Marcus Maintains FIA F3 Championship Lead After Zandvoort
Fresh from sealing the championship lead last time out, Marcus Armstrong hit the Dutch beach resort of Zandvoort for the fourth round of the FIA F3 championship. The 4.3KM circuit nestled in the rolling sand dunes, provides a series of undulating twists and turns, with little chance for overtaking. But that didn’t hold the Kiwi protege back as he continued his podium scoring run, to maintain his championship lead.
Enjoying bright sunshine and escaping the trickier windy conditions, that are synonymous with the coastal circuit, the FIA F3 drivers took to the track for the practice on Friday. Despite his first visit to the track, Marcus showed his rapid pace from the off, ending the session just 0.006s shy of his teammate Mick Schumacher as they head into qualifying.
Prema prove their dominance
With a change to the normal race weekend format, both qualifying sessions were held on Friday. Marcus fought to put in a solid lap time as the first session got underway, narrowly trading times with his teammates, he sealed a second row start for Race 1 in a lockout for the Prema squad. Further taking a strong P5 start for the second race, Marcus was unfortunate to suffer a mechanical issue in the final session, curtailing his efforts and dropping him to the back of the grid for Sunday’s race. However the Kiwi driver was quick to turn his focus to pushing for as many points as possible when the weekend’s racing commenced.
Bright and early on Saturday morning, the crowds gathered for a showcase of young driver talent. In a thrilling race start, the front running Prema drivers steamed into the tight right-hander in turn one. With an unforgiving gravel trap ready to catch any mistakes, Marcus held his line perfectly and fended off any advancement from rival Ticktum. Sweeping through the sand dunes, the Ferrari Driver Academy star was hot on the heels of his teammates, putting pressure on Schumacher in the closing stages of the race in pursuit of a podium place. But in an uneventful race with minimal room for overtaking, Marcus crossed the line in a strong 4th place, maintaining his points lead.
Storming to Second
Lining his Prema-powered car in P5 on the starting grid for Race 2, Marcus set his sights on sealing another healthy haul of points. Storming off the line, Marcus was quick to make advances on 4th place, but with wisdom on his side, held back his charge as the leaders went three-wide into turn 1. A collision between pole sitter Ticktum and Schumacher, saw the latter speared off into the deep gravel, calling a safety car before the race had really begun. Awaiting the restart from third in the pack, Marcus hooked into the back of the Ticktum in second place, eager to challenge his nearest points rival. Holding his nerve perfectly, the talented Kiwi stayed right behind him as the field went racing once more, gaining speed at an impressive rate, Marcus went side-by-side with Ticktum on the long pit straight. In an impressively calculated move, he held back and gained the advantage sweeping through the first corner complex, pressuring his rival to make a mistake and lose a further place behind Zhou. Crossing the line in second, Marcus extended his run of podiums at every event and proving himself as the best rookie in the field. Joined by teammates Aron and Zhou on the podium, the Prema team continued their supremacy in the championship with the second podium lockout of the weekend.
Speaking of his tricky battle, Marcus commented:
“For me, the race had quite a bit of action. The duel with Dan (Ticktum) reminded me of our accident at Budapest and I have learned from that. I’ve sealed fastest lap in both the races, learned how to manage the tyres and the car felt great. It’s a shame we couldn’t really overtake around here, but we come away with decent points which is what counts.”
Starting from the back of the field for the final race, offered a new challenge to the Seventeen year old racer. Looking to keep out of trouble and make up ground, the race proved to be anything but straight-forward. Climbing his way through the field, at a track that doesn’t lend itself to overtaking, Marcus found himself running as high as P16 before a safety car was called to retrieve a car beached in the gravel. With recovery crews unable to retrieve the car, the race was called short.
"There was a bit of a gamble going into the race starts, as we had to fit a new clutch following the issue in Qualifying, but it all worked out. We did all we could in the final race today, but we had some fun, the car was good as always, I just struggled for grip a bit when I was going for any overtakes. It’s a shame the race was cut short, because it was really enjoyable to fight through.” - Marcus recapped.
“We continue to lead both championships and I think, the real fight is yet to begin!”
Despite finishing outside the points in the final race, Marcus’ formidable form sees him maintain his championship lead, ahead of nearest rival Zhou. As the competition heads from the beaches of Zandvoort to the dense Ardennes forest, Marcus looks to extend his lead and chase victory at the famous Spa-Francorchamps circuit on 27-28th July.