Ocon stands a very good chance of claiming the 2014 title at Imola.
At Imola it’s all about qualifying. There are very few places where it is possible to overtake, especially in an F3 car, and so Esteban Ocon (Prema Powerteam) will be at a massive advantage when he starts tomorrow’s race from pole position, ahead of Jordan King (Carlin), claiming 3rd in the session just as the red-flag bedevilled session finally ended but being promoted to 2nd because Antonio Giovinazzi (Jagonya Ayam with Carlin) has a 3-grid place penalty for causing an accident at the last race. That also moved Tom Blomqvist (Jagonya Ayam with Carlin) to 3rd on the grid for Saturday morning’s race.
Ocon stands a very good chance of claiming the 2014 title here, especially as the only remaining challenger, Max Verstappen (Van Amersfoort Racing) starts the weekend with two 10-grid place penalties left over after an engine change at the Nurburgring back in August. F1’s newest recruit qualified 5th and will thus start 15th tomorrow morning. He hasn’t given up though, as was clear from his earliest laps.
Lucas Aur went faster than anyone on Free Practice
Initially it was Verstappen who was fastest of all, in the 1:39s and quicker by over half a second. Behind him there was a great deal of shuffling in the pack, and some contravention of track limit rules, with Roy Nissany (kfzteile24 Mücke Motorsport) having a flying lap time disallowed, while his team mate Lucas Auer, hand heavily bandaged after an off in free practice, went faster than anyone.
King was next to show his hand, edging into the 1:37s ahead of Jake Dennis (Carlin), Sean Gelael (Jagonya Ayam) and Ed Jones (Carlin). A lap later Giovinazzi was up in 2nd only to be replaced by Blomqvist, who was then edged out by William Buller (Signature), both driver and team returning to F3 in preparation for Macau.
Ocon shot to pole
Shortly afterwards Ocon shot up to pole, while Auer had his time disallowed over that old chestnut, track limits. Verstappen had a spell in 2nd, while behind him Tatiana Calderon (Jo Zeller Racing) was up to 5th on a track she clearly enjoys driving. Ocon, meanwhile, was pushed out of pole by Giovinazzi, and Auer came round again to go 4th. In the top ten also, despite being unwell with some sort of mystery virus that has seen him covered in spots and placed on a drip between test sessions, was up to 8th in the Team West-TecF3 car.
None of this was in any way hampering Ocon, as he just came round faster than ever, while team-mate Antonio Fuoco (Prema Powerteam) was in 5th, despite being fastest of all in Free Practice. Buller, meanwhile, was slipping back down the order, not helped by having a time disallowed, and it was increasingly all down Ocon and the Carlin drivers. Giovinazzi again outpaced the championship leader, while Blomqvist was just behind him, which seemed to spur Ocon on. He was soon back ahead and by the halfway stage of the session the order was Ocon, from Giovinazzi, Blomqvist, Verstappen, Dennis, Fuoco, Auer, King, Nicholas Latifi (Prema Powerteam) and Felix Rosenqvist (kfzteile24 Mücke Motorsport).
The tyres started to go off
Things settled as the tyres started to go off, and then – with 6 minutes and 55 seconds left on the clock – Gelael went off at the Variante Villeneuve and brought out the first of the red flags. The top ten had not changed, and the order behind them was Gelael, from Dennis van de Laar (Prema Powerteam), Serralles, Gustavo Menezes (Van Amersfoort Racing), Calderon, Jules Szymkowiak (Van Amersfoort Racing), Buller, Jones, Nick Cassidy (ThreeBond with T-Sport) and Nissany. In 21st was Alexander Toril (ThreeBond with T-Sport), Richard “Spike” Goddard (ThreeBond with T-Sport), Santino Ferrucci (Fortec Motorsport), Hongwei “Martin” Cao (Fortec Motorsport), Sergio Sette Camara (Eurointernational), Michele Beretta (Eurointernational) and Wing Chung “Andy” Chang (Team West-Tec F3).
At the restart Rosenqvist managed to improve by 5 places to move into 5th on the timing screens, while Beretta had a time disallowed – as the Italian was last but one anyway it made little difference – but then the yellows were out again, only to metamorphose into reds again. It was Toril this time, his car pointing the wrong way on the exit from Rivazza. He wouldn’t be popular. The timing screens suggested that a lot of people were on what would have been personal best laps, and now they’d had to abort.
With just over two minute left at the restart the questions were “Will anyone go out?” and if they do “Will anyone get a flying lap?” Only two people did and they were King (who moved to 3rd) and Latifi, who went faster but stayed 10th. And that was it.
The final order – before the application of penalties – was Ocon from Giovinazzi, King, Blomqvist, Verstappen, Rosenqvist, Dennis, Fuoco, Auer and Latifi. In 11th was Gelael from van de Laar, Serralles, Menezes, Calderon, Szymkowiak, Buller, Jones, Cassidy and Nissany. In 21st was Toril ahead of Goddard, Ferrucci, Cao, Sette Camara, Beretta and Chang.
Penalties apply to Verstappen and Szymkowiak (they will drop 10 grid places each for an engine change), and to Giovinazzi (3 grid places) and Goddard (5 grid places for forcing another driver off the track).