FIA Formula 3 European Championship leader Lando Norris heads for the final event next month within touching distance of winning the title.
The 17-year-old British driver had placed his Carlin prepared Dallara-Volkswagen fourth and second at the Red Bull Ring in Austria. But in the final race this weekend (23-24 Sep) and on the last lap with the championship all but secured, Norris was hit from behind when defending second place. The McLaren-Honda Young Driver now has 411pts with his nearest title challenger Maximilian Günther, trailing by 72pts. A maximum of 75pts are at stake at the Hockenheim finale in Germany.
Norris started Race 1 yesterday morning from the second row of the 20-car grid in cool but sunny conditions after an ultra-close qualifying session the previous evening. He slipped to fifth place on lap one after challenging for third and ultimately forced his way into fourth two laps from home bringing an end to a seven-race run of podiums. This morning’s race saw Norris start from the front row – denied a ninth pole-position of the season by a mere 0.003secs – and was alongside pole-sitter Joel Eriksson on numerous occasions around the opening lap of the fast and sweeping 2.69-mile track. Lando remained on the tail of the Swede – always within one second for the opening 17-laps – eventually taking the chequered flag second, 0.896secs behind Eriksson having also set the fastest race lap.
Another front row start for Race 3 from alongside Eriksson, the pair battled side-by-side for the opening lap and a half. Lando remained in Eriksson’s wheeltracks, a second place being enough to secure the title. But on lap 19 of the 24-lap race, Norris clipped the rear of Eriksson, tearing off the end-plate on Lando’s front right wing. The subsequent loss in downforce allowed third-placed Ralf Aron to challenge Norris on the penultimate lap but the Estonian “locked up” under braking and hit the back of Norris, both cars retiring in the gravel trap. The final three races are staged at Hockenheim over 14-15 October.
“I really wanted to clinch the championship here today but after making two mistakes, I must now wait until Hockenheim. I made an error under braking and touched the back of Joel’s car that damaged my front wing. I then wanted to finish on the podium too badly and got myself involved in a collision. In hindsight, I should have let Ralf go through. Although I feel devastated, not for me but for the team, I take a 72pt advantage to Hockenheim so all is far from lost.
“Qualifying on Friday was a disappointment. My car had a handling imbalance and I was slowed with understeer. The Carlin guys made some changes overnight which improved things for Race 1. I made a good start but dropped a place fighting for third. With two laps to go I managed to squeeze into fourth. I tried hard on the opening lap to get ahead of Joel in Race 2. My pace was good but he [Eriksson] made no mistakes – I was happy with second. I again made a good start in Race 3, the car felt really good until I hit Joel, the damaged front wing causing massive understeer.”