At Silverstone this morning Jean-Eric Vergne (Carlin) obviously meant business as proved by him taking pole position for Race 1 and Race 3 after a seriously exciting session, where the last man to cross the line was pretty much guaranteed to end up on pole. The series leader timed it to perfection to pip Lucas Foresti (Carlin) to the top position for one race and Adriano Buzaid (Carlin) in the other. 3rd for Race 1 is Rupert Svendsen-Cook (Carlin) while James Calado (Carlin) starts 3rd in Race 3. Menasheh Idafar (T-Sport) claimed both National Class poles, while the Invitation Class went the way of Mu?oz.
The session was initially declared wet and everyone duly filed out on wet weather rubber, presumably with the intention of banging in a banker lap before hopefully changing to slicks and then playing last man over the line. It was no surprise at all when Vergne promptly set the fastest lap pretty much straight out of the box, the Frenchman now so close to clinching the championship that he can almost taste it. He wasn't about to have it all his own way mind. Calado and Oli Webb (Fortec Motorsport), while not the only challengers still in the running, are the only two with a realistic chance of stopping him, and even that is distant and rapidly vanishing. However, that didn't mean either of them has given up. Calado in fact leapt into the lead early on while Daisuke Nakajima (R?ikk?nen Robertson Racing) was 2nd though not for long. Meanwhile Idafar was leading the National Class while Fantin was ahead in the Invitation Class, presumably because he has more experience of the circuit. The order was changing rapidly now and the next to show his hand was Svendsen-Cook, though he couldn't quite dislodge Calado from the top slot.
In trouble, meanwhile, was Alex Brundle (T-Sport) who managed to go off in testing yesterday, and Cunha who didn't manage more than a lap on Friday after being attacked by Nakajima. Felipe Nasr (R?ikk?nen Robertson Racing) meanwhile, leap-frogged to 2nd. The times were still quite low with Calado still leading but the rain had now stopped completely so it was to be expected that things would get a lot faster quite rapidly from now on. As if in response, Calado promptly went faster and Svendsen-Cook was looking quick too.
They were all pushed down by William Buller (Hitech Racing) who hit pole, but still no one was ready to change to slicks. Carlos Huertas (R?ikk?nen Robertson Racing) was next to pole, pushing Buller back, along with his team-mate Daniel McKenzie (Fortec Motorsport). It didn't take Calado long to come back at them but it still wasn't over. Webb - with a new haircut - again leapt up the order, this time from 10th to pole but then Buller edged ahead again. The two of them both then lost out to McKenzie just before Calado came back again. Just to further spice matters up Idafar shot up to 8th overall, while Vergne was now only 13th. Meanwhile Mu?oz had now taken over the Invitation Class slot just as the drift into the pits for slicks began. Buller was first in for a change but that was enough to trigger a rush and at the halfway stage it was McKenzie on pole while the pit lane rush began in earnest. With 15 minutes still to run McKenzie was at the top, with Calado, Buller, Webb, Huertas, Foresti, Svendsen-Cook, Gabriel Dias (Hitech Racing), Nakajima and Hywel Lloyd (C F Racing with Manor Motorsport) rounding out the top 10. Buzaid was 11th just ahead of Nasr, Idafar, Jazeman Jaafar (Carlin), Brundle, Vergne, Mu?oz, Max Snegirev (Fortec Motorsport), James Cole (T-Sport) and Jay Bridger (Litespeed F3). Sistos was 21st, from Adderley Fong (Sino Vision Racing), Cunha and Fantin.
When Vergne finally pitted to change tyres he was back in an apparently distant 16th, and while he was doing that Webb was already out and scrubbing in the slicks, certainly enough to let him go 2nd anyway. Meanwhile Brundle's woes continued, the youngster trundling slowly into the pits, the car covered in mud and sounding really horrible. When he stopped and the team set about cleaning up the mess, gravel scattered everywhere. Clearly he is still struggling to come to terms with F3 with the season now almost over.
Dias, meanwhile, moved up to 4th but the other front runners were still warming up their tyres. Vergne had now dropped down to 20th so he had a great deal of work to do and there were now only 12 and a half minutes left. You had to wonder if they might have miscalculated at Carlin or whether this was some clever ploy on the part of Trevor Carlin and his team. With Webb one of the late callers at the pits pretty much everyone was now ready to go for those fast times. The Carlin team emerged as a pack but soon separated out. That allowed Calado to go 2nd on his first flying lap on slicks, which was good but not as good as Jev managed, Vergne flying round to snatch provisional pole. In the National Class Idafar improved his time too but dropped back in the overall order. It wasn't enough of a slide to threaten his class lead though.
Meanwhile, Buller came back to the pits to get another set of slicks and scrub them in for the race. However, this would prove to be a costly move as Hitech idiotically pulled the car into the garage to complete the work. They'd already done that when bolting on his first set of slicks, and had been told not to as it's in direct contravention of the regulations which clearly state "During qualifying Practice Sessions any work must be carried out on the pit apron only. Any cars returning to their garages or paddock areas must have permission from the Series Technical Delegate." Despite the fact that the Series Technical Delegate was standing nearby they didn't seem to consider it necessary to ask or to take note of having already been given a talking to. It would turn out to be an expensive piece of silliness but more of that later.
There was still a session to finish, and the times were now tumbling rapidly with Foresti leaping up to 5th while Nasr improved to 8th and Svendsen-Cook going 2nd. Fantin had now gone fastest in the Invitation Class, though he wasn't close to what the serious front runners were doing, especially with Vergne going ever faster. What followed next should probably have caused a slow down in the session as Jaafar had gone missing after setting the fastest overall times in the first two sectors and causing an outbreak of yellow flags in the third sector. Despite that Buzaid improved to 2nd, while Calado came rocketing round to set a pole time that was 2.878 seconds faster than anything so far achieved in the session. No doubt if challenged about it and the yellow flags, they would all have claimed the "drying track" defence in conjunction with the fact that the screen was not displaying the usual message about flags. It certainly didn't seem to be slowing any of them down, with Foresti now in 2nd and Nasr 3rd. A few seconds later and it all changed yet again with Svendsen-Cook climbing to 3rd and Idafar now up to 5th overall. Vergne, however, was having none of it and was back to pole and looking strong. He still hadn't quite sorted it though as was proved by Calado again going faster. In fact it was proving hard to keep track though among the more significant changes Webb was soon 5th and Nakajima 4th. They were then split by Fantin proving that all that testing was worth the effort. A further improvement saw Svendsen-Cook back in 5th but he was another with no answer to Vergne, the series leader again back ahead, this time by 1.261 seconds. The track was now drying so rapidly that it was obvious that the times would still continue to fall and so they did. Buzaid grabbed 2nd but then Calado came round again to reclaim the place, only 0.062 seconds behind Vergne now. Webb, meanwhile, slipped into 4th, thus spoiling the Carlin party. He promptly got edged out by Nasr, while Svendsen-Cook was 8th. Another effort from Buller saw him go 3rd and with just under 2 minutes or two laps left it was now going down to the wire. Brundle put in a sudden and somewhat unexpected improvement to haul himself into 8th place, while Bridger managed to squeeze a little more from the Litespeed car to end up just outside the top 10 in 11th only to be pushed back down when McKenzie improved to 10th. There was a brief lull and then with the chequered flag being readied it all went nuts again. Lloyd clambered to 12th while Foresti shot up to 2nd and Svendsen-Cook put in a last ditch attempt to claim 3rd. Webb was looking good as was Calado but there may wasn't much time left. The flag came out and everyone waited with bated breath for the last improvements. And so it proved. Calado pushed hard for provisional pole while Webb came round on his final flying lap to nab 2nd. Meanwhile it seemed that Buller was under investigation.
McKenzie hauled it back to 10th from a distant 17th and Buller shot to pole but then Vergne appeared heading for the flag having timed his run to perfection. The Frenchman had almost no one behind him apart from Buzaid (who would end up 3rd) and Brundle whose final effort put him 8th. And so Vergne again stamped his authority on qualifying in definitive fashion, leading home Buller, Buzaid, Calado, Webb, Svendsen-Cook, Foresti, Brundle, Dias and Nakajima. McKenzie was 11th from National Class pole man Idafar, Mu?oz, Bridger, Nasr, Fantin, Huertas, Lloyd, Cole and Snegirev. 21st was Fong, from Sistos, Jaafar and Cunha. Afterwards, however, Buller would have his fastest lap time disallowed and the Hitech team were fined ?500 for contravening Rule 2.4 and pulling the car into the garage to change the tyres. Whatever possessed them, it was a costly action.
The Invitation Class was back in action again, with Pietro Fantin (Hitech Racing) and Carlos Mu?oz (Mucke Motorsport) both opting to run on the Grand Prix circuit this weekend. In addition, the International Class had an extra competitor in the shape of Yann Cunha (C F Racing with Manor Motorsport) and the National Class is now large enough to produce a full podium with Juan Carlos Sistos (Team West-Tec) also joining in for the first time.
Weather: Damp, drying.