2013 FIA F3 European Championship Rounds 16-18 – Report

2013 FIA F3 European Championship
Rounds 16-18, Norisring, Germany, July 12th/14th 2013
© Lynne Waite and Stella-Maria Thomas

Race Reports – Rounds 16 – 18 (Races 1 – 3):
At the Norisring this weekend, chaos (with a side order of confusion) seemed to be the theme of the weekend, with penalties handed out and then rescinded, and technical issues coming into play only to be overturned as well. Oh, and just for good measure, Fortec Motorsport found themselves rather short on drivers, with William Buller opting to withdraw from the European series in favour of Renault 3.5, and Josh Hill leaving motorsport all together. It was as well they still had Felix Serralles (though for health reasons he probably should not have been out there) and Pipo Derani.

Victories were eventually shared between Raffaele Marciello (Prema Powerteam), Alex Lynn (Prema Powerteam) and Felix Rosenqvist (kfz24-teile Mücke Motorsport), and Marciello now leads the series by a mere 24.5 points from Rosenqvist, the Swede having reduced the gap steadily over recent races. However, it didn’t look as if either of them were going to score points in the first race at one point.

Round 14 (Race 1)
The short confines of the Norisring street circuit just outside Nuremburg tend to throw up some odd results – for example last year one race apparently didn’t have a winner, despite the fact that some of us were pretty certain we’d seen Buller cross the line in what should have been the victor’s position once penalties were applied. That paled into insignificance in comparison though to what happened in Round 16 on Saturday morning.

Things got off to a bit of a rocky start, when Rosenqvist was hit with a penalty over a fuel “irregularity” when it appeared that the fuel used to power him to victory at the Zandvoort Masters of F3 the weekend before had not been cleaned out completely. With the fuel sample taken after qualifying apparently illegal, he was allowed to race under appeal, but it was debatable whether any results he obtained would be allowed to stand.

That said, Marciello was taking no chances at the start and the Italian powered away into the lead, determined to get ahead and stay there regardless of the outcome of any appeal the Swede’s team might choose to make. Actually, Rosenqvist was originally supposed to start from the back of the grid, so anything was an improvement on that, even being outbraked into the first turn! Behind them Lynn was 3rd from Serralles and Lucas Auer (Prema Powerteam) and it looked as if the crowd was going to be treated to quite a battle.

Rosenqvist was fighting back and piling the pressure on Marciello, while behind the top five, returnee Alex Sims (ThreeBond with T-Sport) was holding off Derani (the Brazilian gaining three places at the start), Tom Blomqvist (Eurointernational), Harry Tincknell (Carlin) and Lucas Wolf (URD Rennsport), Sven Müller (ma-con) meanwhile, was briefly in the pits after being awarded a drive through for jumping the start. Daniil Kvyat (Carlin) was also in the pits, but he didn’t return to the track.

With Blomqvist looking to find a way past Derani, and Rosenqvist harassing Marciello, things were hotting up at the front. However, several incidents then occurred. With Nicholas Latifi (Carlin) and Eddie Cheever (Prema Powerteam) both going off, albeit temporarily, and a crash that took out Mitchell Gilbert (kfzteile24 Mücke Motorsport) when Sean Gelael (Double R Racing) tried to use the Aussie as a brake, a Safety Car was inevitable.

And that was when things got really messy. There was some dispute afterwards about how the Safety Car period was handled, with some people contending that there were no yellow flags when there should have been, and the race organisers insisting that there had not been any such problem. Either way, that result was a five lap suspension of racing while Gilbert’s car was rescued from its precarious resting place.

At the restart, we’d barely seen any racing when the yellow flags were again hauled out after Richard “Spike” Goddard (ThreeBond with T-Sport) made a complete nonsense of braking for the hairpin and took out the unfortunate Dennis van de Laar (Van Amersfoort Racing) as well as himself. Further down the order, in a display of sisterly solidarity or something, Tatiana Calderon (Double R Racing) managed to power into Michela Cerruti (Ferraris) in the Hairpin. Cerruti survived. Calderon was out on the spot, as was the Safety Car, again taking over the field.

When racing resumed once more, Marciello held onto his lead, from Rosenqvist, Lynn, Serralles, Auer, Sims and Derani, Blomqvist, Tincknell and Nick Cassidy (Eurointernational), the debutant making quite an impression in his first F3 race. It didn’t take the Kiwi long to get the drop on the far more experienced Tincknell for 9th which let him get onto the tail of his team-mate Blomqvist.

Elsewhere, Latifi was in more trouble, running into the rear end of Roy Nissany’s Mücke car and doing himself large amounts of damage. The Canadian pulled into the pits and into retirement, while Nissany continued. Latifi was joined in retirement not long after by Müller, the German once more living by the sword with the inevitable result. As is so often the case, he took someone else with him, in this instance Antonio Giovinazzi (Double R Racing), the Italian an innocent bystander in someone else’s accident!

Just for good measure, Wolf was also out with some sort of car failure, and it was beginning to seem as if we’d be lucky to get any of them back at this rate. With yet another car off, there was now nowhere to overtake, and the final laps of the race were relatively calm, Marciello leading the pack round to take the chequered flag at the end of lap 39. He was followed on the road by Rosenqvist, but the Swede was listed as disqualified and thus not allowed on the podium. That put Lynn de facto 2nd, from Auer, who got the drop on Serralles for 4th on the road in the closing laps. 5th (4th) was Sims, from Derani, Blomqvist, Cassidy and Jordan King (Carlin). Except they weren’t!

Between Rosenqvist racing under appeal, and a series of 20 second penalties applied in lieu of drive through penalties to a dozen drivers for speeding up under yellow flags (that may or may not have been shown), apparently Blomqvist was the winner, despite finishing 8th on the road. 2nd was Tincknell while Andre Rudersdorf (ma-con) was 3rd, ahead of Cheever, Marciello, Sandro Zeller (Jo Zeller Racing), Lynn, Auer, Serralles, and Sims. Derani was listed as 11th, from Cassidy, King, Jann Mardenborough (Carlin), Cerruti, Nissany, Michael Lewis (kfzteile-24 Mücke Motorsport), and Goddard.

It all seemed a bit unlikely really. Certainly Blomqvist was baffled even before the sponsor banner behind fell on him during the post-race interviews: “I’m not sure if this is some kind of joke…This is a joke, no? This can’t be real. I finished eighth… I was only told that I had won the race after the prize-giving ceremony. Of course, I am happy with the points, being declared as the winner in spite of not having been first across the line.”

Tincknell was a bit taken aback too: “For me, being up here is a huge surprise, too. As always at the Norisring, it was an action-packed race. Indeed there were many yellow flags and we were told about the correct behaviour under yellow during the drivers’ briefing. Therefore, I made sure that I really backed off when the yellow flags were out.”

Rudersdorf was pleased to get on a podium, although it seems unlikely it will happen again: “Of course, my maiden podium finish in the FIA Formula 3 European Championship is great. With so many spectators and such a super atmosphere, the Norisring is unique. In the race, I tried to avoid any big risks and the result is fantastic!”

It was an odd result perhaps, but stranger things have happened. But – and you knew there’d be a but – it was all a dream or something. Or at least a matter for appeal. The next thing we knew, some of the penalties had been overturned, and it turned out Marciello had won after all when the officials were persuaded there had been a problem with the yellow flags after all. Lynn was also reinstated to 2nd, though Auer’s penalty would stand (his improved lap time came a lap earlier when it seemed the flags were out).

That put Serralles 3rd, from Blomqvist, Tincknell, Mardenborough, Nissany, Rudersdorf, Lewis and Cheever. Zeller was now 11th, from Auer, Sims, Derani, Cassidy, King, Cerruti and Goddard. And that might have been it, except it still wasn’t, because the Mücke appeal to get Rosenqvist reinstated was successful and the next things we knew, he was back in 2nd behind Marciello, and everyone else got shuffled down a place. The Swede also benefitted from keeping a cool head during the multiple yellow flags. “It’s always easy to go quicker under yellow flags, but I always tried to keep it within the margins. I was already thinking in the car that something might happen so I tried to be clever.”

The fastest lap of the race was set by Auer.

Round 17 (Race 2)
After the insanity that was Round 16, Round 17 was thankfully a lot less confusing. It was as if they’d all calmed down and got it out of their systems at last. In fact all 28 cars finished the race, and it ran for the full scheduled 42 laps! Victory this time went to Lynn, in another Prema victory, with Rosenqvist 2nd (after the appeal was heard) and Marciello 3rd, the momentum now seeming to be very much with Rosenqvist as the seasons heads into its second half.

At the start Lynn shot off into the lead as Marciello messed up uncharacteristically, leaving the Italian to run wide. That saw Rosenqvist nipping through as well as Marciello tried to sort himself out, but a further mistake saw him dropped to 4th when Sims got the better of him too. Adding insult to injury, he was demoted another place by Derani when he tried to retake 3rd from Sims. Behind them, the top 10 was rounded out by Serralles, Tincknell, Blomqvist, King and Cassidy.

Auer, meanwhile, was nowhere to be seen after stalling at the start unlike Mardenborough and Giovinazzi, both of whom were awarded drive through penalties for somewhat optimistic starts. That meant there were a number of people committed to recovery drives, including the series leader.

It didn’t take Marciello very long to get his revenge of Derani, and he was soon back up into 4th, while Auer was now 16th and pushing on determinedly. In the battle for the top ten places, meanwhile, Cassidy made a move on King for 9th, while Tincknell had his hands full with Blomqvist who really, really wanted to take 7th from him.

As the race continued towards its halfway mark, Auer gained another couple of places when he managed to find ways past both Müller and Nissany for 14th, helped by the fact that Müller was continuing with his policy of making friends and influencing people and now had an increasingly second-hand looking front wing, that wasn’t improving the Dallara’s handling any. It didn’t prevent him tackling Latifi later on, but it wasn’t exactly ideal.

With Lynn ahead by about a second, Rosenqvist was now starting to come under pressure from Sims, the latter using his considerable experience to make life as tough as he could for the Swede. With Marciello looming in his mirrors, he cannot have been confident of holding the position, but he wasn’t going to relinquish it without a fight, that much was clear. The three of them were now very close, at the halfway mark, while behind them there was another heated scrap going on, as Serralles worried at Derani’s heels, a constant and unrelenting presence in the Brazilian’s mirrors.

Some highly entertaining driving from Rosenqvist was his response to Sims, including a wild moment through the hairpin where he just managed to catch the car before the tail could break away completely. Sims took a look and challenged him by taking a look up the inside, but Rosenqvist held it all together and didn’t lose any ground. He may well have won a few new fans too…

As they came up behind the backmarkers to lap them, it got ever closer, with Sims again challenging, and coming up just short, only to find Marciello challenging him in his turn. It was all very close, and it was perhaps no surprise when Marciello finally got past Sims with a mere handful of laps left to run, powering through at the Grundig Hairpin to claim 3rd.

And so Lynn won the second race of the weekend from Rosenqvist (though the appeal still hadn’t been heard at this point). “My start was very good and in the Grundig hairpin, I took the lead right away. Then, I tried to pull a gap on Felix Rosenqvist behind me, but that wasn’t easy. For three quarters of the race I was pushing like crazy just to pull away from Felix but I could never get it above a second. I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw him beginning to deal with Alex. That gave me a nice cushion for when I had to deal with the backmarkers.”

Next up was Marciello: “My start was really bad and I dropped back to fifth. After that, I gave everything I had to move up to the front again. From that point of view, second place wasn’t too bad. I hope to have a better start tomorrow when I will be starting from pole position again.”

3rd (4th after Rosenqvist was reinstated) was Sims, giving T-Sport their first podium of the season. And he’d enjoyed himself too: “My comeback in Formula 3 was good and my car had a really good pace. Battling with the top drivers of the FIA Formula 3 European Championship was great fun.”

5th went to Derani, from Serralles, Blomqvist, Tincknell and King and Lewis. 11th was Cassidy, who lost out in the closing stages, from Kvyat, Auer, Wolf, Nissany, Cheever, Müller, van de Laar, Latifi and Rudersdorf. Gelael finished 21st, from Gilbert, Giovinazzi, Goddard, Zeller, Calderon, Mardenborough and Cerruti.

Fastest lap this time went to Marciello as he chased down Rosenqvist.

Round 18 (Race 3)
Again this race ran full distance, though it was a close run thing with a number of incidents causing retirements, and an awful lot of people managing to outbrake themselves at the sharp turns. The eventual winner was Rosenqvist, despite the fact that he does not like this track at all, the Swede thus substantially reducing the gap between himself and the runaway early series leader Marciello to a manageable 24.5 points with 9 more races to run. Marciello had to settle for 2nd from team-mate Lynn, the two battling for position in the early stages.

At the start it looked as if this would be another lights to flag stroll for Marciello, as Rosenqvist had to defend himself from Lynn, the latter determined to get on terms as they tore down towards the first of the two Hairpins that make up the main challenge of this incredibly short circuit. Blomqvist settled in in 4th ahead of Auer, Sims, Kvyat, Derani, Tincknell and King, while further back an infuriated Serralles was all the way down in 21st after bogging down badly off the line. That boded badly for a lot of people!

Meanwhile Mardenborough cut across Nissany in a messy move and the pair made contact, but both cars were OK, at least enough to continue anyway, while Auer dropped to 6th after Sims overtook him, and Latifi, in what set the tone for the race, missed his braking point into Grundig and smacked into Lewis, putting both of them out of the race with damaged suspension.

As Marciello settled in at the front despite Rosenqvist’s best efforts, while Lynn held off Blomqvist, Sims and Auer, Derani lost 8th place to Tincknell. Rosenqvist was starting to really push now though, setting a new fastest lap as he set about Marciello for the lead. Further back, Serralles was picking off car after car and had recovered to 17th in an eye-catching drive that clearly wasn’t over yet.

The Puerto Rican wasn’t the only one on a mission, mind. Rosenqvist was pressuring Marciello now, right on the Italian’s rear wing, and looking for the slightest mistake to take advantage and claim the lead. Sims, meanwhile, having got the jump on Auer, was now focussing all his attention on Blomqvist, providing much entertainment for the crowds in the massive concrete grandstands.

In the pack, the Double R Racing weekend was continuing in much the same way it had started, with Wolf squeezing Giovinazzi into the wall, damaging the suspension of the Italian’s car and putting him out of the race there and them, while Wolf was able to limp back to the pits and out of the race. It wasn’t enough to distract everyone from the battle for the lead though, as Rosenqvist went side-by-side with the leader. It didn’t quite stick, but then Marciello managed to outbrake himself into Grundig, thus letting Rosenqvist through. The Swede didn’t need a second invitation and promptly started to open up a gap.

That left Marciello to the tender mercies of Lynn and Blomqvist, both of whom seemed equally keen to get past the Italian, but who were hampered in that by each other. Lynn took a couple of looks at Marciello but couldn’t quite manage it and had to settle back in and wait. Further back, the progress of Serralles was now being impeded by Nissany, which led to the Fortec driver giving Nissany a nudge as they exited Grundig, the scene of much of the action this Sunday morning. Both drivers continued, but it had cost both of them time.

As if to emphasise the risk of getting Grundig wrong, Tincknell and Kvyat were next to outbrake themselves there as they battled for position. Derani saw his chance as they both recovered and was through before they could react and try to stop him. It was a fine opportunistic move from the tiny Brazilian. Tincknell got ahead of Kvyat and shortly afterwards the Russian started to drop down the order, eventually retiring from the race.

While Rosenqvist increased the gap to Marciello, as the Italian held off Lynn, Sims got Grundig wrong while trying to pass Blomqvist, and ended up almost losing out to Auer despite the Austrian dinging his front wing on the rear of Blomqvist’s car when the British driver wasn’t quite as quick on the exit. A couple of laps later and Sims tried again, this time letting Auer through when the attempt to pass Blomqvist failed. This fight would run all the way to the flag it seemed.

Behind them there was further action, as Müller passed Cassidy for 10th into Grundig, while Serralles tangled with Nissany, the latter unable to continue, while Serralles got going long enough to then clash with Mardenborough, possibly because of damage from the clash with Nissany. Whatever the reason, he hit the rear end of Mardenborough, broke his front wing and limped to the pits where he retired, less than happy with his morning.

After 42 laps, Rosenqvist came home for another victory, while Marciello was 2nd, after the pressure from Lynn faded in the closing laps along with his brakes.

The Swede was more than happy with the result: “It was a good race and my car was really great. This weekend was an emotional roller-coaster for me. It started with disqualification in qualifying and ended with that being rescinded and victory in the third race. I never expected to be the driver going home with the most points from this track which didn’t particularly suit me. It’s been one to remember in many ways!”

Marciello would settle for what he had: “After the start, I was in front, but Felix was simply faster and I couldn’t defend my lead when he attacked. Thus, second place was the only thing left for me. Until the Nürburgring, we will try to improve our car and then attack again.”

Lynn wasn’t too distressed either: “My start was good, which is making me particularly happy, because that wasn’t my strength at the start of the year. Unfortunately, I had some problems with the brakes in the first few laps, because I started the race with new brake pads that first had to reach the right temperature. After that, I could increase the pressure on Felix and Raffaele in front of me, but I have to admit that today, Felix was simply too fast for me and has deserved this win.”

The battle for 4th was finally settled in favour of Blomqvist, with Sims finally getting back at Auer on the last lap, nipping through on the final corner to come home in 5th ahead of the Austrian. 7th was Derani, from Tincknell, King and Müller.

11th was Cassidy, impressing on his debut, from Mardenborough, van de Laar, Cheever, Gelael, Goddard, Gilbert, Rudersdorf, Wolf and Cerruti.

Fastest lap once again went to Rosenqvist.

Next Rounds: Rounds 19, 20 & 21, Nürburgring, August 17th/18th

 

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