Weather: Cold, overcast, and getting darker and more dismal by the minute
After a relatively processional race earlier in the day, many were hoping that the final race of the 2003 British F3 season might provide something in the way of thrills and spills. It did exactly that: Sadly the spills were not the ones anyone would have wanted as it turned out.
In his second start of the day from pole position, Nelson Piquet Jr. (Piquet Sports) showed he really had put his early season "slow off the line gremlins" behind him and was now really on the ball when the lights go green. Once again he was away from the line before anyone else could blink. He knew he really had to win to try and wrest the runner-up slot in the championship from Jamie Green (Carlin Motorsport). Unfortunately, he was wrestling with a deficit that meant Green would be 2nd in the series if he could just finish in the top 6 this time out, and Nelson couldn't necessarily rely on Danny Watts (Hitech Motorsport) taking Green out of contention two races in a row. So he knew he needed as many points as he could get, and probably a hefty dose of luck too.
Alan van der Merwe (Carlin Motorsport) got away in 4thjust behind Green. He would most likely protect his teammate if asked to do so, although there was no real guarantee of that. However, having wrapped up his part of the title fight by claiming the championship three races back, he could afford to run interference if he wanted to. Robert Doornbos (Menu Motorsport) was 2nd and attempting to hang on to Piquet, but there wasn't a lot he could do about the Brazilian teenager, who was once again determined to open up as large a gap between himself and his pursuers as was humanly possible.
At the back, life was proving interesting for Lewis Hamilton (Manor Motorsport). Having made his debut in the category in the morning's race, he started this one from the back after making a mistake in qualifying and failing to set anything that vaguely resembled a time. The only man starting further back was Will Power (Fortec Motorsport), who had set no time at all. Hamilton had clearly decided that he wasn't going to stay at the back, but this unfortunately saw the inexperienced teenager playing with the Team SYR drivers, Masato Shinoyama and Rizal Ramli. They weren't easy to dispatch but he did finally manage it.
In the mid-field, Steven Kane (T-Sport) was showing a terrier-like reluctance to let go of the Scholarship Class title, and was attacking Ernesto Viso (P1 Motorsport) with great enthusiasm. This had the look of a scrap that could end in tears, or at the very least gravel, which would only benefit Viso who was leading the championship by 6 and a half points, with a maximum of 21 up for grabs still. And now it began to look as if van der Merwe wanted to get onto the podium in his last F3 race of the year. He was certainly piling the pressure on Green now, and Doornbos was doing his damnedest to catch Piquet, though it was clearly fruitless unless the Brazilian made a mistake. He didn't but Hamilton did. Trying to pass his teammate, Tor Graves, the two of them made contact, and the resulting off saw Graves' car almost destroyed, while the driver escaped with a suspected broken thumb. Hamilton wasn't quite so lucky. He was trapped in the car for a while, complaining of back pain. Naturally the marshals at the scene weren't about to take any chances and his extraction would clearly take some time.
Meanwhile, the rest of the field was still circulating but was now behind the Safety Car. A lap later it became clear that the wreckage was going to take some clearing, and that the best policy would be to stop the race now and restart it once both drivers had been rescued and the tyre wall had been rebuilt. Of course, that meant we were now facing an aggravated - sorry that should have been aggregated - result, which meant things were going to get very confusing. There was also the question as to whether or not there would be any daylight left by the time the circuit was in a state for racing to recommence. And so the red flags were hung out and everyone made their way back to the gird to wait and worry.
Finally Hamilton was extracted, his neck in a collar, and was taken away in the ambulance to the medical unit and later to hospital. He was declared fit but the doctors wanted to keep him in overnight for observation. He's not likely to forget his F3 debut weekend in a hurry.
The order at the end of the first part of the race would be used as the grid order for part two of the race - assuming it ever happened. And that order was Piquet, from Doornbos, Green and van der Merwe. Next up was Billy Asaro (P1 Motorsport), Eric Salignon (Hitech Racing), Will Davison (Menu Motorsport), Robert Dahlgren (Fortec Motorsport), Richard Antinucci (Promatecme F3) and - yes, you guessed it - Ronnie Bremer (Carlin Motorsport). In 11th place was Danny Watts (Hitech Motorsport) while teammate Andrew Thompson was 12th. Fairuz Fauzy (Promatecme F3) was 13th ahead of the battling Viso and Kane. 3rd in class was Karun Chandhok (T- Sport), who had managed not to get bottled up behind Robbie Kerr (Alan Docking Racing) this time. The Lola-Dome may not have looked good despite everything Kerr could do, but he was in front of Clivio Piccione (Manor Motorsport). Behind Piccione were Ramli, Justin Sherwood (Performance Racing), Power, Shinoyama and Michael Keohane (Carlin Motorsport), who had managed to go backwards quite spectacularly in a very short time.
Piquet's new start was just as good as his first one, which was more than could be said for Doornbos. The Dutchman may have been second on the line, but he was fourth on the road by the time they got to Druids having been comprehensively mugged by both Green and van der Merwe. Whether they could lose Doornbos, or at least get far enough ahead of him to demote him from aggregate 2nd place, was another question altogether.
Van der Merwe was still not about to quit in his efforts to get Green, and was all over his teammate. Meanwhile the Viso/Kane battle was about to go pear-shaped. The trouble started when Kane managed to squeeze ahead and Viso fought back, running the T-Sport driver off the road and taking himself out of the race as well. With both of them gone Chandhok inherited the class lead. Of course it also meant that Viso was Scholarship Class champion, and as could be expected, the protests afterwards took up an awful lot of time. Ultimately, it didn't change anything since neither of them had finished the race, but sadly it also meant that Kane missed out on the money the BRDC would have given him for being British and winning the series. Now he would get nothing, which may well adversely affect his chances of finding a drive next season. For a driver of his ability to get no further is a crime, but as we all know talent is sadly no guarantee of success for a racing driver. To be fair to Viso, he's also very talented, and he never gave up.
Anyway, to return to the actual race, Piquet was once again off and running while everyone else was trying to figure out exactly where they were in the scheme of things once you aggregated the results. Green and van der Merwe were busy with each other, while Doornbos was still right behind them, which meant he was still 2nd. It all gets far too confusing for the human brain to deal with really. On the road, Asaro was next from Dahlgren, Davison and Salignon, while the Richard and Ronnie Roadshow was still in action behind the Frenchman. Thompson was next up, from Watts, who was giving him an awfully hard time considering they are in the same team, Kerr and Fauzy, while Ramli couldn't seem to find anyone to play with. Keohane was baulking Power badly, but the concussed Australian didn't seem too serious in his attempts to get past. Chandhok, meanwhile, only had Shinoyama between himself and Sherwood who was now on something of a charge having realized there were only two of them left in the battle for the Scholarship Class victory. Piccione, meanwhile, had gone astray and was now at the very tail end of the field and hopelessly adrift, which must have made the Manor boys wonder why they didn't just pack up an head back to Yorkshire at lunchtime, rather than sticking around for this. They could have been in the pub for hours by now.
Watts finally got Thompson, though it was a temporary triumph as the increasingly confident Scot simply took it back again. It wasn't as if they were really in contention for anything anyway; there was not even a point to be gained back there after all. Keohane had closed in on Ramli and was now trying to find a way past the erratic Malaysian, which may have explained why Keohane returned later with half of his front wing missing! He'd also managed to find a way past, and although it was a somewhat unorthodox move, he did manage to make it stick, and he also survived the remaining couple of laps to the flag. Sherwood, meanwhile, had dispatched Ramli's teammate, Shinoyama, and setting fastest lap in class, had caught up with Chandhok. He was now, somewhat to the Indian driver's surprise, mounting a very strong challenge for the class lead. And this from a man who, this season, was frequently heard to mutter, "I don't know why I keep on doing this!" It was quite clear at Brands why he does it. Sadly, before he had a chance to claim his only win of the year, Piquet passed the Start/Finish line for the 8th time and it was all over.
The order for the second part of the race was Piquet by a mile from Green, van der Merwe and Doornbos, with Asaro 5th from Dahlgren, Davison, Salignon, Antinucci and Bremer. However, once both parts of the race were added together, Piquet was of course still the winner, but Doornbos had managed to hang on to 2nd, from Green and van der Merwe. The rest of the order was as above, to 10th place. Thompson was 11th, and Watts grabbed 12th, despite finishing behind Kerr on the road. In fact Kerr also lost out to Fauzy as well, while Chandhok was next, winning his class, and Ramli and Power were classified between him and Sherwood, although Sherwood was almost up the T-Sport car's exhaust as they crossed the line. Piccione was two places from the back, ahead of Shinoyama, while Keohane's efforts were a complete waste of energy - he'd lost out so badly in the first part of the race that he may have been 15th in part two but he was still the last classified runner in the aggregated results. And that was it. Green was runner up to van der Merwe in the Championship Class, and Viso was Scholarship Class champion.
Many of the drivers will now move on, to other formulae, while some will be back next year. Meanwhile, there's the Winter Series for some and Macau and Korea for others.
-Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite