Roberto Merhi and William Buller both scored their second wins of the weekend at the bumper Formula 3 event at the Spa Francorchamps circuit. Merhi dominated from the front while Buller battled to 3rd place overall and well clear of his British F3 rivals. The final race of the weekend was Round 21 of the Cooper Tyres British Formula 3 International Series, which also promotes Buller to joint 2nd place in the British F3 championship, while Merhi extends his lead in the F3 Euroseries and FIA International Trophy standings.
Drying conditions on Sunday afternoon presented the drivers with the tricky challenge of tackling the Belgian track, and Prema Powerteam’s Roberto Merhi demonstrated a master-class in how to tame the illustrious circuit. The Spaniard got away well from pole, kept his lead and never looked back, stretching out his lead lap by lap much like he did in Friday morning’s race. 40 minutes later at the chequered flag, his lead was a gaping 23 seconds ahead of F3 Euroseries rival, Marco Wittmann.
“It was really good today,” Merhi said afterwards, “I started from the pole and it was a bit wet on my start position but I was able to do a really good start to lead and then I could focus on making a really big gap to the others. My car was really good today and I was able to take it easy. It's great to be at Spa and to enjoy the track.”
Wittmann was forced to concede defeat: “I didn't have the pace of Roberto; he was really quick, especially in sector two,” said Marco. “For the moment we really don't know why he was so quick compared with everyone else.”
Buller though, was delighted with his 3rd British F3 victory in 2 weeks: “It's been a perfect weekend really: two wins and a fourth. Our pace has been strong throughout and in the last race we were getting closer and closer to the Invitation class guys. I'm so delighted, and I just want to thank Team UK and the whole of Fortec; they work so hard for me and give me the best car at all times. They've done a great job.”
The Fortec driver was made to work by the invitational competitors though, as Buller found his way past 2007 British F3 champion, Marko Asmer and Laurens Vanthoor soon afterwards. Bold moves into Les Combes after using the full effect of the slip-stream saw him squeeze into 3rd place on lap 10.
Most of the excitement however, came from further down the field. Felipe Nasr had a race-long recovery after a disastrous qualifying session saw him start down in P20. The British F3 championship leader marched through the field early on, before finding himself amongst virtually all of his Carlin team-mates, including Kevin Magnussen, Jack Harvey and Carlos Huertas, with Fortec’s Lucas Foresti thrown in for good measure.
The 5-way tussle continued for lap after lap, the team-mates barely avoiding each other as they squeezed into braking zones. Nasr pulled off one of the most daring moves, bravely going 3-wide after Eau Rouge to take Magnussen and Harvey in one fell swoop. After the dust settled, it was Nasr who had made the most progress, eventually finishing in 7th overall and an impressive 2nd in the British F3 class.
Magnussen followed him to the flag ahead of Huertas and Harvey. Lucas Foresti received a fair amount of aggression from the Carlin quartet and came home 11th just ahead of Jazeman Jaafar.
Another strong points haul for Nasr puts him within touching distance of the British Formula 3 championship, which he can mathematically claim at the next meeting at Rockingham. “It was a good race for me,” said Felipe. “It made the weekend. I finished in the points, which was the main aim after our bad qualifying. It wasn't easy to do from the back of the grid, a pretty difficult race. The championship is getting closer nowâ€¦ maybe at Rockingham, a track I really like; it would be very special for me to win a race there and also if possible to take the title.”
Kotaro Sakurai claimed his 9th Rookie Class win by staying out of trouble. “It was a really difficult decision on tyres, but slicks worked well for me. It's a good result for Hitech and really motivational for me. I love Spa now,” he said.
Cooper Tires British Formula 3 International Series
Round 21, Spa-Francorchamps BEL 30/7/2011
17 laps / 73.98 miles
Provisional results Championship & Invitation classes
1 INV Robert MERHI / ESP, Prema Dallara-Mercedes 38m 06.645s / 116.51mph
2 INV Marco WITTMANN / GER, Signature Dallara-VW +23.298s
3 INT William BULLER /GBR, Fortec Dallara-Mercedes +25.355s
4 INV Laurens VANTHOOR / BEL, Signature Dallara-VW +27.203s
5 INV Raffaele MARCIELLO / ITA, Prema Dallara-Mercedes +28.451s
6 INV Marko ASMER / EST, Double R Dallara-Mercedes +32.708s
7 INT Felipe NASR / BRA, Carlin Dallara-VW +34.110s
8 INT Kevin MAGNUSSEN / DEN, Carlin Dallara-VW +35.399s
9 INT Carlos HUERTAS / COL, Carlin Dallara-VW +36.663s
10 INT Jack HARVEY / GBR, Carlin Dallara-VW +38.405s
11 INT Lucas FORESTI / BRA, Fortec Dallara-Mercedes +38.881s
12 INT Jazeman JAAFAR / MAS, Carlin Dallara-VW +39.279s
13 INV Daniel ABT / GER, Signature Dallara-VW +47.520s
14 INT Rupert SVENDSEN-COOK / GBR, Carlin Dallara-VW +50.638s
15 INT Scott PYE / AUS, Double R Dallara-Mercedes +53.164s
16 INT Pietro FANTIN / BRA, Hitech Dallara-VW +57.237s etc
1 Kotaro SAKURAI / JPN, Hitech Dallara-Mugen Honda +1m 42.373s
Fastest laps Merhi 2m 13.738s / 117.13mph & Nasr 2m 14.728s / 116.32mph
Full timesheets http://bit.ly/oJQaiF
Provisional championship standings
1 Nasr 267 points; 2= Buller & Huertas 153; 4 Magnussen 144; 5 Foresti 140;
6 Jaafar 134; 7 Svendsen-Cook 128; 8 Harvey 74; 9 Fantin 65;
10 Harry Tincknell / GBR 64 etc
1 Sakurai 267; 2 Bart Hylkema / NED 214.
FIA International Trophy
1 Merhi 118; 2 Wittmann 51; 3 Daniel Juncadella / ESP 47 etc