It was a dark and stormy afternoon. The skies darkened about an hour before the start of the first British F3 International Series round at Spa; and it went right on darkening as the race start time approached. They darkened even more...
It was a dark and stormy afternoon. The skies darkened about an hour before the start of the first British F3 International Series round at Spa; and it went right on darkening as the race start time approached. They darkened even more when a tree on the outside of Eau Rouge was struck by lightning, and the local fire-brigade had to come and put it out. It was something of an ominous portent as it turned out. With rain only falling on part of the circuit, a whole load of cars got as far as the Bus Stop on the formation lap then turned sharp right into the pit lane to collect a set of wet weather tyres (from the Championship Class this included Raikkonen Robertson Racing's Bruno Senna and Mike Conway, Hitech Racing's Salvador Duran and Christian Bakkerud of Carlin Motorsport). Anyone actually lining up on the grid was still on slicks. It was debatable which would be the right call. Someone who wasn't lining up anywhere was Michael Herck, his Bas Leinders Racing car having caught fire in the paddock en route to the grid. He was out of the race before it even started, thus opening up another space on the grid.
Pole-sitter Maro Engel (Carlin Motorsport) made a super start to hold the lead into Eau Rouge, as did James Walker (Hitech Racing) who for once didn't jump the start, thus proving that he can make a legal start on a very tricky slope (which makes you wonder why he can't do it all the time). While the storm raged on, and the press office lost all communication with the outside world after the nearby town of Malmedy was hit by the storm, the race continued. Maro immediately set about trying to open up a gap over Walker, while Oliver Jarvis (Carlin Motorsport) slotted in behind, holding off Yelmer Buurman (Fortec Motorsport), who was lurking like a particularly streamlined shark just behind the Englishman's rear wing. In 5th was Stephen Jelley, the only one of the Raikkonen Robertson Racing boys not to have opted for wet weather tyres, and Jonathan Kennard (Alan Docking Racing). Senna, Duran, Conway and Bakkerud were bringing up the rear, and having to work their way past the National Class runners. They were aided in this by the fact that Juho Annala and Rodolfo Avila of Performance Racing and Rodolfo Gonzalez (T-Sport) had also pitted for tyre changes at the start, and were then badly delayed when the officials failed to open the pit exit in time. That meant the National Class was being led by Cristiano Morgado (Fluid Motorsport), from Martin Kudzak (Fluid Motorsport) and Ricardo Teixeira (Performance Racing).
The rain started in earnest a lap later, and Senna and the other wet- weather shod boys started to catch the rest of the field hand-over-fist. At the end of Lap 2 Senna was 16th, dragging Duran, Conway and Bakkerud in his wake. At the sharp end of the order, Karl Reindler was locked into a scrap with Alberto Valerio (Cesario Formula UK), the Australian getting the better of the Brazilian to snatch 7th place, while elsewhere Duran dropped out of the wet-shod train by having a bit of a spin. Meanwhile, Jarvis had got the drop on Walker and was 2nd behind Engel, acting as rear-gunner for his team-mate. Kennard was still 4th and making the most of the unaccustomed nearness to the front to set a fastest lap time. Shortly after, Reindler was along out there when Valerio spun off and rejoined a number of places back, and then Jarvis got some breathing space when Walker dropped two places after an attempt to get that second slot back. The rain was coming down ever harder when Kennard lost ground to Buurman, a recovering Walker, Reindler and James Jakes (Hitech Racing). It wasn't what he'd been hoping for.Buurman and Walker managed to break away but Reindler and Jakes were slugging it out while trying not to slither off into the scenery. And all the while Senna and co were making their way back into contention, hacking through the slick-shod competitors like a hot knife through butter. It was clearly the correct tyre choice they'd made. It just became a matter of how long the race would run and would they manage to catch the leaders in that time.
Certainly Engel was continuing on his way at quite a pace, despite the fact that the rain had intensified, and the Bus Stop in particular was horribly slippery. Shortly after half distance, Valerio finally dropped out entirely, allowing Jelley onto Kennard's rear as the Englishman attempted to keep pace with Jakes. In the National Class Morgado was still leading the field, from Kudzak, with Teixeira still in 3rd, but Gonzalez was advancing on them at a tremendous rate as his tyres began to come in properly and the conditions worsened. You had to wonder how Engel was keeping it together at the front because it must have been like driving on ice out there.
With Alex Khateeb (Promatecme F3) losing ground, Senna was now 13th overall and in the points, because he still had Kudzak and Morgado, as well as Invitation Class runner Mario Moraes (Carlin Motorsport) ahead of him. Meanwhile, Buurman had dived past Jarvis, while Walker also had a look but couldn't get past. Meanwhile Reindler and Jakes were still stuck together, but Kennard had lost out to Jelley.
In the National Class Kudzak suddenly started to drop back (he seemed to be using his mirrors for a change, though he didn't like what he could see in them), only to find he had Gonzalez breathing down his neck. Teixeira had lost 3rd to the Venezuelan scant seconds earlier, and it looked as if Gonzalez might still take the class win. Certainly Kudzak delayed him not at all, which meant he was 2nd and only Morgado stood between him and his 9th win of the season.
Meanwhile, Jakes and Reindler were still glued together, while Senna was now 9th from Conway and Bakkerud, the three of them continuing to carve their way back into the points, their calculated tyre gambles variously paying off. Senna was soon past Jelley too, and he took Conway with him to go 9th and 10th and drop their team-mate out of the points. It didn't seem likely to build harmony within the team.
Jakes was their next victim, after Reindler suddenly slid off, and the two of them and Bakkerud all hacked by in a continuous cloud of spray, presumably leaving Jakes to wonder where the hell that came from. Jakes was 9th as a result, and the steam-roller that just hit him was looking ever more threatening. They made remarkably short work of Walker, and on the final lap even Jarvis didn't slow their progress much. Afterwards, all Jarvis could say was "They were 8 seconds a lap faster than me by then. They just drove past me!" That meant Senna was now 3rd, after one hell of a drive, with Conway 4th. You wouldn't have put money on that result at the start of lap 1, frankly. But it was the battle at the front that really had everyone watching closely, as Engel was being mercilessly hunted down by Buurman. On the last lap the Dutchman took a huge chunk of time out of the German's lead, and then started to pile the pressure on. On the final run through the Bus Stop Engel left his braking a fraction too late, and that was all the invitation Buurman needed, barging his way round the outside and into the lead with just one corner left. Engel was distraught afterwards, and 15 points for second place was no consolation whatsoever. Just to complete the reshuffle, Bakkerud snatched 7th from Jakes with less than half a lap left, and that was about that.
In the National Class, Morgado was finding it harder and harder to keep his place, and finally ran out of usable grip, losing three places on the road, and handing the lead back to Gonzalez. The South African wasn't happy about that, and clearly didn't want to be the bridesmaid again, but there was nothing they could do. Meanwhile, Kudzak lost a place on the road to Basil Shaaban (Comtec F3), while Annala snatched 3rd in class from him. It had been a rollercoaster of a race.
At the last, Buurman was delighted with his maiden victory, while Engel looked as if it might be wise to keep him away from razor blades, pills or tall buildings for the rest of the day. Senna was relieved to be 3rd, from Conway, Jarvis, Walker, Bakkerud, Jakes, Kennard and Reindler. Jelley was 11th, ahead of Keiko Ihara (Carlin Motorsport), Duran (who'd had more than one off despite being on wets), the inevitable National Class winner Gonzalez, Moraes, Morgado, Annala, Shaaban, Kudzak and Avila. Teixeira was 21st and last.
Afterwards, Buurman was having trouble wiping the smile off his face: "The conditions were really tricky, with the track was changing all of the time, but on the last lap it dried quite a lot and I drove closer to Maro (Engel) and passed him on the last lap. I had a better run through the corner before the Bus Stop, I didn't think it was possible to get past, but he slide wide and went onto the wet part and I went around the outside. It wasn't easy. The team told me to decide whether to change to wets because they couldn't see the conditions at the back of the track. Some people went in, but I decided to stay out. Luckily it worked out well. It is a very good feeling to get my first win in British Formula 3. I really like Spa, I've raced here in Formula Renault and I had good expectations. After qualifying I was a bit disappointed so I never thought I would finish on the podium but I'm very happy to be here."
Engel was deeply unhappy with himself: "I'm massively disappointed to lose the lead. I led the whole race and then to lose the lead on the last lap is a horrible, horrible feeling. The conditions were crazy! Mid race it was raining quite a lot but I made the right decision to stay out because I finished in front of Bruno (Senna) who changed. In hindsight you'd want to start the race on wets, not coming in on the formation lap. When we saw the whole grid on slicks we were not keen to risk it when we were on pole. You just want to go with what you went out on. I worked quite hard, I was quick and I was able to pull out a gap but as the rain came Yelmer (Buurman) closed up and at the Bus Stop he managed to pass me. I'm very disappointed."
Senna, on the other hand, was relieved: "I started in 5th and finished 3rd so it was a good call to change to wets. The backmarkers were superb, causing me no problems. I had Conway behind me, so I had to keep an eye on him, but it was a good race and I'm happy to finish in 3rd place. I had to attack on the inside, the outside, whatever! It was a good fun race."
Gonzalez was reflecting on an interesting afternoon: "I was pretty close to Cristiano two laps from the end and from Moraes, so I was pushing to beat him as well. 6 to 7 laps in I thought we'd done something stupid so I just pushed but I spun off at Pouhon, and had to cut the chicane. It was all a bit messy! I was pretty lucky. The team said it was my call over the radio at the start but I thought with the points I had nothing to lose so I took the risk and drove at the back for awhile, then I was catching Cristiano. Then I spun, but still managed to overtake him. Maybe it's luck or maybe God is with me!"
The extra points for fastest laps went to Jakes and Gonzalez.