Felix Rosenqvist put on a charging drive to claim his first ever Super Formula podium in Sunday’s Fuji Speedway round, setting the fastest lap of the event to underline his pace on a breakthrough day in the Japanese championship.
Rosenqvist enjoyed a strong start to the weekend at the former Formula 1 circuit by going third fastest in opening practice, and looked set to carry his form into qualifying only to lose out during an untimely red-flag stoppage in the closing stages of the Q2 segment.
Restricted to tenth on the grid for the weekend’s sole 55-lap race, the Swedish rookie quickly made up two positions on the opening couple of laps, running eighth as things settled in.
That became fourth during a flurry of early pit stops, and third when Naoki Yamamoto picked up a rear-tyre puncture at the halfway point.
When Yuji Kunimoto pitted on lap 32, Rosenqvist was up to second place, consistently lapping up to a second quicker than the bunch of early stoppers that included Yuhi Sekiguchi, both TOM’S cars and GP2 champion Pierre Gasly.
Once Rosenqvist pitted at the end of the 36th tour – just before catching a group of backmarkers for lapping – his long-running strategy proved successful: he rejoined the track in third, which was effectively a net second with ex-F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi yet to make his stop, and a full ten seconds clear of André Lotterer who headed the pursuing group.
Kobayashi finally dived for the pitlane on lap 43, reinstalling Rosenqvist in second behind leader Hiroaki Ishiura.
Rosenqvist tried his best to close down Ishiura’s ten-second lead in the closing stages, throwing in the fastest lap of the race in the process, but the Japanese was able to respond and the order remained unchanged across the line.
With his second-place finish, Rosenqvist now establishes himself as the top rookie in the 2017 Super Formula standings, and hauls himself to fifth overall. His maiden series podium also marks the first time since last year’s Okayama round (Narain Karthikeyan) that a Team LeMans driver has graced the rostrum.
“I’m really excited to have made the podium in Super Formula,” says Felix Rosenqvist. “We knew that we had strong pace already in practice and, while qualifying turned out a bit disappointing, we managed to prove that once again in the race.
“I opted for a long opening stint, hoping that my tyres would be in decent shape in the middle phase and that I could leapfrog the early-stoppers on a clear track, and it worked out. It’s great to give the team their first podium of the season as well; we will build on this and I guess from here we can only aim for our first win. That will be extremely difficult to achieve, but that’s what racing is all about!”
Rosenqvist is the first Swedish driver since Björn Wirdheim in 2007 to finish on the podium in Japan’s top-flight single-seater series, and the first Swede ever to do so in its current Super Formula guise.
The 25-year-old Monaco resident now travels across the globe to New York city, where he will contest the penultimate round of the FIA Formula E Championship in just one week’s time. Rosenqvist recently claimed his first victory in the all-electric series at the Berlin ePrix.
RESULTS (top five)
Super Formula | Rd. 3
Fuji Speedway, Japan
1: Hiroaki Ishiura (JPN), 55 laps
2: Felix Rosenqvist (SWE), +7.269s
3: André Lotterer (GER), +22.842s
4: Yuhi Sekiguchi (JPN), +41.786s
5: Pierre Gasly (FRA), +41.821s
STANDINGS (top five)
After 3/7 rounds
1: Hiroaki Ishiura (JPN), 20.5 p.
2: André Lotterer (GER), 18 p.
3: Yuhi Sekiguchi (JPN), 15 p.
4: Kazuki Nakajima (JPN), 13 p.
5: Felix Rosenqvist (SWE), 10.5 p.