At Zandvoort yesterday afternoon Daniel Juncadella (Prema Powerteam) proved he had unfinished business with this meeting (he qualified on the front row last year but was taken out in a first lap crash triggered by his then team-mate and pole sitter Roberto Merhi) by putting it on pole in the second and only completely dry session of the day. Second for the 22nd running of this prestigious meeting will be Carlos Sainz Jr (Carlin), making it an all Spanish front row. Third after a late effort will be Raffaele Marciello (Prema Powerteam).
The first session was wet and it took less than one lap for it to become obvious that the only running that was going to count would be in this session. The fastest times in the first session didn’t get below 1 minute 45 seconds and the slowest runner at the end of the first flying lap was already inside that. It was all up for grabs and everyone got on the case pretty rapidly, only local boy Dennis van de Laar (Carlin) staying in pit lane for quite some time after the session started.
Initially it was Marciello who set the pace, from William Buller (Carlin) and last year’s surprise winner Felix Rosenqvist (Mücke Motorsport). Behind them Michael Lewis (Prema Powerteam), Felix Serralles (Fortec Motorsport), Pascal Wehrlein (Mücke Motorsport), Sainz Jr, Hannes van Asseldonk (Fortec Motorsport) and Juncadella were all battling it out.
A lap later and Rosenqvist was fastest just ahead of Buller, but then Marciello went faster yet, and everyone wondered when Juncadella would actually show his hand. It didn’t take long. Suddenly the rapid (and it has to be said very experienced) Spaniard was at the top of the times with a 1:32. Also on the move now was Sainz Jr who moved into fifth behind Lewis.
As we approached the halfway mark of this 20-minute session the next to show was van Asseldonk with a time that would put him 7th. Also beginning to push was van Asseldonk’s team-mate, Alex Lynn who moved up to 10th and then a lap later to 5th on what was now a mostly empty track. With most of the twenty runners in the pits for fresh rubber and whatever adjustments they deemed necessary, it was very quiet indeed, or at least it was until Josh Webster (T-Sport) fell off and the red flags were hung out while he could be retrieved. It was a rookie mistake but then he is a rookie, and his inexperience was showing.
That put an end to a number of planned flying laps for several drivers, but that so often happens here that it’s probably pretty normal. The order at this point was Juncadella on pole from Marciello, Rosenqvist, Lewis, Sainz Jr, Lynn, Serralles, van Asseldonk, Sven Müller (Prema Powerteam) and then Buller. 11th was Pipo Derani (Fortec Motorsport), from Wehrlein, van de Laar, Luis Sá Silva (Angola Racing Team), Andrea Roda (Jo Zeller Racing), Conor Daly (Double R Racing), Geoff Uhrhane (Double R Racing), Richard “Spike” Goddard (T-Sport), Sandro Zeller (Jo Zeller Racing) and Webster, the last three making up the Invitation Class.
At the restart, which didn’t take long, there were less than nine minutes left so it was always likely to be somewhat frantic, and the boys didn’t disappoint. The changes started almost as soon as the first timed lap ended with Goddard going ahead of Uhrhane in the battle of the Australians. At the opposite end of the grid Rosenqvist set a faster time to move back up the order and then Sainz Jr went fastest of all, moving onto provisional pole. Buller then set a time that would be enough to put him fifth and Wehrlein edged into the top eight.
Serralles also improved his time but stayed 9th, while Rosenqvist went second. Wehrlein almost immediately displaced him while Sainz Jr went even faster to hang onto his advantage and presumably make backers Red Bull happy after a pretty bleak month for the teenager back in British F3.
Did Prema have the answer? Of course they did. Marciello leaped back up to 2nd and then Juncadella started to really wind up the pace to reclaim provisional pole from his upstart countryman. The next batch of changes came in the pack with Müller sixth, and van de Laar on the move at last (for 13th), while fellow Dutchman van Asseldonk slipped into 8th. Of the other Fortec boys Lynn was now 11th just ahead of Derani in 12th but all eyes were on the front, not the middle.
There Rosenqvist improved to fourth while Buller edged into sixth just ahead of Müller, the two of them having battled it out for most of the session. Marciello again went faster but couldn’t get higher than third and would find van Asseldonk alongside him in fourth after a final effort from the Dutch driver. The Lynn and Derani battled also sorted itself out and it didn’t go in favour of the tiny Brazilian, with Lynn initially snagging 10th, only to have Derani take it from him on the last lap before the gangly Englishman took it back again a second or two later.
With van de Laar and Daly now fighting over 13th, Lewis pushed everyone down a place with a last gasp dive for the line that was good enough for ninth and then the flag came out and it was all over. Juncadella was on pole from Sainz Jr by over half a second, and must start the race firm favourite barring assault by a team-mate or other unexpected catastrophe, while Marciello is third from van Asseldonk, Rosenqvist, Wehrlein, Buller, Müller, Lewis and Lynn. Eleventh will be Derani, just ahead of Serralles, van de Laar, Daly, Uhrhane, Roda, Zeller, Sá Silva, Goddard and Webster.