Maximilian Günther took a shock fist FIA European F3 victory at the Norisring today.
The German took advantage of a feisty battle between Alexander Albon, Charles Leclerc and George Russell, when the trio ran wide and side-by-side into the turn one hairpin, allowing Günther to sweep from 4th to 1st in one move.
Behind Günther, Albon claimed 2nd place ahead of Leclerc (who led for approximately twenty metres into the hairpin) and Russell, the latter of whom had swapped the lead with Albon twice prior to Günther’s rise.
After taking the lead, the race did not merely end for Günther, who was pressured by Albon right to the flag, with the Mücke man eventually winning by just 0.4s. Leclerc completed the podium, while Lance Stroll saw an opportunity to slip past Russell amidst the hairpin melee.
The race had been peppered with safety cars throughout, with the 36 lapper interrupted no less than four times. The first neutralisation began when Ryan Tveter (Jagonya Ayam Carlin) clashed with Alessio Lorandi (van Amersfoort) in the hairpin on lap three.
That was followed on lap fifteen by scary incident between Michele Beretta (Mücke) and Matt Solomon (Double R) at the hairpin, when the latter clipped Beretta at low speed, but an angle that tipped Beretta into a roll, leading the Italian to clattering the outer wall at an upturned angle.
Restarting on lap 20, there was third safety car three tours later when Santino Ferrucci divebombed Antonio Giovinazzi for what was then 3rd place into the hairpin. Giovinazzi could do nothing to avoid Jake Dennis, who took damage to his left rear wheel – this resulted in the trio blocking the track.
Finally on lap 28, an over ambitious Pietro Fittipaldi ran into the back of Fabian Schiller and while Schiller continued, the stalled Fittipaldi was collected by the innocent Kang Ling.
Aside from the stoppages, Albon led almost throughout and apart from occasional noises by Leclerc and Dennis, it was always Russell chasing the Thai racer.
The Signature man did lose the lead very temporarily at the very start, as Russell outdragged his way to the front. Albon retook the lead at the hairpin on lap two, but by the time the pairing had reached the second hairpin at the far side of the circuit, Russell had retaken the point, only for Albon to finally secure the lead before the emergence of the safety car on lap three.
Thereafter Albon kept a narrow gap over Russell, with the distance never expanding beyond 1.7s, although the constant safety car negating opportunities for the Volkswagen-powered Albon to pull away. Time and time again, Albon edged away from the Englishman, only to be drafted back toward the Carlin man under the guise of the safety car.
It all changed at the front after the lap 32 restart when both Russell and Leclerc came alive to scythe past Albon at the two hairpins respectively. On the next tour, Leclerc had drafted alongside Russell on the way to the turn one hairpin; however Russell squeezed the Monegasque race to the inside line and onto the excessive bumps.
This destabilised Leclerc forcing him and Russell out wide, while Albon also ran long with them, allowing the stalking Günther to take a narrow line into the hairpin and escape into the lead in what was one of the most intelligent pieces of driving witnessed in F3 this year.
As the corner unfolded, Leclerc pulled alongside Albon, but could not make the move into 2nd place stick. It meant a run of Günther, Albon and Leclerc to the flag, with Günther gladly accepting his first European F3 victory.
There was extra luck for Günther though. Starting 12th, the Mücke racer climbed to 8th by the end of lap two, only to be collected by teammate Ferrucci on lap three, costing Günther one position and plenty of time.
Having run the furthest wide in the Russell/Leclerc/Albon melee, Russell was also susceptible to Lance Stroll, who had quietly risen up the order with a clean drive from 15th on the grid – no heroics or last action moves; just avoiding the mistakes and unsuccessful manoeuvres.
Russell ended the day a disappointing 5th, just ahead of Mikkel Jensen (Mücke, 6th), while Gustavo Menezes took 7th, despite overshooting the hairpin on the opening lap. Dorian Boccolacci could not hold onto his teammates pace today, with the Frenchman ending the day 8th ahead of Lorandi (9th) and Brandon Maïsano (Prema Powerteam).
Championship challenger Felix Rosenqvist was running 5th early on, but took a drive through penalty when he was adjudged to have missed his gridslot at the race start.