2014 Cooper Tires British Formula 3 Championship – Qualifying Report and Results Rds 10 & 12

2014 Cooper Tires British F3 Championship
Rounds 10-12, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, July 24th/26th 2014
© Lynne Waite and Stella-Maria Thomas

Weather: Sunny, hot, dry.

Qualifying Report:
In the spectacular setting of the Ardennes, with Spa basking in an unaccustomed heat wave, Ed Jones (Carlin) signalled his return to full fitness with an utterly dominant performance in qualifying for Races 1 and 3 of the weekend. Normally racing in the FIA F3 European series, Jones has been out of action since a back injury earlier in the year, but the casual observer would have been hard pressed to see any diminution in performance from the Dubai driver this morning. 2nd overall in the session went to another FIA F3 interloper in the shape of Sean Gelael (Jagonya Ayam with Carlin) while Roberto Merhi (Double R Racing) battled an uncooperative Mercedes engine to claim 3rd on his return to F3 after a two-year spell in DTMs and Renault 3.5s.

At the start almost the entire pack of 14 cars were out on the circuit from the word go, keen to get some good times set as soon as possible, well aware that they might well have had 30 minutes to play with, but that temperatures had nudged 30°C yesterday and F3 cars really don’t like that sort of heat. The only driver not in a rush was Nikita Zlobin (ADM Motorsport) – another visitor, this time from German F3 – the Russian finally joining in once the others were long gone.

Jones was clearly in a “take no prisoners” frame of mind and was on it straightaway, his first flying lap a 2:15.491, 1.112 seconds ahead of Merhi, with Gelael 3rd just behind the Spaniard. Merhi responded with a very fast second sector, but it wasn’t enough. Jones stayed firmly entrenched at the top of the times. Next to have a go was John Bryant-Meisner, in the Performance Racing car, but he too could only manage 2nd. Behind the battling foursome, series leader Martin Cao (Fortec Motorsport) was 5th ahead of another visitor, Indy Dontje (Motopark Academy). Sam Macleod (Carlin), meanwhile, was taking his time and was back in 7th, ahead of Li Zhi Cong (Carlin), Nabil Jeffri (Motopark Academy), Andy Chang (Double R Racing), Matt Rao (Fortec Motorsport), Camren Kaminsky (Double R Racing), Zlobin and Ling Kang (ADM Motorsport).

A lap later and Jones was even faster, the only man in the 2:15s, with Gelael 1.389 seconds off the leader. It didn’t look as if anyone would get near the Carlin returnee any time soon, if at all. With four laps completed, Merhi pitted, having suffered a misfire yesterday and seemingly still having trouble getting the performance he wanted from the Double R car. In some respects it didn’t matter that much as he’s doing this race weekend to qualify for the Macau Grand Prix (current F3 experience is needed), but he still wants to win. That much is clear. Dontje, and Ling also pitted, but they were out again very quickly. Merhi would spend the greater part of the session immobile.

While that was going on Rao improved to 6th, while Jeffri was up to 8th. Jones found some more time from somewhere to improve to 2:15.091, while Macleod leapfrogged past Rao, and Bryant-Meisner moved back into 2nd, though he was still over a second shy of Jones’ time. With the session half done, the rush for the pits began. It wasn’t long before there was no one on the track, and as the clock ticked down to 9 minutes remaining there was an eerie calm over the place.

The order was still Jones by a mile, from Bryant-Meisner, Gelael, Merhi, Cao, Macleod, Rao, Jeffri, Dontje, Cong, Chang, Kaminsky, Zlobin and Ling. The rush back was soon underway, with Ling rejoining first and most of the rest following, apart from Merhi. Jones was now looking comfortably set for both pole positions as he’d never been less than one second clear, but to make sure he made the best of his new tyres, pushing hard to set and absolute best time in Sector 2 and then again in Sector 3 to lower the target time to 2:14.794, a clear 1.3 second ahead of anyone else.

There was some hope of challenge when Merhi finally rejoined the session, but with only 7 minutes left he had an awful lot of work to do, especially as Jones was still pushing on, this time with an absolute best Sector 1. Interestingly this didn’t develop into a faster time, but he didn’t need to worry. In the pack Li went 6th while Macleod improved to go 5th, while Dontje was now 8th and Zlobin was up to 12th.

A truly determined effort on Gelael’s part saw him close the gap to exactly 0.700 second, but still wasn’t anywhere near enough, while behind them Macleod was up to 4th, and Jeffri was making steady progress to reach 7th. Merhi still looked threatening, and promptly did a new absolute best time in Sector 2, but all that did was make Jones try harder, his new pole time now 2:14,638, a long way ahead still. Merhi kept right on pushing, and in the closing stages claimed 3rd, just before the chequered flag was hung out. And that was almost it, though Bryant-Meisner snatched 4th from Macleod at the line, and Rao relieved Dontje of 10th after the Dutchman had some sort of off track excursion in Sector 2 that cost him around 20 seconds.

Jones thus starts Race 1 from pole ahead of Gelael, Merhi, Bryant-Meisner, MacLeod, Cao, Li, Jeffri, Dontje, Chang, Rao, Zlobin, Kaminsky and Ling. Race 3 sees Jones again in front from Gelael, Merhi, Bryant-Meisner, MacLeod, Cao, Jeffri, Li, Chang, Rao, Dontje, Zlobin, Kaminsky and Ling. With Jones in such form, it would be a brave person to bet against him. However, as he and Gelael are both driving cars with the 2014 spec engines, they are not eligible to score points in the Championship, so in effect there are two races going on here today and tomorrow morning.

Grid Race 1 (Second Fastest Qualifying Laps):
1stNo. 21, Ed Jones, UAE, Carlin, Dallara F312, Volkswagen, 2:14.733
2nd – No. 20, Sean Gelael, IDN, Carlin, Dallara F312, Volkswagen, 2:15.511
3rd – No. 9, Roberto Merhi, ESP, Double R Racing, Dallara F312, HWA Mercedes, 2:16.295
4th – No. 12, John Bryant-Meisner, SWE, Performance Racing, Dallara F310, Volkswagen, 2:16.296
5th – No. 2, Sam MacLeod, GBR, Carlin, Dallara F308, Volkswagen, 2:16.735
6th – No. 57, Martin Cao, CHN, Fortec Motorsport, Dallara F312, HWA Mercedes, 2:17.279
7th – No. 1, Li Zhi Cong, CHN, Carlin, Dallara F308, Volkswagen, 2:17.509
8th – No. 11, Nabil Jeffri, MAL, Motopark Academy, Dallara F311, Volkswagen, 2;17.538
9th – No. 24, Indy Dontje, NED, Motopark Academy, Dallara F308, Volkswagen, 2:17.639
10th – No. 8, Andy Chang, MAC, Double R Racing, Dallara F312, HWA Mercedes, 2:17.738
11th – No. 7, Matt Rao, GBR, Fortec Motorsport, Dallara F312, HWA Mercedes, 2:17.846
12th – No. 72, Nikita Zlobin, RUS, ADM Motorsport, Dallara F311, Volkswagen, 2:18.462
13th – No. 34, Camren Kaminsky, USA, Double R Racing, Dallara F312, HWA Mercedes, 2:19.173
14th – No. 10, Ling Kang, CHN, ADM Motorsport, Dallara F311, Volkswagen, 2:19.894

Race 3 Grid (Fastest Qualifying Laps):
1st – No. 21, Ed Jones, UAE, Carlin, Dallara F312, Volkswagen, 2:14.638
2nd – No. 20, Sean Gelael, IDN, Carlin, Dallara F312, Volkswagen, 2:15.494
3rd – No. 9, Roberto Merhi, ESP, Double R Racing, Dallara F312, HWA Mercedes, 2:16.004
4th – No. 12, John Bryant-Meisner, SWE, Performance Racing, Dallara F310, Volkswagen, 2:16.115
5th – No. 2, Sam MacLeod, GBR, Carlin, Dallara F308, Volkswagen, 2:16.136
6th – No. 57, Martin Cao, CHN, Fortec Motorsport, Dallara F312, HWA Mercedes, 2:16.901
7th – No. 11, Nabil Jeffri, MAL, Motopark Academy, Dallara F311, Volkswagen, 2:17.100
8th – No. 1, Li Zhi Cong, CHN, Carlin, Dallara F308, Volkswagen, 2:17.361
9th – No. 8, Andy Chang, MAC, Double R Racing, Dallara F312, HWA Mercedes, 2:17.422
10th – No. 7, Matt Rao, GBR, Fortec Motorsport, Dallara F312, HWA Mercedes, 2:17.506
11th – No. 24, Indy Dontje, NED, Motopark Academy, Dallara F308, Volkswagen, 2:17.531
12th – No. 72, Nikita Zlobin, RUS, ADM Motorsport, Dallara F311, Volkswagen, 2:17.997
13th – No. 34, Camren Kaminsky, USA, Double R Racing, Dallara F312, HWA Mercedes, 2:18.876
14th – No. 10, Ling Kang, CHN, ADM Motorsport, Dallara F311, Volkswagen, 2:19.632