Antonio Giovinazzi won the 74th Grand Prix de Pau today following a hectic battle with Jake Dennis that lasted much of the race.
Maximilian Günther achieved his first FIA European F3 podium; while van Amersfoort’s Charles Leclerc assumed his third top three finish with a drive to 3rd.
The win only came to Giovinazzi late on. Having started on new tyres, Giovinazzi chased polesitter Dennis closely for much of the race.
An early safety car period kept the field artificially close, but upon the lap five restart, the Briton seized control for much of the event. At the two-thirds mark, Dennis began to struggle with a damaged steering, offering the feisty Giovinazzi a golden opportunity – the Volkswagen-powered man was not about to let this slip.
Despite this, Dennis fought bravely and continued to manage the gap to Giovinazzi with each corner; however as the Italian pressed harder, Dennis’ problems became more and more apparent.
From lap 17, the gap shrank from 1.3s to just 0.2s with Giovinazzi forcing Dennis to defend harder. Amidst all this, Dennis’ laps times were beginning to struggle as his pace fell from the late 1’10s to the late 1’11s over the course of the next four laps and then down to 1’12”3s on lap 23.
Sensing the opportunity, Giovinazzi looked down the inside of the first bend, only to be denied. Thereafter, the Jagonya Ayam Carlin racer continued to push Dennis harder – dancing left and then right – until eventually Dennis ran out of luck and ran wide in the Descente Poeymirau, allowing Giovinazzi through into the lead.
Thereafter the 21-year-old pulled away from the increasingly struggling Dennis, with the Briton falling out of contention quickly as the end of the race neared. Running to the flag untroubled, Giovinazzi became the 10th Italian driver to win the prestigious event.
“Being able to win the Grand Prix de Pau, a race that so many great drivers such as Lewis Hamilton have won, is fantastic. Of course, I am happy that I have made it onto the podium again in the ninth race of the season,” said the delighted victor. He added, “The race wasn’t easy for me. After the start, I was second, but I didn’t want to take too many risks. After about 15 laps, I tried to put more pressure on Jake Dennis in front of me. When he had a technical problem, I overtook him and I was in the lead.”
Unfortunately for Dennis, the 19-year-old could only fall further backward as the race aged, but did so in dramatic fashion. With his times dropping to the 1’16s range, Günther and Leclerc were quickly on Dennis’ rear and were through on lap 24 to complete the podium.
It was another positive drive for Günther, who – after several close attempts – finally secured his maiden F3 podium, although Leclerc did not make it an easy ride. “I am really delighted with this 2nd place after having just missed out on a podium finish a couple of times already. My start was good and my speed was better than in the first two races here at Pau as well. This time, I was also able to control the gap to Charles, who was behind me.”
Following a good start, Leclerc clung the back of Günther and while it could be argued that the Mücke racer was slightly slower than Leclerc’s van Amersfoort entry, there was little the Monegasque Leclerc could do to force a path through to 2nd place. After the finish, Leclerc was rather resigned to the fact there was little else that he could have done to beat Günther. “First of all, I am happy that I didn’t lose any positions at the start for the first time this weekend. I tried to put Maximilian under pressure, but he drove a good race and didn’t give me any opportunity to overtake.”
Another big winner late on was Lance Stroll. After the safety car period, Stroll lost two positions in quick succession, falling to 10th; however the Canadian took Felix Rosenqvist on lap six and capitalised five laps to take Alessio Lorandi when Alexander Albon balked the Italian Lorandi.
Instantly Albon too fell buy the wayside, when it became clear his car had been damaged in the interchange, promoting Stroll to 6th. That became 5th place when Markus Pömmer was made to serve a drive through penalty for not lining up in his grid slot correctly.
Stroll would eventually climb to 4th when Dennis’ problems saw his fall through the field in the final two laps, with Dennis taking the finish in a disappointing 23rd place. “From the second lap, I had to deal with a steering issue which was caused by a damaged suspension, but it wasn’t that bad at first. I was still pulling away from Giovinazzi. Then after about 10 laps the car was undriveable but I managed to keep a half second gap. Eventually though, it wouldn’t turn left anymore. It is quite frustrating cause there was nothing I could do.”
In the shuffling of the order, Arjun Maini came home 5th – another good result for the Indian rookie. Maini was running 7th entering the final lap; however Lorandi was held up by the ailing Dennis, allowing Maini through to the top five.
Rosenqvist scored a 6th place finish, giving the Swede ten vital points in the championship, while Lorandi had to settle for 7th. George Russell battled hard against Sam MacLeod much of the running and would come home in 8th position. MacLeod received damage when he clattered Dennis on the final lap, promoting Mikkel Jensen and Santino Ferrucci to 9th and 10th respectively.
As expected at Pau, there was some chaos at the start when Kang Ling went over the top of Tatiana Calderon on the climb up to Pont Oscar, with Ling left stranded on the rear of Calderon as the came to a halt. It was a completely unnecessary incident that should have been avoided by Ling and yet another dent in what has been a difficult start to the year for Calderon.
This is a victory that allows Giovinazzi to extend his lead in the European Formula 3 Championship to 15 points over Leclerc. In two weeks time, the field visits a very different but equally historic venue, when they move to Monza for the 4th round of what has been an enthralling season thus far.