At Zandvoort this afternoon, for the 19th running of the Masters of Formula 3, now sponsored by oil company Tango, became an all-Finnish affair, with Valtteri Bottas (ART Grand Prix) claiming his first F3 win after just five races, and making it a...
At Zandvoort this afternoon, for the 19th running of the Masters of Formula 3, now sponsored by oil company Tango, became an all-Finnish affair, with Valtteri Bottas (ART Grand Prix) claiming his first F3 win after just five races, and making it a very impressive victory. He led from start to finish despite intense pressure from compatriot Mika Maki (Signature) who simply wouldn't let go. Third was Stefano Coletti (Prema Powerteam), the latter somewhat fortunate to benefit from a first lap bit of idiocy involving Jean Karl Vernay (Signature) who hit Roberto Merhi (Manor Motorsport) and put him out of the running.
However, there was excitement event before the start of the 25 lap race. Cesar Ramos (Manor Motorsport) had to start from the very back of the grid after failing to get away from the grid on the warm up lap, while Daniel Ricciardo (Carlin Motorsport) was dragged off to the garage after his car suffered a gearbox failure before he even go to e the start. He certainly caused the marshals some excitement as a gaggle of them ran up to deal with the incontinent Dallara that was now depositing its bodily fluids onto the track.
At 2pm prompt local time the race started, with Bottas getting a super start, while behind him Maki could only slot in and curse the fact that his car was set to run more strongly towards the end of the race. Also starting rapidly was Renger van der Zande (Hitech Racing), but that was only to be expected. The loser in all of this was Merhi, the Spaniard dropping a handful of places to Coletti, the offending Vernay, and Jules Bianchi (ART Grand Prix), leaving Merhi in 6th. Someone who started well was Riki Christodoulou (Fortec Motorsport), but from 23rd he really had to. Still, he made up 3 places on the first lap before settling in to steadily try and work his way forwards. Meanwhile Manor Motorsport were scrambling round and lining up tyres, but they didn't seem to need them for anyone so it was all a bit of a mystery.
A lap later and Maki was being pressured by Coletti, while Bottas had opened up quite a gap considering the race was only a lap old. What was also happening, behind the leading trio, was that Vernay had built up a train of cars that were clearly faster but equally clearly their drivers couldn't actually get past. A maddened Bianchi, Merhi, Alexander Sims (Mucke Motorsport), Christian Vietoris (Mucke Motorsport), Henkie Waldschmidt (SG Formula) and van der Zande were all bunched up, while Atte Mustonen (Motopark Academy) and Sam Bird (Mucke Motorsport) were fighting over 10th. Meanwhile, Esteban Gutierrez (ART Grand Prix) was on the move, and having started 32nd was now 27th and looking very threatening. Not looking very threatening, on the other hand, was Henry Arundel (Carlin Motorsport) though he had climbed the order from 34th to 30th.
It wasn't long before Bianchi snatched 4th from Vernay and promptly started to drive away from him, while Merhi lost out to Sims, Vietoris and Waldschmidt, thus compounding the youngster's misery and probably making his wish he'd left the RedBull along before the race. Someone who should have had some was Jake Rosenzweig (Carlin Motorsport) who managed to spin on the outside of Tarzan. He was able to get going again, but it was quite spectacular while it was happening. Luckily for the American, no one collected him, though it was close. All the while, Gutierrez was quietly making up places too and Rosenzweig dropping back simply helped him to get ahead of one car without needing to overtake.
With Bottas getting away at the front, despite his team-manager being called to race control, Vernay continued his run as a pretty effective roadblock back in 5th. It was making life difficult for a number of people, most noticeably Sims, who tried to overtake Vernay only to have Vietoris try to take him at Tarzan while his attention was elsewhere. In all the excitement, Merhi flung himself into the gravel, though again he was able to get going again with the help of the marshals. Now in 16th his hopes of a podium were long gone. On the same lap, Bird finally made his move on Mustonen for 10th, getting past the Finn only to end up joining the Vernay train.
It wasn't long before Vietoris again attacked Sims, going up the inside out of Tarzan. The result wasn't quite what the German had hoped for though, and he lost out to Waldschmidt instead, the latter pulling an opportunistic move and dragging van der Zande with him. A lap later Vietoris had a go at recovering some ground, and as Sims passed Vernay at last, he managed it, though again perhaps not in the way he had expected. On lap 9 Waldschmidt made a wild move round the outside of Vernay as they came out of Tarzan, and as he got a dreadful wobble on, they both ended up in the wall. There were yellow flags while the breakdown trucks were scrambled, and everyone slowed down. This was doubly necessary as Mustonen had run out of gears ("Shit happens!") and was stationary on the track. All of this nonsense promoted van der Zande to 6th, while Merhi was also recovering from his most recent indiscretion and was steadily climbing up the order again. Further down, Gutierrez was trying all sorts to pass Pedro Enrique (Manor Motorsport).
Once the chaos was cleared, Merhi gained another place, fighting his way back past Basil Shaaban (Prema Powerteam). And then things calmed down a lot. Unless, that is, you were Adrien Tambay (ART Grand Prix). He managed to spin into the gravel at Tarzan all on his own, and was remonstrating with the marshals, demanding that they push him back out. Unfortunately he was too far in which meant his race was effectively over.
With Bottas now holding a steady gap of about 2.5 seconds from Maki, and Coletti holding off a hard-charging Bianchi, Merhi battled his way past Chinosi for 10th (Chinosi having climbed the order while no one was looking) and Gutierrez made his way though to 19th. The pressure on Coletti eased a little a lap later when Bianchi made a mistake and dropped back a little.
Gutierrez, meanwhile, made up yet another place by overtaking Daisuke Nakajima (Raikkonen Robertson Racing), the Japanese having backed up everyone through to 31st by driving a very effectively wide car. The train contained Enrique, Daniel Zampieri (BVM Target), Andrea Caldarelli (SG Formula), Victor Garcia (Fortec Motorsport), Max Chilton (Carlin Motorsport), Arundel, Marco Wittman (Mucke Motorsport), Alexandre Marsoin (SG Formula), Francesco Castellacci (Manor Motorsport), Samuele Buttarelli (Carlin Motorsport), Ramos and Rosenzweig. It was getting a bit fraught in there as Nakajima did his impression of a roadblock that caused Christodoulou so much grief at Oulton Park earlier this year. The 27,500 strong crowd were being royally entertained by it! Chilton probably wasn't though, as it all meant he was under repeated attack from Arundel, despite being team-mates. The man who had escaped the train, meanwhile, managed to fight his way past Carlos Huertas (Raikkonen Robertson Racing), but his progress looked likely to be stopped as his next target was Christodoulou, and he wasn't going to give ground to anyone now.
With just a handful of laps left the excitement dried up. The tyres were going off, people were getting tired, and the top three were pretty stable now. As Buttarelli dropped right to the back of the field, Bottas slowed down a little, presumably on the grounds that he was now getting dangerously close to catching the back markers, which would mean dealing with the Nakajima train, not something any sane driver would want to risk. It didn't become an issue this time, and so Bottas won the Masters on his first time of trying, netting the fastest lap on the way. With Maki finishing 2nd, Finland won the Nations Cup as well. Coletti finished 3rd, presumably untroubled by the fact that Bianchi was shaking his fist wildly as they pulled into the pit lane in line astern. 5th behind Bianchi was Sims, the latter part of his race being very quiet. 6th went to van der Zande,l ahead of Vietoris, Bird, Geronimi and Merhi.
11th was Chinosi, from Shaaban, Christopher Zanella (Motopark Academy), Walter Grubmuller (Hitech Racing), Laurens Vanthoor (Carlin Motorsport), Christodoulou, Gutierrez, Huertas, Nakajima and Enrique. 21st was Zampieri, from Garcia who snatched 22nd on the last lap, Caldarelli, Chilton, Arundel, Wittman, Marsoin, Ramos, Rosenzweig and Castellacci. The final classified runner was Buttarelli.
Lap 24 - Garcia grabs 22nd.
Weather: Hot, sunny.