Macau will be Macau: from the emotional comeback to retirement heartbreak. Sophia Floersch out of the 66th Macau Grand Prix with technical issues after a positive and learning-oriented F3 debut weekend.
Sophia Floersch made her return to the legendary streets of Macau with a solid 21st place during yesterday's qualification race and thus took the start from the 11th row for Sunday's main race.
The young German, surrounded by media and photographers for the whole weekend, was presented with the challenging task of completing her first ever FIA Formula 3 race on a track like the Guia Circuit, after only one single test day in rain conditions.
Floersch adapted quickly to the faster Dallara F3 employed in the inaugural season of the International FIA F3 championship and raced cleanly around the top-20 for the entire weekend.
Red Bull junior Juri Vips took the lead after a good getaway at the race start, while behind him it was the first turn of events: one of the biggest contenders and FIA F3 champion Robert Schwartzman had to retire after a contact with Christian Lundgaard at the fast right-hander of Mandarin corner, as the two collided when going side-by-side for second place. With a damaged front wing and a front-right punctured tyre, the Russian parked his car at the outside of turn 3.
The whole field escaped the iconic Lisboa corner unscathed, with Richard Verschoor emerging as the biggest winner after an unbelievable start from P4 up into second place.
Juri Vips completed the first lap almost 2 seconds clear of the competition and was indeed looking destined to an afternoon of champagne, when the inherent nature of the Macau circuit put everything into discussion again.
DTM driver Ferdinand Habsburg crashed heavily into the Esses when running in 6th and forced the Safety Car to be deployed to allow the marshals to clear the wreckage. Habsburg, after nearly winning the 2017 edition on the last lap, was back in a ART GP car this weekend for the special occasion and luckily was unhurt after violently hitting the wall.
Sophia Floersch had a slow start and dropped to P25, before gaining one place when Brit Oliver Caldwell pitted to retire his Trident car for technical issues.
The restart after the race neutralization thus gave Verschoor and Lundgaard the opportunity to close in on Vips again and the MP Motorsport driver made the most out of the situation: he attacked and passed the undisputed leader around the outside of Lisboa as soon as the race resumed, with 8 laps to go.
After a dominant weekend, Vips found himself in the difficult position to attack for the first time, and gave it his all in the following laps. His efforts were anyway affected by a DRS malfunction, as the Estonian could not attempt a move after the long straights towards Lisboa.
At lap 9, the #18 HWA car came to a halt at Mandarin and the young German was forced to retire with electronical issues. A disappointing end to an emotional weekend for Floersch, but it's a result that must not take anything away from her remarkable achievements and comeback.
“This is the second time that I have not been able to finish in Macau." - commented Sophia. "Maybe I can record a top-5 finish next year! But all joking aside: from the start, I viewed this as preparation for next year. Driving a new car here, on one of the world’s most demanding circuits, was a great challenge for me."
"I have learned a lot over the past few days. It was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed driving for HWA Racelab, a truly excellent team. Now I am looking forward to next season. Let's see how that goes.”
Floersch stoppage brought out the Virtual Safety Car but the race promptly resumed with 5 laps to go. At the green flag, Verschoor slightly touched the wall and Vips regained confidence. The big prize was still at stake and the Red Bull junior made one daring attempt at Lisboa to regain the lead, but locked up and damaged his front tyres.
Behind him, Logan Sargeant completed a clean pass on Christian Lundgaard for the lowest step of the podium, with many more battles going on in the midfield. Ticktum went by Fittipaldi for 14th, while Armstrong passed Beckmann and advanced to eighth. Honda-backed Tsunoda made up some more places and passed Andres, with the leaders approaching the final laps of a thrilling 66th edition of the Macau Grand Prix.
After 15 laps, Dutchman Richard Verschoor crossed the line to take a surprising victory, undoubtedly the biggest of his racing career. A disappointed Vips was second, ahead of American Logan Sargeant and Christian Lundgaard. Alessio Lorandi was fifth, while other Italian Pulcini ended his race into the barriers at Lisboa in the opening stages.
Ilott, Lawson, Armstrong, Beckmann and Vesti rounded out the top-10, with double winner Dan Ticktum having to settle for 13th.
Macau rookie Richard Verschoor joins the likes of Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher, Ralf Schumacher, David Coulthard and Riccardo Patrese in the prestigious club of Macau winners.
Sophia Floersch will now focus all her efforts on securing a 2020 drive with HWA Racelab for the full FIA Formula 3 season.
"You have to take into account that this was our first appearance at the Macau Grand Prix with HWA Racelab, which was an enormous challenge." - said Thomas Strick, HWA team principal. "We learned a lot here and we will benefit from this experience next year.”
In Sophia's words:
“From the start, I viewed this as preparation for next year.”
Ph credits: FIA F3 Media / Macau GP