Masters of Formula 3, Zandvoort Park, The Netherlands
July 4th/6th 2014
© Lynne Waite and Stella-Maria Thomas
Weather: Hot, overcast.
Despite a short sharp shower on the grid that soaked everyone and everything, the rest of the latest edition of the Masters of Formula 3 went pretty much to script, with Max Verstappen (Motopark) leading from lights to flag, 21 years after his father Jos won the event. It was an impressive performance from the 16 year old given the amount of pressure he was under with what seemed to be most of the country watching from the grandstands every available vantage point in the dunes around this exciting track. 2nd place went to Jules Szymkowiak (Van Amersfoort Racing), ahead of Steijn Schothorst (Performance Racing) in 3rd on his F3 debut. Later the officials would award Szymkowiak a 20-second penalty for what happened next, moving Schothorst to 2nd and promoting Nabil Jeffri (Motopark) to 3rd.
At the start Verstappen made a decent if not brilliant getaway, while in the pack Szymkowiak turfed Sam Macleod (Van Amersfoort Racing) into the Tarzan gravel when he jinked to the right off the line and smacked into Macleod’s rear wheel. The result was waved yellows in the first sector for a couple of laps while the marshals sorted out the stricken Brit and removed his car to a place of safety.
The resulting sort out enabled Schothorst to grab 3rd, though Jeffri was quite insistent about trying to take it off him, and edged through briefly when the Dutch debutant made a mistake. He was soon back ahead however.
Meanwhile, in the pack Indy Dontje (Motopark), Nikita Zlobin (ADM Motorsport), Dennis van der Laar (Double R Racing) and Martin Cao (Fortec Motorsport) had started a fight for 5th place that would run for quite a lot of the race. There was some consternation over the message on the timing screen that said that this was a wet race, which it clearly wasn’t (everyone was on slicks), and none whatsoever over the one that informed everyone that the incident between Macleod and Szymkowiak would be investigated afterwards.
At the front, untroubled by all of this, Verstappen was pulling away at around a second a lap, opening out a gap of four seconds within the first five laps, setting the first fastest lap of the race as he did so, while behind him Schothorst was posing a serious threat to Szymkowiak. The big loser in the early laps, though, was Zlobin, who was demoted to 8th in the four way fight for fifth. Dontje was now at the front of the gaggle, having passed Cao, and set a new fastest lap to prove it. He started to pull away after that, while the middle pair dropped away slightly as van der Laar looked for a way past Cao, local knowledge not helping him any it seemed.
At the front the gap between Verstappen and Szymkowiak had now stabilised at around 4.5 seconds. Max clearly didn’t see the point of pushing any harder in a car he’s not exactly familiar with, and anyway there was no point throwing it all away by overdoing it. Far better to win in the slowest time you can, with no theatrics, and as little risk as possible.
He was helped by the fact that Szymkowiak was unable to shake off Schothorst, the Formula Renault 2.0 regular now catching the more experienced Szymkowiak as the race went into its 10th lap. He needed to do something really, because Jeffri was still on his tail, and didn’t look likely to give up any time soon.
It was all getting a bit internecine at the back of the field meanwhile, where Camren Kaminsky (Double R Racing) was scrabbling around trying to find a way past team-mate Andy Chang. For several laps the American shadowed the Macanese, stuck like glue to his rear wing before he finally found a way past under braking to claim 9th place. He then had to hold off Chang for most of the rest of the race, but held steady and never seemed to be in serious danger of losing the place again.
Meanwhile, in what would turn out to be a significant development, Macleod and Szymkowiak were summoned to the stewards’ room immediately the race finished, along with their team manager. It didn’t bode well for Szymkowiak, despite running what looked to be a comfortable 2nd at this stage. For now, though, all he could do was chase after Verstappen, while Schothorst now came under more pressure from Jeffri, and the rapidly closing Dontje.
In the closing stages Verstappen simply controlled the pace as best he could, never doing too much, while Szymkowiak could do nothing to catch him. Schothorst held the opposition off all the way to the flag, despite being pushed incredibly hard by Jeffri, the Malaysian utterly determined to make it into the top three if he could. Dontje was close to the pair of them but the hoped for mistake never came. Behind him it was a different story. Cao had van der Laar looming in his mirrors at every turn, and was having to put in the drive of his life to hold the local lad at bay. The only relief came on the last of 25 hard fought laps, when van der Laar somehow endeavoured to lose a place to Zlobin almost within sight of the chequered flag.
At the front though today was all about Verstappen. As he crossed the line to win the 24th Masters title, the crowd in the grandstand went nuts as they greeted the youngest ever winner in the history of the Masters, and incidentally also the first one powered by a Volkswagen engine. A wave of orange could be seen, and blue, white and red flags were everywhere, as hordes of supporters converged on the podium to greet the winner. It felt rather as if the entire 14000 plus crowd were all in there with him for a time.
Afterwards he was very happy with the result, and remarkably sanguine about all the attention focussed on him. “It’s a great feeling! We had a good pace all the race and it was nice to see people cheering when I was passing the finish line. I didn’t feel any pressure though. I just do what I have to do. I couldn’t do a practice start and the car is new to me so the start was quite OK I didn’t lose any positions and I managed to brake late into the first corner then over the first few laps I pulled out a good gap to save the tyres. In the last few laps my tyres were better than Jules’ so I could build up my lead again. Volkswagen did a good job on the engine and Motopark gave me a great car to race so thanks a lot to them!”
Schothorst was very pleased with his podium place. “We always come to a race to win but I didn’t expect to be on the podium. It’s a big thanks to all the team. I’ve no experience in F3 so everything’s new to me. I think I did a good job with the start to get from 7th to 3rd. The track was slippy and I went off at 3 or 4 but saved it and got back my position. For me it was very difficult to concentrate so long and it’s so different from Formula Renault which meant for a few laps we were struggling a bit but we hung in there.”
Szymkowiak was not at the press conference, rather he was busy explaining his part in the first lap crash. Later he would be penalised 20 seconds for causing an avoidable accident, which would push him down the order to 5th place.
That made Schothorst 2nd, Jeffri 3rd and Dontje 4th, which would add to his pleasure at claiming the fastest lap of the race (1:34.228), and a trophy awarded specially for that feat. “”At the start I lost one place but I got it back again. It was very slippy on turns 3, 4 and 5 and I had a moment when a Fortec car overtook, but he made some mistakes and I took him back. I was good on speed but not enough for the podium. It’s difficult to overtake here.”
That meant Cao was 6th, from Zlobin, van der Laar, Kaminsky and Chang.