Sixteen-year-old Max Verstappen had a near perfect weekend at Spa-Francorchamps for round five of the 2014 FIA European Formula 3 Championship. The Van Amersfoort Racing driver took a hat trick of victories at the legendary Belgian track, and was delighted to have won at a track he calls home.
“It’s amazing to win in front of my home crowd as I only live 45 minutes away,” said Verstappen on his own webpage. “I feel absolutely amazing. To win three races in a row, in front of my home crowd and on the most beautiful track on the calendar is just terrific.”
Race one saw Verstappen run wide at the opening corner to slip to third having started second, but a good exit from La Source enabled the Dutchman to slipstream past both the Prema Powerteam machines of Antonio Fuoco and Esteban Ocon down the Kemmel Straight.
“I had a good start but I was forced wide which oddly enough gave me a perfect run down to Eau Rouge and consequently the long run down to Les Combes,” said Verstappen. “It was a bit tight but I was able to take the lead. After the opening stages I had excellent pace and I was able to extend my lead to two seconds so it was a bit of a shame the safety car came out.”
The safety car was deployed to clean up the mess left behind from a crash between Jagonya Ayam with Carlin’s Antonio Giovinazzi and EuroInternational’s debutant Santino Ferrucci at Les Combes, and the field was able to bunch up behind the Dutchman. He felt he struggled more with oversteer after the safety car than before so Mücke Motorsport’s Lucas Auer, who had inherited second when Ocon and Fuoco tangled on the opening lap ahead of him, got close to overtaking him.
“After the restart, my pace was still good but I suffered a lot of oversteer in the final two laps,” acknowledged Verstappen. “The last lap was tough but I wasn’t going to let this win in front of a home crowd be taken away from me. Auer was very close to me at the end but that is part of racing here at Spa-Francorchamps. It’s hard to create a gap with the two long straights and you can only create a lead in the second sector. This is such a great win!”
Race two saw him starting on the front row of the grid alongside his team-mate Gustavo Menezes who had taken a shock pole position in the tricky conditions in qualifying. He lost a place at the start to Ocon, but managed to pass him down the Kemmel Straight.
“My start wasn’t perfect, I released the clutch too fast and in the first corner I locked up my wheels and went wide,” stated Verstappen. “However, it meant I had a good tow through Eau Rouge and was thus able to pass Ocon.”
Team-mate Menezes was leading heading into Les Combes on the opening lap, but the American made a mistake and ran wide enabling Verstappen to take the lead of the race.
“We almost touched but I it all went well and I took P1”, said Verstappen as he described passing his team-mate. “It was fairly easy to keep the lead. Only after the restart it’s gets a bit tricky as it’s not easy to lead at a restart here at Spa but it all went well. In fact, the restart was good at both races.”
For the second race in a row, the safety car intervened in the proceedings, this time after Auer and Team West-Tec F3’s Felix Serralles crashed out at Les Combes, but like in race one, Verstappen was able to hold on for the victory.
“Ocon was faster on the straight as he had less wing but I was still able to stay ahead of him at Les Combes. I’m so happy with this race. It’s difficult to create a gap here at Spa, which means the races are exciting.”
Verstappen started race three from fifth position on the grid, and was made to fight to get into the lead, passing both John Bryant-Meisner’s Fortec Motorsport machine and Ocon into Les Combes. He was delighted how that move worked out for him.
“I had good start and jumped two places,” said Verstappen after race three. “They didn’t defend that much so I was able to squeeze past them on the inside. That move was followed by a great run down to Eau Rouge.
“After a good slipstream I overtook both in Les Combes. As I squeezed by Bryant-Meisner I thought ‘I have to overtake Ocon now’ as I was so close to him. Whenever an opportunity arises, you have to take it with both hands. When I finally pulled off the move of I was laughing inside, out of sheer joy!”
On lap three, Ocon got a good run on the young Dutchman down the Kemmel Straight, and the two rookie drivers touched wheels, which resulted in the stewards giving Ocon a driving standards warning. The following lap Ocon did get past down the Kemmel Straight, but only briefly, as Verstappen retook the lead a few corners later.
“He tried to pass me on the outside,” explained Verstappen. “He got alongside me and almost overtook me. We touched as he steered in on my front wheel, there was even some smoke, but it ended well and I kept the lead. It was an honest fight for position.
“I suffered some understeer and being stuck behind the safety car doesn’t help.”
For the third time in three races, the safety car was indeed required, this time to clear Hector Hurst’s Team West-Tec F3 car away at the Bus Stop after he collided with Giovinazzi. He admitted he expected Lotus F1 junior driver Ocon to attempt to overtake him at the restart, but the Dutchman was able to stay ahead to complete his hat trick of wins.
“It was still a bit tricky in the last three laps as I was expecting an attack from Ocon,” admitted Verstappen. “However, I managed to have a good exit out of the hairpins and chicanes so he didn’t really have an opportunity to attack.”
After the weekend, Verstappen praised his Van Amersfoort Racing team for giving him a car that was able to win all three races. He knows the gap to Ocon in the championship is big, but he heads to the Norisring with extra confidence after dominating at Spa.
“We have had a strong package all weekend which led to this great result,” said Verstappen. “I therefore want to thank the entire Van Amersfoort Racing team for all their hard work and efforts. The car was just perfect.
“The last two weekends didn’t go very well so we were determined to step up our game. We’ve had a good test at Monza, which really helped us get sorted ahead of Spa. The whole team improved and we’ve all done great job, as the car feels very good. Of course I also want to thank Volkswagen for giving me such a powerful engine.
“We’ve absolved 15 out of 33 races and I’m trailing a fair bit but I’m going to give it my all and if we can keep this form up, who knows…
“Obviously we want to emulate the results of this weekend at the Norisring and I think we should be in good shape.”