2014 FIA F3 European Championship, Rounds 8 & 9 – Qualifying Report

FIA F3 European Championship
Rounds 8 & 9, Pau, France, May 9th/11th 2014
© Lynne Waite and Stella-Maria Thomas

Weather: Hot, sunny, dry.

Qualifying Report – Rounds 8 & 9:
At Pau this afternoon Esteban Ocon (Prema Powerteam) secured two more pole positions to make a clean sweep of it, with Felix Rosenqvist (kfzteile24 Mücke Motorsport) lining up alongside him for both of Sunday’s races. Starting 3rd in both will be Max Verstappen (Van Amersfoort Racing) alongside Tom Blomqvist (Jagonya Ayam with Carlin).

Just as he did yesterday, Verstappen started his qualifying session by promptly setting a flying lap that was way faster than anything one else could manage that early in the session. While the teenager hit the 1:12s everyone else was in the 1:14s or slower, with Tatiana Calderon (Jo Zeller Racing) and Michele Beretta (Eurointernational) an unlikely 2nd and 3rd. Verstappen simply continued to motor on, his next lap a 1:11. He was soon joined at the top of the order by fellow rookie Jake Dennis (Carlin), the British youngster going 2nd.

Championship leader Ocon meanwhile, was hanging back, waiting until the session was 8 minutes old before he decided to join in. While he was warming his tyres up, Edward Jones (Carlin) was busy making his bid for the top, with a time that put him temporarily 3rd. And then Ocon hit his marks and came round in 1:10.5, to move into provisional pole for at least one race. No one really expected the times to be quite so fast given the weather conditions.

Verstappen wasn’t taking that lying down and he fought back with a 1.10:3 to move ahead again, but no one thought it was anywhere near over yet. Dennis was hanging on in 3rd, the only other driver to set a 1:10 so far. Felipe Guimaraes (Double R Racing) was busy, meanwhile, in a fight for 4th and 5th places which included Gustavo Menezes (Van Amersfoort Racing) and Jones who now moved into 5th behind Menezes.

At the sharp end, though, Ocon was trying mightily as his next lap, a 1.10.26 demonstrated. Whatever Verstappen tried was never quite enough, which was remarkable in itself given how well he was driving. Fellow countryman Dennis van de Laar (kfzteile24 Mücke Motorsport) moved up to 4th, perhaps spurred on by the rapid rookies, but no one seemed to have the answer to Ocon. A 1.10:192 was his next effort, which kept him on top. Dennis was another digging deep though, as he grabbed 3rd, just ahead of Jones. Jones was then demoted a place by van de Laar, while Calderon was going well in 7th.

A lap later Jones climbed back to 4th and promptly got dropped by van de Laar again, before John Bryant-Meisner (Fortec Motorsport) went faster for 5th. Just as that happened we got a red flag. Calderon had ripped the rear wing off and crashed at Foch. The order at this point was Ocon from Verstappen, Dennis, van de Laar, Bryant-Meisner Jones, Menezes, Calderon, Sean Gelael (Jagonya Ayam with Carlin), Guimaraes, Alexander Toril (ThreeBond with T-Sport), Beretta, Hector Hurst (Team West-TecF3) and Roy Nissany (kfzteile24 Mücke Motorsport).

At the restart there was enough time for a couple of laps only and it was no surprise to see no improvements before the chequered flag. In fact Ocon abandoned the attempt before the flag, content in the knowledge that he will start Rounds 8 and 9 from the front of the grid if not pole.

This time the odd numbered cars went out second, which meant we were treated to the usual display of Richard “Spike” Goddard (ThreeBond with T-Sport) going out early and using up his tyres well in advance of the rest of the drivers. Mitchell Gilbert (Fortec Motorsport) was 2nd proving the car was fine after this morning’s crash. Antonio Fuoco (Prema Powerteam) seemed to be well on the way to recovery given his awful qualifying yesterday and was up to 3rd but the other Antonio, Giovinazzi (Jagonya Ayam with Carlin) took the place away from him as Goddard continued to lead the times.

But then there was Rosenqvist. After the team changed everything that could be changed on the engine without actually changing the engine itself, the car was quick in the morning’s race, and Felix was keen to capitalise on his change of luck. He drew a line in the sand with a time that put him 2nd while behind him Gilbert and Fuoco scrapped over 3rd, and then they all lost a place when Giovinazzi went 2nd. Rosenqvist’s response to that was a 1:11.041 that moved him right up the order.

The curse of the “qvists” now appeared to be over as Blomqvist set a 4th fastest time, and then a 3rd. Rosenqvist continued to push on though. A new fastest lap of 1.10:767 was promising in terms of a potential pole time with a reasonable portion of the session left. Behind him Jordan King (Carlin) suddenly leaped up to 2nd while Lucas Auer (Prema Powerteam) then edged between them. Gilbert came round next to move back up to 3rd again, only to have Giovinazzi go quicker.

It was an action-packed session, and became even more exciting when Auer stuck in a 1:10.639. With Fuoco now 3rd, the battle for pole seemed to be well and truly joined. Rosenqvist fought back, with a 1.10.411, while Gilbert, Blomqvist and King all took it in turns to be 2nd. The next time round it was Gilbert to 2nd, then Giovinazzi, then Blomqvist. And all the while Rosenqvist was getting faster and faster. A time of 1.10.197 put him very close to Ocon’s fastest time, and there were still at least another 3 laps available. Except there weren’t.

Goddard had crashed heavily at Foch and the red flags were hung out at very close to the same stage they had been in the first session. The order as the rest of them came back to the pits was Rosenqvist, from Blomqvist, Giovinazzi, Gilbert, King, Auer, Nicholas Latifi (Prema Powerteam), Felix Serralles (Team West-TecF3), Fuoco, Riccardo Agostini (Eurointernational), Goddard and Jules Szymkowiak (Van Amersfoort Racing).

Rosenqvist’s team slammed new tyres on and at the restart he could be seen doing his damnedest to get some heat into them, but it was to no avail. Two laps – which were all anyone got – were simply not enough. Rosenqvist would start 2nd for both of Sunday’s races, with Ocon on pole.