In a weather-affected session at Donington this afternoon Oliver Oakes (Eurotek Motorsport) claimed pole position, though as he is not eligible to score points now, having elected to run in the invitation class, that meant that all eyes were on...
In a weather-affected session at Donington this afternoon Oliver Oakes (Eurotek Motorsport) claimed pole position, though as he is not eligible to score points now, having elected to run in the invitation class, that meant that all eyes were on the man in second at the end of qualifying. And that man was Jaime Alguersuari (Carlin Motorsport), also currently second in the championship behind Oliver Turvey (Carlin Motorsport) and determined not to let his team-mate get away. 3rd was erstwhile series leader Sergio Perez (T- Sport), who still has a mathematical chance of beating the others to the title. In the National Class Jay Bridger (Fluid Motorsport) claimed yet another pole position just ahead of T-Sport's Steven Guerrero.
After a particularly badly behaved morning session it was made clear to the drivers that if there were yellow flags out, then the system would simply not record any times. That made it all very clear and we should have had a very well-behaved session with everyone going out and steadily speeding up. That however was before the weather decided to interfere and the whole state of the championship was blown wide open. Turvey may have come to Donington expecting (not unreasonably) to leave as champion, but by the end of this session it looked just as likely that Alguersuari might just become the first rookie since Antonio Pizzonia in 2000 to take the British series.
It was starting to drizzle as the session got underway and Perez, for one, took one look at conditions on his out lap and drove straight back into the pits to have wet weather tyres bolted on. He wasn't the only one to start the session on slicks, but he was the first to decide it really wasn't a smart idea. It may have looked alright from the pitlane, but it was hellishly slippery out there.
After the morning no one was hanging about and Sam Abay (Carlin Motorsport) was keen to get a time set as soon as possible. It netted him provisional pole ahead of Double R Racing's due of Atte Mustonen and John Martin. As conditions began to deteriorate it looked as if setting an early time was a good decision, and that Perez's decision to change to wets was even better; the Mexican's first flying lap put him on pole by 1.641 seconds, a substantial advantage. He didn't get to enjoy it in splendid isolation for too long though. Oakes was on a charge and Abay was beginning to push very hard for an advantage. It wasn't long before Oakes moved up to 3rd and Abay was knocking on the door of pole.
Nick Tandy (John Tandy Racing) always seems to shine in poor conditions and he was soon up towards the sharp end too, demoting Oakes for 3rd. Oakes got shoved further down when Brendon Hartley (Carlin Motorsport) also began to show his true colours. As the fourth part of the battle for the title, the Kiwi is another driver whose car control is best shown off in adversity and today he did a remarkable job in dreadfully treacherous conditions. At this point he was 4th. What was to come was far more impressive, though no doubt he will as ever be bitterly disappointed with anything less than perfection.
With the National Class down to Bridger and Wilson, things started to change at the very front, with Max Chilton (Hitech Racing) claiming 2nd only to have his team-mate Walter Grubmuller take it off him, and then they both got moved down the order by Alguersuari launching his challenge to dislodge Perez. Martin was still running well up as well and claimed 4th, but the order was changing constantly. Certainly things got interesting when Dean Smith (Fortec Motorsport), in his debut F3 meeting, finally dislodged Perez from the top. Young Mr. Smith looks as if he might be quite impressive, though obviously it remains to be seen how things will pan out in the long run. He's certainly been on the pace today. As Perez's team manager was called to race control, Oakes speeded up again, once more hitting 3rd, and once more being elbowed out by Tandy. Perez wasn't about to give up either - in fact what's interesting is just how often you think Perez is finished, only for the irrepressible Mexican to bounce back twice as hard as he did last time. He was hanging on to that pole position with everything he had and grabbed it back once more. Meanwhile, Henry Surtees (Carlin Motorsport) was battling for the National Class pole on his category debut. Bridger might have something to say about that, but for the meantime, it was Henry's place.
Despite the steady rain fall the times were still coming down, and the next driver to up the ante was Alguersuari, who now edged Perez out of provisional pole. Meanwhile Mustonen was third, and you began to wonder if maybe slicks were the way to go. Possibly everyone would just have to wait and see what happened when the tyres really came in. And what happened was that Oakes rocketed up to pole.
A lap later Surtees was relieved of National Class pole by Bridger, who was keen not to be beaten again if he could help it; he did it by setting a time that was good enough for 5th overall. That was more than Hartley or Turvey seemed capable of right now, with the pair way back in 18th and 19th respectively. Any chance to improve then evaporated as the yellow flags came out and no times were recorded. It didn't take long to clear but while the flags stayed out the order was Oakes, from Alguersuari, Perez, Tandy, Marcus Ericsson (Fortec Motorsport), Bridger, Guerrero, Abay, Smith and Martin. Surtees had dropped to 11th ahead of the lacklustre Mustonen, Henry Arundel (Double R Racing), Grubmuller, Philip Major (Double R Racing), Chilton, Stefan Wilson (Fluid Motorsport), Jonathan Legris (Litespeed F3), Hartley and Turvey. Adrian Buzaid (Carlin Motorsport), was 21st, heading up Callum Macleod (T-Sport), Clemente de Faria Jr. (Cesario F3 UK) and Hywel Lloyd of C F Racing (who'd just come in for wets).
By the time the yellows were taken away the rain had got worse and the improvements - unlike the weather - promptly dried up. We were nearly at the halfway mark and there was a general dive for the pits as the teams finally accepted that they really did need to change to wets if their drivers were to have a chance of squeezing anything more out of their cars. Major got very sideways at the Chicane as if to prove how tricky it was out there. Among those who changed their tyres, first out and thus first to benefit was Hartley, who now really showed what he's capable of. From almost last, a lap later he was 14th. It shouldn't have been possible in the conditions, but he did it. As if to reinforce his point, a lap later he was 8th. Turvey, who had also changed, was still 19th. That was all the information Alguersuari needed, the Spaniard also coming in for wets, just as Hartley went ever faster to end up 6th. Turvey, on the other hand, simply couldn't get to grips with the conditions in the same way. He did improve, but not by the same sort of margin, moving up to 17th. This was really making it interesting - and although the top four all seem determined, you do wonder if anyone actually wants this championship.
With the rain showing no sign of stopping, and only eight minutes left of he session, Oakes was still leading from Alguersuari, Perez, Tandy, Ericsson, Hartley Bridger, Guerrero, Abay and Smith. There would be very little change now until the end of the session, though Turvey improved again to go 14th; it's just not that easy out there.
Buzaid and Clemente Jr. briefly scuffled over 20th place, but that was it really. Surtees stalled in the pits trying to get back out, but was able to restart, and that was the end of any excitement at all, despite almost all of the field circulating round out there. Hartley came in to get the tyre pressures adjusted (despite Carlin apparently only possessing one gauge which was being used on Turvey's car at the time thus slowing the process rather), but it didn't help as things turned out. It was just too wet now.
And so the session came to an end and the order was Oakes, taking his first ever F3 pole, from Alguersuari, Perez, Tandy, Ericsson, Harley, Bridger, Guerrero, Abay and Smith. 11th was Martin in front of Surtees, Mustonen, Turvey, Arundel, Grubmuller, Major, Chilton, Wilson and Clemente Jr. Buzaid ended up 21st, thus edging out Legris, Lloyd and Macleod. It's entirely possible that the results of this session have really put the cat among the pigeons as far as the championship is concerned.
Weather: Cold, drizzly, slippery.