Monaco's Clivio Piccione arrived at the penultimate round of the British Formula Three Championship at Brands Hatch this weekend needing a good result if he was to wrest third place in the series from James Rossiter (Fortec Motorsport). It was mathematically possible, though it was always going to be an uphill struggle. Regardless of the difficulty, Clivio was set to give it his best shot, and when practice started on the short Kent circuit he was quickly on the pace in his Carlin Motorsport Dallara F304. However, things did not go according to plan, largely because some of the other drivers seemed to be having trouble keeping their wheels on the Tarmac and out of the gravel. In addition, the weather looked as if it was planning on playing a part in events too.
Sure enough, just after Clivio went out to join in the session, a car went off at Clearways. As Clivio saw it: "I went out and I was looking at the weather and it was looking like it was going to rain. But we were hoping that the track was going to be a bit quicker in the middle of the session, and so that's why we waited to go out. Someone crashed, but there were no red flags, so I thought OK, that's good and so I kept going. Next lap another one crashed in the same place, and I thought, that's it." He was right. The session was halted while the two wrecked cars could be moved to a place of safety, and while all that was being done, it started to rain, which was the last thing Clivio needed at this point in the session. By the time the mess was cleared away, the rain had at least stopped, but it would clearly be a while before the track was properly dry again, and anyway, his tyres were no longer at their best. "Afterwards, the best of the tyres was gone because I did three laps before when I knew the time was going to be there, but then I was blocked on what should have been my fastest lap. So basically the first half of it was a bit of a mess, and the second half we had to wait, so we couldn't run properly until the end of the session, but then the tyres were not at their best." He ended the session in a more than respectable third, but unfortunately Rossiter was ahead of him in 2nd. He consoled himself with the thought that the qualifying session for Round 24, to be held later in the day, had to be better.
The race itself was something of a mixed bag too. Once again the weather gods decided to intervene, giving the track a thorough soaking before the race started, and throwing most people into a quandary as they considered their tyre choices. It was hard to know what to do for the best, and the fiasco that had been Silverstone was in the forefront of everyone's minds. This time most people opted for slicks, with a handful of exceptions. Clivio was among the slick shod runners, as were the two men ahead of him on the grid, Rossiter and the Champion-elect Nelson A Piquet (Piquet Sports). All three of them got a good start, Rossiter getting the jump on Piquet, who declined to fight him while the title was undecided. Clivio set of in pursuit of the Brazilian, and was making good progress when he got off the dry line at Graham Hill Bend, sliding wide. The car now out of his control because the slicks were providing no grip on the slippery surface, he slid onto the grass. It wasn't the end of the story though. Although it wasn't easy, Clivio managed to scrabble his way back onto the track ("Getting back off that grass seemed to take forever!") and back into the race, though of course he was at the back of the pack now. While the drivers who had opted for wet weather tyres were shown to have made the right decision, a storming comeback drive from Clivio followed, in which he set the fastest lap time of anyone on slicks, his pace almost matching that of Rob Austin (Menu Motorsport), who set the fastest lap of all on his treaded tyres. It was a great drive from Clivio, though unfortunately he was ultimately rewardless, finishing just outside the points when the chequered flag finally fell.
For the final round of the 2004 British Formula Three Championship, Clivio Piccione, racing for Carlin Motorsport, was hopeful of a good result. You always want to go out on a high note, and one more win would be a good way of finishing the season. First though, the Monegasque youngster had to survive qualifying. Given what had happened in the morning session (for round 23) that could prove tricky. The whole process was made even more nerve-wracking for his family and friends, when he decided to opt for a somewhat radical strategy, and stayed in the pits for a large part of the first half of the session. "Why did I stay in the pits for so long? Well, first of all it was because of the track conditions. There was a lot of dust (left behind after a massive off in the GT practice session that had gone before) and I just wanted to go straight out on new tyres. I didn't want to go out on old tyres, because of what happened in the first session. Also I wanted to start my session towards the end of qualifying because I knew the track was going to get quicker, so I just wanted to do a few laps once it was at its best." It was a risky plan, but it worked, netting Clivio the final pole position of the season, and afterwards he was quietly pleased with his performance. "I didn't do an awesome lap but I was good at the right time. At the end the wind picked up a lot and the car wasn't so happy then." Now all he had to try and do was stay ahead of newly-crowned champion Nelson Piquet (Piquet Sports). The plan was very simple really. "I'm going to try and get in front of him at the first corner, and keep him there!"
The simple plan looked like it was going to work too. At the start of the race, Clivio made a good start, and was clear of Piquet as they screamed into Paddock Hill Bend for the first time. He even started to break away a little, but then Piquet seemed to wake up. The Brazilian was closing the gap inexorably, and it now became a matter of having to try and hold him off. With the track again unpleasantly slippery in places, that was easier said than done. Several laps into the race, it wall went wrong. "I made a bad exit at Graham Hill Bend and Piquet ran into me, puncturing one of my rear tyres. I lost control because of it and went straight across the grass. After that there was nothing to do but come into the pits to get a new tyre, and when I did that I hit the pitwall. I just couldn't control it; I hit the brakes and the car was sliding and it went straight on into the wall." Mere seconds later the team had replaced the damaged rubber and Clivio was back out on the track, but it was too late really. He was now a lap down, and couldn't hope to catch the leaders from that far back. Really, all he could do was reflect on the fact that he'd been robbed of a win through no fault of his own, as he came home outside the points for the second time that day. It was doubly frustrating because really Piquet didn't need the win, he was already Champion; and the car had been running well before it was so rudely attacked! "Before that my car was going alright, I had a good lead. Piquet was quick, he was catching me through the corners, because I had quite a bit of oversteer there, but everywhere else it was fine. After that my front wing was bent, and there wasn't much I could do."
Clivio ends the season with 17 points finishes from 24 races, including 6 podium finishes, of which two were race wins. It's an enviable record.