In Macau this afternoon Felix Rosenqvist (GR Asia with Mücke) showed a remarkable turn of pace to set provisional pole position for Saturday’s Qualifying Race, after he crashed out of this morning’s free practice session with seven minutes still to run. In provisional second place alongside the Swede on the grid after the first of two 30-minute sessions is the man who beat Rosenqvist to the flag last year, Antonio Felix da Costa (Carlin). 3rd in the heat of the afternoon was Alexander Sims (ThreeBond with T-Sport), the man who must be regarded as the dark horse in this field.
Initially, it was Luis Felipe “Pipo” Derani (Fortec Motorsport) who was the pace-setter, with assistance from Carlin’s Jazeman Jaafar and Sims, but it really didn’t take long for Felix da Costa to get in on the act as he and Derani squabbled among themselves for a while over who was fastest. Interestingly, Stefano Coletti (EuroInternational) was also proving pretty rapid, which you might not have expected given he has not driven an F3 car for several years and the team have not exactly set the world alight in the FIA European F3 series this year, which is not surprising for a new team with a sole driver.
Meanwhile their previous sole driver had taken himself off to Fortec Motorsport and was currently 3rd, behind Derani and Harry Tincknell (Carlin). Shortly after that Tincknell edged ahead and was the first of the pack to get into the 2 minutes 13 seconds bracket. There was more to come of course, with Rosenqvist hauling himself up to 8th (despite the fact that the team were still putting the car back together with seconds to go before the start of the session).
Meanwhile Raffaele Marciello (D88.com Prema Powerteam), Rosenqvist’s bête noire all this season, was up to 2nd, while his team-mate Lucas Auer moved into 4th just in front of Felix da Costa. A lap later and Felix da Costa was 2nd from Jaafar.
Now, with the session halfway done, the tyre changes started as people looked for anything to give them an advantage. It was all looking quite promising now for the British teams, but it remained to be seen whether their apparent advantage would last much longer.
Rosenqvist, running about as much down force as it’s possible to get on an F3 car, was quickly on pole, enjoying the extra grip and making superb use of it, while elsewhere the morning’s fastest man, Alex Lynn (Theodore Racing by Prema), found it all slipping away from him after he crashed out in the early stages at Fisherman’s Bend. He would take no further part in the session. Lynn’s car was dragged to a place of safety and the session started to pick up pace again.
Yuichi Nakayama (TOM’s) had a bit of a look at the escape road at Lisboa. As it turned out he was able to rejoin quite neatly but it was a sign of things to come, as it turned out. Meanwhile, Nicholas Latifi (Carlin) was up to 16th, having a battle with Katsumasa Chiyo (B-Max Engineering), the two rookie’s trading places. No one was really looking back there though. The scrap for pole was far more interesting, as Sims moved into 6th and Derani, who was looking far happier than he had in the morning when he didn’t have a full set of working order gears, was up to 4th.
Carlin’s Carlos Sainz Jr. was next to improve, the Spaniard slotting in to 6th while behind him Auer was 9th. Shortly after the bar was lowered significantly by Felix da Costa, as the Portuguese recorded a time of 2:12.862. The battle was now well and truly on. Sims was briefly 3rd, before Derani crossed the line. In his turn the Brazilian was pushed down a place by Tincknell. 3rd was proving popular with everyone.
When they came round again, Sims grabbed the position back, while in front Rosenqvist edged ahead of Felix da Costa after a lap that included a blindingly quick second sector that left a lot of his opponents shaking their heads in befuddlement. There were around four minutes left and it was suddenly all to play for.
Until it wasn’t. Nakayama had followed up his harmless off by a more comprehensive investigation of the scenery trackside and had broken the suspension on his car. He was out and although the marshals here are very good at clearing obstructions, this one was a little too difficult to deal with safely on a track that was still live. With 1 minute and 37 seconds left, the officials hung out the red flags and brought the session to a halt. It would not restart and several drivers found they had to abort what could have been a faster lap.
That put Rosenqvist on provisional pole, from Felix da Costa and Sims. Tincknell ended up 4th ahead of Derani, Sainz, Coletti, Marciello, Kevin Korjus (Galaxy Double R Racing) and Jaafar, whose fastest lap had to be aborted because of the red flags. 11th was Auer, from Blomqvist, Jordan King (Carlin), Antonio Giovinazzi (Double R Racing), Yuhi Sekiguchi (kfz-teile24 Mücke Motorsport), William Buller (Fortec Motorsport), Nakayama, Esteban Ocon (Prema Powerteam), Chiyo and Latifi.
Fortec Motorsport’s John Bryant-Meisner ended the session in 21st ahead of Nelson Mason (Jo Zeller Racing), Ed Jones (Fortec Motorsport), Dennis van der Laar (kfz-teile24 Mücke Motorsport), Sean Gelael (Double R Racing), Lynn, Sun Zheng (Galaxy Double R Racing) and Lucas Wolf (URD Rennsport), the latter unable to set a time after crashing heavily at the end of the free practice session this morning.