Red Bull Formula 1 junior Juri Vips scored a stunning Macau Grand Prix qualifying race pole position for Hitech Grand Prix, almost five seconds quicker than last year’s best lap.
The lap times had tumbled throughout the weekend – thanks to the introduction of the new FIA Formula 3 car – culminating in Vips setting a 2m06.569s in free practice two on Friday morning, 3.341s quicker than last year’s pole and comfortably the fastest F3 laps around Macau.
The pace was hot immediately in qualifying, and Prema Racing’s Marcus Armstrong became the first driver to dip under the 2m06s barrier in the second half of the session.
But on his next flying lap the Ferrari protege went out after he ploughed into the barrier at the outside of Police, following a session-best second sector.
That set up a 19-minute shootout for pole where Vips came to the fore, pumping in a 2m04.997s with seven minutes to go - which at that point was seven tenths clear of anyone.
Armstrong’s teammate and newly-crowned F3 champion Robert Shwartzman was in the top three for most of the session and his late improvement looked enough to worry the pit-bound Vips. But it wasn’t to be as the Russian fell 0.379s short.
Another Ferrari junior, Callum Ilott, hadn’t even driven the car in the sim prior to the event, but the Sauber Junior Team driver, who stepped down from his regular Formula 2 seat for his fifth Macau outing, delivered with third.
Renault junior Christian Lundgaard looked a sullen figure before the session as he and the ART Grand Prix chased a suitable set-up, but finished as the top rookie as four first-timers reached the top 10.
MP Motorsport’s Richard Verschoor sealed the top five, the Dutchman also impressing on his first visit to the Guia track, just 0.054s shy of Lundgaard.
Macau veteran Jake Hughes put event debutant HWA into the top six with a late lunge after spending most of the session outside of the top 15, while Shwartzman’s Prema teammate and another rookie Fredrik Vesti delivered on the promise he has shown on the way to the Formula Regional European championship title with the same team. He took seventh.
Arjun Maini was another returnee who didn’t get into the sim before the event, but followed up the impressive performances Yuki Tsunoda delivered in the FIA F3 season with Jenzer Motorsport by taking eighth.
Armstrong slipped to ninth in the order after his crash, while Macau first-timer Logan Sargeant was the top Carlin driver amid drama for his double winner teammate Dan Ticktum.
The Brit hit a stationary David Beckmann at Police in free practice two, despite a huge snap of oversteer in an attempt to avoid the stricken Trident driver.
A herculean effort from the Carlin squad ensued as the team swapped the engine and gearbox, rear wing, floor and other bodywork in less than four hours.
He managed to deliver 13th, despite having only 20 minutes to do so.
The session was delayed after Leo Pulcini and Enzo Fittipaldi crashed with 30 minutes left in the session.