Marco Wittmann won the qualification race for the Macau Grand Prix on Saturday with a controlled drive at the head of the field, as the event finished under the safety car. The Signature driver's job from pole position was made easier when front row starter Antonio da Costa's Hitech car broke its first gear when the lights went out.
Wittmann held on to the lead all the way down to Lisboa, and from there he pulled out a 1.5sec gap over Carlin's Felipe Nasr, which he maintained throughout the 10-lap race. Nasr's main concern was fighting off the advances of Roberto Merhi, who had a brilliant opening lap to move up to fourth from his eighth place on the grid.
Merhi (Prema) overtook Valtteri Bottas (Double R) for third on the run down to Lisboa on the second lap and then pushed Nasr as hard as he could. But despite a few looks down the inside at Lisboa, Merhi could not find a way past – and his challenge was over when the safety car was called out on lap nine after Motopark driver Jimmy Eriksson had a big crash at Faraway.
Wittmann completed the final two laps ahead of Nasr and Merhi. Bottas finished ahead of Carlos Huertas (Carlin) and Daniel Juncadella (Prema).
"It is always nice to win, and stand on top of a podium, but for sure we will not celebrate much because it is just a qualification race," said Wittmann, who will start up front for tomorrow's Macau Grand Prix. "The race tomorrow is the most important one, and that is the one we want to win.
"It was important to make a good start, and that is what happened – although you never know if you will still be in front at Lisboa [corner]," added the German. "Felipe [Nasr] was a bit in front, but I braked later than him and was on a better line on the inside, so I was able to go around first in Lisboa. Then I could push hard and build up a gap of around two seconds, and that was the key to the race I think."
Merhi agreed that the Saturday race didn't mean much, even suggesting his third place might actually be better for him.
"Third place is OK, because I think it is the best position for the start," said the Prema driver. "Last year [Daniel] Abt started third and he was P1 at Lisboa, so I think it is a really good place to be."
Alexander Sims, who had qualified fourth for TOM'S, crashed on his out-lap from the pits and did not make the start.
The incident-free race was unusual for the tight Macau street circuit, but Wittmann doesn't expect that to continue in tomorrow's final. Wittmann is expecting a tougher battle on Sunday.
"I think for sure tomorrow will be more aggressive," he said. "Everyone gets more confident with the track and conditions, but that is not only the others – for me it is the same situation."
Results - 10 laps:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Marco Wittmann Signature Dallara-VW 25m03.719s
2. Felipe Nasr Carlin Dallara-VW + 0.867s
3. Roberto Merhi Prema Dallara-Merc + 3.483s
4. Valtteri Bottas Double R Dallara-Merc + 4.270s
5. Carlos Huertas Carlin Dallara-VW + 4.850s
6. Daniel Juncadella Prema Dallara-Merc + 5.381s
7. Laurens Vanthoor Signature Dallara-VW + 6.512s
8. Daniel Abt Signature Dallara-VW + 7.228s
9. Kimiya Sato Motopark Dallara-VW + 8.154s
10. Hannes van Asseldonk Hitech Dallara-VW + 9.337s
11. Hideki Yamauchi Toda Dallara-Honda + 10.200s
12. Yuhi Sekiguchi Mucke Dallara-Merc + 10.789s
13. William Buller Fortec Dallara-Merc + 11.086s
14. Lucas Foresti Fortec Dallara-Merc + 11.517s
15. Richie Stanaway Van Amersfoort Dallara-VW + 12.167s
16. Hywel Lloyd Sino Vision Dallara-Merc + 12.888s
17. Jazeman Jaafar Carlin Dallara-VW + 13.967s
18. Marko Asmer Double R Dallara-Merc + 14.933s
19. Kevin Magnussen Carlin Dallara-VW + 15.558s
20. Carlos Sainz Jr Signature Dallara-VW + 16.388s
21. Felix Rosenqvist Mucke Dallara-Merc + 16.924s
22. Mitch Evans Double R Dallara-Merc + 18.601s
Jimmy Eriksson Motopark Dallara-VW 7 laps
Adderly Fong Sino Vision Dallara-Merc 6 laps
Richard Bradley TOM's Dallara-Toyota 5 laps
Antonio Felix da Costa Hitech Dallara-VW 4 laps
Hironobu Yasuda Three Bond Dallara-Nissan 3 laps
Carlos Munoz Signature Dallara-VW 1 lap
Pietro Fantin Hitech Dallara-VW 0 laps
Alexander Sims TOM'S Dallara-Toyota 0 laps