2014 Masters of Formula Three, First Qualifying – Report

Zandvoort Masters of Formula 3, Zandvoort Park, The Netherlands
July 4th/6th 2014
© Lynne Waite and Stella-Maria Thomas

Weather: Wet, warm.

Qualifying Report:
At a rain and red flag disrupted first qualifying, current F3 star Max Verstappen (Motopark) was edged out of provisional pole slightly unexpectedly by Jules Szymkowiak (Van Amersfoort Racing) in a session where actually getting a flying lap proved incredibly difficult. This was largely due to several of their competitors becoming irresistibly attracted to the Tarzan gravel traps. The effect of this was that the session was stopped no less than four times to enable the snatch vehicles to rescue errant Dallaras.

After yesterday’s free practice sessions, dominated by Verstappen, it was no surprise that he was first out onto a sodden track, trailing spray as he went. The session had been declared wet and they really weren’t joking. This became obvious at the conclusion of the first flying lap, with the lap times coming in around 20 seconds slower than Friday. Verstappen, not unsurprisingly, was top of the times and the session seemed to be settling in to a rhythm, at least until Steijn Schothorst (Performance Racing) went straight on at Tarzan and brought out the red flags for the first time.

The order at this stage, after exactly one flying lap, was Verstappen, from Dennis van de Laar (Double R Racing), Schothorst, Szymkowiak, Andy Chang (Double R Racing), Sam Macleod (Van Amersfoort Racing), Camren Kaminsky (Double R Racing), Nabil Jeffri (Motopark) and Indy Dontje (Motopark). Neither Martin Cao (Fortec Racing) nor Nikita Zlobin (ADM Motorsport) had managed a lap in anger at this stage.

From here on in it started to get silly. With 14:49 left on the clock (a smidge under three quarters of the session), the wind was getting up, and there were puddles everywhere. However, it’s part of a racing driver’s job to cope with adverse weather, something some people were not doing. That said Schothorst had been delivered back to his pit garage and rapidly cleared of as much gravel as possible and was ready to go back out again in pretty short order. It was probably better than staying where he was anyway, as team boss Bobby Issadzhe wasn’t looking too happy right then.

This time however everyone was back to the pits with no lap times at all, as this time Macleod had ended up in the Tarzan gravel. Once again the red flags were hung out and the snatch vehicle mobilized to extract the young Scot. The car seemed to be heavily loaded around the wheels and undertray with claggy sand, but apart from that was undamaged. He was returned to base camp, cleaned up and ready to rejoin the fray far quicker than you might have expected.

The next attempt to get the session underway meant they would have around 9 minutes actual available time once they completed the out lap. At least that was the theory. They’d bargained with Cao, who seemed to feel the need to join the “Investigating the Tarzan Gravel” club and promptly went off at the start of what would have been his first time lap. Cue the third outbreak of red flags. The only change to the order came about because Zlobin managed to complete a timed lap, though it was a long way off the pole, in 4:48.374, almost two minutes slower than the rest of the pack as he’d slowed for the red flags.

This was now turning into one of the longest twenty minute sessions imaginable. With 8:43 left, and Cao still with no lap time, it was time to go back out. And again they didn’t get very far as this time Zlobin skittered off into the Tarzan gravel, prompting the fourth stoppage of the day. Quite what this says about the current crop of drivers may not bear close examination. Certainly they didn’t seem to be learning from other people’s mistakes!

Finally, with a little over five minutes left, they were again released from the pits. Now, with the track conditions starting to improve, it was time to buckle down and get on with the job. There would be three flying laps at best, two otherwise, provided they could all keep it on the black stuff this time. There were some very twitchy moments, particularly from Verstappen, and from Dontje, who got all four wheels on the grass as Verstappen passed him, but they were both able to continue, and soon the times started to fall.

Several drivers, including Dontje and Macleod, had a brief spell at the top but when the dust settled Szymkowiak was ahead from Verstappen, Macleod, Jeffri, van der Laar, Schothorst, Dontje, Cao, Kaminsky, Chang and Zlobin. The track was continuing to improve slowly, and most drivers had one lap left, though Szymkowiak and Verstappen both beat the chequered flag by around 10 seconds, gaining themselves an extra timed lap each, as did Dontje. As they final few cars circulated round to take the flag, the questions were would they be able to move up the order and could Verstappen wrest pole back from countryman Szymkowiak.

The answers came quickly, Szymkowiak holding on to his advantage to hold provisional pole by 0.724 seconds from Verstappen, while Macleod was relieved of 3rd by Dontje at the line. Next was van der Laar, from Jeffri, Kaminsky, Schothorst, Cao, Chang and Zlobin.

The forecast for the second and final qualifying session this afternoon is not promising so we can only wait and see whether this ends up being the starting order for the 2014 Masters of Formula 3 or not.