid but they all kept their heads and kept it on the black stuff. Just for good measure, just behind them Sims got his 10th place back from Marciello and would keep it all the way through to the flag now.
Elsewhere not everyone was keeping quite as calm – Roda stuffed it in the barriers at Lisboa with a lap to go and then a lap later Müller also came to grief on the run up to Police. As Roda was cleared away, Felix da Costa came round to claim victory, knowing that he’s now done half the job but he still has work to do on Sunday to claim the 30th F3 race around the streets of Macau. Rosenqvist was happy enough with 2nd, knowing that it’s tomorrow that really counts, and Lynn was very pleased to still be so much in contention with a fine 3rd place. 4th went to Sainz Jr, holding off Juncadella to the last, while Tincknell was 6th from Wehrlein, van Asseldonk (who took the place from Nasr on the final lap), Nasr and Sims.
Marciello was 11th ahead of Jack Harvey (Carlin), Derani, Buller, Abt, Yamauchi, Eriksson, Blomqvist, Jaafar and Gilbert. The last finishers were Kevin Korjus (Galaxy Double R Racing), from Lucas Auer (Van Amersfoort Racing), Luis Sá Silva (Angola Racing Team), Hirakawa, Dennis van de Laar (Van Amersfoort Racing) and Lucas Wolf (URD Rennsport).
The fastest lap of the race was set by Daniel Juncadella.
Weather: Cool, breezy, overcast.