Changes: Basil Shaaban (Comtec F3) is still here in the Invitation Class. In addition, although Ricardo Teixeira (Performance Racing) has gone home to Angola in search of more sponsorship, Alex Khateeb has been replaced by Alex Waters, a young English driver fresh out of Formula Ford, at Promatecme F3, thus meaning the team don't need a new name plate for their pit board!
There's a collective madness that often grips the F3 boys at Brands Hatch, especially when they run on the full GP circuit. It was pointed out to them that the last time the series ran here, three drivers, including Lewis Hamilton, were hospitalised during the weekend, and certain corners bite badly, so perhaps a little caution would be a good thing. These words seemed to have no effect whatsoever, something that became apparent very quickly.
After the tyre debacle at Silverstone, when the Avons didn't last longer than four laps, most drivers were not hanging about waiting for a repeat of those problems. Christian Bakkerud (Carlin Motorsport) was first out of the pitlane and onto the track, bundling team-mate Oliver Jarvis out of the way as he went. Oddly enough, by the time he came back round to start his first flying lap, he was behind Jarvis and also the third Carlin driver, Maro Engel. Although he'd never driven at Brands before Engel was immediately on the pace, opening his account with a 1 minute 21 second lap, with Bruno Senna (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) just behind, though 2:095 seconds slower than the German at this point. Senna was pushed back down the order as Jarvis and Bakkerud slotted into 2nd and 3rd respectively, and then was further demoted by Yelmer Buurman (Fortec Motorsport), the Dutchman taking an incredibly tight line along the pit straight. Behind Engel it was all change, as James Jakes (Hitech Racing) moved into 3rd now, but Engel was well ahead. Stephen Jelley (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) grabbed 2nd, trying to take the fight to Engel, only to be edged out by his team-mate, series leader Mike Conway. It took a major effort from Senna to remove the German from provisional pole, and he could only improve on the 1:19 that Engel set by 0.017 seconds. The excitement continued when Jarvis moved back up to 3rd, but then Buurman set the fastest time of the session, with a 1:19.663. In the National Class, Cristiano Morgado (Fluid Motorsport) was ahead for once, though you can never discount Rodolfo Gonzalez (T-Sport), the clear category leader by a long way with 11 wins to his credit so far.
And then we had the first of the red flags after Rodolfo Avila (Performance Racing) put his car into the barriers in a big way out at Westfield. As Jonathan Kennard (Alan Docking Racing) had had a massive off there on Friday in testing, you might think the message would have got through to the rest of them, but as later events would prove, you'd be wrong. It used to be Dingle Dell that bit, before it was reprofiled a couple of years back, but now it's Westfield. Anyway, Avila was OK, a bit shaken up and bruised, but otherwise sound. The same could not be said for the car, which looked more like a kit reduced to component parts than a race car.
The order at the stoppage was Buurman on provisional pole from Senna, Engel, Jarvis, Conway, Bakkerud, Stuart Hall (T-Sport), Jelley, Jakes and Salvador Duran (Hitech Racing). James Walker (Hitech Racing) was 11th, with Karl Reindler (Alan Docking Racing) and Kennard lining up together. National Class pole man Morgado was 14th overall, ahead of Avila, Shaaban, Gonzalez, Keiko Ihara (Carlin Motorsport), Martin Kudzak (Fluid Motorsport), Waters. 21st was Alberto Valerio (Cesario F3), and Juho Annala (Performance Racing), the Finn not having done a flying lap yet, was 22nd and last.
The restart finally came after a very long wait, and the first change wasn't long in coming. Jarvis hit the front of the grid with a 1:19.623, while in the National Class, Annala moved ahead after his first flying lap, only to have that man Gonzalez edge ahead. And that was about it, because the next thing we knew the red flags were out again, this time to allowed Bakkerud to be rescued from the gravel traps at Westfield. This was getting a bit silly, and the officials, fearing we'd still be running this session in the afternoon, curtailed it by five minutes.
The order now was Jarvis from Buurman, Senna, Engel, Conway, Bakkerud, Hall, Jakes, Jelley and Walker. Valerio had improved to 11th, ahead of Duran, Kennard, Gonzalez, Reindler, Annala, Morgado, Avila, Shaaban and Ihara. Kudzak was 21st ahead of the rookie, Waters.
While everyone waited in the pitlane, Jelley attempted to head towards the pitlane exit area but was stopped from doing so by the officials and made to wait, in accordance with the rules. He wasn't happy about it, even after he'd been shown the bit in the regulations that says cars are to remain in their allocated pit area, but did as he was told. By the time he did get back out, he wasn't at all happy, which seemed to give him an extra burst of speed!
At the restart, Engel was again looking quick, and was soon back on top, with Buurman just behind him. The Dutchman was almost immediately pushed back down the order by Jelley, while Hall now appeared in the top 6. Conway was starting to look ominous though, setting some very fast times through the first sector, and really pushing on. His next flying lap netted him 4th, which was a surprise because he'd looked on for pole. Annala, meanwhile, was finding it all coming together beautifully and now had the National Class pole in reach.
At the sharp end, Senna had now moved into 3rd place, while Jelley was clearly still furious and really flying. None of them could manage Conway's pace though, the Englishman now slamming in a 1:18 to claim provisional pole. While he was doing that, Jarvis and Senna were disputing 3rd, swapping positions with each successive lap. There were 6 minutes of the session left and everyone was still out there. But the weather was starting to look very threatening, and as Jakes moved up to 5th, the rain started to fall. Engel managed another improvement to his time, but it wasn't enough to allow him back to pole, while Buurman was now 3rd. Senna put in the fastest first sector we'd seen all session, but the rain meant he couldn't build on that and he came round slowly to pit with a slow puncture. Gonzalez, on the other hand, made up enough ground to shove Annala back to 2nd in the National Class, only to see the Finn fight back and claim the slot a lap later.
Jarvis shot back up the order to 4th, while Buurman and Jelley pitted. They were probably the more sensible individuals, because Olly got no further than Clark Curve before he slid sideways, got on the white line and discovered that in the wet you get no grip. He went a long way off and was left stranded. At least it wasn't Westfield this time. The red flags were hauled out for the third time with less than three minutes of the session left. It was quickly decided that three red flags were enough for any session, and they would not restart. This meant that Conway claimed another pole, from top Rookie Engel, Buurman, Jarvis, Senna, Jakes, Jelley, Duran, Hall and Bakkerud. Walker was 11th, ahead of Valerio, Reindler, National Class pole winner Annala, Kennard, Gonzalez, Morgado, Ihara, Waters and Kudzak. Avila was 21st from Shaaban.