Lynne Waite and Stella-Maria Thomas
At Zandvoort, in the Dutch sand dunes, this afternoon Daniel Juncadella put in a late charge to claim provisional pole for the 2012 RTL GP Masters of Formula 3 despite spending most of the session in the lower reaches of the order and only pulling out a truly fast lap at the chekered flag. Perhaps he and Prema Powerteam were sandbagging, a not inappropriate action in the face of the meteorological conditions. Second at the end of the first of two 20-minute sessions was Carlos Sainz Jr (Carlin) ahead of Fortec Motorsport’s Alex Lynn.
Despite dire predictions based on the appalling weather that hit most of Europe in the morning, which saw the morning sessions all cancelled and the track and access roads flooded, qualifying got underway just two hours late. The green lights at the end of the pit-lane were the only signal any of the teams and drivers needed to get going because the way the sky was looking there was no guarantee that the session would run for the full 20 minutes nor that the second session would not still be rained off. Certainly the predictions were for more of the same during the rest of the day and so it was imperative to get out there and set a time as soon as possible.
The session was declared wet to no one’s surprise, but the rain held off and a dry-ish line did start to appear. However, none of the drivers wanted to take a chance and so everyone went out in something of a cluster. The Mücke Motorsport cars were out first and were fastest initially with Felix Rosenqvist, last year’s winner here, leading the way from Pascal Wehrlein.
It was still very wet but that didn’t seem to bother Rosenqvist in the least and at the end of the first flying lap he was over one second faster than Wehrlein, but of course he has a lot to prove given his record here. Up in 3rd was Dennis van de Laar (Carlin), the local boy three seconds back on Rosenqvist, and then came Felix Serralles (Fortec Motorsport), the Puerto Rican not far off van de Laar’s pace on his first flying lap.
The next time round it was still Rosenqvist on top but now Sainz Jr was not far off and it was all to play for in the pack. Wehrlein moved back into 3rd while Pipo Derani (Fortec Motorsport) was now 4th, at least until Juncadella crossed the line. The Spaniard held onto 4th for a second or two, and then Hannes van Asseldonk displaced him, but the top three remained stable with Rosenqvist still on top a lap later, with Sainz hanging on to 2nd, and Wehrlein 3rd. Just outside the top six William Buller (Carlin) and Pau winner Raffaele Marciello (Prema Powerteam) were also showing now, with Marciello claiming 4th before Buller took it back from him.
Meanwhile Wehrlein went fastest of all but then Sainz went even faster. That demoted Rosenqvist to 3rd, ahead of Buller, Marciello and van Asseldonk, but it was a long way from over yet as was proved when Derani went 4th and Serralles who was now 10th. As a dry line started to tentatively appear, Rosenqvist moved back ahead of his team-mate for 2nd while Van Asseldonk pushed his way back up to 4th again at the expense of Derani who then also lost out to Buller.
The man really pushing though was Sainz Jr, who had been 0.07 seconds ahead of the pack but who suddenly put in a fastest first sector and then rocketed across the line with an even faster time. He seemed to be enjoying the conditions. Marciello meanwhile was also pushing hard and was 5th, just ahead of Buller and that was when it all ground to a halt as Marciello spun off at Hunserug while Rosenqvist lost it at Hugenholz and tore the right front wheel off. The red flags were hung out and the rescue trucks sprung into action.
With 4:28 left on the clock, the order was Sainz Jr, from Rosenqvist, Wehrlein, van Asseldonk, Marciello, Buller, Derani, van de Laar, Michael Lewis (Prema Powerteam) and Lynn. 11th was Conor Daly (Double R Racing), ahead of Juncadella, Serralles, Geoff Uhrhane (Double R Racing), Sven Müller (Prema Powerteam), Josh Webster (T-Sport), Luis Sá Silva (Angola Racing), Andrea Roda (Jo Zeller Racing), Sandro Zeller (Jo Zeller Racing) and Richard “Spike” Goddard (T-Sport).
With black clouds on the horizon again, but with the track now about as dry as it was going to get, everyone was straight back out as soon as the track was clear. There would be just enough time to get a couple of timed laps in and some people really did need to improve, among them Juncadella. That improvements were likely was proved when Buller came round to go 2nd and Müller moved into 11th on their first flying laps. Serralles also improved but no one else did. It was all going to be down to the last lap.
The session ended and as he threaded his way round to take the chekered flag Juncadella was digging very deep. He was two seconds off the pace he needed to find an improvement from somewhere. The question was could he do enough to take the pole. A fastest first sector of anyone and maybe he could. All eyes were on the timing screen to see whether pole would be taken by one of the Spaniards, and if so which one? As the turquoise and white Dallara took the flag the answer was clear. Juncadella had leaped from 14th to pole in one fell swoop, displacing Sainz Jr by 0.142 seconds and making the provisional front row an all-Iberian affair.
A last minute dash from Lynn saw him go 3rd, from Buller, Rosenqvist, van Asseldonk, Wehrlein, Marciello, Lewis and Derani. 11th was van de Laar, then Müller, Daly, Serralles, Uhrhane, Webster, Sá Silva, Roda, Zeller and Goddard. Second qualifying will be at 16:40 today and we will then see whether Juncadella can hold pole or whether anyone can find an answer to the Prema driver.