58th Macau Grand Prix – FIA Formula 3 Intercontinental Cup, Macau, China, November 17th/20th 2011 © Lynne Waite and Stella-Maria Thomas
Very wet, warm.
For the 58th running of the Macau Grand Prix the weather that seems to be following Kevin Magnussen (Carlin) around showed up at Macau and a sodden session saw a number of offs but also saw Roberto Merhi (Prema Powerteam) claim provisional pole from Marco Wittmann (Signature) with Felipe Nasr (Carlin) upholding the honour of the British series with a fine run for 3rd. Wittmann and Nasr would both be promoted a place later when Merhi was awarded a penalty, and that would move Daniel Juncadella (Prema Powerteam) to 3rd. Someone who might have expected to run near the front was Valtteri Bottas (Double R Racing), but he was loitering near the back having only arrived in Macau minutes before the session started, having missed his flight from Abu Dhabi where he had been busy with the F1 rookie testing. The result was that he was a mere handful of places from the back when the session finally ended. Mind you, missing the morning free practice actually meant he didn’t miss much at all given the carnage.
At the start of the session, Marko Asmer (Double R Racing) and Jimmy Eriksson (Motopark) bit came straight back to the pits, presumably well aware of the fact that they only have three sets of wet tyres available to them for the weekend and that they should thus make the most of them by ensuring that the cars are set to the optimum. As it turned out, it was all pretty academic if you didn’t set a time early on anyway.
The early marker came from Laurens Vanthoor (Signature) set an early marker of 1 minute 37 or thereabouts just as yellow flags started being waved around energetically at Marshals’ Post 17. It wasn’t slowing Richie Stanaway (van Amersfoort Racing) down any though as he promptly went fastest of all from William Buller (Fortec Motorsport). It was still early days but the rain wasn’t easing and most people seemed keen to get a banker lap in while they could. Merhi was on the pace from the get go, which probably didn’t surprise anyone too much, and was soon 2nd, shortly before Carlos Sainz Junior (Signature) started a traffic jam by sliding off at Marshals’ Post 17, before he dragged it back on again. While he was doing that, Nasr nipped through for provisional pole, with Lucas Foresti (Fortec Motorsport) just behind him in 2nd. Stanaway was still looking pacey and was 3rd while Merhi had dropped to 5th, though that was unlikely to last long. Jazeman Jaafar (Carlin) joined the top five for a while, and Stanaway leapt back up to 2nd. However, a determined effort from Nasr, that saw him skimming along the walls in an alarming manner, put him ahead of the entire pack by 2.5 seconds, the Brazilian seeming quite at home on the streets of the former Portuguese territory.
He was joined shortly afterwards by Felix Rosenqvist (Mücke Motorsport), the 2011 Masters of Formula Three winner having a good run to make up for running into Marko Asmer (Double R Racing) this morning. None of them could stop Merhi though, the Spaniard towing Wittmann with him, while – probably due to the conditions – Adderly Fong (Sino Vision Racing) was 7th. Fong is an odd case because a lot of the time he looks average at best, but the minute it rains he looks so much better. Looking really good compared to everyone else except Merhi though was Nasr, who edged back into 2nd, while Foresti moved to 4th and Magnussen to 6th. Alexander Sims (TOM’S) was up to 4th only to be displaced by Juncadella.
Hannes van Asseldonk (Hitech Racing) was the next to show, moving into the top ten while Merhi continued to top the times, and Wittmann again went 2nd. Merhi managed to find an even faster time, just before most of his fellow drivers dived into the pits, presumably trying to find ways of conserving rubber if the weather continued in this fashion. At the halfway stage, then, Merhi was leading the charge, from Wittmann, Nasr, Juncadella, Sims, Yuhi Sekiguchi (Mücke Motorsport), Foresti, van Asseldonk, Rosenqvist and Magnussen. And then the rain started to hammer down ever harder and things got messy. Hironobu Yasuda (Three Bond Racing) hit the barrier at Melco (having already clobbered it three times in free practice this morning). He was able to rejoin, as was Laurens Vanthoor (Signature), who was having a bit of trouble with Lisboa. He wasn’t alone, as Stanaway slithered off there to, and then Sims followed suit. The pits seemed the safest place to be, but Merhi went back out anyway and with around 10 minutes left on the clock the order was now Merhi, from Wittmann, Nasr, Juncadella, Sims, Sekiguchi, Antonio Felix da Costa (Hitech Racing), Buller, Rosenqvist and Foresti. Merhi was staying out and Hywel Lloyd (Sino Vision Racing) also went back on track, but he’s Welsh so he may not have noticed anything untoward about the weather…
Eventually almost all of them were back out again, though there seemed to be little point to it. That thought was reinforced when Carlos Huertas (Carlin) and Daniel Abt (Signature) both slid off at Lisboa (where else?), Abt managing to rejoin while Huertas did not. Just for good measure Huertas was joined in the escape road by Merhi and Rosenqvist after Merhi ran straight into the rear of the Swede, riding up over the back of Rosenqvist’s Dallara and putting both of them out on the spot. The officials hung out the red flags, and sent the breakdown trucks out the rescue the stricken pair, the marshals as ever managing the clear the mayhem in record time.
At the restart there was a distinct sense of déjà vu, however, as Wittmann promptly launched himself into the Lisboa barriers managing a total of two corners from the pits, but at least not taking anyone else with him. It was all rather pointless anyway. No one was likely to improve in those conditions except maybe Bottas; by now it really was vile out there. With Sainz sliding off again, it was something of a relief when the flag finally fell and the final order was Merhi from Wittmann, Nasr, Juncadella, Sims, Sekiguchi, van Asseldonk, da Costa, Buller and Rosenqvist. In 11th was Foresti, from Kimiya Sato (Motopark), Stanaway, Magnussen, Abt, Jaafar, Asmer, Vanthoor, Jimmy Eriksson (Motopark) and Fong. 21st was Carlos Munoz (Signature), Huertas, Hideki Yamauchi (Toda Racing), Sainz, Lloyd, Mitch Evans (Double R Racing), Bottas, Pietro Fantin (Hitech Racing), Richard Bradley (TOM’S) and Yasuda. Later on Merhi was one of seven drivers handed grid penalties for crossing the pitlane exit line during the session. Whatever happens in Friday’s qualifying, he will start the qualifying race on Saturday from 4th. Munoz, Vanthoor, Sainz, Asmer and Rosenqvist were all similarly penalised, while Yasuda has a 6 place penalty for a repeat offence. As if things weren’t bad enough for Rosenqvist, he has been relegated to the back of the grid for overtaking a car under yellow flags and crashing into Asmer in free practice this morning, while just for good measure, Magnussen will start just in front of the Swedish driver as he was judged to have ignored yellow flags before he crashed into Rosenqvist as the latter tried to scramble out of his car and leg it to safety.
The new order is thus – we think – Wittmann from Nasr, Juncadella, Merhi, Sims, Sekiguchi, van Asseldonk, da Costa, Buller and Foresti. 11th is now Sato ahead of Stanaway, Abt, Jaafar, Eriksson, Fong, Huertas, Asmer, Vanthoor and Yamauchi. 21st should be Munoz in front of Lloyd, Evans, Bottas, Sainz, Fantin, Bradley, Yasuda, Magnussen and Rosenqvist.