Carlin’s Tom Blomqvist took a dominant fifth FIA European F3 victory of the season at Imola this morning.
In the distance, Max Verstappen nabbed a last moment 2nd place from Antonio Giovinazzi when the latter lifted off just before the line.
The 20-year-old Blomqvist led from the start with relative ease, making easy work of the gap to the hard working Giovinazzi.
Immediately, the race was in the hands of the Anglo-Kiwi driver, who had built a 2.01s lead after the opening pair of laps – a lead that extended to 3.8s after seven tours, at which point the race was neutralised under the safety car when Alexander Toril spun and stalled on the lead into Acque Minerali.
When the race resumed on lap eleven, so too did Blomqvist’s dominance, with Jagonya Ayam Carlin racer building a lead of 4.26s over the course of the next nine laps.
For Giovinazzi, while not in Blomqvist’s league today, the Italian did deserve the runner-up spot at least, only to be denied at the final possible moment.
Under pressure from Verstappen from lap fifteen onward, Giovinazzi drove a measured race, until a touch a wheelspin exiting the second part of the Rivazza on the final tour dropped the Carlin man back toward Verstappen as they drew toward the flag.
Whereas Verstappen kept his foot on the throttle, Giovinazzi defended hard initially and then lifted off slightly as they approached the line, with the Italian assuming the finish was earlier on the straight.
As the crossed the actual timing beam, Verstappen had edged ahead of Giovinazzi by just 0.019s of-a-second, leaving the Carlin team somewhat dumbstruck on the pitwall.
It had been a stellar drive from Verstappen, who, despite setting the fastest lap in qualifying, was relegated to 11th on the grid following an engine change penalty left over from the Nürburgring round in August.
From the start, Verstappen took one place, before sweeping by Roy Nissany and Lucas Auer during the opening tour. Thereafter the Dutch teenager took Jake Dennis (lap 3), Will Buller (lap 5), Nicholas Latifi (lap 11) and Esteban Ocon (lap 12) before a pitting Antonio Fuoco gifted Verstappen another position.
Championship leader Ocon drove a quiet race to 4th. As he edges close to the title, the Frenchman peddled around near front, but was passed by Giovinazzi on lap three and then by Verstappen later.
Lucas Auer rounded out the top five. The Austrian made hard work it however – having started 9th, Auer made hard and aggressive moves of Dennis, Buller and Latifi to slot into the lead group.
Latifi could do better than 6th ahead of the Dennis and the quiet Felix Serralles, with Felix Rosenqvist (9th) and Gustavo Menezes (10th) rounding out the points finishes.
With only four races left in the season, Ocon continues to lead by a long way and now has an 84 point lead over Blomqvist and a 96 point advantage over Verstappen.
Only 100 points are left on the table.