The FIA F3 Intercontinental Cup - or the Macau Grand Prix, as the event is more commonly known - is the world's most significant and important race for young emerging single-seater hopefuls. This is the race that everyone wants to win - and it's...
The FIA F3 Intercontinental Cup - or the Macau Grand Prix, as the event is more commonly known - is the world's most significant and important race for young emerging single-seater hopefuls. This is the race that everyone wants to win - and it's no coincidence that the list of previous winners includes a host of famous names like Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher and David Coulthard. This weekend sees the 57th edition of the classic street race take place within the tight confines of the Chinese gambling metropolis (although Formula 3 racing didn't come to Macau until 1983), and one of the drivers on the grid - among 30 of the world's brightest F3 talents - is Macau rookie Felix Rosenqvist.
It's no exaggeration to call the Macau Grand Prix somewhat of an unofficial Formula 3 World Championship event. Each year, all the best drivers from the most prominent F3 championships across the globe make the trip to the former Portuguese colony for an end-of-season showdown which attracts full attention from teams and engine manufacturers alike. In the 1980's, there were even a few examples of drivers like Rene Arnoux and Ivan Capelli taking to the grid - despite having already stepped up to Formula 1...
As far as Felix is concerned, though, his debut at Macau is really all about one thing; gaining experience. Although the recently-turned 19-year-old continues his association with Performance Racing, the rules state that he will have to abandon his customary Dallara F307 chassis, which he has driven in the German ATS Formula 3 Cup throughout this year, in favour for a new car (also built by Dallara, but to the latest technical specifications). Having bounced back from a tough start to the season to score two victories and eight podiums in the second half of the year, Felix ended his maiden Formula 3 campaign with front-running momentum - but what the narrow streets of Macau really require is sheer local knowledge. Felix has never driven at a street venue of any kind before, and with the 6.2 km Guia circuit being regarded as one of the most challenging in the world with its unique mixture of ultra-fast straights and slow, twisting corners, the job in hand could have been more straightforward.
"It's a great feeling to have been invited to do the Macau Grand Prix, which will of course be the most high-profile race I have taken part in during my career so far," Felix says. "As a rookie to the event, however, I don't have any targets or expectations whatsoever as far as results are concerned. It will all be a case of watching and learning for the future."
This year's start list, like always, is an uncomplicated confirmation on who has stood out among their competitors throughout the season. One of the pre-race favourites for victory is last year's Macau winner and 2010 F3 Euro Series champion Edoardo Mortara, who joins the race with the same team he drove for in 2009 - Signature-Volkswagen. The team's line-up will also sport Marco Wittmann, Laurens Vanthoor and Daniel Abt, with Abt joining Felix as the only representative from the ATS Formula 3 Cup.
British team Carlin takes to the grid with both the champion and the runner-up from the British F3 series, Jean-Eric Vergne and James Calado. Vergne, who is backed by the successful Red Bull young driver scheme, will arrive in Macau just hours after conducting Formula 1 testing duties with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Abu Dhabi. Also flying the flag for former F1 team boss Trevor Carlin this weekend will be Malaysia's Jazeman Jaafar and Portugal's Antonio Felix da Costa - another who is set to take part in the Abu Dhabi F1 test (with Force India) in the days leading up to the race. The quartet of drivers, coupled with the team's previous achievements, should put Carlin in a good position - even though none of its drivers have participated in the event before.
The Japanese Formula 3 championship has always been closely connected to the Macau Grand Prix. In 1992, Rickard Rydell - still the only Swede to have won the prestigious race - became the first driver to take victory at Macau on the back of a season of racing in the land of the Rising Sun. In two out of the three latest editions, the winner has come from the Japanese series. The country's number one F3 squad, TOM'S Toyota, is also one of the most victorious in the history of the Macau Grand Prix and seems to be prepared to do battle once more with Yuji Kunimoto and Rafael Suzuki behind the wheels of its cars. Kunimoto (the brother of 2008 Macau winner Keisuke Kunimoto) triumphed in this year's Japanese championship after a dominant season, and has the important advantage of having already completed his Macau Grand Prix debut with ninth place in 2009. Brazilian Suzuki moved to Japan ahead of this year after a season with Performance Racing in the ATS Formula 3 Cup, and finished third in the championship behind team-mate Kunimoto and Yuhi Sekiguchi (who will drive for Three Bond Racing in the only car in the field powered by a Nissan engine). Sweden's Marcus Ericsson raced for TOM'S Toyota last year, finishing fourth on his second Macau attempt after qualifying on Pole Position.
Other interesting names on this year's grid include two of Felix's early-career competitors; Switzerland's Alexandre Imperatori, who was one of the very first drivers Felix ever raced against as he took the step from karting to Asian Formula Renault in 2007, and Indonesian Rio Haryanto who contested the Formula Asia 2.0 championship when Felix was crowned champion in 2008. Haryanto finished fifth overall in the inaugural season of GP3 this year, and prepares for his first taste of F3 at Macau by joining Vergne and da Costa for the F1 rookie test at Abu Dhabi, where he will receive a prize drive with Virgin Racing. Furthermore, official Williams F1 test driver Valtteri Bottas returns to the race following his impressive drive to fifth on his debut last year. The Finn has won the Masters of Formula 3 event in Europe two years in a row and finished third in the F3 Euro Series this season, making him one of the favourites as he joins the grid with Prema Powerteam.
With the ATS Formula 3 Cup having been one of the support acts for the FIA GT1 World Championship at the Nurburgring earlier this year, this weekend will provide Felix with yet another chance to share the tarmac with a World Championship series as the FIA WTCC finale rolls into Macau. Although many fans will undoubtedly be paying close attention to what goes in the WTCC, the F3 race is the de facto main attraction - making the Macau Grand Prix, with two such high-profile events on the programme in one of Asia's most indulgent cities, truly unique in the very real sense of the word.
One week after the race in Macau, another significant Asian F3 classic - the Korea Super Prix - had originally been pencilled in on the calendar. Felix and Performance Racing were planning to take part in the revived event up until a few weeks ago, when Korean organisers announced that the race had been cancelled following a legal technicality with the newly-constructed Korean International Circuit. As a result, the Macau Grand Prix will mark Felix's last race of 2010. One other Swede - Felix's fellow national motor racing team member Jimmy Eriksson - had signed up for the Korea Super Prix.