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F3 Qualifying Results: Belgium

30 drivers attempted to set the fastest time around the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps; who managed to top the timing screens?

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Pepe Marti, driving for Campos Racing, set the fastest time in Qualifying for the penultimate round of the 2023 FIA Formula 3 Championship. He will start the Feature race on pole.

The #5 Trident of Gabriel Bortoleto could potentially seal the Drivers’ Championship this weekend (Image Credit: @Formula3 on Twitter)

The 2023 Spa-Francorchamps Formula 3 round is the second-to-last round of the year, with Italy being the deciding round in over a month’s time.

Championship leader Gabriel Bortoleto has an opportunity to claim the Drivers’ crown over the weekend; he currently holds a 43 point advantage over second-placed Zak O’Sullivan. The latter attained his fourth race victory of the season at the preceding round in Hungary.

Fellow Williams Academy driver Luke Browning set the pace in the earlier practice session with a 2:23.055, with Kaylen Frederick and Gregoire Saucy rounding out the top three.

The top of the Teams’ Standings is looking a lot closer. PREMA Racing are just 15 points ahead of Trident on 289 and 274 points respectively. With third-placed Hitech Pulse-Eight a further 120 points behind, it’s looking like a two-way tussle for the Teams’ Championship this year.

Max Esterson will make way for F3 debutant Francesco Simonazzi for the remainder of the 2023 campaign. The 19-year-old Italian currently sits fourth in the Euroformula Open Championship.

Track safety concerns

F3 drivers have expressed concerns over the overall safety of the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps. Formula Regional racer Dilano van’ t Hoff tragically lost his life at the racetrack earlier this month, and F2 star Anthoine Hubert also passed away in a similar part of the track four years ago.

Such a high frequency of lethal accidents has not gone unnoticed by fans and drivers alike, and discussions are taking place about what can be done to reduce the risk of life-threatening crashes on the same circuit.

Speaking to accredited media including FormulaNerds however, both Pepe Marti and Bortoleto are more worried about the combination of track and weather rather than the circuit itself.

The weather in and around the track has been rainy for the past few days, and it’s expected to remain wet for Qualifying. Who will be triumphant and put themselves in the best position for Sunday’s Feature race? Read on to find out.

How it happened

The track was decidedly wet, all 30 drivers opted to go out on the wet tyres as the session was delayed by five minutes to allow final preparations of the circuit to be completed.

But with no rain expected for the following quarter of an hour, the track continued to dry as the session progressed. The best times were likely to come at the very end of the 30-minute long Qualifying.

Saucy was first out on track, along with his two other ART Grand Prix teammates. The veteran Frenchman set the first benchmark flying lap: a 2:26.165.

Meanwhile, Frederick found the gravel in the second sector, briefly bringing out the yellow flags.

Much of the field failed to best Saucy’s time, as O’Sullivan slotted into second just under a tenth of a second back with his teammate Dino Beganovic third with 23 minutes to go, 0.6 seconds down on the best lap.

The track continued to evolve, as Frederick redeemed himself from his earlier mistake by moving up to the top of the timing screens with a 2:26.077.

A few drivers’ lap times were deleted for going beyond track limits, including Mari Boya, Gabriele Mini and Rafael Villagomez.

ART Grand Prix seemed to be continuing their form from the earlier practice session, as Saucy and Tsolov bested Frederick to go second and first respectively. The new time to beat: a 2:25.814.

Bortoleto slotted into fourth place, while Marti took the lead with a 2:25.604 as a dry line was beginning to form on the circuit. The latter’s time was subsequently deleted for a track limits violation, allowing PREMA Racing driver Paul Aron to inherit provisional pole.

The second half

The Van Amersfoort Racing (VAR) of Caio Collet beat Aron’s time by two milliseconds to take first position at the halfway point of the session.

Drivers began to peel into the pits for fresh rubber and prepare for a final few chances at pole position. Bortoleto on the other hand went for one last dash, setting a purple second sector and taking provisional pole by over half a second with a 2:25.180.

The cameras focussed on Bortoleto’s teammate Oliver Goethe, as the German stepped out of his Trident with a suspected engine issue.

With ten minutes remaining, the entire field headed out once again. Still no rain as there was in FP1 for Formula 1 earlier, allowing the tarmac to dry even more. Aron went on his team radio and suggested a change for slick tyres at the very end of Qualifying could be a decisive move.

The final minutes

Times were tumbling; Bortoleto’s time at the top was unlikely to be the fastest for much longer. Saucy proved as much with a 2:23.345 to go fastest by almost two seconds.

O’Sullivan briefly moved up to fourth position, but his time was deleted for track limits. Frederick moved up to second, with Beganovic claiming third with four minutes left.

Bortoleto set a blistering final sector but struggled in the opening two, setting a 2:23.966 to go into P4.

Saucy’s time was still quickest by a comfortable margin of almost four tenths. Could he hang on to pole position?

Teammate Frederick closed the gap to less than a tenth, before Aron moved into the lead with a 2:22.942. O’Sullivan and Beganovic made it a PREMA 1-2-3, with the former taking the top of the timing screens with a 2:22.551.

The lead continued to change until the dying moments, with Franco Colapinto, then Mini, then Marti claiming pole. Fornaroli took second place and couldn’t oust Marti from the top, allowing the Spaniard to take his second pole position of the season.

At the end of the session, Hugh Barter ended up in 12th position. The Campos Racing driver will start tomorrow’s Sprint race on pole position.

Qualifying classification

The top 12 were as follows:

1. Pepe Marti

2. Leonardo Fornaroli

3. Gabriele Mini

4. Franco Colapinto

5. Nikola Tsolov

6. Zak O’Sullivan

7. Dino Beganovic

8. Jonny Edgar

9. Caio Collet

10. Taylor Barnard

11. Paul Aron

12. Hugh Barter

Feature Image Credit: @Formula3 on Twitter

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