WEBB WINS AGAIN AND CLAIMS CHAMPIONSHIP LEAD
Nineteen-year-old Oli Webb confirmed his status as a fully fledged championship contender today at Magny-Cours, dominating round nine of the Cooper Tires British Formula 3 International Series at the wheel of his Mercedes-powered Fortec Dallara to defeat local hero Jean-Eric Vergne and, more importantly, to wrest the championship lead from the Frenchman's clutches.
Earlier in the day, Vergne had had the consolation of a win in the sprint race, but Webb - already fired up from his Saturday seventh round win - was right behind him to claim second place.
Vergne made up for his disappointments of Saturday with an impressive victory in this morning's race. The 20-year-old Frenchman took his home win for Carlin despite crossing the finish line just behind the car of Gabriel Dias: the Brazilian had led for much of the way but was penalised for jumping the start of the 10-minute sprint.
The race, originally scheduled for 20 minutes, had to be red-flagged and restarted after contact on the third lap between pole-sitter and early leader Jazeman Jaafar and the car of his Carlin team-mate James Calado. Calado was trying to wrest the lead from the Malaysian into the Adelaide hairpin when their Dallaras touched, Calado's reared up and over the back of Jaafar's and was fired broadside into the gravel trap, where it tipped over and trapped the driver. Pershore-based James was unhurt.
Jaafar restarted again from the pole but Hitech man Dias got an even better getaway as the lights flashed off - too good a start, as it turned out. Vergne made short of work of passing Jaafar for second and within three laps had whittled Gabriel's lead down to half a second.
The Frenchman pounced on his prey around the outside of the Adelaide hairpin on the sixth and penultimate lap. But Dias wasn't giving an inch and fought back so fiercely that it took Jean-Eric another couple of corners to make the move stick. Indeed it was only by cutting a corner that Vergne was able safely to secure the lead.
By this stage pit lane was aware that Dias's start was being investigated, and wisely the Carlin crew were quickly on the radio to Vergne to advise him to let Dias repass, lest the original overtake was deemed contrary to regulations. Thus Dias took the flag first, only to lose the win immediately thanks to a one-minute time penalty.
"It's great to win after yesterday's disaster," said Jean-Eric. "It was really hard to pass Gabriel but finally I was able to manage it. Then I cut the chicane a little bit to make sure that we didn't touch. We decided to let him repass because we knew by then that he was likely to get a time penalty."
Webb probably had few hopes of a podium finish from seventh on the original grid, but the Knutsford man was fourth for the restart and managed to pass Jaafar on the final lap. With the penalty for Dias, Oli ended up second. "I'm very pleased to have got second from seventh on the grid. I saw all the carnage going on around me and knew that I needed to keep it clean and tidy."
Jaafar held on to third on the road for what would have been his first British F3 podium finish, but race stewards later excluded Jazeman from the results as a punishment for his incident with Calado. Hitech's Will Buller ambushed Daisuke Nakajima on the final lap for what turned out to be third.
After spinning away a top-six result yesterday, Hywel Lloyd made amends by finishing fifth and scoring his first points of the season for the CF Racing with Manor team. Felipe Nasr was sixth for Raikkonen Robertson Racing while Lucas Foresti took his best result of the year in seventh. Daniel McKenzie, Jay Bridger and Rupert Svendsen-Cook completed the top 10.
A first-lap clash with another car sent Menasheh Idafar scuttling for the pits and a new tyre, which cost the London-based pilot any hope of National class victory. The honours instead went to his sole class rival and T-Sport team-mate, Liverpool's James Cole.
Webb made a good start from second on the grid to overhaul poleman Vergne, just as he did on Saturday, and lead into the first corner. This time Vergne's getaway was not disastrously slow, but it was tardy enough to allow the Knutsford driver a slender lead.
Jean-Eric was ever-present in Webb's mirrors all the way to the end of the 25 laps, and though he was close enough at times to make an attempt at claiming the lead, no serious assault was forthcoming. "It's been a bad weekend," said Vergne. "I did not expect this. This race was quite disappointing because the rear wing was broken, we think by the heat, and there was no way that I could pass Oli."
Webb was more than delighted by his 0.7s victory, which promotes him to the top of the championship standings, two points clear of Vergne. "I'm ecstatic," said Oli. "To do this at a track I have never seen before in my life, against someone who knows it back to front, makes it even more satisfying. I didn't make a great start, but Jean-Eric made quite a bad one, so that favoured me. After that it was just a question of putting in the laps."
After the first-lap jostling, the third and final race of the championship's French weekend was the least eventful. Gabriel Dias slotted into third at the start and held on in that position to the flag, unable to stay on terms with the leaders. The battle for fourth was a highlight, Daniel McKenzie hanging on to the position until eight laps from the end, at which point he was overcome by James Calado, back on form after the Carlin team put in a superhuman effort to repair his car after his morning accident. McKenzie hung on for fifth and his best-ever finish.
Rupert Svendsen-Cook finished just ahead of Felipe Nasr for sixth, with Hywel Lloyd claiming an excellent eighth for the CF Racing with Manor team, ahead of Carlin men Lucas Foresti and Adriano Buzaid.
Menasheh Idafar held the National class lead until lap 17, when he had to give best to his T-Sport team-mate James Cole, who romped on to win the class by a couple of seconds to consolidate his class points lead. "I got him into the hairpin, around the outside," said a delighted James. "I didn't pass him off the start like I thought I would and then it was difficult because other cars would come n between us. I just had to wait for the moment when I could get a run at him and do it, and when I did I pulled away."
The teams now have only a couple of days of respite before battle is rejoined at the German Grand Prix circuit of Hockenheim on Saturday (29 May). British F3 is sponsored by US tyre manufacturer Cooper Tire and is further supported by Sunoco Racing Fuels, Anglo American Oil Company and Mirror.co.uk