Cebu Pacific Air by KCMG driver Martin Rump (19) was crowned the Formula Masters China Series 2015 champion today, following two second-place finishes in Races 14 and 15 at the Zhuhai International Circuit. Estonian Rump won seven straight races on his way to the 2015 title and while he was beaten by Absolute Racing’s Alessio Picariello (22) in each of today’s races, Rump secured the championship with three races remaining in the season.
“I’m very happy for the championship and I felt great for the performance today”, said new FMCS champion Rump. “I managed to get decent points and everything went according to plan. It’s a little bit sad that I couldn’t contest Alessio – in some places I was close, but of course I take the points and I take the championship!”
Jake Parsons (20) of Meritus.GP, Rump’s only championship rival heading into today’s two races, had an unlucky day: his championship hopes were dashed after a gearbox issue forced him to retire in Race 14 and he was eliminated from championship contention in Race 15 after Sean Zheng (17) made contact and forced the Australian to retire.
With Picariello earning his maiden FMCS victories today and Rump second in both races, it was third-year Star Racing Academy driver Yuan Bo who finished third in Race 14, while South African Matthew Swanepoel (20) of Arrows Racing made a welcome return to the podium with a third-place finish in Race 15. Yuan, who also finished ninth in Race 15, was awarded the weekend’s Best Chinese Driver.
While Rump has locked up the 2015 Drivers Classification, the positions behind him are still very much in play – Parsons is second in the championship standings, with fellow Australians Nicholas Rowe (17) of Cebu Pacific Air by KCMG and Aidan Read (16) of Eurasia Motorsport third and fourth, respectively. Malaysian Daniel Woodroof (19) of Meritus.GP, who was also forced to retire after having been collected in the incident between Zheng and Parsons, rounds out the top five, just one point ahead of a hard-charging Picariello. Star Racing Academy driver Jeffrey Ye (18) of Cebu Pacific Air by KCMG continues to lead the Best Chinese Driver Trophy.
In the morning’s short, seven-lap Race 14, Picariello was able to take advantage of Rump’s bad start to get past the pole-sitter and take the lead. Parsons, who started from third on the grid, suffered a technical issue, falling to the back of the field, where he would retire after three laps.
“Like in Race 14, I had a pretty good start in Race 15 and kept my position,” said Picariello. “Then, like Race 14, the Safety Car came out and it was quite difficult to keep the tire temperature. After the Safety Car period, again my race pace was quite good and at the end, I just had to keep the gap to take a second win today. I want to thank Absolute Racing for giving me the opportunity to race. For nearly two years, I wasn’t racing and so to come here and to immediately be on the podium and win. I don’t know how to express this feeling.”
By the end of the first lap, Picariello had built a gap of just under a second, but the Safety Car was called out on Lap 2, after Picariello’s team mate, American and FMCS newcomer Oliver Askew (18) spun.
Racing resumed on Lap 5, with Picariello leading Rump, Yuan, Read and Rowe. However, just one lap later, the Safety Car was called out for the second time, following an incident involving Japanese driver Takashi Hata of Super License and Eurasia Motorsport’s William Lok of Hong Kong. Racing resumed for one final lap and Picariello charged ahead, with Rump following in second. While Read and Rowe battled to move up the order, Yuan defended expertly and held onto final podium position.
Picariello carried his strong form from Race 14 into the final race of the Zhuhai triple-header. Following a strong performance in qualifying, Picariello started from pole in Race 15, with Rump alongside on the first row. Zheng and Woodroof comprised the second row, with Swanepoel and Parsons starting from the third row. With Parsons starting from sixth on the grid, the Australian knew he had his work cut out for him if he was to keep his championship aspirations alive.
A thrilling opening lap saw Picariello hold the lead, with Rump following close in second. Zheng fell back and as the drivers battled for position, Zheng, on the approach to Turn 6, made contact with Parsons, who spun and collected Woodroof in the process, ending his race and his fight for the 2015 title. While Zheng would cross the line fourth, he was later penalized 30 seconds for causing a collision.
As a result of the incident, the Safety Car was called out and four laps later, racing resumed on Lap 6. Picariello again held the lead, with Rump second and Zheng in third. Swanepoel was fourth, with Hudspeth fifth.
Picariello began to build a gap to Rump, while Swanepoel began to pile the pressure on Zheng as the South African fought for the final podium position. Behind the leaders, Rowe and Askew were pressuring Yuan, with both getting past the Chinese driver in the closing stages of the race. Swanepoel began to close the gap to Zheng and on the final lap made his move, getting past the young Chinese driver to claim a well-deserved second podium position of the season.
While a delighted Picariello took his second straight chequered flag, an elated Rump was all smiles as he secured the championship title and was crowned the 2015 FMCS champion.
FMCS returns to action next month at the China Speed Weekend in Shanghai for the 2015 triple-header season finale. With the championship title decided, it will be an all-out battle on China’s F1 track from October 16-18 as the drivers look to finish their 2015 season on a winning note.