At Rockingham this afternoon, Felipe Nasr (R?ikk?nen Robertson Racing) survived a chaotic feature race to claim his first win of the season, though he had to work very hard for it. 2nd was Jean-Eric Vergne (Carlin) after a recovery drive that showed guts and determination in equal measure, and that almost qualified as the drive of the race. 3rd was James Calado (Carlin), another who had to work hard to undo damage done early on. The National Class was won by James Cole, from team-mate Menasheh Idafar, the T- Sport pair having quite a battle for the category lead, and surviving relatively unscathed more by luck than judgment as the International Class self-destructed all round them.
At the start Webb got away well, but by the time they had emerged from Turn 1 a move had begun that would shape the course of the entire race. Carlos Huertas (R?ikk?nen Robertson Racing) tried to make a move on Vergne, but Vergne fought back, the pair touched and then Vergne lunged at Webb as they tore into Deene for the first time, only to discover his brakes weren't biting. He clipped his main rival, pitching him into a spin. With Webb sideways across the track in front of everyone, there was a lot of avoiding action that needed to be taken, and in the ensuing melee some were more fortunate than others. What seems to have happened on piecing it together is that Nasr inherited the top spot, while Vergne survived in 5th. Webb got going again but was now a long way down the order. It would have been further but there were casualties. Huertas spun off, Daisuke Nakajima (R?ikk?nen Robertson Racing) was nerfed off by Gabriel Dias (Hitech Racing), and Pietro Fantin (Hitech Racing) tripped over the Brazilian and was also out of contention there and then. Alex Brundle (T-Sport) was also involved but got going again, albeit a lap down, as did Rupert Svendsen- Cook (Carlin).
Needless to say the upshot of all this was the need for a Safety Car period, the "someone's crashed" board more accurately perhaps meaning "everyone's crashed" this time. Once the dust cleared we could see that Nasr was in the lead, from Buzaid, Jazeman Jaafar (Carlin), Calado, Vergne, Lucas Foresti (Carlin), Jay Bridger (Litespeed F3), William Buller (Hitech Racing), though he had sustained some damage, Cole and - implausibly perhaps - Max Snegirev (Fortec Motorsport). Idafar was 11th from Adderley Fong (Sino Vision Racing) who had somehow managed to avoid the mayhem, Hywel Lloyd (C F Racing with Manor Motorsport), the recovering Webb and Daniel McKenzie (Fortec Motorsport).
The wreckage was cleared away rapidly enough, with Nakajima actually managing to limp back to the pits and into retirement, by way of a quick trip to the medical centre just for good measure. Everyone else was dragged out of the way and after two laps the race resumed. Nasr controlled the restart beautifully but into Deene Buzaid was just too strong for him, going round the outside as they approached the corner, then squeezing up the inside to steal the lead from the younger man. Meanwhile, just behind them, Calado was all over Jaafar who was catching Nasr now. Calado saw what he thought was his chance and lunged at the Brazilian into Deene the next time round, and Vergne tried to latch onto the Racing Steps backed Englishman to try and go with him. It didn't quite come off for any of them but it was obviously only going to be a matter of time before one or other of them had another go.
And so it proved with Vergne getting ever closer to Calado, as the pack closed up again behind Buzaid, the latter for some reason unable to capitalise on his lead and open up a gap. Back in 5th Vergne went for it again, trying to get up the inside, then trying again as they exited Deene. Calado blocked him once again, while just ahead of him Jaafar was scrabbling away at the back of Nasr, setting the fastest lap of the race so far at the same time. The trouble for everyone was that Buzaid was now backing them up so a train was developing, while further back Cole was still in the lead of the National Class, while Idafar was trapped behind Snegirev and looking for a way past. Unfortunately perhaps for him Webb was coming up behind the pair of them at speed, looking to get back into contention and get back at Vergne who he held responsible for the accident. While Webb hacked his way back up the order, Calado managed to lose a place to Vergne at Pif Paf, which meant the Frenchman was now 4th. If Calado had any thoughts about fighting back, however, they would have to go on hold because he now had a further problem in the form of Buller, who was all over him now.
Things opened up a little when Nasr finally managed to grab the lead back at Deene after Buzaid misread what was happening behind him and moved the wrong way. Meanwhile, Vergne was pushing on hard, setting a new fastest lap as he set off after Jaafar. Nasr responded to being through and in clear air by promptly going faster than Vergne, and beginning to open up a gap. His life was about to get a lot quieter, not something that could be said for the squabbling rabble all trying to be 2nd. Temporarily, though, they all calmed down and took stock for a moment or two, while further back McKenzie managed to spin but keep going at Deene after failing to pass Lloyd, while Svendsen-Cook was gaining ground too though he was still a lap down. And just to make things really interesting Webb finally found a way past Snegirev, towing Idafar with him. That only left Cole before he would be on the tail of the 2nd place scuffle. Cole, sensibly, didn't make an issue of it, letting the International Class runner through before moving back across to block Idafar and hang onto his class lead.
Meanwhile Vergne was now ready to launch his attack on Jaafar. He had a go at Tarzan and startled the Malaysian, though not enough to make him give way. However, that was just a taster. As they came round to start the next lap the Frenchman jinked to the outsider at Deene and drove round his team-mate to grab 3rd. Now all he had to do was find a way past yet another team-mate in the shape of Buzaid so he could set about trying to stop Nasr who was vanishing up the road at a fair rate. Easier said than done as it turned out.
Mind you, he wasn't the only one having to work hard. Snegirev had gone off at Deene, but McKenzie was having all sorts of trouble with Brundle as he tried to find a way past, this despite the fact that Brundle was actually a couple of laps down and so should probably have given ground and let the Fortec driver through. Brundle had already decided he hated Rockingham so perhaps he just wasn't in the mood to make life easier for anyone else...Of course if he did get past, then McKenzie was only going to have to try and find a way past Cole and Idafar who were now going at it hammer and tongs for the National Class lead, and Foresti who was just behind them, so maybe he was better off where he was.
As Nasr extended his lead to over 5 seconds, Vergne was steadily reeling in Buzaid, who was now slowing again as he began to drive defensively in the hopes of holding off the championship leader. Again they started to bunch up as a result, with Jaafar holding off Calado, while Buller loomed threateningly. You just knew that as the race wore on, and the tyres started to go off, Webb would likely join them too, especially as he was now just behind Bridger, who seemed unlikely to detain him for long. However, not many people were watching Webb, not with Buller right with Calado and Vergne all over Buzaid like the proverbial rash. And suddenly it all happened at once as Webb edged up on the inside of Bridger at Turn 1 and finally got through by staying there all the way to Deene despite Bridger pushing him towards the grass. Webb was in no mood to concede and by the time they emerged from the corner he was through for 7th. At the same time Vergne got his nose alongside Buzaid for 2nd, but not unexpectedly the Brazilian was not about to hand the place over. As a result Jaafar re-caught both of them, only to find Calado and Buller both lunging at him. He backed off as did they, though it's unlikely any of them were too happy to see Webb now looming large in their mirrors now.
As Svendsen-Cook's race finally came to an end in the Gracelands gravel trap, Vergne took yet another look at Buzaid and very nearly ended up back behind Jaafar as a result. The 5-car fight for 2nd was getting ever more fraught now. A lap later Vergne tried to sell Buzaid a dummy, only to discover that the Brazilian was too smart to fall for it. "Jev" would have to try a different tactic. For his next attempt he tried to get up the outside at Turn 1 but again Buzaid was having none of it. However, Vergne kept his foot in and finally, as they came out of Deene and into Yentwood, he was through. Whether he could catch the now distant Nasr was a moot point, though it certainly didn't stop him trying.
That left Buzaid in 3rd, ahead of Jaafar, and Calado, but luckily for him, they both had their hands more than full, with Buller all over him at every corner, and Webb now with them after a superb recovery drive. Buller promptly tried to go around the outside of Calado at Tarzan but that was never going to work. With Jaafar now harrying Buzaid, Webb got the drop on Buller when Jaafar and Calado went through on Buzaid and then Jaafar promptly messed it up because he'd broken his front wing off in the process. That dropped Jaafar back and meant that Calado was up to 3rd, and Buzaid now had Buller looking for a way past on the outside, while Webb was almost up the Dallara's exhaust. Buller was repulsed successfully by the Brazilian, and while he tried to recover from that, Webb barged his way through to 5th but Buller simply took it back again, and that was that.
Behind the insanity that was the battle for 2nd, Bridger, Cole and Idafar all managed to avoid tripping over Jaafar, who was now dropping down the order like a stone as his downforce went away along with the missing wing. As Fairuz Fauzy and a selection on Petronas people were on hand to see him, this must have been particularly galling for the Malaysian, but he had given a good account of himself up until that point. Even further back, Foresti lost a place to McKenzie, but was able to take it back again, and was helped because McKenzie was having to keep a weather eye out for Brundle. The latter was still proving to be a problem despite being a couple of laps down, and Fong was also getting involved, unlikely as that may seem. However, there was very little of the race left to run now, so further changes seemed unlikely.
After 40 fraught minutes, Nasr came home to his first ever British F3 victory, over 15 seconds ahead of Vergne in 2nd. Calado hung onto 3rd, from Buzaid, Buller, Webb, National Class victor Cole, Idafar, Lloyd and Bridger. The final five places went to Foresti, McKenzie, Fong, Jaafar and Brundle.
Fastest laps went to Nasr and Cole.
Note: The results of Round 15 remain provisional pending the hearing of a protest from the Fortec team into the circumstances surrounding the collision between Vergne and Webb.
Weather: Changeable, windy.
Next Rounds: Rounds 16-18, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, July 30th/31st
Editor's note: Protest update - The protest made by Fortec Motorsport on behalf of Oli Webb against Carlin's Jean-Eric Vergne has been dismissed so the results stand as published.
See also: McKenzie takes maiden win at Rockingham