FIA Formula 3 Intercontinental Cup, Macau, China - Qualifying 1 report
Qualifying for the Macau Grand Prix was expected to be all about Max Verstappen (Van Amersfoort Racing) and Esteban Ocon (Prema Powerteam). Instead, today’s first of two qualifying sessions to set the grid for Saturday’s qualification race turned out to be all about Tom Blomqvist, and his Jagonya Ayam with Carlin team-mate Antonio Giovinazzi, the English driver claiming provisional pole in a time of 2:11.922, just 0.011 faster than the Italian. Even more unexpectedly, 3rd went to Nick Cassidy (ThreeBond with T-Sport).
The Dutch rookie as a seasoned veteran
The session kicked off more than a little later than planned at 15:25 after both the WTCC competitors and the local Touring Cat boys seemed equally attracted to the barriers, but at least it was still daylight when 28 F3 cars took to the track to battle over bragging rights. Initially it was Verstappen who was fastest, the Dutch rookie hurling his Dallara around the place as if he were a seasoned veteran. His initial provisional pole time was a full second ahead of Jordan King (Carlin), with Ocon back in 3rd to begin with. He was demoted by Giovinazzi, who was clearly on form this afternoon.
He wasn’t alone. Lucas Auer (kfzteile24 Mücke Motorsport) was next to push the boundaries, moving into the 2:15s and briefly heading the pack before Verstappen went even quicker. The times were rocketting downwards and we were already in the 2:14s, way ahead of schedule. 2nd was now Nicholas Latifi (Prema Powerteam) ahead of Ocon, before Team West-TecF3’s Felix Serralles shot up to 2nd. He was nudged down the order again by Giovinazzi, and a further place by Cassidy.
Cao banged into the barriers
Next up was Felix Rosenqvist (kfzteile24 Mücke Motorsport) who was on pole for a couple of seconds, before Verstappen reappeared going even quicker, taking over a second out of his time with each flying lap completed. Signature was now showing well too, the returning team’s William Buller showing good speed to slot into 4th place. Just as everyone was getting into a rhythm though it all came crashing to a halt as Hongwei “Martin” Cao (Fortec Motorsport) banged into the barriers at Fisherman’s Bend and the entire third sector was placed under yellow flags.
To be fair everyone seemed to get the message and they all backed off. The order at this stage was Verstappen, from Rosenqvist, Fuoco, Latifi, Giovinazzi, Ocon, Buller, Gustavo Menezes (Van Amersfoort Racing), Cassidy, Serralles, Auer, King, Blomqvist, Sean Gelael (Jagonya Ayam with Carlin), Santino Ferrucci (Fortec Motorsport), Markus Pommer (Motopark), Alex Palou (Fortec Motorsport), Cao, Yu Kanamaru (Carlin) and Dan Wells (Toda Racing).
Once Cao was removed and everything went back to green, Verstappen was right back on it, banging in yet another stunningly quick lap in 2:12.995 with second fastest standing at 2:14.183. Seconds later Blomqvist and King came round, both getting into the 2:13s, before Giovinazzi separated them and Stefano Coletti somehow wrestled the Eurointernational car round for 5th.
Fight between Auer, Blomqvist and Verstappen
It wasn’t over though. Auer was the first to really get the better of Verstappen, the tiny Austrian rising to the challenge yet again this season, but even he didn’t have the answer to Blomqvist, who was even quicker now. With Buller and Giovinazzi fighting over 4th, and Ocon dropping back to 9th, it began to look as if it would come down to a three way fight between Auer, Blomqvist and Verstappen, though there were still 20 minutes left to go, and that’s a long time in F3!
Giovinazzi came round to claim 3rd just as there was another outbreak of yellows, this time in Sector 2 for Tatiana Calderon (Jo Zeller Racing/Mücke Motorsport) after she went straight off into the barriers at Post 16. The question was had he done the time under yellows, or was it clean. It stayed on the screens so he appeared to have got away with it. It was soon academic anyway. The track was quickly cleared and the times started to fall again. Shortly after that the Italian was up to 2nd though he was still over half a second slower than Blomqvist and it seemed he wouldn’t get any nearer.
And then it went quiet with some drivers opting to put new tyres on, and others preferring to save them for second qualifying. Drivers were either faced with not being able to go any faster, or they were scrubbing in new rubber, which meant the timing screen was static for a while. And then in the closing minutes, Cassidy found 4th from somewhere, while Ocon improved to 7th, or at least he did until Rosenqvist speeded up and took it from him.
Ahead of the pack
Blomqvist also went quicker as did Giovinazzi, the pair staying ahead of the pack, even though Blomqvist soon pitted and climbed out to wait for the end of the session. Further back, Cassidy claimed 3rd as he took the chequered flag, with King improved to 5th and Latifi to 7th as they too crossed the line at the end first qualifying.
There was also a last minute fight for 12th, with Serralles first looking as if he would claim it only for Ferrucci to take it from him, and in his turn be ousted by Ocon at the flag.
Afterwards Blomqvist was very pleased with events so far: “I’m happy with the session; it can’t go much better than getting provisional pole. After practice we knew we were competitive, so I just had to improve in a few areas and we made a few adjustments to the car which I think helped. I used my experience to push a little harder than in the last session, but there’s still a very long way to go. The track evolves quite a lot, so in a way we use this as another practice session. The car is quick and I’ve got the speed within myself and I’ve also been pushed along by my team mate, so we’ve got good references so I think we should be strong again tomorrow.”
Behind him are Giovinazzi, Cassidy, Auer, King, Verstappen, Latifi, Buller, Rosenqvist and Ocon. 11th at present is Coletti, from Gelael, Fuoco, Ferrucci, Serralles, Pommer, Pelou, Kanamaru, Roberto Merhi (Double R Racing) and Menezes. 21st was Kenta Yamashita (Tom’s), then comes Richard “Spike” Goddard (Three Bond with T-Sport), Dallara, Wells, Cao, Calderon, Sam MacLeod (Tom’s), Wing Chung “Andy” Chang (Team West-Tec F3) and Mitsunori Takaboshi (B-Max Racing Team).