RICKARD RYDELL GOT UP EARLY AT HIS SWEDISH home to watch the Macau Grand Prix. The 1992 race winner and subsequent touring car star is a great supporter of his nation's young talent, most prominent of which is Felix Rosenqvist. A delayed hour and a bit later, Rydel! would have been able to sit down, enjoy his breakfast, stick on his Abba Gold CD and send Rosenqvist congratulatory messages, for we now have a second Swedish winner of the race.
Everyone regards Rosenqvist as a Formula 3 veteran. After all, this was his fifth crack at the Macau GP, but at least he's outdone Rydell--who took six attempts to win the race--in that respect.
But, as the years went by, so the odds shortened on Rosenqvist finally cracking it. To win Macau you have to be fast--naturally--but in the finest tradition of one-off events you also need the cards to fall your way. In 2012 he was runner-up, in 2013 he was eliminated from a potential race-winning position by a collision just after the start, but this time around it was finally his Mucke Motorsport Dallara-Mercedes that had been favoured by destiny. Rosenqvist is one of five drivers who can realistically say they could have won, but it all went wrong for the other four.
That's not to say he lucked in to the win. Indeed, Rosenqvist set the quickest lap all weekend in taking pole position, by which time he had already made his one big mistake of the event. He had been quickest in Friday morning's free practice session, having bolted on two new Yokohamas at the midpoint in order to get a pre-qualifying read on how the car would react. On his first flying lap he went fastest; on the second he crashed at a left-hander on the mountain section when he was caught out by a lack of grip.
Every incident over Macau week has a ripple effect on the final outcome, and Rosenqvist knew that with two tyres effectively removed from his weekend allocation of 14 slicks he had slightly diminished his chances. Indeed, he was the only one of the top eight on the grid for the GP to start with as few as two fresh Yokohamas. But it wasn't as big a setback as those experienced by the other quartet who could have won: Lucas Auer, Esteban Ocon, Tom Blomqvist and Max Verstappen.
European champion Ocon and his season nemesis Verstappen were the first to stumble, being hit with two-place grid penalties in the opening free practice session. Both missed the red light telling them to stop at the weighbridge in the pitlane, although in Ocon's case there were mitigating circumstances: he was rather preoccupied with crabbing back with deranged suspension after hitting the crashed car of Mitsunori Takaboshi.
The penalties would relegate Ocon and Verstappen to fourth and fifth respectively on the grid for the qualification race. Ocon had hit a further little snag on his way to the second-fastest time: while many of the other leading runners had started final qualifying on four new tyres, before pitting mid-session for another four, Theodore Racing-backed Prema Powerteam had gone for a different strategy, with Ocon starting on old rubber, pitting for four a short way into the session, and then taking two more for a late burst. But a crash for Alex Palou, which finally resulted in a red fag with just two minutes left on the clock (and therefore no restart) put paid to that.
Verstappen had looked good to be the top Macau GP rookie on the grid, but the Formula 1-bound Dutchman said that thanks to the Van Amersfoort Racing team's inexperience of the event (it missed 2013 and had a crash-infested 2012) he was suffering tyre overheating that made it difficult to attack for the fastest time.
Auer and Blomqvist lucked in thanks to the penalties, moving to second and third respectively on the grid, but second qualifying is where the weekend began to unravel slightly for Blomqvist's Carlin team. The Anglo-Swede and fellow Jagonya Ayam protege Antonio Giovinazzi had gone first and second respectively in Thursday's qualifying, but with the forecast for dry weather everyone knew that the further rubbering-in of the track would mean improvements en masse on Friday. That proved to be the case for the whole field-- except Blomqvist and Giovinazzi, plus Will Buller, who'd been up all night with food poisoning. Blomqvist and Giovinazzi both struggled to find a good balance on new tyres, although conversely fellow Carlin runner Jordan King improved to sixth, and was on a lap that would have been good for the front row before he was baulked in the final sector.
Blomqvist and Ocon just didn't have an answer to the pace of Mucke duo Rosenqvist and Auer or Verstappen in the qualification race. Here, Rosenqvist was a sitting duck for Auer and Verstappen--with a searing start from fifth--to slipstream past him on the long run to Lisboa.
All was looking good for Auer until a mid-race safety car, caused by Sam MacLeod crashing on the mountain, which happened moments after Verstappen removed himself from contention in a brush with the barriers at the Solitude Esses. "You always brake there just after a bump in the tight right-hander, and that's what I did this time," said Verstappen. "But I locked the rears suddenly and I missed the apex by about 3cm. It was all so silly --I didn't hit the wall that hard, I just touched it with the rear tyre, then it went off the rim, and that pulled me in and it just took the front off"
At the restart, Rosenqvist did exactly what Verstappen could have done, swooping on Auer down to Lisboa and taking a lead he would hold throughout the three-lap dash to the fag. It was easy to sympathise with Auer, but he was quite happy, saying second was perfect for his GP grid position as it's almost impossible for the polesitter to lead into Lisboa.
Blomqvist and Ocon didn't quite have the pace to challenge the leading duo, but stayed very much in contention for victory on Sunday. They had a brief battle for third after the restart, which was joined by Nick Cassidy, who was continuing a super-impressive weekend, only his fifth in F3 competition, with the NBE-engined Dallara of T-Sport.
Ocon's Prema team has a habit of peaking at just the right time on a race weekend. OK, the Italian squad left it a bit late this time, but when Ocon did his recce laps to the grid before the Grand Prix he knew he had a great chance. "With the changes we made, the car felt brilliant--the best it has all year," he said. "It was really quick on the straight and the balance was really good"
But this was when Rosenqvist's number really came up. He didn't get a good start, Auer was past him by the opening kink, and Blomqvist and Ocon made it three abreast on the run to Lisboa. Auer just managed to wriggle in front on the brakes, but he was slightly too ambitious and overshot the corner, firting with the escape road before rejoining fourth.
To his right, Blomqvist went to turn in but hadn't bargained on Ocon having his nose inside him. The two collided, but still ran side by side to the next corner, San Francisco Bend. Ocon, with damaged left suspension, couldn't steer; Blomqvist, who knew you can't run side-by-side on the outside with someone here, was backing out, but was powerless to prevent Ocon taking him on a trip into the barriers. While Rosenqvist, Auer and Cassidy emerged in front, there was chaos behind featuring a display of Carlin stunt driving, with the team's new recruit Yu Kanamaru launching himself off King--via the relieved-to-be-alive Briton's engine cover and rollhoop--over Blomqvist and onto the wall on the outside of the corner. With just nine cars squirming through and the track blocked, the race was red-flagged and restarted behind the safety car.
Now Auer had his chance, but it seemed that a great restart by Rosenqvist would be enough to retain the lead, with his advantage being 0.626 seconds across the line. But the slipstream effect is strong at Macau, and again Auer was able to move in front. Before he overshot Lisboa again ...
"On the first try I nearly destroyed my brakes, and I had really some strange feelings from the brake pedal," he explained. "Probably it [his braking] was too late again but I wanted to try everything to get into the lead and finish P1!"
This time he even lost P2, since Cassidy was able to take advantage to move ahead. For a while the underfunded New Zealander looked strong in the position, but from time to time he began to look quite ragged, and indeed hit the wall three times. The final one allowed Auer to move into position to attack--yet again he overshot Lisboa, allowing Cassidy to move back ahead, only for Auer to make the position his later around the lap. To his speed Cassidy was adding intelligence, for he could see Roberto Merhi and Nicholas Latifi zoning in behind, and knew that if he continued to throw everything into holding off Auer he could well end up losing three places instead of just one.
Merhi was a bit frustrated to finish fourth (although he was happily still larging it with Rosenqvist at 3am at the post-race party) on a great weekend for Double R Racing. The amiable Valencian felt he was lacking speed on the straight, so pushed very hard in the final corner with a couple of laps to go in a bid to at least have a chance of slipstreaming Cassidy--so hard that he made a mistake that meant he instead turned his attentions to defending from Latifi. Also, a puncture on carbonfibre shrapnel from the initial Ocon/Blomqvist clash meant he had to run an old tyre on the all-important left-rear, plus he suffered a long brake pedal.
Latifi completed a very solid week to claim fifth in his Prema car, a long way clear of Stefano Coletti, who holed his nose on the back of the repaired car of King, which had sustained a puncture, at the Melco hairpin. That slowed the Euro-International machine on the straights, although King was hardly sympathetic with Coletti's plight: he claimed that the puncture was caused in the first place by contact from the Monegasque.
Right behind Coletti at the fag was Verstappen, who stormed up the order despite a damaged floor, and set the fastest lap. So finished his incredible rookie season with another remarkable stat: on its fourth visit to Macau, the Van Amersfoort team was given its maiden finishes in the race by Verstappen and loth-placed Gustavo Menezes!
Last time it was here, Van Amersfoort ran Auer and he kept shunting. This time, Auer completed a Mucke one-two, a terrific achievement for the Berlin team, which used to resolutely avoid this race--so much so that its former drivers, such as Sebastian Vettel and Robert Kubica, had to find alternative drives for Macau. "We had incredible pace," acknowledged Rosenqvist and Auer. To the pace, crucially, you could add destiny.
F3 Macau (PRC) November 16 RESULTS MAIN RACE: 15 LAPS, 57.045 MILES 1 FELIX ROSENQVIST (S) 1 h08m46.691s Mucke Motorsport Dallara-Mercedes F312; Grid: 1st 2 LUCAS AUER (A) +4.372s Mucke Motorsport Dallara-Mercedes F312; Grid: 2nd 3 NICK CASSIDY (NZ) +8.999s T-Sport Dallara-NBE F314; Grid: 5th 4 ROBERTO MERHI (E) +9.799s Double R Racing Dallara-Mercedes F313; Grid: 6th 5 NICHOLAS LATIFI (CDN) + 10.413s Prema Powerteam Dallara-Mercedes F314; Grid: 7th 6 STEFANO COLETTI (MC) +24.000s EuroInternational Dallara-Mercedes F313; Grid: 10th 7 MAX VERSTAPPEN (NL) +24.455s Van Amersfoort Racing Dallara-Volkswagen F314; Grid: 24th 8 SANTINO FERRUCCI (USA) +31.081s Fortec Motorsport Dallara-Mercedes F312; Grid: 12th 9 KENTA YAMASHITA (J) +34.334s TOM'S Dallara-Toyota F314; Grid: 14th 10 GUSTAVO MENEZES (USA) +35.246s Van Amersfoort Racing Dallara-Volkswagen F312; Grid: 15tl 11 MARKUS POMMER (D) +36.576s Motopark Dallara-Volkswagen F314; Grid: 19th 12 ANTONIO GIOVINAZZI (I) +37.319s Carlin Dallara-Volkswagen F314; Grid: 27th 13 TATIANA CALDERON (CO) +41.930s Mucke Motorsport Dallara-Mercedes F312; Grid: 16th 14 WILL BULLER (GB) +43.986s Signature Dallara-Volkswagen F314; Grid: 23rd 15 SEAN GELAEL (RI) +44.972s Carlin Dallara-Volkswagen F312; Grid: 25th 16 ALEX PALOU (E) +48.063s Fortec Motorsport Dallara-Mercedes F312; Grid: 28th 17 DAN WELLS (GB) +52.724s Toda Racing Dallara-Toda F312; Grid: 22nd 18 MITSUNORI TAKABOSHI (J) +57.034s B-Max Racing Team Dallara-Toyota F312; Grid: 20th 19 ANDY CHANG (PRC) + 1m08.334s Team West-Tec Dallara-Mercedes F312; Grid: 21st 20 SAM MACLEOD (GB) + 1m49.990s TOM'S Dallara-Toyota F312; 21 Grid: 26th +2m14.441s Team West-Tec Dallara-Mercedes F314; Grid: 9th R ANTONIO FUOCO (I) 11 laps--brakes Prema Powerteam Dallara-Mercedes F312; Grid: 11th R JORDAN KING (GB) 3 laps--puncture Carlin Dallara-Volkswagen F312; Grid: 8th R TOM BLOMQVIST (GB) 0 laps--accident Carlin Dallara-Volkswagen F312; Grid: 3rd R ESTEBAN OCON (F) 0 laps--accident Prema Powerteam Dallara-Mercedes F312; Grid: 4th R MARTIN CAO (PRC) 0 laps--accident Fortec Motorsport Dallara-Mercedes F313; Grid: 17th R YU KANAMARU (J) 0 laps--accident Carlin Dallara-Volkswagen F312; Grid: 13th R SPIKE GODDARD (AUS) 0 laps--accident T-Sport Dallara-NBE F312; Grid: 18th Winner's average speed: 49.76mph. Fastest lap: Verstappen, 2m11.748s, 103.911mph
QUALIFICATION RACE: 10 LAPS, 38.030 MILES 1 rosenqvist, 27m11.512s (Qualified 1st-2m11.506s); 2 Auer, +0.935s (Q2-2m11.838s); 3 Blomqvist (Q3-2m11.922s); 4 Ocon (Q4*-2m11.742s); 5 Cassidy (Q7-2m11.979s); 6 Merhi (Q10-2m12.129s); 7 Latif (Q9-2m12.067s); 8 King (Q6-2m11.953s); 9 Serralles (Q16-2m12.952s); 10 Coletti (Q12-2m12.429s); 11 Fuoco (Q17-2m13.066s); 12 Ferrucci (Q18-2m13.581s); 13 Kanamaru (Q19-2m13.731s); 14 Yamashita (Q23-2m14.471s); 15 Menezes (Q24-2m14.555s); 16 Calderon (Q21-2m14.112s); 17 Cao (Q20-2m14.112s); 18 Goddard (Q22-2m14.122s); 19 Pommer (Q11-2m12.259s); 20 Takaboshi (Q25-2m15.974s); 21 Chang (Q26-2m16.135s); 22 Wells (Q28**-2m15.373s); R Buller (Q15-2m12.871s); R Verstappen (Q5*-2m11.747s); R Gelael (Q13-2m12.524s); R MacLeod (Q27-2m16.859s); R Giovinazzi (Q8-2m12.037s); R Palou (Q14-2m12.631s). Fastest LAP: Rosenqvist, 2m12.944s, 102.976mph. *--two-place grid penalty; **--back of grid for engine change.