Roberto Merhi was the emphatic pace-setter during the first qualifying session at the prestigious Guia circuit on Thursday, but 2 post-session penalties ensured his efforts were quickly undone, meaning the Spaniard will suffer a 10-place grid drop for Saturday’s qualifying race.
Early morning rain had yet to evaporate from the busy Macau streets before the skies opened again as the session got underway, prolonging a tricky day for the 30-strong field.
Handling the conditions with aplomb, Merhi demonstrated the qualifying form that helped him dominate this year’s F3Euroseries championship. The Prema Powerteam driver’s quickest time overall was a whole 1.6 seconds ahead of practice pace-setter Marco Wittmann.
Merhi’s day however, quickly began to unravel. After setting his pole-winning time, Merhi tried to make the most of Richie Stanway’s slipstream towards the heavy braking zone of Lisboa corner. Blinded by the spray, the Spaniard promptly missed his mark and careered into the rear of Felix Rosenqvist, eliminating them both.
Felipe Nasr lead the British F3 entrants with the 3rd fastest time, albeit 1.7 seconds behind Merhi. Daniel Juncadella was 4th quickest, whilst Alexander Sims was the leading British driver with the TOM’S outfit.
However, as the spray settled after the turbulent session, the first of many penalties were distributed. Merhi was 1 of 7 drivers penalised for crossing the pitlane exit line during the session, resulting in a 3-place grid drop for Saturday’s race. Fellow culprits were Laurens Vanthoor, Carlos Munoz, Carlos Sainz Jr., Marko Asmer and Felix Rosenqvist, while Hironobu Yasuda was handed a 6-place drop after committing the offence twice.
The news got worse for some soon afterwards, as Merhi’s incident with Rosenqvist saw a further 7-place drop added to his prior indiscretion. Rosenqvist was also punished again, for overtaking under yellow flags and for his incident in morning practice at the Melco hairpin. As a result the Swede drops to the last row of the grid, accompanied by Carlin’s Kevin Magnussen, who was also relegated after the Dane collided with Rosenqvist’s stricken car whilst the F3 Masters winner was still climbing out.
Talking to Autosport about his crash with Rosenqvist, Merhi said: “I was going for a slipstream with [Richie] Stanaway, but I was really far away and he went tothe right at the end of the straight.
“Rosenqvist was ahead of us and slow, and when I went to the left of Stanaway I find Rosenqvist in front. I hit the brakes and then my mechanic came on the radio and said ‘yellow flag, brake!’ I locked the tyres and hit Felix really hard.
“It was a shame. He is a really good guy and we are really good friends, so it is not nice when you crash with someone else, but especially with him. But I think it was not possible for me to do anything else, because you could not see anything as there was a lot of spray.”
With Wittmann steering clear of trouble, the German technically claims pole position for Saturday’s race with Felipe Nasr joining him on the front row. Another qualifying session awaits them tomorrow however, and with weather conditions likely to improve, their places at the top are far from assured.
Pos Driver Team/Car Time Gap 1. Roberto Merhi Prema Dallara-Merc 2m28.860s 2. Marco Wittmann Signature Dallara-VW 2m30.535s + 1.675s 3. Felipe Nasr Carlin Dallara-VW 2m30.639s + 1.779s 4. Daniel Juncadella Prema Dallara-Merc 2m30.867s + 2.007s 5. Alexander Sims TOM'S Dallara-Toyota 2m31.306s + 2.446s 6. Yuhi Sekiguchi Mucke Dallara-Merc 2m31.634s + 2.774s 7. Hannes van Asseldonk Hitech Dallara-VW 2m31.891s + 3.031s 8. Antonio Felix da Costa Hitech Dallara-VW 2m31.901s + 3.041s 9. William Buller Fortec Dallara-Merc 2m32.295s + 3.435s 10. Felix Rosenqvist Mucke Dallara-Merc 2m32.457s + 3.597s 11. Lucas Foresti Fortec Dallara-Merc 2m32.551s + 3.691s 12. Kimiya Sato Motopark Dallara-VW 2m32.891s + 4.031s 13. Richie Stanaway Van Amersfoort Dallara-VW 2m32.996s + 4.136s 14. Kevin Magnussen Carlin Dallara-VW 2m33.281s + 4.421s 15. Daniel Abt Signature Dallara-VW 2m33.428s + 4.568s 16. Jazeman Jaafar Carlin Dallara-VW 2m33.588s + 4.728s 17. Marko Asmer Double R Dallara-Merc 2m33.866s + 5.006s 18. Laurens Vanthoor Signature Dallara-VW 2m33.881s + 5.021s 19. Jimmy Eriksson Motopark Dallara-VW 2m34.034s + 5.174s 20. Adderly Fong Sino Vision Dallara-Merc 2m34.273s + 5.413s 21. Carlos Munoz Signature Dallara-VW 2m34.278s + 5.418s 22. Carlos Huertas Carlin Dallara-VW 2m34.675s + 5.815s 23. Hideki Yamauchi Toda Dallara-ondaH 2m34.725s + 5.865s 24. Carlos Sainz Jr Signature Dallara-VW 2m34.744s + 5.884s 25. Hywel Lloyd Sino Vision Dallara-Merc 2m34.750s + 5.890s 26. Mitch Evans Double R Dallara-Merc 2m35.133s + 6.273s 27. Valtteri Bottas Double R Dallara-Merc 2m35.877s + 7.017s 28. Pietro Fantin Hitech Dallara-VW 2m36.057s + 7.197s 29. Richard Bradley TOM'S Dallara-Toyota 2m36.823s + 7.963s 30. Hironobu Yasuda Three Bond Dallara-Nissan 2m42.441s + 13.581s
Full times http://bit.ly/vXtuhA
Macau Grand Prix timetable
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