It's Macau and for once, ASM F3 in particular - and the EuroSeries runners in general - are not the dominant force many expected them to be. Instead, after a dramatic and drawn out final qualifying session, Oliver Jarvis (Team Reckless Tom's), running in the Japanese F3 Championship this year, snatched pole in the final seconds, despite the best efforts of Marko Asmer (Hitech Racing), this year's British F3 International Series champion, and Kodai Tsukakoshi (Manor Motorsport), both of whom held the position for a while. And this in spite of Asmer clouting the barriers during the session and having to drive with no dash as a result.
At the start of the session, pretty much all the runners took to the track as soon as possible, despite the oil flags at various marshals posts around the place. The session was already running late after the chaos of the earlier local touring car practice sessions, and with both the air and track temperature slightly down on Thursday it looked likely that this would be the faster session. Given the propensity for red flags here, no one wanted to miss out and chance leaving their run too late. Romain Grosjean (ASM F3), the 2007 EuroSeries champion, was out early as was Sebastien Buemi (Raikkonen Robertson Racing), his team-mate Stephen Jelley, and Jarvis. Buemi got the ball rolling by setting a time in the 2:17s, as did Jarvis, while Grosjean was slightly more circumspect, at least to start with. Asmer was winding himself up gently too.
The only latecomers were Bruno Senna (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) and Edoardo Mortara (Signature-Plus), which meant by the time they got out there, Franck Mailleux (Manor Motorsport) had been craned away after he went backwards into the barriers yet again. It seems to be becoming a bad habit, frankly. While all that was going on, the improvements started, with Jarvis up to 9th, and his team-mate, Kazuya Oshima also improving on Thursday's time but staying put in the order. It seemed right now that only the Tom's powered runners were able to improve in the early stages, and Jarvis improved again on the next lap. Then the others began to join in, with Roberto Streit (Prema Powerteam) improving to go 3rd, with a time of 2:13.389.
The next improvement came from Brendon Hartley (Carlin Motorsport), the youngster claiming 18th, just before Renger van der Zande took himself out of contention, crashing heavily and ripping a wheel off against the wall at the Solitude Esses, and bringing out the first of the red flags, just as Mortara claimed provisional pole, edging out Asmer with a 2.13.011.
The clock stopped with 32 minutes or so left to run, with Mortara leading Asmer, Grosjean, Streit, Yelmer Buurman (Manor Motorsport), Kamui Kobayashi (ASM F3), Buemi, Jarvis, Oshima and Esteban Guerrieri (Signature- Plus). Nico Hulkenberg (ASM F3) was 11th, having also improved before it all went wrong for van der Zande, with Tsukakoshi 12th, from James Jakes (Manor Motorsport), Jelley, Niall Breen (Carlin Motorsport), Atte Mustonen (Signature-Plus), Jonathan Kennard (Raikkonen Robertson Racing), Hartley, Carlo van Dam (HBR Motorsport) and van der Zande. Carlin Motorsport's Sam Bird was 21st (and quite excited at having managed to finish the morning session under his own steam after the disaster that was Thursday), in front of Senna, Mailleux, Walter Grubmuller (Hitech Racing), Takuya Izawa (Fortec Motorsport), Rodolfo Avila (HBR Motorsport), Michael Ho (Hitech Racing), Cheong Lou Meng (Swiss Racing Team), Lei Kit Meng (Carlin Motorsport), and Jo Merszei (Swiss Racing Team).
Anyway, the restart came quite rapidly, the marshals as ever doing a superb job of getting the wreckage cleared away (they do get rather a lot of practice unfortunately). Hulkenberg promptly had a bit of an off at Moorish, but at least it didn't require another red flag. The session settled down, and the times started to fall. The major players now ere Jelley, who suddenly started reeling off faster and faster lap times, eventually moving up to 6th in the overall order, and Mortara, who was pushing incredibly hard and getting very sideways, eventually spinning out to no-one's great surprise, though he was able to get going again too. That left him 2nd, because by then Jarvis had pulled a 2.12:564 from somewhere, while his team-mate Oshima had also improved to 9th.
A lot further back, Mustonen was also straight on it, but he was looking wild at Lisboa, and it wasn't helping him improve his times. In fact it led to his ignominious exit when he ran into the barriers, stalled the engine and was craned away. Asmer, on the other hand, was doing all he could to dislodge Jarvis, but was beginning to look as if he might have to settle for 2nd. Buemi (who was now 4th) was also pushing for pole, while Grosjean was suffering in comparison and was being forced back down the order, though from the TV footage of his car sliding through the corners, he was trying very hard as well. And then there was another red flag stoppage, when Hartley smacked into the barriers at the exit of Lisboa, making an awful mess of the car and being left stranded in the middle of the track. The order, with 12 minutes left, was Jarvis, from Mortara, Asmer, Buemi, Grosjean, Jelley, Streit, Buurman, Kobayashi and Oshima. 11th was Guerrieri, ahead of Hulkenberg, Tsukakoshi, Jakes, Breen, Mustonen, Senna, Kennard, Hartley and van dam. Bird was still 21st, from van der Zande, Mailleux, Izawa, Grubmuller, Ho, Avila, Cheong, Lei and Merszei.
Almost as soon as they restarted, the session had to be stopped again, when Grubmuller, on his out lap, crashed into the barriers (suggestions were made that he'd done it on purpose but that seems unlikely), and the red flags were hung out again immediately. No one had had a chance to improve, and now there was less than ten minutes left. This time it was a case of one more time, but with a bit less feeling please! By the time they'd completed their out laps there would be around 8 minutes left in which to get a good lap time. In favour of those who could still run (and not those like Jelley who couldn't because he'd run out of fuel), the air temperature had dropped significantly, which made late improvements highly likely. Certainly Asmer seemed to think so, the Estonian barging his way through the traffic in a "now or never" mood. He promptly improved his time, but stayed 3rd. He wasn't the only one improving almost immediately. Jakes managed to go faster, before picking up a puncture, and Guerrieri was also able to post a quicker time.
The battle for pole was still raging too, with Grosjean now 3rd, and Mortara going faster but still 2nd, still 0.320 seconds off Jarvis's best time. Buemi was next to set a faster lap, but he stayed 5th. Asmer snatched 2nd back from Mortara, while Kobayashi suddenly joined in, grabbing 3rd, ahead of Oshima. Tsukakoshi moved into 2nd on his next flying lap, and that pushed Asmer back to 3rd. Grosjean was even more adrift in a somewhat unexpected 7th, and then the order shuffled again. With seconds left, Buemi moved back to 2nd, only now he was much, much closer, with only 0.092 to find. And then Tsukakoshi claimed pole, with a time 0.057 seconds faster than Jarvis. The chequered flag was out and it looked as if it was all over, except no one told Jarvis, who shot across the line to take the flag and grabbed pole back from the Japanese driver, while Asmer couldn't quite beat Jarvis but was able to claim 2nd on his very last lap.
And so, Jarvis claimed pole by 0.192 seconds from Asmer, with Tsukakoshi and Buemi 3rd and 4th. 5th was Mortara, the highest placed rookie, beating out Grosjean, Kobayashi, Oshima, Streit and Buurman. 11th was Jakes, ahead of Guerrieri, from a deeply frustrated Jelley, while van Dam was 14th, ahead of Hulkenberg, Bird, Breen, Senna, Kennard and Mustonen. 21st was Hartley, then Mailleux, van der Zande, Izawa, Ho, Avila, Grubmuller, Cheong, Lei and Merszei.
After penalties are applied, Buurman, Mustonen, Kobayashi and Hulkenberg will all start Saturday's ten lap qualifying race three places further back than they qualified for various pit lane regulation infringements, while Buemi, who was found to have set a fastest sector time under yellows, will start five places back.
The order on the grid, therefore, should probably be Jarvis, Asmer, Tsukakoshi, Mortara, Grosjean, Oshima, Streit, Jakes, Buemi, Kobayashi, Guerrieri, Jelley, Buurman, van Dam, Bird, Breen, Senna, Hulkenberg, Kennard, Hartley, Mailleux, van der Zande, Mustonen, Izawa, Ho, Avila, Grubmuller, Cheong, Lei and Merszei. Don't quote us on this, but Jakes looks like the main beneficiary, moving forward three places as a result. The Yorkshireman won't complain.