Lando Norris jointly leads the FIA Formula 3 European Championship on points after posting two second placings and despite cruelly being robbed of a near certain Pau Grand Prix début victory this weekend.

With a comfortable lead and only minutes remaining, his Carlin-entered Dallara-Volkswagen suffered front left suspension failure pitching the helpless British teenager in to the barriers at the Foch Chicane. The McLaren-Honda Young Driver, who arrived in south-western France just one-point off the series lead, now ties on 139-points with Joel Eriksson after nine races while remaining well clear in the “Rookie” standings.

 Due to the tight and narrow confines combined with the shortness of the temporary 1.71-mile city street circuit nestling in the foothills of the Pyrenees, the 19-car grid was split into two separate groups for both qualifying sessions. The 2016 McLaren Autosport BRDC Award winner claimed a front row position for Race 1 in qualifying on Friday afternoon. Lando topped the times in Group B, but Callum Ilott was fractionally faster in the earlier group earning him “pole”. 

 Norris slipped to third place at Turn 1 in Race 1 on Saturday morning, behind Ilott and a fast-starting Eriksson but halfway around the opening lap, Ilott crashed into the barriers promoting the Swede and Lando to first and second prior to a Safety Car phase as spots of rain fell. Lando set a series of fastest race laps after the re-start, cutting the gap to 0.5ses, before a second Safety Car period which left a two-lap sprint to the chequered flag. Norris hounded the Swede to the finish, just missing out by 0.243secs after 23-laps as the rain ultimately stayed away. 

On Saturday afternoon in warm, overcast conditions, the BRDC SuperStar absolutely “nailed” qualifying with a flawless masterclass, taking pole-position for Races 2 and 3. The former karting world champion was over half a second faster than the second quickest driver in his “group” and over 1.5secs under the lap record set in 2015 after a truly magnificent display. 

It maintained the 17-year-old F3 rookie’s incredible 100% record in 2017 of starting from either pole-position (three times) or second place (six). But front-row starting Maximilian Günther got the drop on pole-sitter Norris off the start line in Race 2 on Sunday morning, Lando applying immense pressure on the German in a thrilling opening 10mins battle before dropping away – ultimately finishing 1.953secs behind to re-take the outright championship lead again. 

Norris made a storming start in Race 3, designated the Grand Prix de Pau, led by 1.2secs at the completion of the first lap and had extended it to 4.2secs after eight laps before a short Safety Car period nullified his advantage having set a blistering pace. Norris looked set to stroke it home and emulate Lewis Hamilton’s Pau GP victory and was a comfortable 2.5secs ahead on lap 18 before the front left suspension failed causing Lando to crash at Foch, Norris dejectedly climbing out of the damaged car uninjured and massively disappointed. 

“I’m mega gutted about what happened in the Grand Prix today. I made a great start from pole, covered off Maxi [Günther] and pulled out a comfortable lead before the Safety Car – the car was awesome. I was literally cruising, under no pressure, when I felt something break on the front left moments before hitting the guard rails. The fact that I’m tied on points for the championship lead is honestly no consolation at the moment."

"I was pretty happy to be second fastest for Race 1. It was my first time at Pau and there were a couple of sections [of the track] I wasn't totally confident with on Friday while that session was totally dry unlike practice earlier that day. I made a decent start in Saturday morning’s race – it wasn’t perfect but it was better! Joel [Eriksson] got alongside me going in to Turn 1 and managed to get ahead. Callum [Ilott] crashed into the barriers so I had to be cautious going past him as I didn’t know if his car would come back out in front of me. I tried to pressure Joel as much as possible but he didn’t make any mistakes. I’m happy with second although if it was one person I wanted and needed to beat in terms of the championship, it was Joel. "

“We had the perfect strategy in terms of the tyres in the second qualifying on Saturday afternoon. I pitted for two new slicks on the left-hand side after four laps and it turned out to be a perfect tactic. After Friday’s qualifying, we made changes to the car that were very effective. I was a lot more confident and natural allowing me to push more. Maxi [Günther] made a great start in Race 2, mine was decent, but his was better which allowed him to get ahead. We battled hard in the opening phase. It’s very hard to overtake due to the narrowness of the track plus it being a normal road, the camber doesn’t help but his pace from mid-race to the end was stronger. Then in the GP everything clicked at the start only for the suspension to break."

The next Euro F3 event is staged at the Hungaroring near Budapest over 17-18 Jun. Lando recorded two pole-positions and won a race at the venue in Formula Renault Northern European Cup on the way to winning the title last year.

Published
9:00 am
Monday
22
May 2017
from
Pau