Second Qualifying (Friday November 14th):
Weather: Warm, sunny, slightly overcast.
If the F3 drivers had behaved reasonably in yesterday's free practice, they didn't in this morning's session, with cars hitting the barriers all over the shop. The first one came about 5 minutes in (Naoki Yokomizo [JB Motorsport with Inging] hit the barriers at Dona Maria) and it all fell apart from there. As a result, and because a number of the Porsche drivers were once again trying to modify their cars to make them look like VW beetles, there were a lot of delays and by afternoon, we were already 25 minutes behind schedule.
The temperatures were up on Thursday, which suggested this might be a much slower session, though at Macau you can never tell. Pierre Kaffer (Superfund TME Racing) clearly thought it was going to be a faster session and came in very early on for fresh rubber, while other drivers had opted to try and save two sets of tyres for the two legs of the race on Sunday. It didn't immediately seem to have done the German any good, and no one else was showing signs of improving either. Despite the lack of extra speed, there was a great deal of close formation running going on out there, because this is one of those places where you really do need a tow if you want to be quick. There also seemed to be an element of follow-my- leader going on with the more experienced of the drivers being followed by those who didn't know their way round.
The first improvement finally came from Robert Kubica (Target Racing), though given where he'd ended up the day before it would have been hard for him not to improve Ryan Briscoe (Prema Powerteam) was another to begin progressing when he shot up the order to 10th overall. Meanwhile Fairuz Fauzy (Promatecme F3) managed to bend the front wing of his car against the wall at Police, but at least he kept going. Another to improve was Hiroki Yoshimoto (Swiss Racing Team SRT), going from 27th to 20th.
Lewis Hamilton seemed to be finding his feet at last, and a quicker time saw him improve to 15th. It wasn't what he was hoping for but for a driver with so little experience in the Formula it was a good result. You just couldn't get him to believe it! Jo Merszei (Alan Docking Racing) also improved his time but, unsurprisingly, remained last. Kubica was now looking like he would soon move into the top 20, while Richard Antinucci (Hitech Racing) dug deep to get a 2.14. He was now 6th and looking remarkably confident, a great contrast to last year.
At the back end of the order Danny Watts (Alan Docking Racing) and Ernesto Viso (Promatecme F3) were trading places around 23rd place. Viso had the distinction of being the first driver to be listed on the incident report, having bumped into Rob Austin (Menu Motorsport) at Melco. He might have been the first but he wouldn't be the only one.
The next incident came at Dona Maria, when Marco Bonanomi (Target Racing) hit the barriers and his car had to be removed. Shortly afterwards, Narain Karthikeyan (Carlin Motorsport) hit trouble at Police. Not feeling at all well, the car got away from the little Indian and he just didn't have the strength to wrestle it back on track. That was the end of his session though he had at least improved his time first.
Nicholas Lapierre (Signature Plus) was the next to improve, going up the order to 6th. He looked as if he could manage more yet. There were a series of offs and resultant yellow flags, which caused everyone to have to back off. Merszei threw it off at Lisboa, and then Viso did the same. Briscoe, who was really pushing now, spun at Fisherman's, clipped the barrier and had to sort himself out in the escape route. As Briscoe limped round for suspension repairs (a new wishbone was needed), Kaffer improved. There were now 25 minutes of the session left, and Courtney was still leading from Fabio Carbone (Signature Plus), Kaffer and Tatsuya Kataoka (Tom's).
The tendency to hit things was still proving very pronounced - Yoshimoto was next, having a spin at Police. While he was doing that, Hamilton and Lei Kit Meng (Manor Motorsport) both went off at Lisboa but both managed to miss hitting anything. Watts finally managed to ease his way into the top 20, while Austin was still floundering in 26th place. Afterwards he seemed resigned to his fate. "I've had better days," was all he would say. At least his teammate, Doornbos, was able to improve. Someone had to uphold Menu's honour.
Paolo Montin (Three Bond Racing) improved too to go 8th, while Nelson Piquet Jr (Hitech Racing) was 9th. The improvements now started to come thick and fast, with Kubica leapfrogging to 10th just before Antinucci grabbed 6th, despite an earlier off at Lisboa. The next one to investigate the barriers a little too closely was Nico Rosberg (Carlin Motorsport), the car clipping the wall at Police and having to be pushed on its away. While the Finn was being removed, Carbone found a few more tenths from somewhere, while Doornbos improved to a temporary 4th place. Montin was briefly 5th but Kataoka took it off him almost immediately afterwards, and Lapierre shoved Antinucci back to 8th. Doornbos' chances of improving any further were stymied when he hit the barriers at Lisboa, and he would slip back to 10th as a result.
With some nice shiny new suspension parts Briscoe was back in the hunt now, and was 6th, just ahead of Montin. The Aussie wasn't finished yet either. Kaffer was still looking good too and shot up to 2nd while Rosberg, spurred on perhaps by his off, was 4th. Antinucci was briefly 3rd but again there were more changes to come.
With around 10 minutes left, the order was Courtney, Lapierre, Kaffer, Antinucci, Carbone, Rosberg, Kataoka, Doornbos, Montin and Briscoe. Fauzy was now 11th while Piquet was acting as if the world was about to end because he was only 12th. Montin leapt back up to 8th while Carbone grabbed pole position from Courtney who was unable to answer him as the track was crowded and there was a rash of yellow flags again. Most of this was because Rosberg was in the barriers at Dona Maria, though it didn't stop Briscoe making a determined effort on pole, which proved good enough to put him 2nd on the grid.
The pole man suddenly went missing, crashing out at Sao Francisco, just as his predecessor Tristan Gommendy did last year - before going on to win the race. Perhaps it was an omen. And that was pretty well the end of any improvements, with the exception of Watts who hauled himself up to 16th, which was a substantial improvement and probably just enough to land him in the middle of any first lap mayhem on Sunday.
Afterwards, Carbone was pretty confident that he could add this race to the Pau and Zandvoort victories that he already has. Briscoe was pleased with his position, as he should have been, while Courtney felt he had lost out because the team had made changes to car despite him asking them not to.
Sunday was going to be very interesting indeed.
-by Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite