Briton Alex Lynn felt it was his time to win the biggest junior single-seater race of the year and he duly made the most of the calling. MARCUS SIMMONS was there
"YOU DON'T WIN THIS RACE--MACAU CHOOSES you." Alex Lynn was in profound form after his victory in the qualifying race for the Macau Grand Prix on Saturday afternoon, and it was a statement that does ring true in some ways.
Yet this didn't take into account the fact that, when you are the one chosen by Macau, you have to make the most of it.
Lynn grabbed his opportunity with both hands, putting in an inch-perfect performance to take the honours in the most important race in junior motorsport. This was a magnificent win and came after four days of intense competition among an incredibly evenly matched leading quartet of Lynn, 2012 winner Antonio Felix da Costa, Raffaele Marciello and Felix Rosenqvist.
If you looked closely enough the signs were there in second qualifying on Friday afternoon. Lynn had become stranded on his own on-track while Marciello and Rosenqvist were together. Yet he unleashed an incredible lap--the very last driver to cross the line after the chequered flag --that left him just 0.084 seconds adrift of pole. What was remarkable about it was that, circulating with only his own company, he did not enjoy the benefit of a tow such as Marciello and Rosenqvist had. Factoring this in, the lap would have given him a second Macau pole by 0.3 s.
He was on the limit and admitted to hitting the wall "about three times" during the session ...
Luckily, it wasn't as serious as the single time he'd hit the wall in Thursday qualifying, when he creamed his Prema Powerteam Dallara-Mercedes into the barriers at Fisherman's Bend. It's a measure of his self-assuredness that, having topped free practice in the morning, he was unfazed and knew that he had a car that could put him right in the hunt the following day.
He might not have gained a slipstream in qualifying, but that's exactly what he did get at the start of the preliminary race. A good getaway enabled him to draft bravely around the outside of Rosenqvist at the Mandarin Oriental kink, the car squirming underneath him and Lynn later thankful to Rosenqvist for giving him room. But the Swede had enough time to redraft Lynn and, under braking for Lisboa, clearly had the edge.
This, arguably, was the most crucial point of Lynn's weekend. Instead of braving it out with Rosenqvist and putting himself on a flatbed truck for an ignominious ride back to the paddock, he put everything into checking up. "I braked quite late and ran a bit wide," he said. "I had to really get on the brakes otherwise I was going to hit the barriers. I'd already decided to concede the lead, but now it was all about surviving."
With Lynn slightly unsettled by this, Rosenqvist stormed into an early advantage, but this was eliminated thanks to the safety car. When the race restarted, the Mucke Motorsport Dallara-Merc was a sitting duck as Lynn pulled to the outside on the approach to Lisboa and completed the move perfectly.
Now we saw the pace that Lynn's qualifying speed had suggested. Within four laps he'd pulled out 2.1s on Rosenqvist, and from then on it was a case of keeping it clean.
Behind the leading duo, Marciello pulled off a great move into Lisboa to pass da Costa for third on the fifth lap. The Italian had put in a great pole lap, which seemingly came from nowhere as he had not pushed at all up to that point, but a sluggish start dropped him to fifth.
Da Costa was well in the mix in the Carlin Dallara-Volkswagen originally earmarked for Daniil Kvyat, and was highly impressed with Marciello's pass. "I have to give him a lot of credit --he really sent it in there," said the Portuguese.
Now Marciello closed on Rosenqvist, who felt that his grip had gone away under the safety car and that perhaps he hadn't worked his tyres hard enough. But as the race entered its closing stages Rosenqvist pulled away, setting the fastest lap.
So Rosenqvist entered Sunday still in with a very good chance of a win that would at least partially have redeemed his narrow defeat to Marciello in the European F3 Championship. But Sunday was when it all got a little bit messy...
Pipo Derani got a monster start from fifth on the grid and drew alongside Rosenqvist and Marciello into Mandarin Oriental, while Lynn out front was wondering who'd be the first to draft him into Lisboa and give him extra work to do.
Derani jinked to the outside, and Rosenqvist found himself in the middle with no room. Marciello had nowhere to go, light contact was made and Rosenqvist was out of the race with suspension failure. Marciello sustained slight damage too, causing oversteer to his Prema car.
The incident enabled the incredulous Lynn to get to Lisboa in front. "I was looking in my mirrors and it looked like a massive mess," he said. "That gave me enough going into Lisboa."
Again there was an early safety car, and even here Lynn got some breathing space as Derani was preoccupied with defending--and losing --second place to da Costa on the run to Lisboa. It was a perfect illustration of Lynn's 'Macau chooses you' prophecy.
Da Costa had looked strong all week, and was the only one of the four main contenders to keep it out of the barriers throughout the event. But he didn't have enough for Lynn. Then, suddenly, with four laps to go he halved the gap to 1.3s.
Marciello may have been struggling with oversteer, but it looked very much as if he understeered into the tyres at R Bend, and then shot across the track to hit the barriers on the inside. Three laps after passing Derani, he was out of the race, and the yellow flags for his crash caused Lynn to back off considerably.
Da Costa was now almost within towing range, and Lynn's engineer Jean-Francois Levere advised him to change his approach: "He told me, 'OK, you have to take more risk.' I pushed like crazy and then it was a case of counting down the laps."
It was a great win in a fantastic race, and da Costa--a classy and elegant man who showed no signs of his recent Toro Rosso F1 disappointment --acknowledged: "At least we made him sweat for it, but he drove a magnificent race. The goal was to win or at least put up a good fight, and that's what I did so I have to be happy with the result."
Derani, who is planning a move to the States to race in Pro Mazda next season, put in the best performance of his F3 career to retake third once Marciello had crashed. The Brazilian's Fortec Dallara-Merc was very much in the eyesight of Alexander Sims, who'd also been in the mix when the pack jostled down to Lisboa and had to be brusque with his defence from Will Buller.
Sims reckoned he could have brought the T-Sport Dallara-Nissan to third place. "We had plenty but on about lap 10 I had a warning that the engine temperature was too high," he said.
"So I had to pull out of his slipstream and start short-shifting. Then when it suddenly dropped from 95 to 40 we figured it was a sensor problem. Without that I could have had a podium."
Not too far behind him was Jordan King, who shrugged off crashes in each of the two free-practice sessions to take the trophy as the best rookie. He was initially behind a frantic scrap between Buller, Carlos Sainz Jr and Stefano Coletti. This came to a rather messy end on the seventh lap, when Sainz got into the slipstream but found himself on the dirty line on the inside of Lisboa. Even though he braked early, the sheepish Spaniard speared into Coletti, who in turn forced Buller down the escape road.
Sainz got off most lightly, and recovered to seventh--with a damaged front wing--on a weekend when the Carlin man proved he had at least podium pace, but lost touch with the main contenders thanks to a rare electrical problem in the crucial second qualifying session.
King was freed and up to fifth, and impressed everybody by closing on Sims in his Carlin machine and--on the final lap of the race--setting the fastest lap of the entire week.
Another Carlin driver, Jazeman Jaafar, climbed to sixth. He was also further down the grid than expected, copping a five-place penalty for improving his best middle sector time in qualifying under yellow flags. The Malaysian said he was on new tyres and backed off for the flags, but not enough to prevent an improvement.
Behind Sainz, Tom Blomqvist made it a sons-of-world-rally-champions seven/eight by putting in a superb drive from 24th on the grid to finish eighth. On his return to the Fortec team with which he won the 2010 Formula Renault UK title, he looked absolutely in the hunt in qualifying, and was sitting on pole before the session was restarted after its third red flag.
Traffic torpedoed his hopes and he dropped to sixth, which at least made his stalling at the start of the qualifying race slightly less public. Having driven for EuroInternational all season, Blomqvist was caught out by the different handbrake procedure developed by Fortec, "and as soon as I got going I got a massive thump from behind". That was Harry Tincknell, who had looked strong in first qualifying but failed to get a tow the next day. Both men were out on the spot, causing the safety car and putting themselves towards the back of the grid for the grand prix. Tincknell recovered to 14th, then proved what a nice chap he is by helping the Carlin boys pack up.
Another likely contender in a similar situation was Lucas Auer, who ran third in the qually race but got drafted by Marciello and da Costa at the restart, then hit the wall at San Francisco Bend while defending from Derani. In the GP itself, he slammed into the back of Sean Gelael at Mandarin Oriental when the Indonesian braked to avoid the crashing John Bryant-Meisner, this causing the safety car.
Canadian Nicholas Latifi did a solid job to take ninth and finish as second best Macau rookie --and make it five Carlin drivers in the top nine. He may have struggled to hold off Esteban Ocon had the race been a lap or two longer. The Lotus protege was a star of the event on his debut in a current F3 car, and then stalled at the start of the final. He was 23rd at the end of the opening lap and did a fantastic job to climb to 10th.
Ocon was run by Prema, and all the indications are that he will be sticking with the team in 2014 for European F3. He is a champion for the future, but Prema's champion for today is Lynn, a magnificent Macau winner.
F3 Macau (PRC) November 16-17 RESULTS MAIN RACE: 15 LAPS, 57.04 MILES 1 ALEX LYNN (GB) 37m37.975s Prema Powerteam Dallara-Mercedes F312; Grid: 1st 2 ANTONIO FELIX DA COSTA (P) +1.173s Carlin Dallara-Volkswagen F312; Qualifying: 4th 3 PIPO DERANI (BR) +6.795s Fortec Motorsport Dallara-Mercedes F312; Grid: 5th 4 ALEXANDER SIMS (GB) +8.203s T-Sport Dallara-Nissan F312; Grid: 6th 5 JORDAN KING (GB) +9.573s Carlin Dallara-Volkswagen F312; Grid: 7th 6 JAZEMAN JAAFAR (MAL) +15.547s Carlin Dallara-Volkswagen F312; Grid: 12th 7 CARLOS SAINZ JR (E) +16.976s Carlin Dallara-Volkswagen F312; Grid: 9th 8 TOM BLOMQVIST (GB) +26.160s Fortec Motorsport Dallara-Mercedes F312; Grid: 24th 9 NICHOLAS LATIFI (CDN) +29.288s Carlin Dallara-Volkswagen F312; Grid: 13th 10 ESTEBAN OCON (F) +30.914s Prema Powerteam Dallara-Mercedes F312; Grid: 10th 11 YUHI SEKIGUCHI (J) +32.854s Mucke Motorsport Dallara-Mercedes F312; Grid: 14th 12 YUICHI NAKAYAMA (J) +33.790s TOM'S Dallara-Toyota F312;Grid: 18th 13 WILL BULLER (GB) +34.265s Fortec Motorsport Dallara-Mercedes F312; Grid: 8th 14 HARRY TINCKNELL (GB) +36.532s Carlin Dallara-Volkswagen F312; Grid: 27th 15 KATSU MASA CHIYO (J) +36.902s B-Max Engineering Dallara-Toyota F312; Grid: 19th 16 ANTONIO GIOVINAZZI (I) +37.584s Double R Racing Dallara-Mercedes F312; Grid: 15th 17 NELSON MASON (CDN) +39.877s Jo Zeller Racing Dallara-Mercedes F312; Grid: 28th 18 DENNIS VAN DE LAAR (NL) +1m01.651s Mucke Motorsport Dallara-Mercedes F312; Grid: 25th 19 ED JONES (UAE) +1m29.025s Fortec Motorsport Dallara-Mercedes F312; Grid: 23rd 20 LUCAS WOLF (D) -1 lap URD Rennsport Racing Dallara-Mercedes F312; Grid: 16th 21 KEVIN KORJUS (EST) -2 laps Double R Racing Dallara-Mercedes F313; Grid: 26th R RAFFAELE MARCIELLO (I) 9 laps-acc damage Prema Powerteam Dallara-Mercedes F312; Grid: 3rd R STEFANO COLETTI (MC) 7 laps-accident EuroInternational Dallara-Mercedes F312; Grid: 11th R SUN ZHENG (PRC) 6 laps-accident Double R Racing Dallara-Mercedes F312; Grid: 21st R FELIX ROSENQVIST (S) 0 laps-accident Mucke Motorsport Dallara-Mercedes F312; Grid: 2nd R SEAN GELAEL (RI) 0 laps-accident Double R Racing Dallara-Mercedes F312; Grid: 17th R JOHN BRYANT-MEISNER (S) 0-laps-accident Fortec Motorsport Dallara-Mercedes F313; Grid: 20th R LUCAS AUER (A) 0 laps-accident Prema Powerteam Dallara-Mercedes F312; Grid: 22nd Winner's average speed: 90.94mph. Fastest lap: King, 2m11.547s, 104.07mph. QUALIFYING RACE RESULTS: 1 Lynn, 10 laps in 24m41.968s (Qualifying; 3rd-2m11.639s); 2 Rosenqvist, +2.411s (Q2-2m11.622s); 3 Marciello (Q1-2m11.555s); 4 da Costa (Q5-2m12.083s); 5 Derani (Q7-2m12.144s; 6 Sims (Q11-2m12.698s); 7 King (Q10-2m12.616s); 8 Buller (Q12-2m12.768s); 9 Sainz (Q14-2m13.173s); 10 Ocon (Q15-2m13.333s); 11 Coletti (Q17-2m13.777s); 12 Jaafar (Q8-2m14.087s); 13 Latifi (Q16-2m13.551s); 14 Sekiguchi (Q18- 2m13.833s); 15 Giovinazzi (Q20-2m14.018s); 16 Wolf (Q19-2m13.938s); 17 Gelael (Q24-2m14.657s); 18 Nakayama (Q21-2m14.308s); 19 Chiyo (Q27-2m15.253s); 20 Bryant-Meisner (Q23-2m14.570s); 21 Sun (Q28-2m18.912); 22 Mason (Q25-2m14.706s); 23 Korjus (Q13-2m13.053s); R Auer (Q4-2m12.052s); R Jones (Q26-2m14.975s); R Blomqvist (Q6-2m12.111s); R van de Laar (Q22-2m14.310s); R Tincknell (Q9-2m12.409s). FL: Rosenqvist, 2m12.312s, 103.46mph.