2000 Green Flag British Formula Three Championship
Round 5 - Silverstone,
by Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite
Qualifying: First Session: Weather: Cool, sunny.
Andy Priaulx (Promatecme UK) was the man to watch at the start of the first session, proving to be very quick straight out of the garage. However, inevitably it wasn't long before Tomas Scheckter (Stewart Racing) was right up there with him and just to let us know who thinks he's boss, Antonio Pizzonia (Manor Motorsport) snatched provisional pole from the South African and showed every intention of staying there if at all possible. For a while it was looking as if these three would be the front runners but then Priaulx started to slip back down the order to end up 10th, while Ben Collins (Carlin Motorsport) decided to muscle in on the act although like Priaulx he would slip back, in his case to 11th.
In what was almost a repeat of his Donington practice performances, Takuma Sato (Carlin Motorsport) seemed to be languishing in the lower reaches of the order until near to the end when he suddenly pulled a blindingly fast lap out of the hat. The result was that he was 2nd on the grid by the end of the first session and Scheckter was dropped to 3rd.
Nicholas Kiesa (RC Motorsport) was showing signs of pace as well with a time that put him 3rd on the grid and demoted Scheckter another place to 4th. For Kiesa, this return to form probably had a lot to do with the fact that the new Opel engine is now ready and seems to be delivering as much power as the young Dane could hope for. This fact was backed up by the performance of his teammate Milos Pavlovic as well, the Yugoslav taking 5th place. After recent races it was good to see both of them showing the sort of pace that they are capable of at last.
Interestingly, Narain Karthikeyan (Stewart Racing) was finally able to get through a practice session without falling off the track in the first few minutes, the first time in a while that he has managed to achieve this. It didn't seem to give him any extra speed though and 6th was the best he could manage.
Also showing pace, and proving that he and the team have not wasted any time between rounds, was Andrew Kirkaldy (Avanti). The returning Scot was certainly much quicker this time out, setting a time that put him 7th on the provisional grid. The team had also found the time to repaint and re-livery their truck in the intervening two weeks so they no longer appeared to be an offshoot of Rowan Racing. In 8th by the end of the morning session was Juan Manuel Lopez (Manor Motorsport). The Argentinean seems to be improving with every race although he was not prepared to pronounce himself happy at this stage. That wasn't going to be a likely scenario until he got through the race as well. He did allow himself a brief smile though.
There was trouble at Fortec Motorsport. Gianmaria Bruni was struggling in 9th place and even worse off was Michael Bentwood. The English driver was being troubled by massive vibration in his Dallara and the cure was proving impossible to find. As a result Michael was much further back than usual in 14th and he wasn't at all happy about it.
Promatecme UK was another team quite clearly in trouble. Certainly they seem to be having the same troubles as always, with a power unit that seems sadly lacking in oomph on a power circuit like Silverstone. With Priaulx 10th and Matt Davies 12th things were not looking good. Still, it could have been worse for both drivers; they could be driving for Rowan Racing! After the last three years in F3, there were some who expected far more from Martin O'Connell and the team than they have delivered so far. The injection of a substantial budget doesn't seem to have helped, in fact it seems to have made matters worse and 13th on the grid hardly constitutes a success. He was often further up the grid when he was in Class B. Perhaps the team are out of their depth. Who knows? Certainly Martin's results have been poor and Rowan's other Championship Class driver, Warren Carway, is the only driver in the category to have failed to score a single point. In fact he usually qualifies 17th or 18th and ends up mixing it with the Scholarship Class boys rather than the other Championship Class runners. Today was no exception and he was 18th as ever.
Also seriously troubled were the Alan Docking Racing pairing of Westley Barber and Tor Sriachavanon. A long testing session at Pembrey had done little to improve the handling of their cars. With Warren Hughes stepping in to try and sort things out the team had hoped for progress, but they were still finding that no matter what they did the handling didn't change and it certainly didn't improve. The air of gloom was palpable and they were 15th and 17th, either side of Scholarship Class pole man, Gary Paffett (Fred Goddard Racing). Gary wasn't too pleased at being 16th but felt that at least it would encourage the others. After all, six races into the series he had just taking his 6th class pole and there was nothing to suggest that anyone would be able to stop him making his win and fastest lap tallies up to 6 as well. He seemed amused at the idea of a little competition though he was still confident. "It's good that they're closer. When they get close to me they start getting excited and falling off all over the place!"
Of course, having a reasonable budget has to help him no end but it can't detract from Gary's ability. 2nd in class this time, and only two places behind, was Christian Colombo (Rowan Racing), just ahead of Atsushi Katsumata (Team Meritus). The second Meritus driver, Marcel Romanio, was next up, something of a miracle given the state of his budget. "These are my best tyres! You should see the other set!" he grinned, waving a hand at a rather sorry looking set of Avons. They were in the sort of condition that would cause a team like Stewarts to discard them. Marcel was quite happy to use them and wasn't even especially concerned at the fact that he no longer had a spare engine (Katsumata had been using them when they blew) and that the Toyota he did have had done more miles than it should have. When the money is limited, you have to make do. The two Diamond Racing runners were next up, Mark Mayall, just ahead of Ryan Walker and the final two places went to Craig Fleming (ME Motorsport) and Phillip Hopkins (Phillip Hopkins Motorsport).
But then, after the session ended, there was drama. Antonio Pizzonia was summoned to the Clerk of the Course to discuss an incident in which it was alleged that he had brake tested Warren Carway after the Irishman held him up as he was leaving the pits. After all the evidence was considered, the Brazilian's times were disallowed and his licence was endorsed. Everyone moved up a place and Sato was now on pole. Pizzonia had lost a solid pole position and had no one to blame but himself. Of course, he saw the whole thing rather differently: "He was weaving about all over the place so I went past him and then he ran into me, and he kept hitting me."
Second Session: Weather: Cloudy, warm, starting to rain.
This was undoubtedly going to be a slower session, and so it proved. Only two drivers improved on their earlier times, and they were both in the Scholarship Class. Phillip Hopkins was able to move himself up a place from last on the grid and Atsushi Katsumata got ahead of Christian Colombo.
Otherwise the only driver making progress was Antonio Pizzonia and he didn't have a lot of choice. The team had repaired the floor where it had been damaged in contact with Carway but otherwise they made no changes. "The car was exactly the same as in the first session, except we had a set of new tyres." With no time from the morning session he was going to have to put in a stunning effort to get to a sensible position on the grid if he didn't want to lose his championship lead to Scheckter on Sunday afternoon. And so, with rain starting to make the circuit slippery, he set about doing what was necessary. He was quite clearly a man on a mission, and was up to 12th by the time the session was less than 10 minutes old, and he continued to move up while all around him people were struggling to improve at all. He was up to 7th by the half way stage and then came in for a change of tyres. The rain was beginning to increase now and the track was very slippery when he came back out, a fact that became very obvious when he spun through the gravel trap at Copse and back out, only to set his fastest time of the session three laps later just as the chequered flag came out. He would start from 5th on the grid after an amazing demonstration of his ability. The irony was that it really shouldn't have been necessary.