van Dam: Merhi's accident was unavoidable
1 January 1901
Carlo van Dam appeared to be heading for one of the best performances in Macau F3 Grand Prix history as he carved through the field in Sunday's blue riband event, but the bad luck that had dogged him in the weekend's first race returned to deny him a possible podium.
The Dutchman had established himself as favourite for success in the traditional end-of-season showdown between the world's best F3 drivers when he claimed pole position in qualifying, but saw his fortunes turned on their head in the opening moments of the qualification race when he got caught up in the usual lap one melee. Puncturing a tyre at turn one was unlucky in itself, but his hobbled car proved to be an obstacle too far on the tight street circuit and was collected by countryman Renger van der Zande.
That left the TOM's driver at the back of the grid for Sunday's main event, but van Dam, the reigning Japanese F3 champion, was not about to be denied a shot at glory. Defying the tight confines of the former Portuguese enclave and the closeness of the field, the Dutchman charged from 24th to sixth in just seven laps, and looked to be on his way to a possible podium finish when Spaniard Roberto Merhi crashed out in front of him and blocked the road.
“Things went very well, but Merhi's accident was simply unavoidable,” van Dam sighed, “I had a good start and quickly moved up to ninth place. I then just kept on passing cars left, right and centre. I was already right on Merhi's tail and about to overtake him on the next straight, when he hit the wall hard. There was no room but, even so, I only just brushed his car.
"That damaged my suspension and a tyre, and it's a shame, because I would have finished in the top three. I had passed Brendon Hartley already when Merhi crashed out, and Brendon went on to finish third."
Although Edoardo Mortara appeared best-placed to take van Dam's place as favourite for victory after he claimed pole for the main race, it was the Dutchman's TOM's team-mate, Keisuke Kunimoto, who came through to take the win.
"All in all, it was an eventful weekend, in which we obviously had the speed to win this race as well, but things turned out a bit different," van Dam reflected, "I am very happy for the team, however, because Kunimoto won. That is great for Toyota Team TOM's and underlines the calibre of the Japanese championship once more.”