Lynne Waite and Stella-Maria Thomas, BF3 correspondents
After two incredibly hot days, the weather gods decided that cool conditions suit F3 cars better and this morning’s qualifying session for the Grand Prix de Pau was a close fought affair, with the spoils being divided between Carlin and Invitation Class boys Prema Powerteam. Pole position for both today’s race and tomorrow’s feature race eventually went to Raffaele Marciello of the Italian outfit, just ahead of returnee Daniel Juncadella (Prema). They were given quite a fight by Carlos Sainz Jr, in the Carlin car, the British series leader impressing on his first visit to this, the toughest of street tracks, and Jazeman Jaafar in another Carlin car, the two of them lining up in 2nd and 3rd for today’s race, and Sainz claiming 3rd on the grid for the Grand Prix de Pau tomorrow afternoon.
Because the track is both narrow and short, the powers that be opted to split the field into two groups and give them 15 minutes each to sort themselves out and hopefully avoid the mayhem that prevailed last time the British series came here in 2006. With the Invitation Class swollen to 10 runners, it was a safer option than sending 24 cars out together. Group B duly took to the streets, a little late after the youngsters in the Formula 4s got a bit over enthusiastic and started attacking the barriers. They took a bit of clearing up but the session was only around 10 minutes late starting.
Jack Harvey (Carlin) was first out of the box and looked like he was thoroughly enjoying this. Felix Serralles (Fortec Motorsport) was another to get on the pace early on but the times were still on the slow side and would inevitably start to drop as they sprinted through the session. Harvey was also early to provisional pole, just ahead of Serralles and Pietro Fantin (Carlin) but Juncadella was lurking down the order and couldn’t be discounted. He’s leading the FIA European F3 Championship (of which these races are also a part) and he’s keen to retain that position. He proved it by going fastest there and then. He was overhauled by Sven Muller (Prema Powerteam), but then Harvey fought back, and that set the pattern for the next few minutes.
Sainz responded with a time that put him 4th, while Serralles jumped up to 2nd again. Then Juncadella raised the bar again only for Sainz to go faster. Pascal Wehrlein (Mücke Motorsport) was next to join in, going 3rd, just as Sainz was pipped to the line by Juncadella and then Muller edged back to 2nd. Wehrlein responded by going faster, and Harvey then pushed his way to the front again. With six minutes left of the session, Juncadella was where many had predicted he would be, ahead of Harvey, Wehrlein, Muller, Sainz Jr, Serralles, Fantin, Fahmi Ilyas (Double R Racing), Andrea Roda (Jo Zeller Racing), Tom Blomqvist (ma-con Motorsport), National Class runners Sandro Zeller (Jo Zeller Racing) and Richard “Spike” Goddard (T-Sport).
Harvey was still on a charge and almost immediately went quicker, while Fantin had slumped to 6th. Zeller and Blomqvist meanwhile were fighting for places with each other and while all that was going on, Juncadella moved to the top of the list again. Harvey promptly fought back and Sainz couldn’t resist getting involved too. Wehrlein moved up to 2nd again, but Harvey was now in the 1:10s with a time of 1:10.802 while the best any of the other had manages was a 1.11 or 1.12.
With the time ticking away the order kept changing, with Harvey third one moment and on top again the next. With a minute left, Sainz Jr moved to the top of the table with Juncadella only 4th. However, the more experienced Spaniard still had something left in the tank. A fastest first sector suggested this wasn’t quite over. He crossed the line with around a second to go to the chequered flag, but his final lap wasn’t quite enough to overhaul Sainz Jr. The session finished with Juncadella 2nd, from Wehrlein, Harvey, Muller, Blomqvist, Serralles, Fantin, Ilyas, Roda, Zeller and Goddard.
The second session was a much less changeable affair, with Jaafar mostly on top until the very end. It wasn’t too surprising as the Malaysian had a terrific run in testing and seemed at home on the streets of Pau. He was battling it out with Felix Rosenqvist (Mücke Motorsport) initially, but Harry Tincknell (Carlin) was also on it early one, and was soon 2nd, at least until Pipo Derani (Fortec Motorsport) came round. The session was a bit harder to call though, with no obvious front runners based on form so far. Jaafar was ahead by a pretty comprehensive margin at this point though, with a gap of 1.599 seconds separating him from the rest. He was already in the 1:11s and no one else was close, not even Marciello who was now 2nd and in the 1:13s. Rosenqvist upped his game significantly to reclaim 2nd but it was a long way from over as was proved when Derani went faster, towing round Hannes van Asseldonk (Fortec Motorsport), only for Marciello to get between them again.
Jaafar continued to lead but now Alex Lynn (Fortec Motorsport) shot up to 2nd even though he didn’t get to stay there for long. Marciello edged him out but still couldn’t get a better time than Jaafar. The first man to go fastest was Rosenqvist in a “blink and you’ll miss it” moment, because Jaafar went even faster and took it straight back again. Marciello was soon back to 2nd though and was beginning to look like a serious threat despite Jaafar hitting the 1:10s ahead of the chasing pack. Marciello finally fond the extra speed he was looking for to top the times, just before he went charging off up the escape road at Gare, and causing an outbreak of waved yellows that slowed everyone down. With three minutes Jaafar needed to dig deep, but it didn’t quite happen and he was unable to find the necessary fractions of a second to reclaim the lead position. When the chequered flag finally fell he was 2nd behind Marciello, but ahead of Derani, Lynn, Rosenqvist, Tincknell, Michael Lewis (Prema Powerteam), van Asseldonk, Emil Bernstorff (ma-com Motorsport), Nick McBride (ThreeBond with T-Sport), Geoff Uhrhane (Double R Racing) and Duvashen Padayachee (Double R Racing).
It was then a question of waiting for the grids to be issued to see if it would be based solely on time or on the order in the two sessions with the fastest session claiming pole and one side of the grid and the slower session boys taking the even numbered places. When the paperwork was finally issued, Marciello was on pole for the 33 lap Grand Prix de Pau on Sunday afternoon, ahead of Juncadella. 3rd will be Jaafar, from Wehrlein, Lynn, Harvey, Rosenqvist, Sainz Jr, Derani and Muller. 11th is Tincknell, from Blomqvist, van Asseldonk, Serralles, Lewis, Ilyas, Bernstorff, Fantin, McBride and Roda. 21st was Uhrhane, from Zeller (on National Class pole but not eligible to score points in the British series), Padaychee and Goddard.
For today’s shorter race, Marciello again holds pole, this time from Sainz Jr, Jaafar, Juncadella, Derani, Wehrlein, Lynn, Harvey, Rosenqvist and Muller. Tincknell starts 11th, from Blomqvist, Lewis, Serralles, van Asseldonk, Fantin, Bernstorff, Ilyas and Roda. Uhrhane is again 21st from Zeller, Padayachee and Goddard.
Weather: Cloudy, overcast, cool, dry.