Here we are in the sand dunes of Zandvoort once more, for the 16th running of the Masters of F3, this time under the auspices of BP, rather than Marlboro. Everything is now re-badged from red and white to green, but everything else remains more or...
Here we are in the sand dunes of Zandvoort once more, for the 16th running of the Masters of F3, this time under the auspices of BP, rather than Marlboro. Everything is now re-badged from red and white to green, but everything else remains more or less the same. The cream of the European F3 championships is represented (along with some that are not that impressive), and everyone is wondering if ASM can make it three victories in row. Given that they are fielding the Euroseries F3 leader, Paul di Resta, along with the very rapid young German Sebastian Vettel, as well as local hero Giedo van der Garde, and Kamui Kobayashi from Japan, it would be a brave soul who would bet against them completing the hat trick.
Meanwhile, however, there were two qualifying sessions to get through, the field split into two (odd numbers and even numbers) to make enough room for 38 cars to manoeuvre out there. The odd numbers would go out for half an hour first, and then, when the debris was cleared away, the even numbers would get their chance.
The chances of achieving a clear lap in the odd session were increased very slightly just before the start, when James Jakes (Hitech Racing) discovered that his Dallara's fuel pump had failed. The session was due to start in 10 minutes, and would run for 30 minutes, and it takes 40 minutes to change a fuel pump. You can do the maths yourselves.
Meanwhile, Alex Khateeb (Promatecme F3), who was probably feeling more than a little out of his depth, was straight into the pits after his out lap, and would remain in front of his garage for some time while the front runners set about contesting pole position. For Signature Plus, Charlie Kimball and Romain Grosjean were running together with intent to provide a much needed tow, as were Maro Engel and Christian Bakkerud. Di Resta, on the other hand, was lurking in the pits and showed no inclination to rush out until the others had cleaned the track a little for him. Kohei Hirate (Manor Motorsport) was first to look like a serious contender, with Kimball and Grosjean just behind him. They would be split by Engel, and then deposed by Stephen Jelley (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) and Mike Conway (also in a Double R car). Interestingly, the American no one has heard of, Jonathan Summerton (ASL Team M?cke Motorsport), then slotted into 2nd only to end up temporarily 3rd when Peter Elkmann (Jo Zeller Racing) went to pole. However, as the top times were still only in the 1 minute 35 second range, and the morning test session had produced 1.33s, there was far more to come. To prove it, Conway leapt up to pole, only to have Summerton go faster. Kobayashi now started to show as well, though he was only 7th at this stage. The pace was picking up; now Hirate was on pole, with a 1.34, while di Resta had finally emerged to take part in the session. His first flying lap netted him 9th place, though he was clearly capable of so much more.
Stian Sorlie (Fortec Motorsport), making his F3 debut, was not exactly setting the world alight in 14th, but it was a respectable effort for a man who has no experience in the category. He was faster than a number of people with far more running in these cars. Speaking of running, there now followed a spate of pit stops, started by Bakkerud and Engel. Hirate joined them, having quite a healthy lead at the front. By the time he'd coasted to a halt, he was only 0.08 seconds ahead of di Resta. While Sorlie stayed out, trying to get as much running as possible (and coincidentally moving up a place), just about everyone else was back in the pits, with the exception of di Resta, who promptly did himself no good by spinning at the corner that used to be known as Renault, but that is now apparently nameless.
Meanwhile, to the surprise of many, Ho-Pin Tung (JB Motorsport), suddenly shot up the order to 6th, taking advantage of being one of few drivers still out there. A lap later and he was 4th. With half the session gone, Hirate led from di Resta, Summerton, Tung, Conway, Kobayashi, Kimball, Grosjean, Jelley and Bakkerud. 11th was Engel, ahead of Alejandro Nunez (Prema Powerteam), Sorlie, Dominick Muermans (Van Amersfoort Racing), Max Nilsson (Swiss Racing Team), Filip Salaquarda (Team ISR), Khateeb and Paolo Nocera (Prema Powerteam). Still pressing on, Tung promptly went 3rd, and then he hit pole, with a time of 1:34.621. He didn't get to stay there very long, though he was still there when Conway went 4th and Kimball was 2nd. The next improvements came from Elkmann who was 6th and then Engel took pole from the former great hope of Chinese motorsport (who now appears to be Dutch again). Again, this was a long way from over, and a rash of changes ensued as pretty much everyone took to the track again for one last shot at pole.
Grosjean moved up to 3rd, while Salaquarda improved to a less than stunning 11th. Jelley, on the other hand, was now 5th as lost of drivers edged into the 1:34 range. Elkmann took another stab at pole, only to lose out to Hirate who managed a 1:33.362, and then Grosjean. Bakkerud, meanwhile, was desperately trying to salvage something from his session, and was up to 11th, and a lap later to 8th. And then, just as Kobayashi edged up to 2nd, the session was red-flagged with 6 minutes and 40 seconds left to run. Nilsson was off at Scheivlak, and Nunez was in a gravel trap, and they both needed removing from places of danger.
At this point the order was Hirate from Kobayashi, Grosjean, Elkmann, Engel, Tung, Kimball, Jelley, Bakkerud and di Resta. Conway was 11th, ahead of Nocera, Summerton, Nunez, Salaquarda, Muermans, Sorlie, Nilsson and Khateeb. At the restart, pretty much everyone except Kobayashi legged it back out onto the track and it wasn't long before the improvements started to come through. Nunez, who had managed to come back under his own steam, focussed his annoyance to go 7th, only to have Kimball come straight back at him. Grosjean, meanwhile, was on a charge, the Frenchman grabbing 2nd from Kobayashi. Bakkerud got another flying lap to go 7th, but then British series leader Conway was suddenly on it and was up in 4th. Nunez made a determined effort to get that 7th place back again just as Nocera crossed the line in 9th. It's definitely all change out there. And just as you thought you could relax, Grosjean went to provisional pole. Bakkerud was still pressing on, but it was all happening ahead of him, as demonstrated when a further lap from Elkmann netted him 5th, and the Hirate snatched pole with a 1:33.260. It still wasn't over though. Di Resta was there all of a sudden, coming from an awful long way back to go 3rd, and while Summerton bettered that time there was nothing he could do about the final lap from the Scot, which was enough to put di Resta on provisional pole, depending on how fast the even numbered guys managed to go.
The order for one side of the grid, then, was di Resta, from Hirate, Grosjean, Summerton, Kobayashi, Conway, Elkmann, Engel, Kimball and Nunez. Bakkerud was 11th from Tung, Nocera, Jelley, Salaquarda, Sorlie, Muermans, Nilsson and Khateeb.
And so they let the even numbered guys out.
Vettel was on the pace very early on, which was impressive considering that last weekend he was involved in a particularly nasty accident in the World Series by Renault race at Spa that left him with broken fingers and in what must be considerable amounts of pain.
He wasn't fastest at this point; that distinction went to Tim Sandtler (Signature Plus) who was fastest in the session. He was quickly joined by Kazuki Nakajima (Manor Motorsport) and van der Garde, who wasn't wasting time putting his local knowledge to good use. This session looked as if it could well be the faster of the two, as the best times were already in the 1.34 bracket and they hadn't been out there very long at all. Behind van der Garde was Richard Antinucci (HBR Motorsport), another veteran of this meeting. Rookie Oliver Jarvis (Carlin Motorsport) had no one to get a tow from but that didn't stop him improving to 4th, while Salvador Duran (Hitech Racing) was continuing his recent improvement in form and was now 6th. Prema Powerteam's best hope, Ronayne O'Mahony was 8th, while Vettel was now 2nd and looking set to hang onto a front running position for as long as he had strength to do so. And then, in what seemed an unlikely twist, Michael Herck (Bas Leinders Racing) edged into 6th ahead of Bruno Senna (Raikkonen Robertson Racing). The battle of the Sebastian/Sebastien was now joined, with Buemi (ASL Team Mücke Motorsport) now getting the upper hand over Vettel, while Guillaume Moreau (Signature Plus) was possibly looking for a Carlin car to play with after Pau. Vettel now came back at Buemi, setting a 1:34.325. Further back, but not that much further, Senna was now 5th, two places ahead of Sandtler, the two of them surrounding Jarvis, who was about to take a major gamble.
With Moreau in 8th, van der Garde deposed Vettel for, and Jarvis improved to 5th. Duran was still looking pacy in 7th, unlike his team-mate, James Walker, the Hitech driver moving up to 13th, which wouldn't be that much of a problem normally but with a split session it leaves you starting from 26th or 27th. Another lap, another change. This time it was Jarvis who was moving up now and was 4th. He stayed out while a general rush for the pits broke out, and both he and Vettel were able to get the benefit of a largely empty track to hit the front (and in Jarvis' case, 3rd) running. The times were coming down but they still weren't fast enough. Even so, as they neared the halfway stage of the session, 1:34.106 seemed respectable as a staging point.
The order for this session now was Vettel from van der Garde, Jarvis, Buemi, Antinucci, Senna, Duran, Sandtler, Herck and Recardo Bruins (Van Amersfoort Racing). 11th was O'Mahony, from Walker, Nakajima, Yelmer Buurman (Fortec Motorsport), Esteban Guerrieri (Manor Motorsport), Mario Moraes (Carlin Motorsport) and Ferdinand Kool (JB Motorsport). Needless to say, Buurman wasn't in a representative position, as he proved when his next lap saw him go 10th, while the top 5 were all sitting in the pits having adjustments and debating whether or not to fit new tyres. And then Senna seemed to wake up - he may not do mornings; after all, he is Brazilian - with a lap that would put him on the third row. Buurman was still pressing on too, and was now 2nd in the session, while Kool was improved a bit but only to 13th. This was ironic in a way, as the circuit website had him as a potential winner, as voted for by the Dutch public. We then had the first 1:33, which went to Senna (1.33.839). There was a bit of a rush of British series runners now, with Walker now 7th and Buurman back into 2nd again, the Dutchman joining Senna in the 1.33s. Duran was the next to improve with a 5th is session time, two places ahead of Herck. Senna, meanwhile, seemed to have his head down, and he promptly went faster. The Euroseries lads now started a fight back, with Sandtler claiming 3rd and Nakajima 5th. Herck was also on the move in 3rd and again the changes were coming through thick and fast. Walker and Antinucci were playing leap-frog in 6th and 7th and O'Mahony was 11th. While they were doing that, Senna went faster still (1.33.324).
It still wasn't over of course. Buemi found some time from somewhere to go 4th, but van der Garde had plummeted to 9th. He was in danger of being caught by Kool if he didn't watch it.
He wasn't even the fastest Dutchman at this point, because Buurman was now ahead of the pack only to have to slot in behind Bruno again. Walker was a late improver, while to 3rd which quickly turned into 4th when Antinucci went 2nd. He was displaced by Moreau, who in turn got pushed down the order by Vettel and Buemi. Guerrieri was not having a good time, however, and was now 15th, having been dead last (so perhaps it could have been worse). A serious effort from van der Garde saw him claim pole with the only time so far set in the 1.32s. Ok, it was only just a 1:32, but it still counts!
And now there were four minutes left of the session. The changes had pretty much dried up, although Herck was still on the move, claiming 5th, and later 4th despite the general scruffiness of the team, while Moreau was just behind him. Further back O'Mahony had made it as far as 14th, and Buurman was up in 8th, while there was and outbreak of gesturing from Herck when he got baulked by Duran. And that was it for that session.
The order was van der Garde, from Senna, Vettel, Herck, Buemi, Moreau, Antinucci, Buurman, Walker and Sandtler. Nakajima was 11th, from Duran, Jarvis (who had opted not to use new tyres in that session), O'Mahony, Guerreri, Bruins, Kool and Moraes.