Joel Eriksson was forced to see a realistic shot at Macau Grand Prix victory shattered in heart-breaking circumstances when, while leading, he was taken out of Sunday’s 15-lap FIA F3 World Cup finale.
From second on the grid, Eriksson made a lightning start to snatch the lead from pole-sitter Callum Ilott (GBR) into Reservoir Bend, before crucially defending his advantage on the long run to Lisboa to establish himself as the early leader.
The race was then neutralised further around the opening lap when Marino Sato (JPN) crashed out in the sweepers after Melco Hairpin, triggering a Full Course Yellow situation.
At the restart on lap three, Ilott took advantage of the slipstreaming effect to drag alongside Eriksson on the main straight. The Swede covered the inside line as the duo stormed towards Lisboa, when Ilott suddenly steered into the left-hand side of Eriksson’s car as he tried to steal the lead.
The ensuing contact derailed Eriksson’s front wing endplate, which then got lodged underneath the left front tyre and sent the Motopark with VEB machine understeering into the barrier. It brought Eriksson’s FIA F3 World Cup assault to a brutal end.
Ilott picked up a puncture, but continued following a pit stop only to retire two laps from the end. He was later handed a post-race ten-second time penalty, although irrelevant, for the clash.
“Extremely disappointing,” says Joel Eriksson. “Hard one to take. Everything went exactly according to plan until that point. I made a good start, covered off the inside to Lisboa, and grabbed the lead. The car felt better today than yesterday; we ran more downforce and I’m confident that I would have been able to build a gap in the mountain if given the chance. Instead, it ended like this, but there really was nothing I could have done differently.”
Eriksson has been a consistent frontrunner throughout the Macau weekend, opening proceedings with second place in first free practice and topping the times in practice two.
He then stormed to an emphatic pole position in qualifying, lapping the 6.2 km Guia street track in 2m10.720s to out-pace McLaren Formula 1 reserve Lando Norris (GBR) by 0.024 seconds in a close-run affair.
Second place behind Ilott in Saturday’s 10-lap Qualification Race left Eriksson on the front row of the grid for the all-important finale, where his early lead suggested a real victory attack was firmly on the cards.
“This is the second time Ilott takes me out from the lead at a street track (the FIA F3 European Championship round at Norisring in 2016 was the first),” Eriksson says. “I’m sure he didn’t mean to on either occasion, but still it’s frustrating to have it happen again. We had a big opportunity to win Macau today and it is tough to take, but I’m pleased with my own performance. We got pole and were in a position where we could win the Macau Grand Prix on pace, so that is encouraging. You need a bit of luck here, simple as that, and I certainly wasn’t lucky today.”
Sunday’s Grand Prix featured arguably the most sensational finish in recent memory, as both Sérgio Sette Câmara (BRA) and Ferdinand Habsburg (AUT) crashed at the final corner of the final lap while disputing the lead – allowing third-placed Dan Ticktum (GBR) through to seal a highly unlikely victory.
For Joel Eriksson, the Macau Grand Prix marked the final race of 2017. Work for the next racing season is now intensifying as the FIA Formula 3 European Championship runner-up looks to progress his career further still in 2018.