Said Alpine Academy member Zhou: “Coming to the last round 32 points behind, it wasn’t easy but I never gave up right to the last race. Today we made a perfect start, got into the lead and it was head down to get the win here. It’s unbelievable to be the F3 Asian Champion. It’s been a good experience and I’ve really enjoyed my four weeks here.”
Racing on the full 5.554km F1 configuration of Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit for the first time this season, the championship produced a trio of nail-biting races in the fifth and final round of the season. Heading into the final round, Chovet had a 32-point lead at the top of the Driver Classification, but 21-year-old Zhou’s elevation to first after 3Y Evans GP’s Patrik Pasma incurred a penalty in Race 13, followed by retirement by the Frenchman in Race 14 following a racing incident, gave the Chinese driver a single point advantage going in to the final race. Zhou didn’t put a wheel wrong, a dominant victory earning him both the championship title and 18 FIA Super Licence points.
Chovet, 18, finished second in the championship, 16 points behind Zhou, thereby earning 14 Super Licence points, with Mumbai Falcons India Racing Ltd. and Red Bull Junior Driver Jehan Daruvala third ahead of Pasma. Hitech GP’s Roy Nissany ends the season fifth, ahead of 3Y Evans GP’s Isack Hadjar of France, Sweden’s Dino Beganovic, Iwasa, BlackArts Racing’s Cem Bolukbasi, who was also third in the Rookie Cup, and Hitech GP’s Roman Stanek in tenth place.
While Zhou Guanyu made a good start from pole for Race 13, he wasn’t able to shut the door fast enough on the rocketing Finn, Patrik Pasma, who had started alongside. The 3Y Evans GP driver took the inside line to snatch the lead into Turn 1 and never looked back, powering towards the chequered flag.
Mindful of the title stakes – and with uncanny prescience - Zhou kept his cool, setting the fastest lap of the race to lock in pole position for the penultimate race of the season, and keeping Pasma within reach. Meanwhile, points leader Pierre-Louis Chovet in P5 initially had a look at Kush Maini off the start but the Mumbai Falcons India Racing Ltd. driver was having none of it and held on to fourth behind Roman Stanek. Instead, the Frenchman suddenly found himself having to contend with Roy Nissany who got alongside. The pair made contact, forcing Chovet to run wide before rejoining ahead of the Israeli. David Vidales had made gains on the opening lap from his P8 starting position, moving up to fifth in the order behind Maini and ahead of Chovet, Nissany and Jehan Daruvala.
As Pasma consolidated his lead up ahead, Zhou ensured he stayed clear of the tightly packed, six-car battle behind led by Stanek, with the Czech, Maini, Vidales, Chovet, Nissany and Daruvala all dicing it out for position. Nissany eventually found a way past Chovet, dropping the title favourite down to seventh.
Having held on to the final podium place for almost the entire race, Lap 12 saw disaster strike for Stanek when a technical issue brought an early end to his race. His car came to a halt just after the start/finish line bringing out the yellow flags. Heartache for the Czech, however, meant elevation to the podium for Maini, his first of the championship.
There was late-race disappointment for Alex Connor too, the 3Y Evans GP driver having led the Rookie Cup runners right up until the closing minutes when he was forced to retire. That put Cem Bolukbasi in line for his first Rookie Cup victory.
At the flag, Pasma crossed the line ahead of Zhou, however the Finn, along with several other drivers, had failed to slow under yellows and received a five second penalty which relegated him to second. That gave Zhou a crucial 25 points for the win and tore a chunk out of the championship lead of his title rival Chovet. Maini celebrated his maiden podium finish in third, with Nissany later promoted to fourth ahead of Chovet after a penalty demoted Vidales to sixth ahead of Daruvala. Bolukbasi was another driver who fell foul of the Stewards, losing his maiden Rookie Cup win to Reece Ushijima.
It was déjà vu for pole-sitter Zhou Guanyu at the start of the penultimate race of the season when Patrik Pasma once again aced him at the start, plunging into the lead into Turn 1 and shaking off the Chinese drivers attempts toregain his pole advantage, with Jehan Daruvala pushing hard to keep up with the leading pair.
Further down the order Roy Nissany ran wide after an attempt to get by Pierre-Louis Chovet but, moments later disaster struck for the championship leader when a coming together with Roman Stanek ended the race for both drivers. The incident also brought out the safety car, giving Zhou a second opportunity to regain the lead.
With almost two-thirds race time remaining on the clock, Pasma expertly controlled the restart, pulling away from Zhou. Behind them, Maini made a moveon David Vidales to go fourth behind team mate Daruvala.
The safety car was called out for a second time after an incident between Khaled Al Qubaisi and Rookie Cup driver Alex Connor, the Emirati driver eventually able to continue and, impressively, setting the fastest lap of the race.
At the restart, Pasma once again remained in total control, pulling away forthe third time from Zhou who, sensibly, realized there was little to be gained by risking the title. There were a couple of anxious moments for the Mumbai Falcons India Racing Ltd. crew when it looked as though Maini might make a move on team mate Daruvala, but the latter retained his position to take a well-deserved podium finish.
Pasma took his second victory of the season but, crucially, Zhou’s second place finish put him a single point ahead of Chovet heading into the final race ofthe season. Maini took fourth ahead of Vidales, while this time Cem Bolukbasi made sure there was no denying him his first Rookie Cup victory, the Turkish driver crossing the line sixth overall ahead of Nissany and Roberto Faria. Lorenzo Fluxa took ninth, with Reece Ushijima taking the final championship point after a one place relegation following a penalty.
With the title at stake, Zhou Guanyu was leaving nothing to chance and this time made the perfect start, masterfully slamming the door on Patrik Pasma and immediately pulling out a gap. Behind Pasma, Jehan Daruvala gave chase ahead of Roman Stanek and Pierre-Louis Chovet, both of whom had got by David Vidales who had dropped to sixth.
Almost immediately though, an incident between Pinnacle Motorsport’s Alessio Deledda and 3Y Evans GP’s Irina Sidorkova brought out the safety car after Deledda’s car was left stranded on track. At the restart, Zhou once again led the field away from Pasma and Daruvala. Behind the top three, Chovet was desperate to find a way past Stanek, but the Hitech GP Czech held his nerve despite intense pressure from the Frenchman.
At the half way point, Zhou had pulled out a lead of more than two seconds from Pasma, as Chovet continued to try in vain to move up through the field. As the minutes ticked by, Zhou continued his thunderous run to the chequered flag, sweeping to victory and the title ahead of Pasma, with Daruvala taking the final podium position ahead of Stanek, Chovet and Roy Nissany.
Like Zhou, Ayumu Iwasa had started the final race of the season just one point ahead of Rookie Cup title rival, Hitech GP team mate Reece Ushijima, and his victory in Race 15 sealed the title for him, with BlackArts Racing’s Cem Bolukbasi third in the standings.