Vergne completes hat-trick at Spa

At Spa this afternoon Jean-Eric Vergne again hammered home the message that has been becoming increasingly apparent as the season has worn on. He is simply the class of this year's British F3 field, and that by quite a large margin. The RedBull-backed Carlin driver has been simply unstoppable since we arrived in Belgium on Thursday and today was no exception as he saw off early opposition from Oli Webb (Fortec Motorsport) to come home well ahead of James Calado (Carlin) and Gabriel Dias (Hitech Racing). The National Class winner was James Cole (T-Sport) this time out, after an early clash put Menasheh Idafar (T-Sport) out of contention. The Invitation Class was taken by Alexander Sims (ART Grand Prix), from Daniel Juncadella (Prema Powerteam) and Jim Pla (ART Grand Prix).

Jean-Eric Vergne.
Photo by Daniel James Smith.

At the start it didn't look as if it was going to go all Vergne's way, after he once again didn't make the best of starts and Webb got off the line and into the lead. It was obvious that Vergne was faster but Webb wasn't about to let him get past and started to indulge in what could only be described as excessive weaving, changing position more than the permitted single instance to hold the Frenchman off. Behind them, Calado was battling Dias for 3rd, and was soon through. With Vergne being held up by Webb, Calado became a major threat to Vergne quite quickly and did take a quick look to see if he could get through. Vergne resisted and once more set about trying to get the lead from the recalcitrant Webb. Further back Daniel McKenzie (Fortec Motorsport) was in trouble and dropping down the order after having bogged down at the start and lost a raft of places, while Dias was having a bit of a problem holding off a determined Juncadella.

Vergne's next attempt to get past Webb was successful, but not before Webb pushed him all the way over onto the grass. Jev scrabbled past on the grass, gesturing incredulously as he did so, and that was it for the lead. Vergne started to pull away, leaving Webb to try and fend off Calado. Dias had managed to hang onto to 4th, setting a fastest lap of the race as he did so, and now the leaders started to break away from the pack. In that pack, Carlos Huertas (R?ikk?nen Robertson Racing) was now stuck behind Juncadella and desperately trying to get past. In the National Class Cole was now in the lead though looking slightly second-hand around the front wing after Idafar tried a move on him at the start. The result was a puncture for Idafar and half a wing on Cole's car. Idafar had no choice but to pit, whereas Cole kept going, though it couldn't have been easy driving without a complete front wing.

At the front, while Vergne shot off into the distance, setting a useful fastest lap on the way, Webb was now coming under serious threat from Calado. The only thing that might protect him was that Dias was just behind Calado and looking quite keen on overtaking if he could. The idea of overtaking had to be put on hold on Lap 3 when Adderley Fong (Sino Vision Racing) crashed out at Fagnes and brought out the yellow flags. Meanwhile Webb was back on his excessive weaving stunt, as Calado made an attempt to demote the Fortec driver for 2nd. The other significant movement in all this was Sims, who was charging hard through the field and was now 6th despite starting from 15th, as Juncadella lost a place to Huertas and promptly attracted the attention of Felipe Nasr (R?ikk?nen Robertson Racing).

Further back in the pack there was another drama with Lucas Foresti (Carlin) and Daisuke Nakajima (R?ikk?nen Robertson Racing), who had been either side of Pla, clashed on the way out of La Source and ended up parked against the wall at the bottom of Eau Rouge. Meanwhile Calado had managed to get past for 2nd forcing Webb back into the clutches of Dias and Huertas, who now had Sims just behind him, the latter having found his way past Juncadella with ease. Pla was having a tussle with William Buller (Hitech Racing), the latter looking for a way past. He found it but then couldn't hold it and Pla came through again, only to have Buller take the place back again. Just for good measure they then changed places again, just as McKenzie joined in on the back of them. Nasr, meanwhile, was now having a go at Rupert Svendsen-Cook (Carlin), the Brazilian in a hurry to get ahead.

As Vergne maintained a constant distance from Calado, Webb was now having major problems defending his position against Huertas. After an initial weave from Webb, Huertas seemed to decide that discretion might be the better part of valour and he dropped back to consider his options. With Sims now past Dias he probably couldn't afford to consider them for too long if he didn't want the Invitation Class man all over him. He still had a bit of breathing time though as Sims couldn't seem to break away from Dias, which made one suspect that Dias had let him go to avoid getting embroiled in a battle that was none of his business. That let Juncadella get on terms with Dias though, and he got past at Les Combes. However, Dias came back at the Spaniard a lap later in a move that seemed to take forever to complete. Just to make Dias' life more complicated, Nasr followed him through and was all over him.

With the race now three quarters run Juncadella still hadn't given up, and he was now back past Dias and sizing up Sims. That was never going to work and in fact it allowed both Dias and Nasr back through again, which almost certainly wasn't in the plan. Ahead of them Huertas was now sizing up Webb with less than 10 minutes left of the race. If Webb was going to try the same tactics on the Colombian as he had on Vergne and Calado there was a real possibility of tears before bedtime. The predicted crash was avoided on his first attempt to get through, as Webb predictably did weave. Huertas, perhaps prudently, backed right off and waited. A couple of laps later and his patience had run out. He again tried to get up the inside of Webb, Webb again started to weave and the Colombian held his line, refusing to give way. The inevitable crash happened and Webb landed up in the barriers at Les Combes, while Huertas limped to the pits with a puncture. There was debris all over the track now, which almost tripped Dias up; Sims was just in front and slowed and Dias went to dive round, saw what was there, and backed off, as did Nasr, but for a moment there the potential to do something silly was obviously quite strong.

And that was how they finished, with Vergne coming home to his 3rd win of the weekend to go 87 points ahead in the championship battle. Calado was 2nd, from Sims, Dias, Nasr, Juncadella, Svendsen-Cook, Jazeman Jaafar (Carlin), Adriano Buzaid (Carlin) and McKenzie. 11th despite everything was Pla, who had lost a lot of ground as his tyres started to go off. He was followed home by Hywel Lloyd (C F Racing with Manor Motorsport), the Welshman being awarded Man of the Meeting and feeling a lot happier with the car at last. 13th was Jay Bridger (Litespeed F3), from Nicolas Marroc (Prema Powerteam), Buller, Nathana?l Berthon (ART Grand Prix), Carlos Mu?oz (Mucke Motorsport), Max Snegirev (Fortec Motorsport), Cole and Idafar. There were no other finishers, with Alex Brundle (T-Sport) retiring to the pits a lap from the end.

Fastest laps went to Vergne, Idafar and Cole.

Weather: Clear, sunny.

Next Rounds: Rounds 19-21, Thruxton, Hampshire, August 7th/8th


See also: Vergne stuns opposition in Spa second race