RTL GP Masters of Formula 3, Zandvoort Park, The Netherlands, August 13th/14th 2011 © Lynne Waite and Stella-Maria Thomas
At Zandvoort this afternoon Felix Rosenqvist (Mücke Motorsport) sprung something of a surprise on the F3 establishment by claiming – as his very first F3 win – the prestigious Masters of Formula Three title, won in the past by names like Lewis Hamilton, David Coulthard and Paul di Resta. Second behind the somewhat surprised Swede was Marco Wittmann (Signature), while Kevin Magnussen claimed the final podium slot for Carlin, despite enduring race long pressure from local hero Nigel Melker (Mücke Motorsport). The whole event was run in front of a large crowd drawn to circuit in the sunshine that had finally appeared after a gloomy weekend at the Dutch seaside resort.
None of that was supposed to happen. What was supposed to happen was that the front row duo of Prema Powerteam drivers Roberto Merhi and Daniel Juncadella were supposed to crush all opposition on their way to victory in the Dutch sand dunes. The two Spaniards, however, ended up tangling at the start, Juncadella crashing out of the race and taking Pipo Derani (Prema Powerteam) and Carlos Munoz (Signature). Merhi limped on but was 11th by the time the somewhat depleted field reappeared at the end of lap one to form up behind the Safety Car. The order at this stage then was Rosenqvist, who had shut his eyes and simply driven through the mayhem, from Wittmann, Magnussen, Melker, Rupert Svendsen-Cook (Carlin), Daniel Abt (Signature), Laurens Vanthoor (Signature), Lucas Foresti (Mücke Motorsport), Jimmy Eriksson (Motopark) and Jazeman Jaafar (Carlin). Behind the less than happy Merhi, who was probably wondering how he was going to explain wiping out two of his team-mates, were Kimiya Sato (Motopark) and Carlos Huertas (Carlin). And having only started with 16 cars, that was the extent of the field. This was not looking like a classic race in the making somehow.
At the restart, which took 4 laps, Rosenqvist held his nerve and his lead, while Wittmann tried in vain to keep pace with the youngster. Behind him Magnussen was having his work cut out to keep Melker at bay, the local boy determined to put in a good performance in front of the 46,000 strong crowd, Kevin equally determined to stop him. It allowed Wittmann to get away and created a train in the wake of the Carlin car, with Melker having to keep one eye on Svendsen-Cook while hoping for a mistake from Magnussen. Meanwhile Merhi was trying to find a way past Eriksson, having dispatched Jaafar early on, and wasn’t finding it to be at all easy. Eriksson resisted and the Spaniard had to back off and wait. Huertas was also finding it hard to overtake, in his case the obstacle was Sato who seemed disinclined to co-operate no matter what his Colombian opponent dreamed up.
This is a long race however, and it’s often best to play a waiting game because the Kumho tyres tend to degrade after around 25 minutes and the race was scheduled to run for around 45. It didn’t provide a very exciting race for the spectators, though those at Tarzan were treated to a mid-race overtaking manoeuvre that saw Huertas finally get past Sato for 12th. It was one of very few successful moves during the course of a processional race, though at least Merhi was also able to make good on his threats to pass Eriksson when he dived through to snatch 10th from the Swede as they arrived at Tarzan on lap 15. He was now in pursuit of Foresti with the hope of clawing his way back up the order and thus salvaging something from the weekend. Foresti, however, was rather busy with Vanthoor although he wasn’t so distracted that he couldn’t keep a watch on what was happening in his mirrors. Huertas, following the Spaniard’s lead, was also on a charge, catching Jaafar at a rapid rate. He was soon in position to try and get through, and made a number of lunges before realising that it wasn’t going to work. He settled in behind the Malaysian, presumably not wanting to emulate Merhi any further by taking out a team-mate for very little reward: it’s one thing to go for it forcefully when you’re battling for a top three place. 11th or 12th is a whole other matter.
As the race drew to a close, Merhi started to close Foresti down and even took a look to see if he could catch the Brazilian on the hope. He failed and had to settle for 9th in the end, Foresti resisting hard enough to dissuade him from pursuing the idea. It wasn’t a classic Masters, though it was well attended, with Daniel Ricciardo in attendance to present the trophies to the winner. And that winner was an utterly delighted Rosenqvist, who came home a good 5 seconds ahead of Wittmann in what was – after the first lap excitement – a remarkably trouble free afternoon drive. Wittmann also had a quiet time of it, with Magnussen 23 seconds back on the German by the time he crossed the line. He had worked hard for his result including having to beat off a last lap lunge from Melker. Svendsen-Cook was still close on Melker’s rear wing, with Abt, Vanthoor, Foresti and Merhi in line astern as they took the chequered flag. Eriksson wasn’t far behind in 10th. 11th was Jaafar in the end, with Huertas and Sato rounding out the results.
Rosenqvist also set the fastest lap of the race and was the recipient – along with Eriksson – of the Nations Cup, the Swedes winning partly because they survived when the Spaniards didn’t, but also partly as a result of a fine mature drive by Rosenqvist. At the end of the meeting, Kumho announced that they are to remain involved with the Masters, satisfied as they are with the 10 years they have already been the official tyre supplier of the race as well as one of the main sponsors. The future of the Masters of Formula 3 seems secure for the foreseeable future.