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Spa European F3: Max Verstappen wins thrilling opening race

Max Verstappen, Van Amersfoort, leads Spa European F3 2014

Max Verstappen took victory in an epic opening race of the Formula 3 European Championship weekend after a last-lap battle with Lucas Auer.

Verstappen led all the way after squeezing up the inside of poleman Esteban Ocon as they swept onto the Kemmel straight on the opening lap.

Ocon, pincered between the slipstreaming Auer on the inside and Antonio Fuoco on the outside, made contact with Prema team-mate Fuoco, putting him out of the race.

It was the first non-finish of the season for championship leader and Lotus F1 junior Ocon, while Ferrari protege Fuoco was delayed and dropped to seventh.

Auer stayed close to Verstappen in the early laps, before the Van Amersfoort Racing-run Dutchman - who was always quicker in the middle sector - broke the tow.

But then the safety car came out due to a heavy shunt on the sixth lap between Antonio Giovinazzi and series debutant Santino Ferrucci. American Ferrucci betrayed his Latin roots by easily matching Giovinazzi in the finger-wagging stakes as they clambered out unscathed.

After the restart, Verstappen looked to have the edge over Auer, but the Mucke Motorsport man closed up on the penultimate lap.

Auer moved into the slipstream the final time up the Kemmel straight and, as he ducked inside to make his move, Verstappen brusquely chopped across, contact appearing to damage the rear of the leader's Dallara-Volkswagen car.

Verstappen claimed not to have felt anything, while Auer also seemed quite relaxed about it.

"These things happen in racing," he said. "I don't want to say anything because the stewards will look at it."

Behind them, a fierce fight between the Mucke car of Felix Rosenqvist and Carlin driver Jake Dennis featured the Brit sweeping around the outside of Blanchimont, only for the Swede to repass him on the final lap.

But then Rosenqvist suddenly slowed, and the Racing Steps-backed car of Dennis was able to take the final podium position.

Dennis had team-mate Tom Blomqvist right in his wheeltracks at the finish. The Anglo-Swede was edged onto the grass into La Source on the opening lap, but climbed from the lower reaches of the top 10 to make a dent into Ocon's large championship lead.

The recovering Fuoco swapped places a couple of times with Blomqvist before taking fifth, from Gustavo Menezes, who had run wide in the aftermath of the Ocon/Fuoco incident and had to fight his way back from outside the top 10.

Behind seventh-placed Rosenqvist, Felipe Guimaraes won an epic scrap that variously featured Nicholas Latifi, Felix Serralles and Jules Szymkowiak to claim eighth place from Szymkowiak.

Jordan King took the final point after charging through from 25th on the grid.

Results - 15 laps:

Pos  Driver               Team/Car                          Time/Gap
 1.  Max Verstappen       Van Amersfoort Dallara-VW       35m52.582s
 2.  Lucas Auer           Mucke Dallara-Merc                 +0.817s
 3.  Jake Dennis          Carlin Dallara-VW                  +4.225s
 4.  Tom Blomqvist        Carlin Dallara-VW                  +4.670s
 5.  Antonio Fuoco        Prema Dallara-Merc                 +7.392s
 6.  Gustavo Menezes      Van Amersfoort Dallara-VW          +7.799s
 7.  Felix Rosenqvist     Mucke Dallara-Merc                 +9.427s
 8.  Felipe Guimaraes     Double R Dallara-Merc             +13.047s
 9.  Jules Szymkowiak     Van Amersfoort Dallara-VW         +14.230s
10.  Jordan King          Carlin Dallara-VW                 +14.893s
11.  Felix Serralles      West-Tec Dallara-Merc             +19.667s
12.  Spike Goddard        T-Sport Dallara-NBE               +20.169s
13.  Nicholas Latifi      Prema Dallara-Merc                +21.277s
14.  John Bryant-Meisner  Fortec Dallara-Merc               +21.841s
15.  Tatiana Calderon     Jo Zeller Dallara-Merc            +22.462s
16.  Roy Nissany          Mucke Dallara-Merc                +23.240s
17.  Dennis van de Laar   Prema Dallara-Merc                +25.584s
18.  Sean Gelael          Carlin Dallara-VW                 +26.183s
19.  Hector Hurst         West-Tec Dallara-Merc             +27.905s
20.  Mitchell Gilbert     Fortec Dallara-Merc               +29.256s
21.  Sandro Zeller        Jo Zeller Dallara-Merc            +31.463s
22.  Michele Beretta      Eurointernational Dallara-Merc    +32.505s


     Antonio Giovinazzi   Carlin Dallara-VW                   5 laps
     Santino Ferrucci     Eurointernational Dallara-Merc      5 laps
     Alexander Toril      T-Sport Dallara-NBE                 2 laps
     Esteban Ocon         Prema Dallara-Merc                  0 laps
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