© Lynne Waite and Stella-Maria Thomas
The qualification race for tomorrow’s 58th Macau Grand Prix went the way of pole man Marco Wittmann (Signature), despite the best efforts of a number of other drivers, most especially Felipe Nasr (Carlin), the Brazilian having led for around a nanosecond before the German came back at him and he then had to spend a great deal of the remaining laps defending himself from a determined Roberto Merhi (Prema Powerteam).
Even before the start there were problems with Alexander Sims (Tom’s) pulling into the pits with suspension damage after he clipped the barriers on the green flag lap. As he would have started the race from 4th on the grid, that left a lovely empty space for Nasr to get away into, and he wouldn’t need a second invitation, that was for sure. To further assist the 2011 British Series champion, Antonio Felix da Costa (Hitech Racing) stalled at the start and could only sit there helpless as the remaining 28 cars all somehow missed him. Valtteri Bottas (Double R Racing) attempted to claim the lead at the start, as did Nasr, but ultimately it was Wittmann who had the pace and by the time the pack had gone through Lisboa he was ahead and would stay there for the remainder of the race.
Bottas clearly decided that the Grand Prix couldn’t be won on the first lap of the Qualification race and he duly settled in in 3rd, while behind him Merhi had shot into 5th at the start, taking advantage of the missing drivers, but he had Carlos Huertas (Carlin) following his every move for 4th. It wasn’t going to be a comfortable run to the flag for the Spaniard. Still, he was at least still running, unlike Carlos Munoz (Signature) who coasted to a halt at the exit from the pitlane before the race was two laps old. Mind, he’d done better than Pietro Fantin (Hitech Racing), the Brazilian crashing out heavily and suffering the indignity of being craned away by the super-efficient marshals.
At the front Wittmann continued to lead, setting a new fastest lap of the race, while Nasr was content to sit in 2nd and not take any stupid risks. He would soon have his hands full though as Merhi stole 3rd from Bottas at Lisboa and set off in pursuit of 2nd place. He was all over Nasr a lap later as they arrived at Lisboa, but Nasr resisted fiercely and Merhi settled in to bide his time and hope for a mistake. A lap later and Merhi tried it again. It looked as if it could only be a matter of time before the Spaniard got through; he certainly seemed to have the faster car, but he’d reckoned without both Nasr’s grit when pressured and the tendency of the other drivers to cause yellow flags and thus no overtaking at Lisboa, one of the best places to get through.
Further back Kimiya Sato (Motopark) was now on the move and had slotted into 9th, while Lucas Foresti (Fortec Motorsport) was making up for a bad grid position and was up to 16th. Further back Kevin Magnussen (Carlin) was through to 22nd and trying to make up for being sent to the back for a yellow flag infringement during practice. He was just behind Mitch Evans (Double R Racing), the unfortunate Kiwi was another on starting near the back, in his case after an engine failure wrecked his qualifying. He was now 20th and locked onto the back of Richard Bradley (TOM’S) as he tried to improve his position further.
A lap later and Bottas was starting to have to work very hard to hold off Huertas, and as if that wasn’t enough Daniel Juncadella (Prema Powerteam) was on their tails just hoping to pick up the pieces if it all went wrong. As they tore into Lisboa Huertas made an attempt to squeeze past Bottas but the Finn was having none of it, slamming the door firmly to keep 4th. So much for wanting to drive a sensible race and save the heroics for Sunday. Merhi, meanwhile kept right on pushing at Nasr, determined to try and find a way through. He was stopped by da Costa, the Portuguese driver’s miserable afternoon coming to an end at Lisboa and bringing out the yellows so he could be craned away. Nasr’s response to Merhi’s efforts – and his fastest lap – was to set a new fastest lap of his own, as he tried to re-open the gap and gain some breathing space. A lap later and Merhi again had to shelve any idea of overtaking at Lisboa when Evans and Bradley tangled there, yellow flags again being waved whilst Evans extricated himself and rejoined the race. In the main pack it was all getting pretty strange too as Laurens Vanthoor (Signature), Sato and Daniel Abt (Signature) all overtook Marko Asmer (Double R Racing), the Estonian’s car reported to be “losing parts” around the track.
In the pits, Adderly Fong (Sino Vision Racing) paid a brief visit for a new rear tyre, then went back out and promptly went off at Lisboa, so presumably the tyre change hadn’t actually helped. While he was doing that Asmer was steadily dropping back down the order, though maybe not as far as might have been expected; obviously whatever was dropping off, it wasn’t anything especially important.
A lot of important bits had fallen off Jimmy Eriksson’s car though, Motopark’s gangly Swede having stuck it in the barriers on the way up to Police Bend in a fairly comprehensive way. There were bits everywhere and the result, with two laps left, was a Safety Car period. As they settled in the order was Wittmann, ahead of Nasr, Merhi, Bottas, Huertas, Juncadella, Vanthoor, Abt, Sato and Hannes van Asseldonk (Hitech Racing), the latter another to make good progress through the field. 11th was Hideki Yamauchi (Toda Racing) from Yuhi Sekiguchi (Mücke Motorsport), William Buller (Fortec Motorsport), Foresti, Richie Stanaway (Van Amersfoort Racing), Hywel Lloyd (Sino Vision Racing), Jazeman Jaafar (Carlin), Asmer, Magnussen and Carlos Sainz Jr (Signature). Felix Rosenqvist was now 21st just by virtue of surviving the chaos, and Evans was 22nd and last, with a damaged rear wing.
The Safety Car took control and led them round at a reasonable pace, which proved too quick. The wreckage could not be shifted in time, and so the Safety Car finally pulled off at the end of the final lap of the race, the result being no overtaking was allowed. The final order was that seen behind the Safety Car and so Wittmann took the victory and will start Sunday’s race from pole.
The fastest laps were set by Merhi in the International Trophy category and Bottas.