Prema Powerteam’s Esteban Ocon drove a startling race to take victory in race one of the Pau F3 Grand Prix weekend.
The Frenchman led every lap of the race ahead of rivals Lucas Auer (Mucke Motorsport) and Max Verstappen (van Amersfoort); surviving two safety car restarts in the process.
Although Ocon rarely extended his gap at the front beyond 2.5s, the truth is he never needed to; such was his prowess on the circuit.
It was not the best of starts for Ocon and for a time the aggressive Auer challenged for the lead. Sensing the threat, Ocon squeezed Auer slightly through the Tribunes and even moreso on the approach to the Virage de la Gare, securing the lead come the end of sector one.
Auer recovered from the press to hold 2nd place ahead of Verstappen on the way up the hill; however the charge came to a halt thanks to the first safety car period on the opening lap.
Lower in the pack, Spain’s Alexander Toril was collected by Michele Beretta, which launched Toril into and over Mitch Gilbert as the field closed up into Pont Oscar. Once over the rear wing of Gilbert, Toril barrel rolled and landed hard by the barrier. Both cars were out on the spot, with Toril T-Sport machine receiving particularly excessive damage.
Upon the lap four restart, the front trio again pulled away and were each setting fastest sectors each tour around. After seven tours, Ocon began to bridge a significant gap over Auer, with the Austrian defending hard against the feisty Verstappen.
The Dutch driver did get one opportunity to pass for 2nd, when Auer made a mistake through Gare, allowing Verstappen to get alongside with two wheels on the kerbs; however as noted by the Dutch racer: “I wanted to overtake him, so I just had to try something, but because I was on the outside in the next corner, I let him go. I wanted to avoid an accident, because third place also is a good result and gives me valuable points.”
The manoeuvre left the van Amersfoort on the outside of Auer coming through the next series of bends, ensuring the positions remained unchanged.
While the battle for 2nd raged on, Ocon built a lead of 2.5sm until another safety car period was flagged to remove the crashed car of Michele Beretta from Foch.
Restarting on lap 17, Ocon again pulled almost one second clear of the next pair and eventually extended the gap to 2.9s over the final ten circulations, completing an astounding performance. “I am really happy to have won a race in my home event in France,” Ocon said. “My start wasn’t too good, but I still managed to take the lead. After the two restarts, I succeeded in holding on to first place and I tried to pull a gap right after that. After that, I could control the race.”
Although Ocon has raced on streets before, when he debuted in F3 at Macau last year, the Frenchman was keen to note Pau’s twisty nature, adding: “The experience I gained at Macau last year helped me, although the two tracks really aren’t identical.”
Verstappen did not keep quite as close to Auer following the final restart, with the Dutch teenager opting to save the podium and points on offer.
With the runner-up spot in the bag, Auer commented, “My start was good, but not good enough to take the lead. At the start of the race, I wasn’t really fast, so that Max was able to follow me. The battle with him was nice and fortunately, we decided to leave each other enough room.”
Jake Dennis took a brilliant 4th for Carlin. The Racing Steps Foundation driver spent much of the race keeping Jordan King (Carlin), Felix Serralles (West-Tec) and Antonio Giovinazzi (Jagonya Ayam Carlin) at bay.
Despite the efforts of the chasing trio, Dennis crossed the line in 4th, pipping his attackers, with the group covered by a mere 4.4s come the flag. It proved a very good drive by the rookie Dennis, as he continues to establish his presence in F3.
Ed Jones had something of a quiet race to finish 8th. The Dubai native came home ahead of the quick starting Spike Goddard, who had jumped from 12th to 10th at the start, before taking Sean Geleal for 9th on lap 14.
It was a disappointing day for title contenders Felix Rosenqvist and Antonio Fuoco. Starting 22nd, Rosenqvist had climbed four places on the opening tour, before entering a long battle with Fuoco and Felipe Guimaraes, which finally drew to a close on lap 20.
As the threesome fought, Guimaraes passed Fuoco, bringing both wide through Lycée and allowing Rosenqvist to slip through into 16th. Rosenqvist took Riccardo Agostini (lap 21) and Gustavo Menezes (lap 26) to finish 14th. Fuoco could do no better than 17th after Agostini retired on the final lap.
2014 FIA European F3 Championship (Rd 3, Race 1, Pau) Pos Driver Team Time / Gap 1. Esteban Ocon Prema Powerteam-Mercedes 35:36.291s (27 laps) 2. Lucas Auer Mucke-Mercedes +2.922 3. Max Verstappen Van Amersfoort-Volkswagen +5.951 4. Jake Dennis Carlin-Volkswagen +11.368 5. Jordan King Carlin-Volkswagen +12.673 6. Felix Serralles West-Tec-Mercedes +14.710 7. Antonio Giovinazzi Jagonya Ayam Carlin-Volkswagen +15.797 8. Ed Jones Carlin-Volkswagen +21.196 9. Spike Goddard ThreeBond T-Sport-NBE +24.022 10. Sean Gelael Jagonya Ayam Carlin-Volkswagen +24.864 11. Tom Blomqvist Jagonya Ayam Carlin-Volkswagen +26.059 12. John Bryant-Meisner Fortec-Mercedes +26.510 13. Dennis van de Laar Prema Powerteam-Mercedes +26.715 14. Felix Rosenqvist Mucke-Mercedes +28.113 15. Gustavo Menezes Van Amersfoort-Volkswagen +29.548 16. Felipe Guimaraes Double R-Mercedes +29.672 17. Antonio Fuoco Prema Powerteam-Mercedes +30.443 18. Tatiana Calderon Jo Zeller-Mercedes +34.853 19. Jules Szymkowiak Van Amersfoort-Volkswagen +35.525 20. Roy Nissany Mucke-Mercedes +42.210 21. Hector Hurst West-Tec-Mercedes +45.011 22. Riccardo Agostini EuroInternational-Mercedes +1 lap Retirements: Michele Beretta EuroInternational-Mercedes +14 laps Nicholas Latifi Prema Powerteam-Mercedes +27 laps Mitch Gilbert Fortec-Mercedes +27 laps Alexander Toril ThreeBond T-Sport-NBE +27 laps