It wouldn’t be Formula Three if we didn’t have a weekend like that at the Nürburgring last weekend. Three races and three different winners. We also had a championship lead that was reduced, extended then reduced again over the course of an enthralling ninth round of the season.
The form drivers – one of which will no doubt take the coveted title – Esteban Ocon and Max Verstappen both had an up and down weekend; allowing others to stake claims in front of the ever present talent scouts. It was up to the likes of team-mates Tom Blomqvist and Antonio Giovanazzi – both of whom secured victories last time out in Austria – to pick up the baton on a rare weekend that saw Verstappen and Ocon fail to finish races two and three respectively.
But despite Blomqvist taking two pole positions, a victory this weekend seemed to elude him. Verstappen tasted the champagne in the opener and Giovanazzi took the race two win. Lucas Auer then took a tight third race victory, staving off Blomqvist in a tight encounter.
A wet but drying track was the order of the day for race one, meaning tyre choice throughout the field would be crucial. Verstappen was beaten off the line from pole by Antonio Fuoco. Further back, several wet shod runners took a gamble on the weather – notably Australian Spike Goddard – to move up the field. Goddard would soon humble many of the big names as he swept past championship leader Ocon after three laps. He made his way all the way up to the back of Verstappen – now in the lead after Fuoco out-braked himself into turn one, dropping to third. With Verstappen on slicks, he was a sitting duck and Goddard effortlessly took the lead. But the track was drying out and despite valiantly re-taking the lead from Verstappen five laps later, the Aussie would soon slip down the order and finish 19th – a result that did not represent the quality of his drive.
Verstappen and Fuoco then battled for the lead with half the race to run. And despite the leading two being joined by Giovanazzi near the end, it was the Dutchman – in his first race as a Red Bull Junior driver – who took his eighth win of the season. At the same time, he reduced his championship deficit to Ocon to the tune of 15 points. Ocon would finish 6th in the end behind Blomqvist, Jordan King, Giovanazzi, Fuoco and winner Verstappen
Saturday’s second race of the weekend was to be more settled but no less dramatic. A frenetic opening saw polesitter Blomqvist bogged down badly off the line and lose positions to both team-mate Giovanazzi and Verstappen who took the early lead. Ocon settled into fourth place and was seemingly quite content to remain there and collect points. The leading group stayed that way for 19 of the 25 laps but the procession was about to be shaken up. Towards the end of the nineteenth lap, smoke started to appear out of the back of leader Verstappen’s Van Amersfoort car and the Dutchman slowed rapidly. He was just able to limp the car back to the pit entry where he stopped abruptly.
Now it was Giovanazzi leading from Blomqvist and Ocon. The latter had been having an off key weekend up till now having been outpaced by the top three throughout qualifying and race one. But he returned to the podium to extend his championship lead once more. While the action up front was little to none, further back we didn’t know which way to look. Female racer Tatiana Calderón was again producing an impressive display of overtaking prowess as she swept round the outside of Ed Jones at turn one. Elsewhere, the action got a bit too close for comfort as Sean Gelael turned round Felix Serallés at the first turn; knocking the Puerto Rican’s front off in the process. But despite all this, Giovanazzi took the victory from Blomqvist, Ocon, Fuoco and Auer. The Italian, knowing luck played a part, acknowledged this fact: “I feel sorry for Max, but that is racing. On the other hand, I don’t think I would have been able to overtake him had it not been for his problem.” (Source: http://www.fiaf3europe.com).
The final race saw Blomqvist on pole for the second time in as many races; this time with Fuoco lining up alongside. Blomqvist finally got away in first as it was Fuoco’s turn to bog down as the lights went out. Felix Rosenqvist – suffering a miserable season – tried to dive up the inside of Blomqvist, only to lose his front wing as the Brit turned into the first corner. The Swede would limp back to the pits. More dramatically, Ocon was out almost immediately as a result of a Giovanazzi lunge into turn one. Cue safety car and neutralised field.
With the safety car now in, it was Blomqvist who led from Lucas Auer; but not for long. The Austrian switched back on the Brit and hung round the outside of turns two and three before taking the inside of turn four to brilliantly take a lead he would not lose. Blomqvist, try as he might could not find a way back past and, despite briefly taking the lead before out-braking himself, had to settle for second place. Auer said afterwards: “During the safety car phase, it was clear that my only chance to overtake Tom would be to mount an attack right after the restart, and that is what I did” (source: http://www.fiaf3europe.com). Blomqvist was pragmatic and stated as much: “Second place is a nice result for us, although I am slightly disappointed. After all, I would have liked to win the race after starting from pole”. (Source: http://www.fiaf3europe.com)
Verstappen had made steady progress from 12th on the grid (he lost 10 places on the grid for changing his engine after race 2 DNF), and after the first lap melee, he was already up to 5th. Decisive overtaking as well as patience ensured the Dutchman closed the deficit to Ocon in the championship again by finishing third.
Race one star Spike Goddard was more prominent for his appearances on the race control screens than his performance on track. The Australian was involved in several tête à têtes and received a drive through penalty for cutting off Rosenqvist down the main straight, and ultimately costing the Swede his front wing (for the second time) in a collision later in the lap.
But it was Auer all the way; the Mücke driver led from the start and despite being challenged heavily by Blomqvist, he held on to take his second victory of the year. Ocon’s lead in the championship reverted back to his post race one advantage but still remains the favourite for the title come Hockenheim in October.