If you came up with the idea of running the Macau Grand Prix right now, it just wouldn’t see the light of day: the politically correct brigade would be all over it like a particularly irritating rash. Luckily, the race has been around for 66 years now, so the fact that it’s about as safe as lion-taming wearing a meat vest is just accepted as being part of motorsport tradition. You could probably say the same of the Monaco Grand Prix circuit too – looking at it objectively, it’s insane – but Monaco at least is (relatively) slow.
Macau combines the difficulty and proximity of the barriers offered by Monaco with the speed of somewhere like Silverstone. It’s a proper bear pit.
Occasionally, this results in accidents that wouldn't look out of place on the space programme: notably Sophia Floersch’s aerial cartwheel last year. Sophia was back this year, and this time she retired for mechanical reasons: Macau continues to be cruel to her. But actually, the 2020 Macau weekend was slightly tame compared to previous seasons, with no major pile-ups to interrupt (or liven up) the action. Macau’s local scrap merchant will be down on profits for once – but he’s likely to make up the deficit in future.
Amazingly, this was despite the new specification Formula 3 car being used for the first time at Macau, which was considerably faster than its predecessor. And we also had a rookie winner at Macau, with Dutchman Richard Verschoor sneaking past established F3 driver (and polesitter) Juri Vips from Estonia, from fourth on the grid.
Vips has been driving the main Formula 3 championship that supports Formula 1 this year, supplied by Pirelli, so he had plenty of experience. Sure enough, the Red Bull driver stuck it on pole, thanks to a win in the qualification race on Saturday as well (you get plenty of action in Macau). He led for the first part of the race but couldn’t keep it there: Verschoor got past him at a safety car re-start and then didn’t look back. He’s in distinguished company, as the very first rookie winner at Macau was Ayrton Senna, back in 1983.
Another driver with plenty of experience was Robert Shwartzman, the current Formula 3 champion. He had a disaster, retiring on the opening lap after some contact at the famous Lisboa corner (where Sophia earned her pilots’ licence last year). Shwartzman is set to make the step up to Formula 2 next year, so unless he makes the step back to Formula 3 specifically for a Macau one-off (which a few drivers have done in the past) it’s likely to be his last chance for the foreseeable future.
That’s the thing with Macau. Just one second can wipe out so many hours of preparation and millions of Patacas (Macanese currency) of expense, as well as thousands of kilometres travelled to reach the small state, one hour’s fast ferry ride from Hong Kong. Imagine Las Vegas by the seaside and you’ve got it. Macau is like nowhere else in the world.
The Formula 3 grabs the fame and glory, but the most entertaining part of the weekend is often the FIA GT World Cup, where the best GT3 drivers in the world meet to find out who is king.
The GT3 car are colossally big around Macau: in some places not much narrower than the actual road they occupy. It doesn't take much to block the track – and that’s exactly what happened in the qualification race. It was won by Italy’s Raffaele Marciello for Mercedes, who was also the fastest qualifier last year, and that meant that he earned himself pole position for the main race.
But behind him were two very racy looking Porsches, driven by two-time Le Mans winner Earl Bamber and his partner in crime Laurens Vanthoor. In GTs, it’s even more tricky to pass than it is in F3, so qualifying is absolutely crucial.
Through a mixture of raw speed and clever defence, Marciello managed to stay ahead from start to finish. However, the Porsches put up a spirited fight, playing a team game. Vanthoor got ahead of his team mate at the start but once he saw that he couldn’t challenge Marciello, he then gave the place back to Bamber to see if the New Zealander could do something about the dominant Mercedes.
Bamber got close – so close that he accidentally crashed into the back of Marciello on the final lap – but not close enough. Victory went to Italy and Mercedes. By the smallest of margins.
Francesco Romani, Innovative materials and...