Ericsson secures pole and aims to be third-time lucky
He is only 19, but pole winner Marcus Ericsson is a seasoned Macau campaigner when compared with Jean-Karl Vernay and Valtteri Bottas, two Guia first-timers in the Formula Three race who finished second and third respectively in qualifying yesterday.
So it was extra pleasing for TOM's driver Ericsson that an 'old-timer' like himself had not given ground to new upstarts, but he then conceded that his initial stranglehold would count for nothing if he could not deliver tomorrow.
'I have had two good days. I have the best team in the world supporting me. But what counts is not now, but the weekend. I need to stand on top on Sunday,' the Swede said after qualifying fastest right at the end of an incident-packed session that was stopped three times because of crashes.
Ericsson stamped his authority with a last-gasp lap of two minutes 10.042 seconds to make it two out of two. On Thursday, during the first qualifying round, he also recorded the fastest time.
In second place was the Signature Team's Vernay of France, while Finn Bottas, driving for ART Grand Prix, was third. Italian Vernay's teammate Edoardo Mortara was fourth, with fifth place grabbed by British F3 champion Daniel Ricciardo.
Ericsson knows too well the perils that can befall wide-eyed and unsuspecting first-timers in Macau. On his visits in the two previous years, he failed to finish and had the dreaded DNF (did not finish) put beside his name.
'I'm feeling confident, but I know it is going to get tough. Starting from pole is not always an advantage in Macau. My aim will be to stay in front at the end of the qualification race [today] and then try to win the second and main race on Sunday,' Ericsson said.
He saw a number of his rivals improve on the overnight benchmark and had to endure a few anxious minutes after qualifying was stopped for the second time when Briton Wayne Boyd broadsided his car into the barriers at Dona Maria.
Yet after a lengthy red flag halt, caused by water on the track, Ericsson responded to the challenge and delivered the pole-winning lap time by just 0.039 of a second from Vernay.
The Frenchman was a bit disappointed to miss the top spot by such a small margin, but still glad to secure second place on his first Macau visit.
'I hear being second on the grid could be an advantage, as I could make use of the slipstream. We will have a think about this tonight and plan our strategy,' Vernay said.
Today's 'qualification' race will reset the grid for the 15-lap shootout tomorrow. The drivers know that if they fail to finish today, their chances of winning are almost nil, as they will have to start at the end of the grid, making it virtually impossible to make ground on the front-runners in this tight circuit.
'Macau is a bit of a lottery in qualifying,' said fourth-placed Mortara, who, like Ericsson, is making his third visit. 'My plan is to be in the front five when Sunday's final race begins. If I've a good car, then it's possible, even if you are not in front, to win.'
Australian Ricciardo, who finished fifth-fastest, briefly put himself in the picture before a braking mistake saw him go nose-first into Lisboa Corner; he failed to improve his time.
However, the session was a nightmare for New Zealand's Brendon Hartley and Taiwan's Kevin Chen, who both crashed out.