Autosport British F3 Championship 1998 - Round 3, Silverstone, April 5th.
Weather: cold, damp.
Qualifying on Saturday was very much a lottery with the rain falling intermittently, it was partly a matter of luck as to where you qualified. The first session had been atrocious and it was no surprise that, with exception of Narain Karthikeyan who spun off and damaged his car, the entire field were able to improve during the slightly less monsoon-like second session, in some cases by as much as two seconds a lap.
The big surprise of the day was the Paul Stewart Racing seemed to have suddenly found their form and with seconds to go, Luciano Burti was holding pole only to have it snatched from him by his younger though more experienced teammate, Mario Haberfeld. They had seemed to struggle in the first two rounds, having no answer to Enrique Bernoldi and his all-conquering Renault, or even to Martin O'Connell as he struggles to find the funds needed to continue.
Further down the order things were also far from normal; Bernoldi was behind his teammate, Marc Hynes who was delighted with third place although the usually rapid starting Ben Collins was alongside him. Bernoldi had been forced to settle for 5th on the grid, although it didn't seem to worry him unduly. He has undoubtedly learned one of the chief lessons of F3; consistency is the only way to the championship. If you can score points in every round, you don't need to win all the time.
Someone who would probably just like to win some of the time is Warren Hughes. He was 6th as the team continue to develop the customer version of the Renault engine, but if he was disappointed, he was nowhere near as depressed as O'Connell, who was separated from Hughes by Jamie Spence. After two second places and his first ever pole in the Formula, it was a surprise to see him back in 8th. However, when you know you can't afford to bend the car because if you do you won't be able to afford to get it repaired, it tends to make you rather more careful than a driver with a budget. He was sure he could have gone faster but it was not worth the risk. In view of what happened on Sunday he would probably take that risk if he had Saturday over again.
The top ten was completed by another team in an order most people wouldn't have expected. Yudai Igarashi showed just how much he has improved since last season by qualifying ahead of Ricardo Mauricio in the Alan Docking Racing cars.
As is becoming the norm in the National Class, only two drivers turned up and Phillip Scifleet again outqualified Warren Carway while John Ingram in the Tarry Falcon Racing entry was nowhere to be seen.
Qualifying 1st Mario Haberfeld, Dallara F398 Mugen Honda 1:25.924 2nd Luciano Burti, Dallara F398 Mugen Honda 1:26.137 3rd Marc Hynes, Dallara F398 Renault 1:26.684 4th Ben Collins, Dallara F398 Opel Spiess 1:26.769 5th Enrique Bernoldi, Dallara F398 Renault 1:26.872 6th Warren Hughes, Dallara F398 Renault 1:27.168 7th Jamie Spence, Dallara F398 Renault 1:27.194 8th Martin O'Connell, Dallara F398 TOMS Toyota 1:27.217 9th Yudai Igarashi, Dallara F398 Mugen Honda 1:27.312 10th Ricardo Mauricio, Dallara F398 Mugen Honda 1:27.531 11th Alexander Yoong, Dallara F398 Renault 1:27.777 12th Kristian Kolby, Dallara F398 Mugen Honda 1:27.792 13th Narain Karthikeyan, Dallara F398 Opel Spiess 1:28.374 14th Andrej Pavicevic, Dallara F398 Mugen Honda 1:28.391 15th David Cook, Dallara F398 Opel Spiess 1:28.629 16th Paula Cook, Dallara F398 Opel Spiess 1:28.861 17th Michael Bentwood, Dallara F398 Mugen Honda 1:28.954 18th Adam Wilcox, Great Britain, Dallara F398 Mugen Honda 1:29.110 19th Phillip Scifleet, Dallara F396 TOMS Toyota 1:28.736 (National Pole) 20th Warren Carway, Dallara F396 TOMS Toyota 1:30.411 21st Tim Spouge, Dallara F398 Mugen Honda 1:30.459
Well, it wasn't actually raining when the race started although it had been around half an hour before. In fact, the weather had caused all sorts of disruptions in the earlier part of the day, and there were some who were wondering if the race would actually be held in daylight. What should have been 22 laps was cut to 20 when it was decided that the whole field would need two out laps to scrub in brand new Avon slicks as they had all been running on wets to this point.
Finally, everyone was ready. The lights turned green and Haberfeld made a truly awful start, he and Burti seeming oblivious to the rest of the field as they screamed down towards Copse, Burti almost gaining the advantage. Seeing his opportunity, Hynes dived out and simply drove round the outside of the PSR pair and was in the lead by the time they exited the corner. His joy was short-lived however, as he was caught out by a puddle and the PSR cars went by. Then, to add insult to injury, "I hit the same sodding puddle!" and Bernoldi was through too.
It wasn't long before several other drivers ran into trouble around the puddle-strewn track. The big surprise came when the normal cool and collected Burti got it wrong going into Copse at the start of Lap 8. He shot across the gravel and back over the tarmac, causing Michael Bentwood to crash trying to avoid the out-of control PSR Dallara. And that left Haberfeld in the lead but vulnerable to Bernoldi, who slowly caught him up, pressurising his countryman constantly to the very end.
The only man to provide serious opposition to Bernoldi in the first two rounds, Martin O'Connell, was about to have a less than perfect end to a less than perfect weekend too. Collins tangled with him at the complex, Ben trying a manoeuvre that caused O'Connell to seriously question both Collin's intelligence and his sanity. There was a great deal of discussion with the Clerk of the Course afterwards about the incident, but it was all somewhat academic as they were both out of the race there and then.
Back in third, Hynes was on course for his first podium of the series, in a very lonely 3rd place, while Warren Hughes was also circulating in isolation. Behind him Mauricio and Yoong were scrapping over 5th, the more experienced Brazilian managing to hold off the young Malaysian right to the flag.
In the National Class, Phillip Scifleet came horribly close to losing a certain third victory out of three, when his fellow-Aussie, Andrej Pavicevic used him as a brake. The cars touched just before they crossed the line for the last time, the National runner sustaining a puncture and taking the chequered flag in a cloud of ominous looking tyre smoke. He wouldn't have minded so much if they had been in the same category and they hadn't been countrymen. As it was, it would probably not have cost him his title, but Formula Three is not a contact sport, something the ex-Tin Top driver, Pavicevic, seemed to have momentarily forgotten.
The next meeting of the series, a double header, takes place at Brands Hatch in three weeks time.
Results 1st No. 2 Mario Haberfeld, F398 Mugen Honda Time 25:40.878 20 laps, Speed 105.34 m.p.h. 2nd No. 5 Enrique Bernoldi, F398 Renault - Gap: 0.439 3rd No. 6 Marc Hynes, F398 Renault - Gap: 11.231 4th No. 21 Warren Hughes, F398 Renault - Gap: 13.518 5th No. 7 Ricardo Mauricio, F398 Mugen Honda - Gap 18:248 6th No. 22 Alexander Yoong, F398 Renault - Gap: 18:758 7th No. 8 Yudai Igarashi, F398 Mugen Honda - Gap: 29.907 8th No. 19 Paula Cook, F398 Opel Spiess - Gap: 34.665 9th No. 42 Adam Wilcox, F398 Mugen Honda - Gap: 41.795 10th No. 3 Andrej Pavicevic, F398 Mugen Honda - Gap: 44.984 11th No. 20 Tim Spouge, F398 Mugen Honda - Gap: 48.622 12th No. 52 Phillip Scifleet, F396 TOMS Toyota - Gap: 51.025, Speed 101.96 m.p.h. (National Class winner) 13th No. 51 Warren Carway, F396 TOMS Toyota - Gap: 57.554 14th No. 18 David Cook, F398 Opel Spiess Time Gap: 1 lap
DNF No. 27 Ben Collins, F398 Opel Spiess - Accident - Lap 11 No. 16 Martin O'Connell, F398 TOMS Toyota - Accident (hit by Collins) - Lap 11 No. 32 Narain Karthikeyan, F398 Opel Spiess - Lap 10 No. 1 Luciano Burti, F398 Mugen Honda - Accident - Lap 7 No. 9 Michael Bentwood, F398 Mugen Honda - Accident (avoiding Burti) - Lap 7 No. 4 Kristian Kolby, F398 Mugen Honda No. 14 Jamie Spence, F398 Renault
Fastest Laps: Haberfeld - Lap 16, 1:16.146, speed 106.46 m.p.h. Scifleet - Lap 19, 1:17.888, speed 104.08 m.p.h.
Points after 3 rounds: International Class 1st Bernoldi, 57 points 2nd Haberfeld, 41 points 3rd O'Connell, 30 points 4th Hughes, 22 points 5th Burti/Hynes, 20 points 7th Mauricio/Spence, 12 points 9th Yoong, 9 points 10th Igarashi, 5 point 11th Kolby/Karthikeyan, 4 points 13th D Cook/P Cook, 3 points 15th Collins/Pavicevic, 1 point
National Class 1st Scifleet, 63 points 2nd Carway, 30 points