Though GP2 has taken the mantle of the definitive Formula 1 feeder series in recent times, the history of other junior formuale still help them stand the test of time. The Macau GP is one such example, and entering its 29th year as an F3 event, the former Portuguese colony is still known as the proving ground for many future single-seater superstars, including Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher.
With championships already sealed and high honours up for grabs, the same narrowing, winding track awaits Formula 3 contestants from across the globe to tackle the illustrious streets first raced upon in 1954.
The 6.2 kilometre Guia circuit features a combination of slow and hair-raisingly fast corners, all within the tight confines of the unerring barriers. Considered as the one of the greatest tests for open-wheel, or indeed any driver, success at the Macau GP remains such a tight-rope performance that victory is guaranteed to turn some important heads.
It’s little surprise then, that there’s a strong grid as ever – this year's race also features no less than 7 open-wheel champions – and thanks to last-minute changes, also includes every current F3 champion from every major F3 series in the world.
German outfit Signature, front-runners in the F3Euroseries boast a quintet with impressive track records at Macau. Though 2011 runner-up Marco Wittmann takes the #1 car, experienced team-mate Laurens Vanthoor could be a more serious contender – the Belgian took a deserved 2nd place in last year's GP, losing out to 2010 Euroseries champ and double Macau winner, Eduardo Mortara. Daniel Abt and Carlos Munoz bump up Signature's numbers, and many will be closely surveying Carlos Sainz Jr's Macau F3 debut, as the young Spaniard prepares continues his preparations for a full British F3 season in 2012, starting in the deep-end somewhat. A winner of the supporting BMW Pacific race in 2010 bodes well for the 17-year old, though it's difficult to know what to really expect.
2011 F3Euroseries champion Roberto Merhi leads Prema Powerteam's Spanish outfit, as countryman Daniel Juncadella completes the duo. Merhi is unquestionably another favourite for victory after a crushing Euroseries campaign with 11 victories and 8 pole positions, bagging the FIA International Trophy along the way. A premature end to Juncadella's last Macau GP in 2010 should encourage him to keep him nose clean, but regardless, his team-mate is expected to lead Prema's charge.
MÃ¼cke Motorsport, on paper at least, should have a duo squarely at the sharp end of the field on Sunday. Swedish racer Felix Rosenqvist took a surprise F3 Masters victory at Zandvoort this year – though the removal of his rivals before T1 undoubtedly helped. Rosenqvist is well poised to advance his reputation further in Macau, but with even stronger competition surrounding him, he will have to up his game. A champion team-mate certainly won't make things any easier. His provisional team-mate Michael Ho injured himself training for the GP, only to be replaced by none other than this year's Japanese F3 champion Yuhi Sekiguchi. Sekiguchi faced stiff competition on his way to the 2011 crown, and will certainly be the litmus test as to how the Japanese category squares up against its European counterparts.
Moving over to British F3, Carlin will bring 4 of their 6 drivers to the Far East, including newly crowned champion Felipe Nasr and runners-up Kevin Magnussen and Carlos Huertas. Jazeman Jaafar completes the quartet, and the team will be eager to score a win on the streets – their last came in 2001 courtesy of Takuma Sato. For a team with 18 victories out of 30 this year, and every British F3 championship since 2008, the thought of a decade without success could be a bitter end to another dominant year.
Nasr and his team-mate have squared up against the F3Euroseries and others earlier in the year at Spa-Francorchamps. A typically changeable weekend scattered the grid, defusing any chance of an eagerly anticipated fight between Nasr and Roberto Merhi – but with the dry, humid conditions of Macau, the impressive Brazilian could finally have a chance to truly demonstrate his abilities to his global rivals.
Fortec Motorsport has brought William Buller and Lucas Foresti along – the former being a BMW Pacific race winner back in 2009. Buller has sounded confident coming into the event, and while he only has 4th in British F3 to back up his words, the last time he was in such a bullish mood was at Spa, where he duly took a pair of wins – a potential surprise come raceday.
HiTech's Antonio Felix da Costa will hopefully try to avoid the controversy he stirred the last time he stepped into a Formula 3 car – Magnussen will certainly want to stay well ahead. That said, there's little denying Da Costa's raw speed, irrespective of which open-wheeler he gets to thrash around in. Immediately competitive in British F3 at Paul Ricard (despite the sour end to the weekend), if HiTech can provide the machinery, the feisty Portuguese racer can certainly do the rest. Hannes van Asseldonk and Pietro Fantin will complete HiTech's entries, but are likely to hover in the midfield.
SinoVision Racing prepares to compete in what is closest to their home race. Regulars Hywel Lloyd and Adderly Fong return for another year.
Last, but definitely not least, labelled Galaxy Double R Racing for the event – a pair of champions and an impressively quick youngster make Double R one of the most threatening teams on the grid, despite not including any of their regular British F3 drivers. 2007 British F3 champion Marko Asmer returns in an attempt to re-boot his stalled racing career, whilst the second ace up their sleeve is GP3 champion Valtteri Bottas. 3rd at Macau in 2010, Bottas got his eye for F3 back in with a superb win at a soggy Donington Park, weeks after wrapping up his GP3 title. A talented all-rounder, expect the Finn to being flying near the front, with Asmer not too far behind. Kiwi Mitch Evans also makes his Macau debut – a big weekend for another youngster tipped for big things.
Japanese F3 runner Hironobu Yasuda is the only entrant for Three Bond Racing, the 2008 SuperGT champion lost the 2011 All-Japan F3 championship by merely a single point to Yuhi Sekiguchi – an in-house scrap for the final word in 2011 could certainly be on the cards.
Japanese F3 stalwarts TOM'S have also entered, though the Toyota-backed outfit has opted for the British pairing of Alexander Sims and Richard Bradley. Former British F3 runner Sims also returned to British F3 for the final Silverstone weekend with great success, scoring a win in the penultimate round of the season – his preparation should get him near the front.
German F3 also makes an appearance this weekend, fielding one driver – the 2011 champ Richie Stanway. The Kiwi dominated this year's ATS Formel 3 series with 13 wins, and will be keen to test himself against his international rivals – the time to prove his worth as champion has come.
Macau Grand Prix timetable
Thu 17 Nov – 1055 (0255 GMT) practice / 1440 (0640 GMT) qualifying
Fri 18 Nov – 1100 (0300 GMT) practice / 1435 (0635 GMT) qualifying
Sat 19 Nov – 1400 (0600 GMT) qualification race
Sun 20 Nov – 1530 (0730 GMT) Macau Grand Prix