Antonio Giovinazzi returned to winning ways in the final FIA European F3 race at the Norisring this morning.
While the Italian continued to build small gaps amidst a number of safety car periods, George Russell, Alexander Albon and Charles Leclerc fought for podium honours.
For a time, Dorian Boccolacci and Jake Dennis were also involved in the fight, but 2nd and 3rd would eventually go to Russell and Albon respectively.
From 3rd on the grid, Giovinazzi jumped to the start of the field following sluggish starts by front row pairing Albon and Russell, allowing the Jagonya Ayam Carlin racer to slip through a gap in the middle to shoot into an early lead.
Amidst this, Dennis also fed his way through into 2nd place, only to overshoot the first hairpin, dropping behind Russell – but only for a moment. Under acceleration, Dennis pulled back past Russell as they entered the chicane to secure a temporary 2nd, while a quick thinking Leclerc pushed Albon down to 5th.
It would prove to be significant for Giovinazzi, as almost instantly the race was neutralised by the safety car when a stalled Matt Solomon was rear-ended by the blindsided Sam MacLeod on the grid.
Back in the pack, Lance Stroll hopped over the first hairpin kerb and touched the side of Carlin’s Callum Ilott, resulting in a broken front wing and right front puncture for the Prema Powerteam man.
On the lap five restart, Giovinazzi continued to head the field, but it was Leclerc who made a big move as he dived down the inside of the turn one hairpin, only to immediately slip wide and drop back to 5th, delaying Dennis who also fell to 4th – Albon, meanwhile, reclaimed 3rd from the manoeuvre as he filtered in behind the promoted Russell.
The race would not stay green for long. Seeing a (small) gap, Gustavo Menezes threw his Volkswagen-powered Jagonya Ayam Carlin machine down the inside of the hairpin on the sixth tour, collecting race two winner Maximilian Günther – both retired on the spot.
A long safety car period followed, but again Giovinazzi made the most of the restart (lap 13) as he edged a 1.0s lead over the chasing Russell and Albon. Behind the leading trio, Leclerc took Dennis for 4th around the outside of the hairpin in a brave, but perfectly judged move.
Things would get worse still for Dennis. Under the microscope of Dorian Boccolacci (Signature), the Englishman would be shoved out of the way by a slightly out-of-control Boccolacci. As wheels locked together, both ran wide, with Dennis losing two spots as both Boccolacci and Santino Ferrucci (Mücke) collected 5th and 6th places.
Boccolacci lost out on lap 23: the Signature man slowed significantly, allowing Dennis, Ferrucci and Mikkel Jensen through; however he would soon be with Dennis once again when Jensen passed the English driver for 6th spot.
This was too good to last unfortunately. On lap 26, Nabil Jeffri found a non-existent gap into the turn one hairpin and slammed into the side of Matt Rao, taking both out on the spot. Safety car number three.
It would give Russell, Albon and the attacking Leclerc a final opportunity to attack Giovinazzi for the lead, but it was not to be – the Carlin driver escaped with haste and eventually drew a gap of 1.4s as the chequered flag flew on lap 38. In what may prove a key win for Giovinazzi, he took the maximum points in a race where championship rivals Dennis and Felix Rosenqvist di not score – but more on that in moment.
Russell secured an excellent 2nd place to secure his third podium of the year, although Albon and Leclerc made him work hard for it. Looking for top end speed, Carlin dialed in a low downforce setting for this race, while Albon ran the more stable – but slightly slower – medium downforce settings. Back in 4th, Leclerc could do nothing about either of the two ahead, as he dropped a mere 0.32s behind Albon come the final lap.
The fight for 5th and 6th was a touch more feisty in the final laps. A charging Jensen trailed teammate Ferrucci for a time, forcing his way by the younger Mücke driver on lap 33, leaving Ferrucci open to attack from Boccolacci and Ilott.
Taking what could be best described as an adventurous line from the hairpin, down the back straight and through the final corner, Ferrucci defended hard and managed to hold 6th place – but only just.
In Ferrucci’s mirrors, a hassled and held up Boccolacci fell victim to Ilott’s late race rise, with the Red Bull junior taking both Boccolacci and the ailing Dennis on successive laps, allowing Ilott to claim 7th.
Boccolacci would assume 8th place ahead of Alessio Lorandi (9th) and Brandon Maïsano (10th, after starting 7th); however the slowing Dennis could not hold onto any scores, leaving the championship contender with no points from the weekend.
Outside of the points, Rosenqvist made an awful start, dropping the Swede from 8th to 18th off the line. The Prema Powerteam racer would climb back to 13th, but he will rue yet another “lost” weekend.
In the championship, the result means Leclerc leaves the Norisring with a 42.5 point lead over the new 2nd place man Giovinazzi, with Rosenqvist falling to 3rd, some 66.5 points behind the Monegasque racer. Dennis’ dire weekend ensure he now has an 80.5-point deficit to Leclerc.
The next round takes place at Zandvoort in two weeks time – a very different circuit, but critical and one that Rosenqvist and Giovinazzi have plenty of F3 experience on.