This has to have been one of the most complicated seasons ever for driver changes. Certainly it's beginning to look as if no team is going to end the season with the same drivers it started the year with, and some of them have changed round so often it's enough to make you dizzy! This time it was Alan Docking Racing that were subject to change, with two new (at least in the British series) drivers stepping in. In the number 1 car, which has now metamorphosed into the Lola-Dome, resplendent in unpainted carbon-fibre bodywork, was João Paulo de Oliveira, the Brazilian following up on his outing at the Masters this year with ADR by getting into the much-unloved Lola and trying to do something with it. In the number 2 car, which is still a standard issue Dallara, was current Formula Renault runner Reinhard Kofler, the Austrian stepping up from German FR series to take an exploratory look at a circuit he will be driving on in the 2003 (except that it seems that meeting will not now take place).
Adam Carroll (Sweeney/Menu Motorsport/Alan Docking Racing, and so on) was missing altogether, as he was busy wrestling a Lola at the A-1 Ring and apparently impressing the rest of the field no end. During mid-week testing Manor Motorsport ran Lewis Hamilton in their spare car and it should surprise no one to hear he was pretty much on the pace straight away, but he was busy trying to wrap up the Formula Renault title during the weekend, so he wouldn't be racing. Additionally, Ryan Lewis had tried out the spare SYR car but then - possibly very sensibly - didn't appear at the start either.
Qualifying Report - Round 21:
OK, there really isn't a great deal to say about this session since we made the mistake of wandering out into the boonies on the Friday of a TOCA meeting and quickly discovered a serious lack of volume on the PA system. Consequently we can't really tell you what order anything happened in, as we also quickly discovered that Radio TOCA wasn't broadcasting at an audible level either. Such is life when you're in F3, the formula that TOCA doesn't love (we suspect it's a mutual dislike)!
What was clear, even without commentary, was that Alan van der Merwe (Carlin Motorsport) wasn't hanging about and really wanted to wrap up the series as soon as he could. He was on pole from pretty early on, which is unusual for him, and he obviously intended to stay there if he could. The main challenges came from three sources. The first one was Danny Watts (Hitech Racing), who reckoned he was feeling lucky, and proved it by grabbing a front row slot by the time the session ended. Next, and third at the end of the half-hour, was a rejuvenated Rob Austin (Menu Motorsport) who seemed to be fully focussed again after his mid-season malaise and the four-week lay-off caused when he broke a bone in his hand at rugby practice. Whatever had gone wrong in the interim, this was the same guy who started the season so well before apparently losing his way completely. The final second row slot went to Fairuz Fauzy (Promatecme F3), the Malaysian seeming to be much happier in a team where he is not solely responsible for trying to set the cars up so they work! He was even on pole for a while, but van der Merwe and Watts proved too much for him in the long run, which was hardly surprising given the form they were both on. Van der Merwe wanted the title and that was all there was to it!
Robert Dahlgren (Fortec Motorsport) was another looking good this time out, though there again he's been anything but consistent this season, the Swede finishing up in 5th, just ahead of Nelson Piquet Jr. (Piquet Sport), who was doing his chances of taking the runner-up slot in the series no good at all. In 7th was Michael Keohane (Carlin Motorsport. He was ahead of Clivio Piccione (Manor Motorsport), who also seemed to be pretty relaxed now he knows he's going to be a Carlin driver very soon now. Behind him was Ronnie Bremer (Carlin Motorsport), who seemed to have woken up at last (a bit late in the day perhaps), while 9th was Billy Asaro (P1 Motorsport), the Canadian having a far better run at Donington than he could probably remember having all year. And in 10th was Jamie Green (Carlin Motorsport), struggling with an apparently recalcitrant car and in just the sort of position he didn't want to be in, at least not if he was to have the slightest hope of stopping van der Merwe walking away with the title on Saturday. As it is, he was only just ahead of Scholarship Class poleman Ernesto Viso (P1 Motorsport), the Venezuelan doing his best to get ahead of Steven Kane (T-Sport) in what is proving to be a very absorbing, and incredibly close, battle for the class title. With Kane being a lot further back (17th) Viso seemed to have the upper hand, though this was hardly surprising given that he was so quick here at the start of the season (and would probably have won both races, if he hadn't managed to crash out on the first lap of both of them).
The people keeping Kane away from Viso were Andrew Thompson (Hitech Racing), Richard Antinucci (Promatecme F3), Will Power (Fortec Motorsport), Will Davison (Menu Motorsport) and Eric Salignon (Hitech Racing). All of whom have been much further forward at various points this season, which just illustrates the point that, while it has been his own speed that has won him the championship, van der Merwe's rivals haven't really done much to stop him. In 18th was Karun Chandhok (T-Sport), who seemed to be having a variety of problems (a car full of gravel, a smoking engine) that were preventing him getting on terms with Viso and meant he would start the race from the slot next to his teammate. You began to get the feeling that the T- Sport boys really didn't want to win the Scholarship title and were playing some sort of odd game of "After you, Claude!" Quite why Kane was so calm was anyone's guess though at least the last two circuits are ones he knows well and that he usually runs well at (here and Brands Hatch). Perhaps he was just hoping that Viso would either wipe himself out or would be taken out by Antinucci again!
De Oliveira was 19th, the Brazilian wrestling the Lola round despite its rather unpleasant handling, and Kofler did a reasonable job to come in next to him. Next up, and 4th in the Scholarship Class, was Justin Sherwood (Performance Racing), while the final three places went to the usual suspects Tor Graves (Manor Motorsport), Masato Shinoyama (Team SYR) and Rizal Ramli (Team SYR).
-Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite, special writers