Christchurch-born race driver Marcus Armstrong has started strongly – but with some frustration – in the 2018 FIA Formula 3 European Championship’s opening round over this weekend at Pau in France.
Armstrong, 17, was fifth overall in the first race of the season, improved to a podium in the second but was unable to finish the third after being nudged into the wall and then caught up in a midfield crash.
In race one Armstrong showed his potential: “I had a good start, we went from P9 to P6 and our pace was good as well in the early laps so I was pretty happy. The car felt good too and if we just got qualifying right, maybe we could be on the podium, but for being the first race in Formula 3 and the first race at Pau, I’m satisfied.”
His team-mate, Guanyu Zhou, won the race.
Sacha Fenestraz and Alex Palou were 1-2 from start to finish in the second race while Armstrong carved his way through from sixth place behind them to be third.
“That was a long way on a street circuit – P6 to P3! My start in race 2 was okay, not particularly good, but not particularly bad either. In turn 1, I then managed to take fourth place. After Scherer crashed into the barriers and slid back onto the track, he almost collected me. From that point of view, I was lucky to be on the podium in the first place.”
Armstrong said he was ‘partially buried’ in P8 for the rainy third and final race of the weekend, and well in the ‘danger zone’ where most opening-lap crashes occur. There was chaos at the start when Alex Palou ‘bogged’ and partially stalled, then having avoided the almost stationary car of Palou Armstrong was held off the racing line by Dan Ticktum.
“It was a very low grip piece of track and I had no way to slot back onto the racing line,” he said.
Ticktum then bumped tyres with the Kiwi, sending him over a pedestrian kerb and into the Armco.
“It wasn’t a big hit but big enough, I hung on but was dropping back and then Ferdinand Habsburg and I came together in low visibility on the front straight and I hit the wall so that was it, race over on lap seven,” he said.”
His team-mate, Ralf Aron, grabbed the lead off the start from P3, defended his position on the restart after the cars of Habsburg and Armstrong were recovered and won the race, which was shortened by the rain. Armstrong is now fifth on points after one round and third in the rookie standings. His Prema team leads the teams’ standings.
“I’m really disappointed to miss another chance to make points, but third in the rookie points and fifth overall is a good start.”
European Formula 3 brings Kiwi driver to a massive audience
Marcus Armstrong will race this year in front of the biggest trackside and TV audiences he has ever seen. The growing profile of Formula 3 and the impending merger of F3 and GP3 mean the eyes of race fans, team managers, talent spotters and media are fixed on the F3 grid as never before.
The process began last year.
The 2017 race calendar took the FIA Formula 3 European Championship teams and drivers to eight different countries. During the course of the season they had to demonstrate their skills not only at current Formula One race venues, such as Spa-Francorchamps, the Hungaroring, Spielberg, Monza, the Hockenheimring and Silverstone, but also at two challenging street circuits: Pau and Nuremberg’s Norisring. The race meetings were attended by an average crowd of 63,600 visitors, representing an increase of about 9,000 visitors per event compared to 2016. The season finale at Hockenheim was witnessed by 152,000 spectators live on site and the Norisring meeting attracted 125,000 visitors. The fact that the FIA Formula 3 European Championship is very popular with motor-racing enthusiasts away from DTM events was demonstrated by the fact that the FIA Formula 3 race weekend at Spa-Francorchamps and the season kick-off at Silverstone were attended by 65,000 and 50,000 visitors respectively.
Indications are that this year’s championship will attract audiences up to 20 per cent greater in number both trackside and on television.