Guanyu Zhou, Jüri Vips and Robert Shwartzman secured the three pole positions on offer for the FIA European Formula 3 Championship season finale at the Hockenheimring on Friday, while Mick Schumacher has the advantage of those in contention for the title.
Zhou set the pace in the first qualifying session with a best time of 1:32.335, with the Prema Theodore Racing driver edging out Hitech Bullfrog GP’s Alex Palou by just 0.020 seconds, while Zhou’s team-mate Shwartzman was only 0.035 seconds off the pole time in third.
Jehan Daruvala was relegated to fourth in the closing moments for Carlin, with the Indian racer just 0.003 seconds behind Shwartzman in the final result, while Vips put his Motopark machine into fifth.
Marcus Armstrong, in with an outside bet at best for the title was sixth for Prema Theodore Racing just ahead of championship leader Schumacher, while Frederik Vesti made an immediate impact on his European Formula 3 Championship debut to qualify in eighth for Van Amersfoort Racing.
Daniel Ticktum, Schumacher’s closest rival, was only ninth for Motopark and knows that should the positions remain the same in the race, the title will head the way of the German. Completing the top ten was Carlin’s Sacha Fenestraz, ahead of Van Amersfoort Racing’s Artem Petrov and Prema Theodore Racing’s Ralf Aron.
“I already had a good feeling after free practice,” said Zhou after the session. “In qualifying, it was considerably warmer, which, of course, had its effect on the track as well.
“For us as the drivers, it wasn’t easy to handle the tyres perfectly, but apparently I did well. After a second half of the season that hitherto hasn’t been too good, I am happy to be up front again now.”
The second session saw Vips take top spot with a best lap of 1:32.284, which was 0.118 seconds better than Schumacher could manage, but the German will have a significant advantage in the championship battle should it go on to the penultimate race of the season as Ticktum could only manage fifteenth.
Shwartzman was again third ahead of Daruvala and Palou, while Julian Hanses was an excellent sixth for Carlin ahead of Fenestraz and Aron, with Motopark’s Fabio Scherer and Hitech Bullfrog GP’s Enaam Ahmed completing the top ten.
Ticktum has a lot of work to do from fifteenth but the Briton was only 0.464 seconds away from Vips’ pole time, while twenty-two of the twenty-four entrants were within one second.
“Being on pole position here is a really great feeling, especially as the Prema drivers were usually in front of us during the past weeks,” said Vips. “Prior to the weekend, I had never expected to be up front.
“And when I am honest, I don’t really know why it worked out that well here. At the Red Bull Ring, I also had the impression that my performance was good, but the results weren’t there. Now, I can not only be happy with my personal performance, but also with the results.”
Shwartzman’s second fastest lap of 1:32.443 saw him secure pole position for the final race of the year ahead of Schumacher, with Vips and Palou sharing row two ahead of Aron and Daruvala on row three, while Fenestraz, Zhou, Ahmed and Ticktum complete the top ten.
“Pole position is a great feeling,” admitted Shwartzman. “The two qualifying sessions here at Hockenheim went well for me. Next to pole position, I have also scored a pair of third places.
“Now, I have to try to do as well as possible in the race and to score as many points as possible. I am very happy with the end of my season, my team and I have improved a lot and at least at the end of the year, we have been able to show what we can achieve. I am very happy with that.”