Changes - Rounds 5 & 6:
Things never stay the same for long in racing and the British Formula Three series is no exception. This time out we were missing Adam Carroll in the Lola-Dome, while his team, Sweeney Racing, seemed to have changed into P1 Motorsport. Or perhaps it hadn't. Ernesto Viso appeared to still be running in the Scholarship Class as part of Sweeney, but Billy Asaro, returned from Canada at last, was being run by P1, in a brand new Dallara (so new it was still carbon-fibre black and had only been completed on Friday) in the Championship Class. Roly Vincini (who appears to be running both operations but who owns P1) is probably the only man who could explain this situation but it seemed safer not to ask. It may have something to do with lawyers and accountants! In addition Sergio Hernandez (Azteca) was not present this time out, while Jesse Mason (Performance Racing) was back after a two race gap.
Qualifying - Round 5:
Weather: windy, very cold.
The usual Croft problem struck early on Saturday. To begin with there was no commentary at all. Then, ten minutes in, the system burst into life only for it to become obvious that the usual series' commentator, David Addison, was taking a day off. Instead we were treated to someone who clearly had no real idea what was going on. In addition, the session was late starting as the officials decided they needed to noise test every car before they could start. This turned out to be bad news for Christian England (Promatecme F3), whose Dallara F301 failed the test twice. As a result he was not allowed to take part in the session, and thus failed to qualify for the race. "It was a bit loud." team boss Chris Weller admitted afterwards. This would not be the last thing to go wrong in the session.
With Will Davison (Alan Docking Racing) heading the tables from current championship leader Alan van der Merwe (Carlin Motorsport), and around 6 minutes of the twenty-minute Championship Class session still to run, things started to fall apart. Nelson Piquet Jr. (Piquet Sport) attacked the tyre wall at Sunny heavily enough to require a red flag. In addition, Will Power (Diamond Racing) also went off, damaging the right hand side suspension of the only Ralt in the race. Because it took such a long time to repair the wall, and because the session had started late as a result of tests ordered by the officials, these same officials decided to abort the remainder of the session, and let the Scholarship Class cars out instead. Given that most drivers bank on setting their best times towards the end of the session, this left us with a somewhat odd looking grid and an awful lot of aggrieved team bosses!
A further ramification of the incidents was that England would get to start the race on Sunday, as Power had damaged the Ralt to the point where the team couldn't fix it - they had no spares left after carrying out repairs during Friday testing. The end result was that Power would take no further part in the meeting, other than to mooch around disconsolately, bored beyond endurance at having to watch other people race.
The fact that the fastest Hitech Racing car was that of the inexperienced Scot, Andrew Thompson (who was unhappy with the car's set-up), and that he was 6th, suggested that many of the drivers were just about to begin setting proper times. That Piquet was only 11th, and Jamie Green (Carlin Motorsport) was stranded down in 13th was further proof, while the conclusive evidence came in the shape of Manor Motorsport's three drivers. Stefano Fabi was 14th, which is relatively normal, as was the fact that Tor Graves was 18th, but Clivio Piccione should not have been as far back as 19th, just ahead of the two slow Malaysians, Rizal Ramli and Farriz Fauzy (Team SYR). Only Power had been slower. Of the Malaysians, something more needs to be said. Fairuz Fauzy is turning into a decent driver, which is good to see. The other two are causing problems for most of the other drivers, which is not good. Ramli has little excuse as he spent last year in German F3 so he really ought to have more of an idea of what he is doing, but Farriz needs to go away and get some experience in the lower formulae before he is let loose in F3. As they are usually at the back of the grid at the end of the session, they are less of a problem in the races than they are in qualifying or testing, where, as one of the Scholarship Class runners remarked, you are quite likely to come across one of them "defending his line into the Hairpin or something!"
This was shortly to become an issue again. With the Scholarship Class cars being allowed their full 20 minutes of qualifying, it wasn't long before the faster of them were right up among the Championship Class runners. Especially on the pace were the T-Sport pairing of Karun Chandhok and Steven Kane. They were pretty evenly matched and even though Ernesto Viso was also on the pace, the two silver-liveried Dallaras were almost impossible to catch. Even though Viso was putting in 100% effort, getting his car alarmingly sideways at times, he couldn't quite match their speed. In the end they were 6th and 7th overall, just ahead of Richard Antinucci (Carlin)! Although the remainder of the class were all substantially slower, and although Viso had been 5th overall in testing on Friday, the Clerk of the Course deemed that the two sessions had been insufficiently similar. The result was that the grid would be divided by class. The Championship Class runners would take up the first 22 spaces on the grid and the Scholarship Class would occupy the remaining 8 slots. This, of course, meant that most of them would have to try and pass Ramli and Farriz, and none of them were happy about that prospect, so much so that there was talk of asking team owner Soong Yap to request that his drivers please move over and let the Scholarship front-runners through. Sunday morning's race didn't look like it was going to be much fun!
-Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite, Guest Writers