FIA F3 European Championship
Round 1, Silverstone, Great Britain, April 18th/20th 2014
© Lynne Waite and Stella-Maria Thomas
Weather: Cool, cloudy. Track 11C.
Qualifying Report – Round 1: First blood in this year’s European F3 championship has gone to Jagonya Ayam with Carlin’s Tom Blomqvist, the youngster staging a late bid for pole position for Round 1 of the series on the Silverstone Grand Prix circuit. He was chased home by three of the rookies in the shape of Esteban Ocon and Antonio Fuoco (both with Prema Powerteam) and the sensation of testing Max Verstappen, driving with van Amersfoort Racing 22 years after his father Jos ran with them in Formula Opel Lotus.
The session was slow to start with Richard “Spike” Goddard (ThreeBond with T-Sport) setting some early times, just ahead of another rookie, Jules Szymkowiak (van Amersfoort Racing), but no one else seemed in any great hurry to join in. It was a bit odd, because a twenty minute session with 26 cars all jostling for position really doesn’t leave much leeway, especially on the GP circuit. To no one’s great surprise, Goddard was on provisional pole for some time, as many of the expected front-runners lurked shyly in the pit lane. With a third of the time gone, it was strangely quiet.
Goddard remained fastest, ahead of Szymkowiak, with Roy Nissany (kfzteoile24 Mücke Motorsport), Gustavo Menezes (Van Amersfoort Racing), Antonio Giovinazzi (Jagonya Ayam with Carlin), Alexander Toril (ThreeBond with T-Sport), Michele Beretta (Eurointernational), Hector Hurst (Team West-TecF3) and Felix Serralles (Team West-TecF3) the only other drivers to have set times. On his first flying lap Dennis van de Laar (Prema Powerteam) snagged 2nd, with Fuoco chasing him round for 3rd, but the session was a long way from over.
While Beretta came back at Fuoco to edge him out of 3rd, Hurst went into a somewhat unlikely 2nd and Giovinazzi blasted round to provisional pole. Goddard fought back for 2nd while Nissany and Hurst were not far off. However, most of the serious contenders were biding their time, with both Felix Rosenqvist (kfzteile24 Mücke Motorsport) and Jordan King (Carlin) yet to set a time. For Rosenqvist the season was once again getting off to the sort of start he must dread, with engine problems in free practice necessitating some frantic work at Mücke to get him out at all. Verstappen wasn’t anywhere near the front at this stage either though his next lap was enough for 12th.
Nicholas Latifi (Prema Powerteam) was next to the top of the timesheets, but he was quickly displaced by Verstappen, who now really had the bit between his teeth and was charging hard. Fuoco remained firmly entrenched in 2nd from van de Laar in 3rd.
Rosenqvist finally escaped from the pits to put in a steady but not exactly stellar 18th, while at the front it was all change again, with Edward Jones (Carlin) claiming 2nd, but being pushed down a place when Blomqvist, on his third flying lap, did enough to top the times, only for Ocon to almost immediately take it off him, dropping Verstappen to 3rd. Latifi edged ahead of the Dutch driver, only to be rebuffed when Max went faster yet, but then Fuoco found some more time from somewhere to snatch 2nd.
Blomqvist wasn’t done yet though, finally settling the matters in his favour with 6 minutes of the session still to run. Behind the lead quartet, Serralles, back to full fitness after the troubles of last season, claimed 5th, while King was 6th. With warning flags for driving standards being shown to Szymkowiak and Riccardo Agostini (Eurointernational) an air of desperation was apparent towards the back of the order. The times were no longer tumbling, and although there were occasional improvements, it just wasn’t enough to shake up the results.
Not only that but Rosenqvist was languishing back in 19th and was clearly not too happy about it. With the time ticking down towards zero, the man who is many people’s tip for 2014 champion was struggling with an underpowered car and was looking average at best as he fought with his equipment to no avail. It wasn’t long before most drivers started to head for the pits, the tyres well past their best.
King managed a couple of time improvements that didn’t change his position at all, and only Rosenqvist and Goddard were able to move up the order by the time the chequered flag was waved, the Swede ending the session in 14th while Goddard crossed the line at the end of qualifying to move up to 11th.
After nabbing pole here last year with Harry Tincknell, Carlin did it again, Blomqvist just 0.002 seconds ahead of Ocon, from Fuoco, Verstappen, Serralles, King, Jones, Latifi, van de Laar and Lucas Auer (kfzteile24 Mücke Motorsport). 11th was Goddard, from Giovinazzi, Felipe Guimaraes in the sole Double R Racing entry, Rosenqvist, Jake Dennis (Carlin), Agostini, Mitch Gilbert (Fortec Motorsports), Menezes, John Bryant Meisner (Fortec Motorsports) and Sean Gelael (Jagonya Ayam with Carlin).
The final places went to Toril, Szymkowiak, Nissany, Hurst, Beretta and Tatiana Calderon who was down to drive the Renault-engined Signature entry. When the new Renault engine proved to be at least 2 seconds off the pace, Calderon decamped to Jo Zeller Racing. As Jo Zeller works at Mücke as an engineer, the car is temporarily running in the JZR livery, but will transfer to Mücke for the next meeting, when they don’t have to work into the small hours of the morning just to get the car ready.
With Rosenqvist halfway back, Saturday’s first race could be very interesting indeed!