BF3

Oulton Park: Round 15 qualifying report

Changes: This is British Formula Three. There are always changes. So here's this week's. Having driven for four different teams already, Fairuz Fauzy jumped shipped from Menu Motorsport, blaming the team for his poor showing so far this season,...

Changes:
This is British Formula Three. There are always changes. So here's this week's. Having driven for four different teams already, Fairuz Fauzy jumped shipped from Menu Motorsport, blaming the team for his poor showing so far this season, and took over what had been Ernesto Viso's car at P1 Motorsport. Makes you wonder how long it will be before he decides that P1 are no use either.

Apparently we are also in serious danger of losing Marcus Marshall (Fortec Motorsport) after this weekend, as his budget's about to run out. We don't know about there not being enough luck to go around four Australians; there certainly isn't enough money.

Qualifying Report:
Weather: Cold, wet.

For what felt like the hundredth meeting in a row, it was raining when we all got to Oulton Park, and judging by the black clouds lurking around, it hadn't finished with us yet. It stopped temporarily just before the first of the day's practice sessions started, but the track was still very damp, and the cars, all of which were out there on wet weather tyres, were kicking up a lot of spray.

Karun Chandhok (T-Sport) was the first of the drivers to put in a flying lap, starting the bidding at 1 minute and 48 seconds, not exactly fast for a lap of Oulton, but under the circumstances a pretty brave effort. He didn't get to hold onto the lead for long, because Alvaro Parente (Carlin Motorsport) was the next to go quickest. Parente didn't get to enjoy pole for long either, because he was almost immediately displaced by Clivio Piccione (Carlin Motorsport), who then lost out to Nelson A Piquet (Piquet Sports). Marko Asmer was the next to play, setting the first of the 1.47s. Ryan Lewis, meanwhile, was looking very strong, T-Sport's Scholarship Class driver now 6th overall. Lucas di Grassi (Hitech Racing) was the next driver to show his paces, but then Chandhok came round again and went back to pole position. The way the first few minutes had gone, it was likely going to be a case of the last driver running at the chequered flag taking the pole. As if to prove it, Piccione promptly shot back to the top of the order, and was again pushed back down by di Grassi. Things started to get weird when Andrew Thompson joined his teammate on the front row, the second of the Hitech drivers to hit the front. Piquet, meanwhile, seemed to be struggling, at least to begin with, and was now down in 6th. He wasn't finding it quite as difficult as James Rossiter (Fortec Motorsport), who was now 11th and seemed to be going backwards. So was Fauzy, for that matter, the Malaysian only 14th right now. Marshall, on the other hand, was edging his way up the order and was 11th; then again he needed a result if he wanted to see out the season.

In the Scholarship Class, Ronayne O'Mahony (Performance Racing) was attempting to challenge Lewis, and was now 14th, four tenths of a second off the class leader's times. However, as it turned out, he'd made the wrong decisions on settings, and would end up in trouble before the session was out. Someone else in trouble was Danny Watts (Promatecme F3), the Lola- Dome driver diving into the pits straight after his out lap. The trouble was he was still in there, and time was ticking away. Whatever the problems, the team were in danger of running out of time

And now Will Power (Alan Docking Racing) started to show, though on his first proper lap, he was 8th, while nearer to the front Piquet was again on a fresh charge, at least judging by his first sector times. It was beginning to look as if you needed a surname that began with P though, because as Piquet slotted in his fastest time of the session, Parente went shooting back up the order to 2nd, while Piccione grabbed pole. However, just to buck the alphabetic trend, di Grassi then went fastest, while Piquet moved into 2nd place. Rossiter, in the mean time, was still floundering and was 10th, behind Lewis, which can't have made him too happy. Lewis also seemed to still have something in reserve, and was going faster. It was beginning to look as if we might be on for a repeat of the time that Robert Dahlgren took overall pole position in a Scholarship Class car here two years ago. And as Stephen Jelley (Performance Racing) was also now catching up, it was starting to look even more likely.

However, both Piccione and di Grassi looked like they might have something to say about that, and they both immediately went quicker in the first sector, while Piquet got the drop on them, finding six tenths of a second from gods alone knew where. Danilo Dirani (Carlin Motorsport) on the other hand, was only 14th, a long way off the pace, and he didn't seem to know what to do about it. It was made worse when Piccione again slotted himself into provisional pole, although he was again pushed out of the way by Piquet. Unfortunately the Monegasque's engine then started to misfire, and that was the end of his challenge. Piquet still didn't look likely to have it all his own way however. Lewis was still pushing hard and was now 7th, just ahead of Power, while Chandhok was putting in a brave effort and was 2nd, with 20 minutes of the session left to run. The weird thing was that as they sometimes do, the field was all bunched up. Oulton isn't a short circuit, so there's no real need to cluster together when there are only 19 cars out on the track. It sometimes seems they only do it so they can complain about traffic afterwards.

And in fact there were only 18 of them so far, because Watts was still stranded in the pits, and showing little sign of emerging any time soon. That left Piquet and Chandhok slugging it out, the latter putting in one of his typically balls out efforts as he tried to get ahead. Parente obviously felt the need to join in, because suddenly he was up there again too.

Someone who should have been up there was Adam Carroll (P1 Motorsport), but he too was suffering from the effects of a wrong decision, settings-wise, and was only 11th, instead of at the front where he has been for the last two meetings. Whenever it looks like someone's focussed on the championship at long last, it all falls apart at the next meeting. This is turning into the title no one seems to want. It's certainly unusual to get this far into a season and not have a reasonably clear idea of who is going to take the title.

Anyway, di Grassi was now back to pole, while Marshall was languishing in the pits, having slowed right down again as the session wore on. He was joined near the back of the field by Walker, who seemed intent on proving that his performance at Donington three weeks ago was nothing more than a fluke after all. He was 13th this time, which is pretty much normal for him this year. Rossiter, meanwhile, was still looking as if he too might have lost the plot, and was 10th, despite being fastest through the speed traps, which was odd. Carroll had at least found a touch more speed, and was now lapping faster than he had all morning. The only problem was that the increased speed wasn't enough to move him up the grid. At the front, the order was now di Grassi, from Chandhok and Piquet, but Piquet wasn't content with that, and snatched pole back, only to lose it again di Grassi and have to respond all over again. And into the bargain, Chandhok would keep on getting in there too!

At the halfway point, Watts was still not happy with the handling of his Lola, and was in the pits for more adjustments, while at the front Piquet continued to slug it out with the other P people and Chandhok and Grassi. And even thought the rain suddenly started up again, it didn't seem to be slowing anyone down at all. It definitely wasn't slowing Piquet down. Fresh from competing in the Porsche Super Cup at the British Grand Prix, he seems to have a new lease of life at last, and was an impressive three tenths clear of everyone as they started into the final fifteen minutes. While Parente hauled himself back up to 4th, Fauzy had now plummeted to 15th and Carroll was only 12th. It looked as if P1 had messed up generally this session.

The order shifted again, with Piquet now leading comfortably from di Grassi, Chandhok, Asmer, and then the P people, this time Parente, Piccione, and Power, only Power spoiled it by insisting on speeding up to go 4th, while Piccione was now in real trouble and sliding down the order as he tried to wrestle his down on power Dallara round in case it miraculously recovered. Piquet and Parente were now both in the pits for new tyres, but as the rain was now steady it was unlikely to make a lot of difference. They could both afford the time. While everyone else was diving in for fresh rubber, Watts had rejoined the fray and was attempting to improve his position, but sadly it wasn't helping much, though he did briefly edge his way into the top 10, even if he couldn't stay there for long.

The rain eased off again, which meant the dry line started to reappear, and it really did become a case of each lap being faster than the one that had gone before. The conditions seemed to suit Asmer, because suddenly he was back in 2nd though he couldn't quite catch Piquet, despite his best efforts. The next man to have a go at the Brazilian and miss was Chandhok, though di Grassi was able to go one better and claim provisional pole. Rossiter, too, was finally getting his act together, and was now 5th. He wouldn't be especially impressed by that but it was better than he had been up to this point, so he should probably have been grateful for small mercies.

With four minutes or so left Fauzy managed to improve to 6th while Piccione had now slipped to 12th, a place ahead of Carroll. In the Scholarship Class, Lewis was now up to 9th overall, a whole 8 places ahead of nearest Class rival Jelley. He looked invincible - as if that made a change. He looked even more unbeatable by the end of the session, but right now there were things going on elsewhere in the field. Piquet reclaimed pole position, while Parente joined him on the front row. He was pushed back down a place when Fauzy went to 2nd, while a superb effort from Carroll hauled him back to 5th. Parente retook 'his' second place, only for Fauzy to take it back, while Piquet went even faster at the front. It was probably just as well he didn't wait, because he then fell off at the chicane, when Power took to the grass in front of him, making Nelson take to the grass in avoidance. It didn't matter - pole was his. What was remarkable in the closing seconds was the Lewis suddenly put on a late spurt to put himself 3rd overall, with only Piquet and Fauzy ahead of him. It looked like the start would be interesting on Sunday morning. In 3rd in class - and 4th overall, was Parente, just ahead of Rossiter, di Grassi, Power, Chandhok, Carroll and Asmer. 11th was Watts, with Walker, Dirani, Thompson, Piccione and Marshall lining up behind him, while 2nd in the Scholarship was Jelley, from O'Mahony, and Vasilije Calasan (Promatecme F3).

By: Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite

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