When Laurens Vanthoor crossed the line 15 seconds ahead of Marco Wittmann, it looked as though the Belgian had just taken his maiden Euro F3 win at the Norisring circuit. However, post-race penalties for the leading pair meant a whole 30 seconds were added to their finish times, promoting the quietly consistent rookie Nigel Melker to 1st place and thus making him the winner.
Vanthoor, Wittmann, Roberto Merhi, Jimmy Eriksson, Kimiya Sato, Kuba Giermaziak, Alon Day and Carlos MuÃ±oz were all hit with 30 second penalties after failing to slow down sufficiently under yellow flag conditions caused by a clash between Vanthoor and Daniel Abt, which saw the latter driver forced into retirement. Despite the array of penalties, apart from Melker, the order of the Top 9 remained the same.
Melker was well aware of his cautious approach to the yellow flagged areas of the circuit, a decision that paid off handsomely in the end: “It was an entertaining race. Staying out with slicks in spite of the rain was the right decision, even though I wasn't quick in the rain. I significantly slowed down when the yellow flags were out, which allowed the others to close up, but I didn't want to risk a penalty.”
A short pre-race shower posed tricky circumstances for the drivers as they lined up on the grid. The majority decided to start on the slick tyre, with the aim of clearing a dry line and sticking closely to it. The front-runners however, including Wittmann, Roberto Merhi, Sandro Zeller and Carlos MuÃ±oz had the most to lose and opted for the safer choice of wet tyres.
But the wet tyres bit the front runners hard, as Zoller slid off and out of the action of Lap 1. MuÃ±oz also suffered a spin on the first lap, as the tricky conditions proved difficult to master. Championship leader Roberto Merhi quickly took the lead from Wittmann and set about building up a gap. Soon though, the track began to dry up – the wet tyres began to overheat and lose grip. Merhi and Wittmann both dived into the pits to change onto slicks, allowing the gamblers in the mid-fielders to sweep through to the front. Wittmann emerged ahead of Merhi, the pair re-joining the action in 8th and 9th respectively.
Vanthoor, on slick tyres, inherited the lead as a result and looked set to cruise to victory. His run to the flag was not scare-free however, as a late-lunge from Daniel Abt ended in contact with his team-mate, relieving Abt of 2nd place and forcing him to retire with only 9 laps to go. The yellow flags that appeared as debris was cleared eventually proved fateful, but Vanthoor continued on to the chequered flag, ‘winning’ by a comfortable 15.160 seconds.
“It was a crazy race. Especially during the first few laps, it was very slippery and not easy.” Vanthoor said afterwards. “I am really sorry that I slightly tangled with Kuba Giermaziak. Later on, during the collision with Daniel Abt, I almost spun and stalled the engine. Daniel was much too far away for an attack in that situation.”
Wittmann and Merhi both fought their way back through the field and finished an impressive 3rd and 4th after the penalties. Motorpark Academy driver Jimmy Eriksson finished 5th ahead of team-mate Kimiya Sato. Rookie Kuba Giermaziak followed up on his impressive qualifying performance by coming home 7th, while Israeli Alon Day crossed the line in 8th place. Carlos MuÃ±oz finished 9th and was also the last of the competitors to actually finish the highly attritious event.
Daniel Abt, Daniel Juncadella, Felix Rosenqvist, Gianmarco Raimondo and Sandro Zeller all failed to finish in the difficult conditions, making Merhi and Wittmann’s race a successful exercise of damage limitation. Merhi still leads the championship with 182 points ahead of Melker on148 and Wittmann on 145. Daniel Juncadella is close behind with 141, while race-winner Vanthoor completes the top 5 with 102 points.
Wittmann in particular acknowledged that his championship bid was still very much intact after such an eventful round: “We had opted for rain tyres, although slicks would have been better. On lap 21, I came in to get slicks. After the pit stop, I have everything and I still got the maximum out of it.”
Race 2 begins at 4.15pm local time (BST 1)
Full Results Here: http://www.f3euroseries.com/ergebnisse/2011-07-02-r1.pdf