Japanese driver Keisuke Kunimoto has taken a surprise victory in the Macau Grand Prix F3 event – the second year in a row that his Tom’s Team squad has won there.
However, it was far from a classic year for the six British drivers taking part. Of those, the best-placed was Carlin Motorsport’s Oliver Turvey, runner-up in this year’s British F3 championship and talked about as a potential front-runner.
Having qualified fourth, he ended the race in seventh place after a stall on the grid sent him to the back of the field and cost him any chance of a podium finish.
He spent the rest of the event climbing back up through the field, aided by a lap 12 incident between between third- and fourth-placed drivers Daniel Campos-Hull and Kei Cozzolino.
But it wasn’t enough to allow him to fulfil his early hopes of challenging for a podium. Speaking after the race, he said: “To say I’m gutted is the understatement of the year.
“Starting from second row on the grid presented a fantastic opportunity to finish on the podium or maybe even win the race. Then for something like that to happen – it was just gut-wrenching.
“But you have to put setbacks like this to the back of your mind as quickly as possible which I did and just got on with the job.
“I knew I had the pace to recover a lot of the lost ground. The important thing was to remain patient and work my way back up as quickly as possible without making any mistakes, which I did. Unfortunately time was not on my side.
“But congratulations to my team-mate Brendon Hartley who did a fantastic job.”
Carlin team principal Trevor Carlin added, “Despite some errors we had the pace to challenge for the win. Macau is a fantastic event, which brings together all the best F3 teams, and I think today we showed we are still one of the best F3 teams in the world.
“Despite stalling, Oliver had a fantastic drive from dead last to seventh. Overall I’m delighted with our performance, even if the results are not quite what we had hoped for.”
Manor Motorsport’s Jon Lancaster, who spent 2008 competing in Formula Three Euroseries and qualified 16th, was the next best-placed British finisher in 11th. He won fulsome praise from his team, who described his drive post-race as “brilliant” and “highly creditable”.
Behind him in 12th was ART’s James Jakes, currently also competing for Super Nova in GP2 Asia, who improved considerably on his qualifying position of 26th.
And the last Brit to compete the course was Hitech Racing’s Max Chilton, also a British Formula Three veteran, who qualified 27th and finished 14th. His team later said he “drove a storming race”, and that his performance was “impressive”.
The two British casualties of a race in which the safety car was a regular performer were Manor Motorsport’s Sam Bird, who crashed out in a incident-packed first lap, and James Winslow, winner of the 2008 Australian Drivers’ Championship for his F3 performance in that country, who made it as far as lap six.
Bird came to the grid following an eventful qualifying. He produced the second-fastest time in the session’s final seconds only to be handed a three-place grid penalty for missing an earlier weighbridge check during morning practice.
Winslow said before the race that he had been hoping to repeat his recent victory on the Surfers Paradise street circuit in Australia and end his international Formula Three career with a victory.
Sadly it was not to be as he was knocked back from sixth to 24th on the back of Marcus Ericsson’s lap five crash, before skidding off a circuit that was becoming covered in dust and oil.
He said: “It was just a terrible day. I got into the top eight on the first lap and then there was a massive shunt — I was just able to miss the flying tub of Roberto Streit’s car and get though unscathed.
“Then, going into Lisboa, Ericsson crashed into the wall and blocked the track and I got stuck and that was pretty much race over. I regrouped in 24th and made up some ground but just got caught out on the tricky surface and ended it in the wall.
“It’s just very disappointing but at least we have shown that we had the pace to contend inside the top eight, which in this field is really good. At least we were in the running for a while and were able to show what we were capable of.”
Kunimoto, who started on the front row for his rookie appearance at the prestigious Macau event, managed to beat Italian pole-sitter Edoardo Mortara off the line.
Fortunately for the pair they went on to leave trouble behind them as Brazilian Roberto Streit defended against Bird, ending up in the barriers on the right-hand side of the circuit before spinning back across it. Both drivers were forced to retire.
A safety car and a restart on lap three saw Kunimoto able to maintain his advantage as his Italian rival found more trouble after locking up under braking.
Campos-Hull and Jaime Alguesuari got past him, although Mortara was able to recover third from Campos-Hull on lap six, and then moved up to second when Alguesuari, the winner of this year’s British F3 championship, was handed a drive-through penalty for jumping the start.
Mortara launched an attempt to reel in Kunimoto’s lead – which met with a second safety car period on lap eight following a heavy crash from Spain’s Roberto Merhi.
At the restart on lap 10 Kunimoto made his way through as Mortara hit the wall in the hill section, damaging his car but staying in the race.
After that he could never get close enough to seriously challenge for the lead and he eventually finished 1.7 seconds behind his rival.
Brendon Hartley finished third, having started 20th, as the beneficiary of several race incidents that moved him up the field.
How they finished, and how the Brits fared:
- Keisuke Kunimoto, Japan: 15 laps
- Edoardo Mortara, Italy, +1.710
- Brendon Hartley, New Zealand: +4.006
- Mika MÃ¤ki, Finland: +8.442
- Renger van der Zande, Netherlands: +10.276
- Laurens Vanthoor, Belgium: +12.975
- Oliver Turvey, Great Britain: +13.134
- Walter GrubmÃ¼ller, Austria: +14.695
- Jules Bianchi, France: +18.725
- Jaime Alguersuari, Spain: +20.801
- Jon Lancaster, Great Britain: +20.898
- James Jakes, Great Britain: +21.418
- Cheng Cong Fu, China: +22.404
- Max Chilton, Great Britain: +22.604
- Kei Cozzolino, Italy: +23.270
- Kazuya Oshima, Japan: +23.930
- Daniel Campos-Hull, Spain: +24.997
- Atte Mustonen, Finland: +33.744
- Nicola de Marco, Italy: +46.527
- Michael Ho, Macau: +51.739
- Stefano Coletti, Monaco: DNF lap 12
- Basil Shaaban, Lebanon: DNF lap 11
- Carlo van Dam, Netherlands: DNF lap 8
- Roberto Merhi, Spain: DNF lap 7
- Masaki Matsushita, Japan: DNF lap 7
- James Winslow, Great Britain: DNF lap 6
- Koki Saga, Japan: DNF lap 3
- Marcus Ericsson, Sweden: DNF lap 1
- Roberto Streit, Brazil: DNF lap 1
- Sam Bird, Great Britain: DNF lap 1