Weather: Very hot, sunny, humid.
Running with a somewhat depleted field despite it being Spa, one of the finest circuits anywhere in the world, Carlin dominated qualifying for Rounds 4 and 6 of the 2013 British F3 International Series. Nicholas Latifi claimed pole for the first time on the challenging Belgian circuit and will start first in both races. In 2nd for both races was team-mate Jordan King, while in 3rd was Jann Mardenborough, the youngster making it an all-Carlin top three when the chequered flag finally fell at the end of 30 very hot, humid minutes. The National Class pole for both rounds went to Sun Zheng (CF Motorsport) by a considerable margin.
With Josh Hill (Fortec Motorsport) having retired from the sport with immediate effect two weeks’ ago, and Felix Serralles at home in Puerto Rico for medical treatment, the Fortec team was looking a little reduced, with only William Buller and Felipe Guimaraes representing them, and Team West-Tec were reduced to two drivers (Chris Vlok and Jordan Oon) because the Open F3 series their other drivers have all signed up to do has a clashing round at Brands Hatch this weekend, thus reducing the field by five.
There had been talk that Prema Powerteam might field some of their FIA European F3 Championship cars, but in the end only Alex Lynn was interested, and thus they are not here, which leaves us with 11 cars, 8 of them in the International Class, and three National Class runners.
Anyway after two 35 minute free practice sessions where Latifi was fastest, the clock ticked round to 5:30 pm and we finally got around to qualifying late in the afternoon. It didn’t take long for a pattern to emerge with Latifi ahead at the end of the first flying lap and King in 2nd. It wasn’t that much of a surprise really, although given his experience levels you might have expected Buller to be up there with them. He was currently 9th.
Zheng was fastest of the B class boys from the start and would stay there from pretty much the first seconds of the session. A lap later King put in his bid for pole, edging out Latifi, while Mardenborough was now 3rd. Guimaraes snatched 4th, from Antonio Giovinazzi (Double R Racing), Sean Gelael (Double R Racing), Zheng, Buller, Tatiana Calderon (Double R Racing), Oon and Vlok.
The top five drivers were all in the 2 minutes 16 seconds range, with Gelael two seconds slower in 2:18, suggesting some people still had some work to do. King motored round for another fastest lap, while in the pack there was a change as Calderon, who has been here before and loves the place, got into the 2:17s and thus into 6th place, ahead of Gelael and Buller.
A lap later the dash for new tyres began, led by Latifi and King. It wasn’t long before there was hardly anyone out there (though if you were feeling unkind you could argue there was hardly anyone out there to start with) and soon only Calderon, Oon and Vlok were still circulating, the three of them apparently opting to save their tyres for the races.
Zheng was now three seconds faster than Oon, while Vlok was a second slower still, and clearly not all was right at Fortec though Buller was now 8th and not 9th. It remained to be seen if new rubber would help anyone. Eventually, with around 13 minutes still to make progress in, there was a drift back to the track, though there didn’t exactly seem to be much of a sense of urgency about it, possibly because the temperature in full sun was now around 32°C (90°F) and F3 cars don’t respond well to that sort of heat.
Guimaraes rejoined, then Buller came out again too and finally with nine minutes left they were all back. There were less changes than might normally have been expected in the late stages of qualifying. Guimaraes improved his time but stayed 4th while Latifi put in a series of rapid laps to set times in the 2 minutes 15 second range to claim both pole positions. We were seeing faster times overall now but the order just didn’t change. Or at least it didn’t until Giovinazzi leapt to 4th demoting Guimaraes.
Meanwhile Zheng retreated to the pits as did Vlok, while Mardenborough traded places with King, only to have King retake 2nd as the clock ticked down to 18:00 and the end of the session. Calderon was next to come in and give up the fight, just as Buller moved up to 7th ahead of Gelael. And that was it for the session.
Latifi will start Race 3 (Round 6) from pole, from King, Mardenborough, Giovinazzi, Guimaraes, Calderon, Buller, Gelael, Zheng (in National Class pole), Oon and Vlok. For Race 1 (Round 4) Latifi again heads the order from Latifi, King, Mardenborough, Guimaraes, Giovinazzi, Buller, Gelael, Calderon, Zheng, Oon and Vlok.