At Snetterton this afternoon Jean-Eric Vergne (Carlin) again stamped his authority on the 2010 British F3 International Series despite a relatively poor start, and despite the best efforts of Adriano Buzaid (Carlin) who led for most of the 27 laps. 3rd after a terrific drive was Felipe Nasr (R?ikk?nen Robertson Racing), the teenager again looking far more impressive than his much more experienced team-mates. The National Class was won by Menasheh Idafar (T-Sport), who beat James Cole (T-Sport) by a lap after the latter needed a pitstop during the closing stages.
The race was late starting after a heavy downpour brought all track activity to a halt. As a result, the Ginetta race prior to the F3s had to be stopped and restarted behind the Safety Car, by which time the river running down the pit-lane had abated somewhat and the sun had come out again. In the end we were only half an hour late getting underway, but the circuit was extremely wet in places. It made the initial tyre choice relatively simple, though there was a worry that the wets that everyone opted for might not last the distance if the track continued to dry. However, you really didn't want to be out there on anything else given the quantity of water still lurking at places like the infamous Bombhole.
At the start, Buzaid didn't exactly make the best of getaways, unlike Vergne who then managed to semi-cook his clutch and ended up losing out anyway, Buzaid squeezing back into the lead as Vergne went wide, the Frenchman ending up 3rd ahead of James Calado (Carlin) and Nasr. By some sort of miracle they all made it back round at the end of the first lap, and it got even more interesting as Daisuke Nakajima (R?ikk?nen Robertson Racing) barged though on Calado only to go straight on at unabated pace, causing Vergne to take to the grass in avoidance but somehow hung on, though it did let Calado through for 3rd. Further back, and unnoticed in the melee, Rupert Svendsen-Cook (Carlin) was also on the mover and had charged his way up from 13th to 10th, putting himself back into the points.
For a while after that they settled, Buzaid setting a new fastest lap of the race, but otherwise most of the drivers seemed to be settling in to wait out the weather and see how the tyres would hold up. Meanwhile, in the pit lane, most of the teams were standing in readiness, slick tyres and jacks ready if a change was needed. The leaders were showing no intention of coming in for new tyres, and in fact Buzaid was having to push hard to maintain the gap over the Nasr, the latter matching him lap for lap and each time closing back up again. While Buzaid's team manager (Trevor Carlin) was being called to race control for some undisclosed offence, Svendsen-Cook became the first retirement of the race, pulling into the pits with a bent front wishbone, which was a shame as he'd been making good progress to that point. However, all eyes were on Buzaid as he responded to the pressure Nasr was piling on him, the pace starting to pick up as the track dried out further. Vergne charged back past Calado, leaving his team- mate to try and hold off Oli Webb (Fortec Motorsport) for 4th, while back in the pack Hywel Lloyd (C F Racing with Manor Motorsport) was having a spot of bother trying to find his way past the unusually quick Adderley Fong (Sino Vision Racing) to take 13th away from the Chinese. However, a lap after that the Welshman had to call into the pits and stayed there for a while as the team tried to cure an oil leak. Eventually they sent him back out on slicks but he was back in shortly afterwards and retired rather then risk engine damage.
The main interest now, though, was in watching Jev's response to only being 3rd, especially when he suddenly banged in a fastest lap. Watching the gap, it seemed to be coming down as he began to close on Nasr and Buzaid. From everything we've seen this season, this is when Vergne is at his most dangerous, and it looked like the others were again about to see just how effective the Frenchman can be when someone tries to deny him a win. He was helped in his pursuit after Webb got passed Calado as the pair of them exited Russell, Webb claiming 4th from his chief rival for the runner up slot in this year's title chase. Buzaid was still pushing on and was now lapping in the 1:09s, which was a new fastest lap for about three second until Vergne came across the line, now reeling Nasr in at a rate that must have alarmed the Brazilian no end.
In the pack, things were changing too. Fong was still on a peculiarly uncharacteristic charge too, and had overtaken local boy Alex Brundle (T- Sport) for 12th, while William Buller made sure they were all promoted up a place by pitting for slicks from 7th place. It remained to be seen whether that was a smart move or not given the race still had around 17 minutes left to the end of the race. It was an impressively rapid stop, the team turning him around and getting him back out on the same lap as the leaders, which is going some considering that a lap at Snetterton is less than 70 seconds! Every team manager on the pit lane was now watching the monitors carefully to see how fast the slicks might turn out to be.
Meanwhile Nasr was pushing to hang onto his 2nd place, and he set a new fastest lap only to have Vergne again respond by going even faster. Behind him, Calado lost another couple of places to Gabriel Dias (Hitech Racing) and the recovering Nakajima and thus ended up in reach of Carlos Huertas (R?ikk?nen Robertson Racing) and Daniel McKenzie (Fortec Motorsport) though the two of them were a bit too busy fighting each other to set about the Racing Steps-backed Briton. It made no odds to the leaders though. Buzaid was next to set a fastest lap, but he too was no match for the pace of a charging Vergne, who had nursed his tyres long enough and had now got his head down and was after that 15th win. With the pace all round beginning to increase, Buller was still slower than the wet shod boys, but then again he was only on his first flying lap out so the rubber was still on the cold side and thus not performing at its optimum.
It didn't take long, though, for the slicks to kick in, and although Vergne was next to go fastest of all, he suddenly had no chance of claiming the point for fastest lap as Buller blasted round about 2 second a lap faster than anyone. The Irishman still had a lot of work to do from almost last, but he was catching the back of the pack at a frightening rate. Meanwhile Buzaid ran wide and had to collect himself but didn't lose the lead, while Bridger pulled in to the pits for slicks too, having seen how fast Buller was now going. At the front, though, Vergne was now 2nd, having got the drop on Nasr at Russell, the Brazilian unable to answer the Frenchman's challenge. He was now starting to close on Buzaid, and was now less than three seconds and with 11 laps to go. It was looking increasingly like another Vergne win was on the cards.
While Buller rattled of fastest lap after fastest lap, Buzaid was constantly losing ground as Vergne took around a second a lap out of his lead. It wasn't long before he was right on the Brazilian's rear wing as the leader came up to lap Juan Carlos Sistos (Team West-Tec). Vergne could now see his opportunity, and at Coram he made his first attempt, but was rebuffed. Next he went for the inside at Riches but again Buzaid fought back and again the Frenchman had to settle back in to 2nd and bide his time.
While Buller continued on his merry way and started to carve through the mid-field runners to snatch 14th, Vergne made another move at Russell, pushing Buzaid into a mistake as the Brazilian moved over and found himself on the wet part of the track. Vergne moved to the outside and drove round and into the lead. A corner later and Vergne himself ran wide and Buzaid scrabbled back through at Russell. Vergne wasn't done though and immediately reclaimed the lead, though Buzaid wasn't keen to give it to him. All this scrapping meant that Nasr was catching up, but he was still a couple of seconds back so they could afford to mess about a little longer. Vergne, however, was soon pulling away, leaving a crestfallen Buzaid to contemplate what might have been while he held off Nasr to the flag.
Further back, Buller meanwhile was up to 10th and back in the points and a lap later he was 8th. He now had Calado just ahead of him, and with less than two laps to go, there was a sense of inevitability about the way Buller close him down for 7th. It was too late for him to do more than that, and he ended up where he had been before he pitted but at least he had an extra point for fastest lap as well.
Vergne, though, came home a deserved winner, ahead of Buzaid and Nasr. Webb was 4th, from Nakajima, Dias, Buller, Calado, McKenzie and Jazeman Jaafar (Carlin). 11th was Huertas, who fell back in the closing stages, ahead of Fong (unlikely as that seems), Brundle, Lucas Foresti (Carlin), Idafar, Max Snegirev (Fortec Motorsport), Bridger, Cole and Sistos.
Fastest laps went to Buller and Cole.
Weather: Changeable, wet track, drying.