2014 FIA F3 European Championship
Round 7, Pau, France, May 9th/11th 2014
© Lynne Waite and Stella-Maria Thomas
Weather: Hot, sunny.
Race Report – Round 7 (Race 1):
At Pau this morning Esteban Ocon (Prema Powerteam) further increased his reputation and his grip on the 2014 FIA F3 European Championship with a lights-to-flag victory in the first of three races round the streets of Pau. Behind him in 2nd was Lucas Auer (kfzteile24 Mücke Motorsport) who was forced to fend off Max Verstappen (Van Amersfoort Racing) for most of the 27-lap race.
Before the start Nicholas Latifi (Prema Powerteam) was already out of the race, pulling into the pits and not being seen again. As it turned out he was in the safest place. At the start, Ocon got off the line neatly, not looking at all like a rookie though he had to fight off Auer into Gare to claim the lead. In the middle of the pack though Dennis van de Laar (kfzteile24 Mücke Motorsport) stalled and there was a massive amount of avoidance needed. Luckily no one made contact with the Dutchman and they all got off the line in an orderly manner. However, on the run down from Gare, Mitch Gilbert (Fortec Motorsport) and Alexander Toril (ThreeBond with Fortec) tangled. Toril was launched into the air and crash landed in the barriers at Pont Oscar, Gilbert coming to a halt in the middle of the track just behind the stricken Spaniard.
Cue marshals everywhere and the inevitable Safety Car. Ocon was in the lead from Auer, Verstappen with Jake Dennis (Carlin) in 4th, from Jordan King (Carlin), Felix Serralles (Team West-TecF3), Antonio Giovinazzi (Jagonya Ayam Carlin), Edward Jones (Carlin), Sean Gelael (Jagonya Ayam Carlin), and Richard “Spike” Goddard (ThreeBond with T-Sport). In 11th was Tom Blomqvist (Jagonya Ayam Carlin), from John Bryant-Meisner (Fortec Motorsport), Gustavo Menezes (Van Amersfoort Racing), Riccardo Agostini (Eurointernational), van de Laar, Antonio Fuoco (Prema Powerteam), Felipe Guimaraes (Double R Racing), Felix Rosenqvist (kfzteile24 Mücke Motorsport) and Tatiana Calderon (Jo Zeller Racing). 21st was Michele Beretta (Eurointernational), Hector Hurst (Team West-TecF3), Jules Szymkowiak (Van Amersfoort Racing), Roy Nissany (kfzteile24-Mücke Motorsport).
At the restart Ocon controlled it well, helped by the fact that Auer had his hands full with Verstappen – it was going to be a long 24 laps with the youngster breathing down his neck! Meanwhile, in 9th Jones soon developed a train of followers that included Gelael, Goddard, Blomqvist, Bryant-Meisner and Menezes, with Goddard now all over Gelael.
A lap later and Verstappen was pushing Auer hard. As they reached Lycee he thought he saw an opportunity and tried to squeeze up the inside, forcing Auer to go very defensive despite having two wheels off the track. All of this meant that Ocon was now able to break away from the battling pair and he duly did just that, leaving them to fight for 2nd. Auer responded by setting a new fastest lap of the race, while Verstappen lurked behind him just waiting for a slightest mistake.
Jones meanwhile was holding up an ever more massive train with Agostini and van de Laar joining on the back end. Jones appeared to be having fun in his efforts to hang onto his place. Guimaraes, on the other hand, did not appear to be having the best of times, sandwiched as he was between Fuoco (who lost a lot of time in free practice when he crashed early on) and Rosenqvist (suffering recurring engine woes) in a fight for 16th. They were both theoretically a lot faster than the Brazilian, but he was putting up a game fight nonetheless.
And then Beretta put it in the wall at Lycee and we were back with the Safety Car once more. Ocon was still leading from Auer, Verstappen, Dennis, King, Serralles, Giovinazzi, Jones, Gelael and Goddard. Blomqvist was still 11th, just out of the points, with Bryant-Meisner 12th, then Menezes, Agostini, van de Laar, Fuoco, Guimaraes, Rosenqvist, Calderon and Hurst. In 21st was Szymkowiak from Nissany.
At the restart, Ocon again backed them all up neatly before they came round to cross the line with about with 14 laps left to run (at least in theory – they would run out of time first). In the pack King tried to edge past Dennis on the run into Gare, which didn’t quite work, but didn’t stop him trying again on the way into Pont Oscar, and again into Lycee. Dennis kept control admirably though, and King settled back into 5th behind his rookie team-mate. At the same time Gelael lost out to Goddard for 9th. Calderon also passed Rosenqvist but he came back at her a lap later and set off on a charge up the order as per the logo on his car, but he didn’t stop Rosenqvist passing the Brazilian, followed through by van de Laar, while Fuoco lost two places to Rosenqvist and Guimaraes when the dust settled.
This all happened on lap 20, and it was also the lap when Nissany hauled himself up from last by overtaking Hurst. The man making most progress now though was Rosenqvist, who was off up the road in pursuit of his next victim, Agostini. It didn’t take long. A lap later and Agostini was swiftly dispatched, which meant Menezes was next.
At the front Ocon was pushing hard, setting a new fastest lap, but Auer and Verstappen weren’t far behind. The three of them were well ahead of the rest of the pack, and it seemed we would get a good clean run to the finish now, even with Dennis vigorously defending 4th from King and Serralles. With the last lap boards out, Rosenqvist charged past Menezes for 14th, having a somewhat wild ride round Gare as a result, while Agostini ground to a smoky halt somewhere in Sector 1 less than a lap from the flag.
And so Ocon came home to an impressive win on the Bearnaise city streets, from Auer, Verstappen, Dennis (making in three rookies in the top 4), King, Serralles, Giovinazzi, Jones, Goddard and Gelael. Blomqvist ended up 11th from Bryant-Meisner, van de Laar, Rosenqvist, Menezes, Guimaraes, Fuoco, Calderon, Szymkowiak and Nissany and Hurst was the last finisher in 21st.
Afterwards Ocon was very happy with his win: “It was a good race. I missed a bit at the start so I had to close the door on Lucas then there was the safety car but only for 2 laps or something like that, but I did a good restart and pulled away. Lucas did a super good restart but couldn’t overtake and I rebuilt the gap. We were expecting safety cars – at least one. My experience of the street race at Macau helped me a lot here but it’s very different here. I’m very happy to win in France with all my supporters here.”
Auer was not too unhappy either: “My start was quite good but not good enough for first place and the first restart was not good enough. The second restart was good but overtaking here is difficult but I’m happy to be in the top 3 (after getting wheels on dirt to overtake Ocon). I had a discussion to crash or give the place. I will work hard in 2nd qualifying so let’s see.”
Verstappen had this to say: “I tried something to get past Auer but I was on the outside on the next corner and didn’t want to crash so I dropped back. All the time I was behind Lucas but I had understeer and I didn’t want to crash the car.”
The fastest lap of the race was set by Ocon.