Former champ Da Costa teaches youngsters a lesson as he takes pole on return to Macau Grand Prix
Portuguese driver back in the race for the first time since winning in 2012
Antonio Felix da Costa saluted the past on Saturday just when it seemed the Suncity Group Formula Three Macau Grand Prix had become obsessed with what lies ahead.
The event’s 2012 winner – back in the race for the first time since then at the ripe old age of 25– presented a lesson in pure Formula Three racing to a field packed with teenaged up-and-comers as he nailed pole position for Sunday’s edition.
“Experience helps,” said Da Costa. “It’s always a good thing. I feel a little old this week next to these guys. But it’s good that I’m out there in front as these young guys are quick.”
In the four years since his victory here, Da Costa (Carlin) has raced in pretty much every other class except Formula Three but has slipped back into the groove nicely this week.
“It’s feeling better and better as this week goes on,” he said.
His rivals better take note.
After starting third on the qualifying race grid – behind British 18-year-olds George Russell (Hitech GP) and Callum Ilott (Van Amersfoort Racing) – Da Costa made the afternoon his own with one short, sharp and quite brilliant piece of racing.
There was mayhem shortly after the start but when full race speed resumed on lap five, Da Costa tucked in behind leader Ilott, and then took him on the inside at the Lisboa bend with a deft piece of skill. The youngster didn’t seem to know where his rival had sprung from.
“Again experience helped,” said Da Costa. “I knew exactly what I wanted to do and that helped me take control. Tomorrow will be another matter of course but for now I am happy.”
Qualifying had been delayed for just over an hour after rainwater flooded from the grandstands near the Lisboa bend and on to the track. Macau is certainly a city that throws up the unexpected.
It took only to the first time the field hit the Mandarin bend for things to go pear shaped. Maximilian Gunther (SJM Theodore Racing by Prema), Lando Norris (Carlin), Anthonie Hubert (Van Amersfoort Racing) and Hong Le Yi (B-Max Racing Team) coming to grief into the metalwork – and into each other.
Hong’s teammate Daiki Sasaki should hit the local gambling tables, just is his luck. Somehow Sasaki escaped injury when Hong’s car flew into his back, one wheel coming frighteningly close to contact with the Japanese driver’s helmet.
Conditions then called for calm nerves, and da Costa produced his master class, to take pole today in front of Ilott and Sergio Sette Camara (Carlin).
“It was all a bit nerve-wracking,” admitted Ilott. “But I’m happy enough with second,”
In earlier final qualifying for the second FIA GT World Cup being staged this weekend – the SJM Macau GT Cup –proved a story of two races.
There was one going on out in front as Laurens Vanthoor (Audi Team Sport WRT) and Porsche’s Earl Bamber (Manthey Racing) vied for pole, and one out the back as three-time GT champion Edoardo Mortara (Audi Team Sport WRT) fought his way back through the field after spinning out near the start.
Race incidents meant just seven of the planned 12 laps were held under full speed and Belgian Vanthoor kept a level head – and Bamber in his mirrors – to secure pole for today’s big race, ahead of the New Zealander and Frenchman Kevin Estre (Manthey Racing).
Mortara, meanwhile. had started front of the grid but spun out near the Lisboa bend. Quick repairs were done and the Italian, twice also a winner of the F3 event here, was out again doing what he does best. That Mortara was able to make it to 13th but the stewards later relegated him to 16th following an incident on the last lap. It’ll be a tough ask from there.
“You always have to start well here and that was the same today,” said Vanthoor. “I had to push quite hard to stay in front and I know the pressure will be on me again tomorrow. There will be a lot of good guys behind me but I feel I am strong enough and good enough to pull something out.”