FIA F3 European Championship
Round 21, MoscowRaceway, Russia, July 11th/13th 2014
© Lynne Waite and Stella-Maria Thomas
Weather: Cold, overcast.
Race Report – Round 21 (Race 3):
At Moscow Raceway this afternoon Esteban Ocon (Prema Powerteam) again came home to win, taking three races out of three, each of them from pole position. This time he was run a close second at the end by Max Verstappen (Van Amersfoort Racing), who might perhaps have been able to take the win if the race had gone full distance, rather than being cut short by two Safety Car periods. 3rd was Antonio Fuoco (Prema Powerteam), the youngster seemingly now over what could only be described as a mid-season wobble.
Before the start there seemed to be some sort of problem for Tom Blomqvist (Jagonya Ayam with Carlin) as he failed to get away on schedule, and had to retake his grid spot before the start. At the start itself Ocon made a clean getaway while it all went a bit nuts in the pack. Felix Serralles (Team West-TecF3), caught up in the aftermath of a spin from Jules Szymkowiak (Van Amersfoort Racing), hit Roy Nissany (kfzteile24 Muecke Motorsport) when the Israeli had to take avoiding action. Serralles lost his front wing, ran over it and was launched, which left him stranded and the Safety Car in control.
The order behind Ocon was Blomqvist, from Verstappen, Fuoco, Jordan King (Carlin), Jake Dennis (Carlin), Lucas Auer (kfzteile24 Mücke Motorsport), Dennis van de Laar (Van Amersfoort Racing), Felix Rosenqvist (kfzteile24 Mücke Motorsport), Gustavo Menezes (Van Amersfoort) and Santino Ferrucci (Eurointernational), Nicholas Latifi (Prema Powerteam) was 11th, from Sean Gelael (Jagonya Ayam with Carlin), Tatiana Calderon (Jo Zeller Racing), Hector Hurst (Team West-TecF3) and Antonio Giovinazzi (Jagonya Ayam with Carlin).
The pits were – perhaps not surprisingly – quite busy at this point. Nissany was in for the long haul, while Menezes also pulled in needing a new front wing, which took him out of the points. After two relatively trouble free races this was not going so well. Additionally Blomqvist, Ferrucci and Gelael were all under investigation for jumping the start.
On lap five the race went live again. Ocon controlled the restart nicely, holding off Blomqvist and almost immediately starting to open a gap between himself and the Carlin man. By the end of the first racing lap it would be a full half second, and Ocon seemed determined to continue to extend it. Behind, Menezes had rejoined the race in 17th and Nissany was back too though he was 19th and quite a way adrift now.
A lap later and it was all change at the front though. Blomqvist was awarded a drive through, as were Ferrucci and Gelael. That would hand second to Verstappen once Blomqvist opted to come in. He didn’t seem over keen, which suggested that perhaps the team were arguing the case. Ferrucci and Gelael both got theirs out of the way promptly, Gelael relinquishing 11th, while Ferrucci had only been 18th so had less to lose.
And all the while Ocon continued to pull away, as Blomqvist pulled into the pits to serve his sentence. By the time he rejoined he was 16th and was obviously not a happy man. You have to wonder how much bad luck one driver can have in one season. So Verstappen was now 2nd, 2.7 seconds behind Ocon. He’d got some work to do if he wanted to make inroads on the leader.
Now the dust had settled the top ten was Ocon, from Verstappen, Fuoco, King, Dennis, Auer, van de Laar, Rosenqvist, Latifi and Calderon. Given that Rosenqvist and King were both in receipt of a track limits warning that could of course be subject to change at a moment’s notice. Also, Verstappen was trying very hard now, and had reduced the gap to the leader to 2.6 seconds. It was quickly clear that Fuoco couldn’t stay with the Dutch teenager, no matter what the Italian tried.
He wasn’t the only one on the move. Blomqvist had gained a place to go 15th at the expense of Beretta, and was obviously not going to be satisfied with that. Verstappen wasn’t satisfied either, and had brought the gap down to 1.8 seconds by lap 13 having shaken off Fuoco. Another lap and the gap had reduced even further, to 1.7 seconds. Certainly he seemed to have the speed, and in theory he had 11 laps left to go for the win. Whether it was enough was academic though as the clock said they only had 11 minutes left of the time limit, which meant this race would not run the full distance regardless.
So what could Verstappen achieve? And how much life did he have left in his tyres? We were about to find out. Next lap the gap came down again, by 0.3 seconds. He was really pushing it and seemed determined enough. Of course there were other people out on track to take into account too. There was no telling what some of them might do.
Menezes came back to the pits, while Blomqvist had fought his way up to 13th, passing Giovinazzi easily enough. The Italian didn’t put up much of a fight, probably recognizing a done deal when he saw one. Meanwhile there was a fresh outbreak of track limit warnings, this time for Calderon and Beretta. Szymkowiak and Beretta also pitted, Szymkowiak having been shown the black and orange flag which indicates there is a technical problem with your car.
Verstappen had no problems and had again cut the gap, this time to 1.1 seconds. It looked like there might be a chance. However, that was when things got messy again. Dennis passed King, and Auer went with him. King fought back, attempted to retake the place from Auer, and Auer left him no place to go. They tangled and were both out of the race there and then, the suspension too damaged to continue. There followed a rather public altercation where it was clear King thought Auer was entirely to blame…
The upshot was a second Safety Car period which bunched the pack back up. Behind Ocon and Verstappen, Fuoco was still 3rd from Dennis, van de Laar, Rosenqvist, Latifi, Calderon, Hurst and the recovering Blomqvist. 11th was Giovinazzi, from Ferrucci, Gelael, Menezes and Beretta, who had just collected the latest drive through for track limits. It took some time to clear away the debris – and the aggrieved pair of drivers – and when the Safety Car lights went out it was clear to all that we were about to see a 1 lap sprint to the finish.
At the restart Ocon held on despite Verstappen’s ferocious efforts which saw him get alongside Ocon at the final corner. The Dutchman ran wide, Ocon pulled back level and they ran to the finish line practically side by side, Ocon just clinching the win at the line after a brief bout of wheel banging. Behind them Fuoco came in a comfortable – at least comparatively – 3rd from Dennis. Rosenqvist snatched 5th from van de Laar on that frantic last lap, while Blomqvist completed his recovery – which also netted him the fastest lap of the race – by demoting Calderon to 8th as they completed the race. Hurst was 9th from Giovinazzi. Outside the top ten Gelael was 11th from Menezes, Szymkowiak, Ferrucci, Beretta and Nissany.
Next Races: Rounds 22-24, RedBull Ring, Austria, 1st/3rd August 2014.