Merhi, Maki top first Masters qualifying

Formula 3 Euro Series frontrunners Roberto Merhi and Mika Maki overcame a lack of speed in free practice to set the pace in the first qualifying sessions for the F3 Masters at Zandvoort today

Merhi, Maki top first Masters qualifying

The 36-car field was split into two for a pair of consecutive half-hour sessions, with the top 10 in each all progressing through to this afternoon's pole position shootout.

Manor Motorsport driver Merhi set the fastest time of the weekend so far in the first session, his 1m31.094s lap enough to suppress Dutch home hero Renger van der Zande (Hitech) into second by just over a tenth.

Finn Mika Maki (Signature) set the pace in the slower but closer second session, with a 1m31.444s best right at the end, to defeat German Christian Vietoris (Mucke), fellow Finn Valtteri Bottas (ART) and British series leader Daniel Ricciardo (Carlin).

Both qualifying sessions were interrupted by red flags as drivers went off desperately trying to avoid being dumped out of the crucial top 10 orders.

The first session was stopped mid-way through, when Samuele Buttarelli (Carlin) continued his miserable day by ending his session in the Mastersbocht gravel.

Defending F3 Master Jules Bianchi (ART) held the top spot heading into the second half, but was bumped down to third as Merhi and van der Zande improved in the final third of the session.

Reigning McLaren Autosport BRDC Award winner Alexander Sims (Mucke) was the quickest Briton in this session, setting the fifth fastest time, two tenths slower than Jean Karl Vernay (Signature), but a tenth better than team-mate Sam Bird.

German F3 championship leader Laurens Vanthoor used a last-gasp lap to make the top 10 and knock out the lone Dallara-Mugen Honda of Italian Daniel Zampieri.

The second session was punctuated by two red flags, as first practice pacesetter Esteban Gutierrez (ART), and then German Marco Wittmann (Mucke), both ended their session in the gravel at the fearsome Schievlak turn.

It looked for a while as if both might have done enough early on to make the cut, but a raft of last-minute improvements bumped them both down to 14th and 15th respectively.

Better times from Atte Mustonen (Motopark), Matteo Chinosi (Prema), Tiago Geronimi (Signature), Henkie Waldschmidt (SG Formula), Carlos Huertas (Double R) and Basil Shaaban (Prema) meant they all survived, while improvements by Max Chlton (Carlin), Walter Grubmuller (Hitech) and Francesco Castellacci (Manor) offered brief hope, but ultimately fell short and they will miss the pole shoot-out.

First qualifying group: Pos Driver Team Car Time Gap 1. Roberto Merhi Manor D/M 1m31.094s 2. Renger van der Zande Hitech D/M 1m31.218s + 0.124s 3. Jules Bianchi ART D/M 1m31.333s + 0.239s 4. Jean-Karl Vernay Signature D/V 1m31.343s + 0.249s 5. Alexander Sims Mucke D/M 1m31.580s + 0.486s 6. Sam Bird Mucke D/M 1m31.680s + 0.586s 7. Stefano Coletti Prema D/M 1m31.858s + 0.764s 8. Adrien Tambay ART D/M 1m32.075s + 0.981s 9. Christopher Zanella Motopark D/M 1m32.256s + 1.162s 10. Laurens Vanthoor Carlin D/V 1m32.609s + 1.515s 11. Daniel Zampieri BVM D/H 1m32.652s + 1.558s 12. Daisuke Nakajima Double R D/M 1m32.796s + 1.702s 13. Andrea Caldarelli SG D/M 1m32.800s + 1.706s 14. Victor Garcia Fortec D/M 1m32.874s + 1.780s 15. Henry Arundel Carlin D/V 1m33.249s + 2.155s 16. Cesar Ramos Manor D/M 1m33.308s + 2.214s 17. Alexandre Marsoin SG D/M 1m33.795s + 2.701s 18. Samuele Buttarelli Carlin D/V 1m34.111s + 3.017s 
Second qualifying group: Pos Driver Team Car Time Gap 1. Mika Maki Signature D/V 1m31.444s 2. Christian Vietoris Mucke D/M 1m31.522s + 0.078s 3. Valtteri Bottas ART D/M 1m31.662s + 0.218s 4. Daniel Ricciardo Carlin D/V 1m31.771s + 0.327s 5. Henkie Waldschmidt SG D/M 1m32.044s + 0.600s 6. Atte Mustonen Motopark D/M 1m32.294s + 0.850s 7. Basil Shaaban Prema D/M 1m32.314s + 0.870s 8. Matteo Chinosi Prema D/M 1m32.351s + 0.907s 9. Tiago Geronimi Signature D/V 1m32.395s + 0.951s 10. Carlos Huertas Double R D/M 1m32.473s + 1.029s 11. Walter Grubmuller Hitech D/M 1m32.627s + 1.183s 12. Max Chilton Carlin D/V 1m32.631s + 1.187s 13. Francesco Castellacci Manor D/M 1m32.652s + 1.208s 14. Esteban Gutierrez ART D/M 1m32.687s + 1.243s 15. Marco Wittmann Mucke D/M 1m32.708s + 1.264s 16. Jake Rosenzweig Carlin D/V 1m32.811s + 1.367s 17. Riki Christodoulou Fortec D/M 1m32.909s + 1.465s 18. Pedro Nunes Manor D/M 1m32.927s + 1.483s 
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