Britain’s Sam Bird worked his way through the field to take third place in the Macau Grand Prix, behind Signature team-mates Edoardo Mortara and Jean-Karl Vernay.
The result went some way towards making up for the ART driver’s disappointment of 12 months ago when, also running third, he was taken out in the opening moments of the race.
This year he started seventh but slipped back thanks to an early mistake. Fighting his way back, he nabbed fourth from the hotly-tipped Marcus Ericsson on lap 12 and then inherited third from his team-mate Valtteri Bottas when the Finn dropped back with a wheel problem.
He said: “I know I only came third, and I know the other two guys were a long way ahead, but for me this is fantastic. I was heartbroken last year because I was taken out almost before the race had even started.
“I felt last year I had the speed to challenge possibly for victory, but it wasn’t to be. So I came back this year – hoping to be on the podium and hoping to win.
“I gritted my teeth and went for it at every corner of every lap. The car was a pleasure to drive actually. When I overtook Marcus I was screaming down the radio. I was so fired up with adrenaline, it was fantastic. It was a really enjoyable race.”
Mortara’s victory vindicated his decision to step back down to F3 after an underwhelming year in GP2 badly damaged his career prospects.
He said: “Today I proved that I am still competitive. After such a difficult season to be on top again is unbelievable. I think everybody was thinking that I was pretty much dead, so re-opening my career with a victory in Macau will for sure help me.”
Starting from third, he outran Ericsson and rookie Vernay on the approach to the first big corner, Lisboa, but his chances of building a lead disappeared almost immediately when British F3 International champion Daniel Ricciardo hit the wall at the Solitude Esses.
The accident resulted in a blocked track and eight first-lap retirements, including Britons Daniel McKenzie and Max Chilton.
On the restart Vernay recaptured the lead, but Mortara refused to give up and dogged him through the rest of the race until lap 11 when a mistake changing gears left the young Frenchman vulnerable to a race-winning pass.
“I think Jean-Karl drove an unbelievable race today,” said Mortara. “I have the experience – it is my third Macau, it is his first Macau – he is in his first year here and I really struggled so much to overtake.
“This was his only mistake of the weekend and it cost him the victory. He is sad, but if he comes back he will win for sure.”
A disappointed Vernay said: “Yes, for sure, it is a good weekend – but when you are leading 12 laps of a 15 lap race and you lose the victory because of a mistake you can be angry. When you are at the maximum like that, at some point you will make a mistake, and that is what happened.”
Of the other British drivers, Henry Arundel and Alexander Sims were 16th and 18th of the 18 finishers and Wayne Boyd did not race.
Full classified race results here (external link to PDF).