At Spa-Francorchamps this morning Antonio Giovinazzi (Double R Racing) survived a torrential downpour and everything Jann Mardenborough (Carlin) could throw at him to claim his second victory in the 2013 British F3 International Series. 3rd place went to Jordan King (Carlin) after a fine drive in horrendous conditions. The National Class was again won by Sun Zheng (CF Racing), the Chinese driver also being awarded the man of the weekend prize for his three wins.
At the start it was Giovinazzi who made the most effective getaway, catching pole man Nicholas Latifi (Carlin) napping, a poor reward for the team after they spent most of the previous 24 hours rebuilding his Dallara which was destroyed in a first race shunt with Mardenborough. A bunch of team members who didn’t get to bed until 3am would probably have rather seen their driver hold the lead, but it was not to be. Just to rub it in, he also failed to hold Mardenborough off at Eau Rouge, and was 3rd by the time they completed lap 1.
Meanwhile, despite a good start that gained him two places, William Buller (Fortec Motorsport) was awarded a drive through because his team was still working on the car with 30 seconds to go before the start. The penalty seemed a bit harsh as the reason for their tardiness was that their entry to the grid was blocked by a load of Lamborghini crews coming through at the end of the previous race. However, rules are rules and thus Buller duly pulled in to the pit lane and out again, setting off to catch the pack up so he could work his way through once more.
Giovinazzi thus led Mardenborough, from Latifi, Felipe Guimaraes (Fortec Motorsport), King, Sean Gelael (Double R Racing), Zheng, Tatiana Calderon (Double R Racing), Jordan Oon (Team West-Tec), Chris Vlok (Team West-Tec) and Buller.
Just as Mardenborough started to set about Giovinazzi for the lead, weather conditions took a turn for the seriously horrible. With 23 minutes of the race left the downpour was biblical in its intensity, and the cars were soon slipping and sliding all over the place as the drivers struggled for anything even slightly resembling grip. It was not a lot of fun out there, it seemed.
It didn’t quite stop the action, with Calderon passing Zheng, while Buller steadily closed down the National Class runners as he tried to recover lost ground. As the rain started to ease almost as abruptly as it had arrived, conditions improved, if only slightly. Mardenborough once again started to close up on Giovinazzi, while Latifi had his hands full with Guimaraes and King, both of whom were looming large in his mirrors (or at least were appearing as massive clouds of spray whenever he chose to look behind him).
As the rain settled to a steady downpour instead of a monsoon, Buller closed on Vlok and was soon past him, and then meted out the same treatment to Oon. His next target was Zheng, after which he could see whether he could make any inroads into the International Class and thus maintain his points lead at the top of the table. It wasn’t going to be easy, but if anyone could do it, it would be Buller.
Ahead of him, Giovinazzi was still a reasonably comfortable leader from Mardenborough, while Latifi now had King, who had passed Guimaraes, sitting very close. The only comfort he could take was that King hadn’t managed to shake off Guimaraes, and now Calderon was on their tail as well, the four running in very close formation as we reached half distance.
With all the cars now trailing massive rooster tails, and vast amounts of opposite lock being applied, Mardenborough set an early fastest lap in his chase after the leader. He was certainly catching the Italian now, though whether that would help him remained to be seen. It’s one thing to reel in your opponent when all you can see of him is a grey ball of spray, but passing under those conditions requires a certain suicidal determination on the part of the one doing the passing, or at least utter faith that the driver in front will not do anything unpredictable.
As the rain stopped and the track started to dry out in the intense heat that has plagued the Ardennes all weekend, Buller began to really press on, catching and passing Zheng before going after Gelael. With 13 minutes left, it looked like he might just be able to do it.
At the front, Mardenborough had closed Giovinazzi right down, and was trying everything to find a way past the Italian. Giovinazzi was having none of it, thank you, and he resisted, blocking neatly everything the English driver tried. This was not over. As they started lap 8, the Carlin car was almost alongside the Double R car. Again Giovinazzi held Mardenborough off, and again Mardenborough started to set up his next attempt.
As they moved into lap 8, Mardenborough had another go, but ended up losing it. As he drove across the grass at Les Combes, no doubt Giovinazzi heaved a sigh of relief, as he suddenly had some breathing space again. Back in the pack the fight for 3rd was intensifying too, with King giving Latifi a very hard time, and Guimaraes continuing to have to work hard to hold off Calderon and Gelael. He too was granted breathing space a lap later when Buller caught up with Gelael and took all of the Indonesian’s concentration to keep the championship leader at bay.
On lap 10, Buller was through, passing Gelael neatly and the settling in behind team-mate Guimaraes, while the pair in front of the Brazilian continued to scrap furiously. King went on the attack again, but again Latifi managed to hold him off. However, with Giovinazzi crossing the line at the end of lap 11 with 20 seconds left on the clock meant King had one more chance. He didn’t waste it, charging past Latifi at Eau Rouge and meeting little resistance.
That was the last action – or at least it should have been. As Giovinazzi crossed the finish line with both fists in the air, he slowed down to wave at his team, and Mardenborough promptly rear-ended him, ripping a wheel and the rear wing off his own car, and earning himself a 5 grid place penalty at the next meeting at Brands Hatch. It didn’t alter the end result of this race however.
Giovinazzi was happy to win, with Mardenborough an impressive (if lucky) 2nd, while King richly deserved his 3rd place after a brave drive. 4th was Latifi, from Guimaraes, Calderon, Buller, Gelael, Zheng, Oon and Vlok.
Fastest laps went to Buller and Zheng.
Weather: Humid, gloomy, overcast.
Next Races: Rounds 7, 8 & 9, Brands Hatch, August 10th/11th 2013