Today at Hockenheim Walter Grubmuller (Hitech Racing) finally snatched the victory that he'd been after for the last two and half years with a superb lights-to-flag win ahead of team-mate Renger van der Zande. In and incident packed race, Robert Wickens (Carlin Motorsport) claimed a superb 3rd place after starting from 15th on the grid (and having Riki Christodoulou park on his head yesterday). The National Class went to Daniel McKenzie, the youngster more than making up for his premature exit from yesterday's race by running as high as 5th overall at one point. Gabriel Dias (T-Sport) was 2nd in class and Victor Correa (Litespeed F3) was 3rd after getting caught up in one of the many incidents that defined the shape of the race.
The first incident almost occurred before the race started, when the field was released from the pits. Because the conditions were very different to qualifying they would do two exploratory laps. Except that the grid was already fairly full with 20 ADAC grid girls lined up in the various slots and a Safety Car sitting at the front, to say nothing of engineers, mechanics, photographers and so on. Queue the spectacle of several girls in high heels flinging themselves to safety, team personnel diving for cover, and the Safety Car veering wildly over onto the grass verge. The chaos was compounded by Hywel Lloyd (C F Racing) who either can't count to two or who wasn't paying attention as he went sailing past the line and had to be bodily dragged back to his slot on the grid, in the face of the rest of the field trying to move forwards to theirs. There followed a period of staring at the sky, trying to decide whether it would dry out or rain again. Everyone went out on slicks in the end, but some people had clearly made the wrong decision as to settings.
Anyway, everyone was finally sorted out and the lights went out on the gantry. Grubmuller made a good start, but Marcus Ericsson (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) was once again jet-propelled off the line, barging past Daniel Ricciardo (Carlin Motorsport), Max Chilton (Carlin Motorsport) and a slightly surprised van der Zande to snatch 2nd from under the Dutchman's nose. Elsewhere the pack was having a massive sort out and all sorts of foolishness occurred. Adriano Buzaid (T-Sport) had a go at passing Ricciardo to snatch 4th, got it all sideways and dropped both of them down the order. In the ensuing mayhem Jay Bridger (Litespeed F3/Bridger Motorsport) also came to grief, ending up with a seriously sideways rear wing that didn't help his cause any and forced him into retirement three laps later. One of the beneficiaries of the confusion was Wickens, who managed to make up seven places before the race was a lap old. Someone else making up space was Nick Tandy (JTR), who wasn't in the best of moods at having been excluded from the previous race, and who made another uncharacteristically poor start.
A lap later and Grubmuller was leading comfortably, while van der Zande was looking for a way past Ericsson, and not finding it. Further back though, Wayne Boyd (T-Sport) was having a go at Chilton for 4th, and it didn't take him long to get by, nor did it take Wickens long to overhaul the stricken Bridger. Behind them Ricciardo was busy looking for revenge on Buzaid for the first lap. A lap later the pair of them were joined by Riki Christodoulou (Fortec Motorsport) and it started to get very fraught indeed, with Ricciardo and Christodoulou both deposing the Brazilian soon afterwards, and then catching up with Wickens.
It probably wasn't as fraught as what was happening at the back of the field though. The battle not to be last was extremely intense and involved everyone from Daisuke Nakajima (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) backwards. The Japanese appeared traumatized by his awful start and simply wasn't going anywhere in this race. The result was that everyone else was bottled up behind him, with Dias desperate to get past so he could set off after McKenzie, Stephane Richelmi (Epsilon Barazi) who was seen to overtake more than one of his fellow tail-end charlies, a frustrated Victor Garcia (Fortec Motorsport) who thought he should be further up, Lloyd recovering from the startline confusion, Correa and Carlos Huertas (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) who has also got caught up in the confusion at the start.
Bridger retired from the race on lap 4, just as Tandy caught up with Arundel and started to give him a hard time. The maddened Mygale driver made short work of young Henry and immediately set about Buzaid. Round about the same time, van der Zande finally got past Ericsson, who promptly went backwards and lost ground badly. Grubmuller was continuing serenely at the front as all this went on, blissfully unaware of the carnage. Chilton came back at Boyd and a lap later he too went past Ericsson, while Boyd was mugged by both Wickens and Ricciardo and Tandy got past Buzaid. It was hard to know where to look with this much mayhem on offer.
At the halfway mark things calmed down a little, as if they were all collectively taking a deep breath before starting all over again. It was certainly the only lap on which the order did not change at all, and that order was Grubmuller, from van der Zande, Chilton, Ricciardo, Wickens, Ericsson (who had lost out badly), Boyd, Christodoulou, Tandy and Buzaid. Arundel was 11th at this stage, ahead of National Class leader McKenzie, with Nakajima leading his train of Richelmi, Lloyd, Garcia, Correa, Huertas and Dias who had fallen behind but clearly didn't plan on staying there if he could help it. And then, after a lap of relative calm, they all kicked off again.
Ricciardo made an attempt to pass Chilton, and it didn't come off, the result being that Wickens got ahead instead, which hadn't been in the plan. At the same time, Boyd managed to overtake Ericsson, the Northern Irish youngster putting in his best performance of the year so far, and Tandy barged past Christodoulou. A lap later and Tandy was past Ericsson as well, while Ricciardo and Chilton both lost ground when Boyd managed to spin out, Chilton collecting a puncture into the bargain. Boyd pitted with a seriously crumpled wing and Chilton came in for a new tyre, rejoining a lap down and seriously angry about it. That put Wickens onto the podium, at least theoretically. In practice he had Tandy right on his rear wing, which is not what you want to see in British F3. It also meant that Ericsson was back up to 5th again, not what might have been expected given how far down the order he had fallen.
With four laps to go, Tandy decided to try for that 3rd place. His usual aggressive mode was met with equal aggression by Wickens. The Canadian held his place, and Tandy ended up spinning away some valuable points, dropping back to 8th after a trade-mark recovery drive. Another who had recovered - but had not managed to spin it away - was Dias, who had gained ground and ended up back in front of Correa when the latter also had to pit for a new tyre. Almost as if they had all run out of steam, the last three laps were relatively quiet, Grubmuller winning for the first time and looking like a man who has had a huge weight lifted from his shoulders. Van der Zande was happy to be 2nd, and Wickens was pleased with 3rd, especially given how far back he had started. 4th went to Ericsson in the end, from Christodoulou, Tandy, Buzaid, Ricciardo, Arundel and McKenzie, who had run as far up as 5th. Nakajima came home in 11th, leading Richelmi, Garcia, Huertas, Dias, Chilton and Correa.
After one of the most dramatic races in recent memory, Ricciardo still leads the International Class championship, with Grubmuller now the nearest challenger. Ericsson should be returning to Japan soon, so there's no need to worry about him, but he has deprived others of much-needed points and kept things interesting. Meanwhile, McKenzie believes he only needs to win four more races and the National Class is his, which rather takes the interest out of the contest, but that's what happens when there are only four runners in the category.
Fastest laps went to Tandy and McKenzie.
Weather: Damp, warm, cloudy.
Next Rounds: Snetterton, Norfolk, July 4th/5th 2009.
Round 7 race story: Ericsson wins again at Hockenheim