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Who will be the first emperor of Macau’s new era?

by Formula Scout

The sporting world has already been treated to thrilling world cup finals in cricket, netball and rugby this year, and motorsport will look to add to that list with its Formula 3 stars in this weekend’s Macau Grand Prix

There’s lots to be excited about when talking about the 2019 Macau GP, with a new car, new drivers and a circuit with new elements that could all add to the show. It’s the mixture of the familiar features and the unknown ones that make the event so cherished within motorsport, and is where many faces made their name known before achieving success in Formula 1.

This year’s capacity grid of 30 cars has a 50/50 split between rookies and returning drivers, but six of the 10 teams have never visited the circuit before. Unsurprisingly, this makes Macau winners ART Grand Prix, Carlin and Prema the favourites straight away, along with the younger Hitech GP team that took pole on its first attempt back in 2016 with George Russell.

Whether the Dallara F3 2019 cars used by FIA F3 Championship will produce the same kind of competitive order – or racing – as the previously used Dallara F317 did is up for debate, and will only be found out during the main grand prix race itself on Sunday.

The success of that, and the revisions to the iconic Lisboa corner after Sophia Floersh’s horror crash in 2018, will determine whether this is the start of a new era in Macau or an ambitious false start.

The comeback kid trying to make history

One of the most scrutinised young drivers of the present day, Dan Ticktum is attempting to become the first ever driver to win the Macau GP three times in a row.

Since his crushing weekend-long display with Motopark in the city-state last year, he’s had a somewhat turbulent 12 months.

The 20-year-old began 2019 with an uninspiring Asian F3 Winter Series (AF3WS) campaign which ended one round early, and his Super Formula lasted three races before he lost his seat and was ejected from the Red Bull Junior Team.

Ticktum returned to racing for two rounds of the Regional F3-spec Formula Regional European Championship several months later, then pencilled his Macau deal with three-time grand prix winner Carlin.

That put Ticktum in one of Carlin’s cars for the mostly wet post-season FIA F3’s test at Valencia, where was 14th fastest. His inexperience in the car, and its Pirelli tyres, will act as the biggest stumbling block to him earning a hat-trick of wins.

However, if he’s successful it will provide the much-needed career boost to remind everyone why he’s still one of the top junior single-seater talents. While his maiden Macau GP victory was certainly fortunate given the dramatic final lap, his 2018 win was a testament to how one driver can be a cut above the rest in an event that rewards the best.

His knowledge of the circuit, as well as Carlin’s, should place him right among the victory favourites even after enduring the disjointed and woeful 12 months he’s been through. And send a message to his potential Formula 2 rivals of 2020.

Prema’s champions looking to end 2019 on a high

The odds are somewhat stacked against FIA F3 champion Robert Shwartzman. Just two of the past 10 Macau winners were champion of their respective series in the same year. Prema also hasn’t won since 2015, and that was with the somewhat overqualified Felix Rosenqvist. Furthermore, Shwartzman was consistently the fourth-best Prema driver at Macau last year.

However, given the hugely impressive season Shwartzman has had, he’s probably not too worried about the past. He instantly gelled with the FIA F3 car, and the consistently strong performances he demonstrated throughout 2019 is exactly what is needed to win Macau. More than that, he showed he was more adept than anyone in getting the most out of a lowly grid spot.

Looking for redemption in the intra-team rivalry is Marcus Armstrong. A mixture of bad luck and inconsistency meant he only just stole second in the standings from Jehan Daruvala at the final round and finished 64 points adrift of Shwartzman.

Armstrong made a solid Macau debut last year, finishing eighth in the main race as the second-best rookie. If he can use that experience as a base, he has a decent shot at ending 2019 as Prema’s top dog.

A knee injury means Daruvala won’t be at Macau, but it does give Prema’s FREC champion Frederik Vesti a well-earned top seat. Vesti into last year’s Macau weekend with limited F3 experience, but left with a respectable 15th place, after a crash in the qualification race left him 25th on the grid.

He’s unlikely to be in victory contention like his two team-mates, but the weekend will be a decent springboard ahead of a likely FIA F3 season with Prema.

The more successful Schumacher sequel?

While it didn?t occur last year despite expectation, there is again the opportunity of a Schumacher family triple at Macau.

Mick Schumacher was unable to emulate his father Michael over the past two years, but his cousin David has the opportunity to emulate his own father, and 1995 Macau winner, Ralf.

The latest Schumacher on the racing scene spent a single year in Formula 4 before stepping up to the newly created FREC with his dad’s US Racing team for 2019. He impressed, winning four times against Prema’s might, and showed he could control races from the front. As a reminder, he never visited the podium in ADAC F4 or his Euroformula Open cameo last year.

Schumacher also raced in AF3WS this year and then the final FIA F3 round at Sochi, although he could make no real impact in the latter with Campos Racing. The result there didn’t reflect how quickly he adapted to the car.

All recent tradition has gone out of the window with the new car, but Macau historically is one of those circuits where track position is more than critical to a good result, and Schumacher’s pace with Sauber Junior Team by Charouz in the post-season test had him mired firmly in the lower section of the congested midfield. Valencia shares little with Macau though.

A victory would be a long shot, predominantly because other teams will likely be stronger, but Macau can produce truly unexpected results. If Schumacher were to re-create family history, hopefully it won?t come with the same mass pile-up his father had to deal with on his way to victory.

Will Ilott finally get lucky in the city?

Callum Ilott has not been lucky when it comes to Macau. The Sauber junior is one of the most experienced drivers on this year?s entry list, and has already raced in the grand prix four times before. Though he?s never finished higher than fifth, he?s shown plenty of potential, and almost always been a victory bet.

His 2015 debut with Carlin, at the end of his first year in cars, was a disaster. Ilott crashed four times and injured his hand, and was then dropped by the Red Bull Junior Team. He bounced back with Van Amersfoort Racing in 2016, finishing in fifth.

The momentum continued through to 2017 with Prema, as he won the qualification race but then finished 15th in the grand prix after contact with Motopark’s Joel Eriksson shortly after a full course yellow led to a lengthy pit stop.

While Ilott moved from F3 to GP3 for 2018, he linked back up with Carlin to make another Macau return. He qualified second and finished third in the qualification race, but sank to seventh in the grand prix. His weekend was mostly remembered for an unbelievable manoeuvre to avoid the crashed car of Marino Sato at one of the tightest parts of the circuit.

This year, Ilott will be one of two F2 drivers (along with Jenzer Motorsport’s Arjun Maini) racing in the new F3 cars. He didn’t attend the Valencia test, but was a winner in championship predecessor GP3, and some strong F2 performances over the year proved that he’s still improving on his talent. His experience of Macau’s streets should play in his favour despite his lack of FIA F3 mileage, but once again it’s luck that could be the deciding factor.

The F1 juniors taking a stand

Photo: Fotospeedy

Hitech has refreshed its Prema-rivalling FIA F3 line-up for Macau, bringing in Renault junior Max Fewtrell and Red Bull junior Yuki Tsunoda alongside the Super Formula-experienced – and Red Bull-backed – Juri Vips.

Vips won three times this year and briefly looked like he could have challenged Prema’s trio for the title. He was clearly the class of the F3 field outside of the dominant outfit and was rapid on his bitter 2018 Macau debut. Victory this year would be no surprise.

Fewtrell spent his year racing for ART and mostly underwhelmed in what turned out to be a tricky season for the team. He did finish second twice but only scored six times. Tsunoda is the more likely frontrunner, having moved from Jenzer Motorsport where he won a race and scored all of the team’s points. His progression since leaving Japanese F4 has been massive, and that he ended both his FIA F3 and Euroformula Open campaigns on a high suggests there’s more to come in Macau.

Replacing Fewtrell at ART is DTM racer Ferdinand Habsburg, eager to take the win that could have been his in 2017. Despite limited single-seater running in 2019, he looked very comfortable in the Valencia test, topped by team-mate Christian Lundgaard. The Renault junior’s talent has been masked by Prema’s dominance, and Macau victory would be sweet revenge.

HWA Racelab, the only other team to win in FIA F3, has had a lot to learn in its debut single-seater season but its wealth of experience from elsewhere meant it scored solidly with Jake Hughes. The Englishman is a Macau specialist of sorts, and could very feasibly be the driver to beat if his smooth style proves best for one-lap pace in the more powerful cars.

In contrast to Hughes, Enaam Ahmed struggled on his Macau debut last year and originally did not plan to contest this year’s race. A call-up to test for Prema at Valencia then led to another test with Campos Racing, which swiftly signed him. In an inexperienced line-up it will probably be difficult to feature in the top 10 without some personal brilliance.

Written by Josh Suttill, Bethonie Waring, Craig Woollard & Elliot Wood