Fontana full of confidence despite third-row start
By BRUCE MACDONALD in Macau
ARGENTINIAN Norberto Fontana came to Macau with 11 race wins under his belt in Europe this season, including the prestigious Zandvoort Masters in Holland, but such is the nature of the demanding 6.1-kilometre Guia street circuit that he found himself uncustomarily shoved out of the limelight in qualifying for today's Macau Formula Three Grand Prix. And to add a touch of irony, the two quickest qualifiers for today's two-leg, 30-lap showdown both played second fiddle to Fontana in the German F3 championship this season.
Occupying the front row are Ralf Schumacher, the younger brother of two-time F1 world champion Michael in a Mild Seven Open and six-time visitor to Macau, Max Angelelli in an Open Team BSR Dallara who finished second and third respectively to Fontana in Germany. Fontana had to be content with fifth place on the grid in his San Miguel Dark-KMS Racing Dallara, nearly one-and-a-half seconds behind Schumacher's pacesetting time of two minutes, 19.12 seconds.
The slightly built 20-year-old might be small in stature but he stood tall in ambition when he said: 'I have come from behind before and passed many cars and I can do it again in Macau.' Fontana raced in Macau last year and even though he failed to finish, good judges had him inked in for future reference. He crashed out after nine laps in the first leg last year but it was his performance in the second leg that is worth remembering. Languishing in 34th position on the grid for the second 15-lap leg, he sliced through the field to lie 12th before engine failure. Like his driving, everything has come quickly to young Fontana.
He already has had one season of testing with F1 outfit Sauber under his belt and another coming up next season with the added prospect of a possible drive. While Fontana remains supremely confident of his prospects today, he faces a fearsome challenge from the four drivers ahead of him. Schumacher proved that his fourth here last season was no aberration. Even though well beaten by Fontana in the German championship this year he, like Angelelli, has adapted quickly to the special demands posed by street circuit racing. Only 25/100ths of a second splits the first two drivers with last year's winner Sascha Maassen in a Mobil-West Surrey Racing Dallara lurking ominously in third position on the grid.
Spaniard Pedro de la Rosa had a time of 2:20.03 to his credit and is poised to play a leading role in the outcome of the race today. The weather has been superb over the three days of qualifying and racing with brilliant sunshine bathing the circuit and little prospect of bad weather today. Racing begins at 9.45 am with the 10-lap Formula Campus race followed at 11 am by the first leg of the F3 race.