Lotus junior driver Esteban Ocon took one step closer to the FIA European Formula 3 Championship crown this morning.
The French teenager took a lights-to-flag victory ahead of Jordan King (Carlin) and Tom Blomqvist (Jagonya Ayam Carlin) at Imola to extend his lead to 97 points over the championship’s new 2nd place man Blomqvist.
With five races remaining, 125 points remain to play for.
Ocon eased away at the start to lead from pole, while fellow front row man Antonio Giovinazzi endured a horror start to fall to 5th, allowing King, Blomqvist and Felix Rosenqvist to skip ahead.
Thereafter the Prema Powerteam racer kept a narrow lead over King throughout, with the gap consistently hovering between 1.2s and 1.8s.
Whereas King struggled to pressure Ocon, Blomqvist could do little about the Englishman ahead.
Late set-up changes to his car meant Blomqvist took time to feel his way into the machine; however as the race aged, the car came toward the Anglo-Kiwi racer, allowing Blomqvist to close in on King, but not enough to make a difference.
Rosenqvist’s topsy-turvy season continued with a drive to 4th. Although initially involved in a fight for position with King, Blomqvist and the attacking Giovinazzi, the Swede drew away from the 5th place, but lost pace with the podium sitters in the process.
Lucas Auer assumed 6th place, after he aggressively took Jake Dennis on lap 14. On the backfoot from a clash with Max Verstappen several laps earlier, Dennis could do little about the charging Austrian when their battle eventually came to blows.
Auer also fought with an aggressive Verstappen on the sixth lap, when the Dutch teenager barged his way past Auer’s Mücke machine in the Rivazza, following the latter’s attempt to intimidate Verstappen toward the back end of the circuit.
Dennis held a solid 7th over the Indy Lights-bound Felix Serralles (8th) and the ever more consistent Tatiana Calderon (9th), while Sean Gelael rounded out the points scoring finishers.
Verstappen was in the wars for much of the race. Beyond his clashes with Auer and Dennis, the Dutch teenager was crudely punted off by Antonio Fuoco on lap 15 in the Rivazza, only after losing two places with an unrealistic move in Villeneuve, that only served to push Verstappen into the gravel.
He then suffered another off when he made an ill-advised attempt on Roy Nissany around the outside of Tamburello toward the end of the race.
The race was interrupted by a brief safety car period, when on the opening lap Santino Ferrucci and Martin Cao collided, which also took out William Buller.