Marcus launches season with a podium in Barcelona
Marcus Armstrong firmly put himself in the championship fight as the inaugural FIA Formula 3 season kicked off in Barcelona this weekend. Teaming up with Prema Racing once again, the tenacious Kiwi raced to claim a podium in the opening race, making a promising start to his 2019 campaign.
Sitting on the outskirts of Barcelona, Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya offers up a series of long sweeping turns and high-powered straights, under the Spanish sun. With two races per weekend, the first set by a qualifying session and the second set by a reverse grid, the newly formed championship sits as part of the Formula 1 Grand Prix support schedule. Having run rings at the circuit with promising pace in pre-season testing, Marcus was well-poised to hit the ground running.
Placing firmly in the top ten in Free Practice on Friday morning, the 18-year-old had full confidence in his Prema powered machinery ahead of the first qualifying session. As the 30-car field took to the 4.655 km circuit, an early red flag caused a short halt to proceedings. When the cars returned, traffic soon posed a challenge for Marcus as he fought to find space to hook together his lap. With time ticking down he powered in a 1:32.427 in the final run, just 0.3s off pole and netting a second row start for Saturday’s race.
"We ended up P3, not a bad result. First of all, the car is unreal and I'm really happy with the balance. The team did a mega job, and the fact that this is our first race in the new F3 makes it pretty special"
Under cloudy conditions on Saturday morning, Marcus lined up in P3, ready to take the fight to the first corner. Under the watchful eye of the Formula 1 paddock, the Ferrari Driver Academy protégé made a confident start, hooking right into the back of Shwartzman and Lundgaard ahead, Marcus made a switch to the inside line. Holding his own, pushing to the limit he looked to challenge for the lead. But with the tight right-hander at Turn 1 and his teammate closing the door on the inside, he wisely relented and tucked in behind the pair. From there, he drove a faultless race, handling the pressure of virtual safety car restarts and keeping his car placed well on track to finish in 3rd place. Earning a podium in the first race of the season, certainly gave a boost to his title campaign.
Marcus recapped on his challenge:
"I'm happy with my third place. I didn't have a good start and I wasn't expecting them to go into turn 1 side by side. Christian left it open and tried to dive in, it was the same with Robert. I tried to go to the outside and he, fair enough, forced me off a bit which is OK. It's racing. I felt like I needed the experience of one full race before I try to do something more, especially with the tires as there's a lot to be gained in managing them properly.”
Shooting from 6th as the lights went out on Sunday morning, Marcus rapidly elevated to 4th by the first corner with his sights set on claiming 3rd, before a safety car halted his progress, to clear a first corner incident at the back of the field. With cooler tyres, Marcus focused on keeping his rivals behind when the racing resumed, but soon managed to mount his attack on Fewtrell ahead. Keeping hot on his heels, at a track notoriously difficult for overtaking, Marcus held his nerve and waited for the perfect opportunity. His moment came and he smoothly slipped into 3rd, in a chaotic race behind, safety cars brought a new challenge as Marcus battled valiantly to keep his rivals behind. But under the effect of DRS and battling to keep the tyres in check, unfortunately Vips and Shwartzman found a way by in the closing laps. Crossing the line in 5th, Marcus rounded off a positive start, with strong points paying finish.
"We had a really good start and a good launch. I went outside a couple of people in turn one which was pretty cool. The pace was quite okay but we just had bad timing with the first safety car. Also, we were pushing hard behind other drivers and in the end, which wasn't good for the rear tires. But it was a good experience and good points for the championship."
With confidence taken from his first outing and faith in the team’s pace, Marcus looks to build his progress when the FIA Formula 3 Championship returns on 21-23rd June, at Paul Ricard in France.