<pre> 2001 Green Flag British Formula Three Championship Rounds 1 and 2 - Silverstone, March 31st/April 1st </pre> by Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite - Motorsport.com It's back and it's bigger than ever. British F3 returned...
<pre> 2001 Green Flag British Formula Three Championship Rounds 1 and 2 - Silverstone, March 31st/April 1st </pre>
by Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite - Motorsport.com
It's back and it's bigger than ever. British F3 returned to the circuits this weekend with the biggest grid that many people can remember. With a total of 38 competitors, 20 of them running in Class A, this looks set to be a most impressive, if somewhat overcrowded, season.
Changes from the initial entry list included the return of Martin O'Connell, for this race at least, in the second of the Team Avanti cars, and Craig Murray making his F3 debut in Class B after a winter spent scratching about trying to raise money from friends, family and anyone else willing to believe that the young Scot has a future in racing. Of course, all British drivers have this problem, but it seems to be getting worse, not better. Ironic really, considering the strength of the sport in Britain.
Round 1 - Qualifying:
Weather: Wet track, cloudy, cold.
With a nasty wet track and oil from the Minis all over the place, everyone went out on wets. It would have been silly to do anything else. Of course anyone who didn't have a problem with traffic was the exception rather than the rule and that will no doubt apply all season. Mind, if they thought this was bad, just wait till they get out at Snetterton in two weeks time, is all I can say. It will probably make the M25 at 5pm on a Friday evening look pleasant. Luckily at Silverstone there's a little more space to play with. It didn't stop new father Andy Priaulx (Alan Docking Racing) from having a spin on his out lap although he soon sorted himself out and topped the list for most of the session. Last year he looked seriously committed even when he knew he was wasting his time in the hideously under-powered Promatecme car. This year, away from the awful Renault power unit and in a relaxed berth at ADR, he looks even more impressive and should pose a major threat as the year develops. Having recently become a father for the first time (Sebastian looks like his father and seems to be in as much of a hurry judging by his speed of arrival), he claims to be more motivated than ever, which should worry the rest of them.
What was a pleasant surprise was seeing how well the severely under-funded Matt Davies (Avanti) was running. He was rapidly on the pace, which should have come as no surprise to anyone, even after his dismal spell at Promatecme last year. The main surprise was that he was out there at all as the deal only came together at the very last minute and may not even stretch as far as Snetterton (Rounds 3 and 4).
The pre-season favourite and testing star Takuma Sato (Carlin Motorsport) was soon up there with Davies and Priaulx in the fight for pole. However, with the track starting to dry it was anyone's guess who would end up on pole. Newcomer Anthony Davidson (Carlin) was looking impressive in the early stages and Nick Kiesa (Prost Junior Team) also had a brief spell on pole, before being bumped back down the order by Davidson, who was in turn demoted by Priaulx. Mark Taylor (Manor Motorsport), another newcomer, was also running well in the early stages, despite reservations in some quarters about whether he is ready for F3 yet. Despite showing very strongly last year in Formula Ford, he still has a lot to learn; the plus side is that he seems to know this.
And suddenly the first yellows of the session appeared at Bridge. Meanwhile, Tim Spouge (Menu Motorsport) came round driving a car that sounded more like a bag of spanners; he promptly headed into the pits for a long stay, to the despair of team boss Mike Baker. Mike has been away from F3 for a long time but had quickly discovered that some things never change: "You start the month with money and by about the 6th of the month there's none left..." By the sound of Tim's car there would shortly be even less...
Priaulx was still hanging on to overall pole position. Gianmaria Bruni (Fortec Motorsport) finally started to show as well. With his hair now curiously spotted with pale blue tufts, the result of a lost bet regarding his placing in the Rome marathon recently, he was looking very fit but rather odd. A miserable looking Andre Lotterer (Jaguar F3) was having a tough time here, but then the young German is not familiar with the circuits in the UK and a lot of other people know this place extremely well. Still, at one point he was 19th which is not where Stewart - sorry Jaguar - would expect to find one of their cars. What he really needed was a new engine to sort the problem, but that would have to wait until after the session. Meanwhile, he would have to do the best he could under the circumstances. 16th was not going to make him at all happy. Meanwhile Taylor moved up to 2nd only to have Martin O'Connell (Avanti) promptly knock him back down a place. With the session coming to a close Spouge finally rejoined, too late to do much at all. Late in the session the other Alan Docking Racing driver, Paul Edwards, was also starting to show well and at one point it looked like an ADR front row lock-out was on the cards when Edwards suddenly set the fastest time of the session. As the track began to dry very fast it really did become a matter of timing as to when you crossed the line.
But with cars spinning off all over the place and yellows sprouting both Priaulx and Edwards did the sensible thing and eased off as they were supposed to. Some people didn't however. Now there are those of us who have long suspected Jamie Spence (Duma Racing) of being colour-blind and most people know he will take any advantage offered; you can't blame him really - he's been out of the formula for five years and if he's going to make it then it's a case of now-or-never. So maybe it shouldn't have been a surprise to see him top the times as the chequered flag fell. Considering the car had been less than perfect he was lucky too; a misfire cleared on its own and his radio wasn't working either. He was joined on the front row by James Courtney (Jaguar Racing F3), the bouncy Australian very probably also benefiting from the fact that other people were slowing. Sato moved up to 3rd and Edwards was somewhat aggrieved to be down in 4th on the final list.
The result of all this was the now familiar series of post-session "discussions", almost certainly made worse by the number of people involved. In the end the times were allowed to stand, based on claims that the drivers could have made up the lost time on the rest of the track. We can only hope that the officials don't come to regret this decision when we get to Snetterton. Edwards was philosophical about it afterwards, but you wonder if he will now bother to back off in future when he sees yellows, having seen others get away with it. "A lot of people didn't slow down at the yellows, and the drying track meant they set their fast times right at the end. The officials decided to let them off with a warning instead of disallowing so many times. In the end I dropped to fourth and Andy to fifth, which isn't too bad, but it would have been nice if they had taken off a few tenths for the drivers like us who did back off!"
Next up was the first of the Manor Motorsport cars, with young American Jeffrey Jones at the wheel. Those of us who first saw him in the Formula Ford Festival a couple of years back will recall how awesomely quick he can be, although to no one's surprise, on that occasion he finally found the limit going round Druids. In tricky conditions, in a car that he was obviously happy with, he looked like a very impressive rookie indeed, though not as impressive as Courtney, it has to be said. Teammate Mark Taylor was 8th, just behind Davidson and was another who might have been further up but had eased off when he saw the stationary yellows. The third Manor car was in 9th, Derek Hayes making his debut in a Formula he should probably have been in a long time back instead of wasting his time in Formula Palmer Audi. Despite a limited budget, Hayes should go well too. Lotterer finally clawed his way up to 10th but he wasn't happy with that. A front-runner in the German series for part of last year, he knows how to drive an F3 and he didn't get a chance to prove it this time out. The man with the blue hair, Bruni, was 11th but was telling anyone who would listen that things would be different in the second session. In 12th was a somewhat baffled Nicolas Kiesa. The team had got the set-up wrong, easy to do in changeable conditions, and the Dane was as decidedly gloomy as ever. Maybe he thinks he's Hamlet, or something, but sunny-natured he isn't. Matt Davies was 13th but didn't seem too troubled by it. Like Prost, Avanti made the wrong set-up choice. However, Matt's mature enough to know these things happen sometimes - and he did drive for Promatecme last year so anything else must be a welcome change! The first of the Menu Motorsport cars was in 14th thanks to the efforts of Rob Austin. In 15th was Kiesa's teammate, Scots newcomer Ryan Dalziel.
Adam Blair (Performance Racing) was running at the front of the Class Bs and 12th overall for a while, but then his teammate Matt Gilmore took it off him. They all got bounced down the order by Robbie Kerr (Fred Goddard Racing) who was a second ahead of the next Scholarship Class runner, but he then had his times disallowed for a fuel infringement and would start from the back of the grid with a 10 second penalty. Fred wasn't exactly pleased as they had been running the same fuel in testing and that had been OK. The team didn't, however, have permission to use it for the race.
Promatecme clearly still have a way to go to get among the front-runners again judging by their performance too. In 16th was Bruce Jouanny, another driver who is new to the UK, and his team-mate Atsushi Katsumata was 17th, making the move from Class B. The second Fortec car was a distant 18th with Alex Gurney in charge, and Martin O'Connell, who has never liked Silverstone, was 19th.
Pole sitter in Class B, as a result of Kerr being penalised, was now Blair, with Matt Gilmore beside him. Parker Racing was next up with Brazilian Ernani Judice. Mark Mayall seems to have a new lease of life after last season, and he was 4th in class in his Diamond Racing car. Carlin's class B runner Kazuki Hoshino was 24th overall and the Dutch driver, Robert Doornbos, was 25th in the second Fred Goddard Racing Dallara. Stuart King (Shift Motorsport) and Justin Sherwood (Performance Racing) where 26th and 27th and Michael Keohane (Meritus) was 28th.
The last of the Class A drivers, Tim Spouge (Menu Motorsport), was in 29th, which was no surprise after the way the car had sounded.
30th was Harold Primat (Diamond Racing), Aaron Scott (Rowan Racing), Parthiva Sureshwaren (ME Motorsport), Stuart Turvey (Gatelie International), Peter Nilsson (Meritus), Shinsuke Yamazaki (Diamond Racing) and Rowland Kinch (Team PARK) filled the remainder of the places.
Kerr would be joined at the back of the grid by Craig Murray (Aztec International) who didn't actually set a practice time.