We had expected that there might be Invitation Class drivers at Hockenheim, but clearly they were all too busy. Kevin Chen was supposed to dip his toe back into the F3 waters again with Sino Vision Racing, but after his performance at Silverstone, no one was too excited at that prospect, and it was something of a relief to see Wayne Boyd out there instead.
At Hockenheim this afternoon, Jean-Eric Vergne (Carlin) was clearly anxious to make up for his less than happy weekend at Magny-Cours, when he threw away his championship lead by failing to get off the line at the start of the first race and wasn't exactly electrifying at the start in the other two races either. This time his fastest lap was a good half a second faster than anything anyone else could manage, with Adriano Buzaid (Carlin) having to settle for 2nd ahead of Gabriel Dias (Hitech Racing). The National Class fastest lap went to James Cole (T-Sport), beating team-mate Menasheh Idafar (T-Sport) to the pole in the 3rd and 1st races.
Vergne was fast in the free practice session in the morning, and showed little sign of slowing down as qualifying started. In fact he was already setting times to match his morning laps before the session was 5 minutes old. Behind him at this point was James Calado (Carlin), another who has some ground to make up after Magny-Cours. However, he was soon displaced by current championship leader Oliver Webb (Fortec Motorsport), though the latter was still around two seconds a lap slower than his French rival. Vergne dived for the pits for adjustments at this stage, just as Calado edged into the 1:34s, while Webb went faster and snatched pole. 3rd was Daisuke Nakajima (R?ikk?nen Robertson Racing), while in 4th, briefly, was Jazeman Jaafar (Carlin). He was displaced rapidly by Carlos Huertas (R?ikk?nen Robertson Racing), who may well have been inspired by the somewhat heated exchange of views that took place with team boss Anthony Hieatt after free practice this morning. Whatever it was about, Hieatt clearly was not impressed.
A further reshuffle whilst Vergne was in the pits saw Dias move up to 2nd, while Nakajima and Calado were fighting over 4th. At the opposite end of the scale, Alex Brundle (T-Sport) was having a very bad afternoon, trailing the field and looking very unsettled after a huge shunt yesterday (and one in France). As with a number of individuals before him, he's finding that a season or two of Formula Palmer Audi does not equip a driver to cope with F3. It would have been far better for him to come up through Formula Fords and Formula Renault than to be thrown in the deep end after emerging from a category that is really only suited to "gentleman" racers, and his father, of all people, really should know better. Meanwhile, Boyd was busy proving that there wasn't much wrong with the Sino Vision car and had wrestled it up to 10th, the highest up the order it has been all season and far higher than Adderly Fong is likely to get it.
The times were starting to come down nicely as Vergne re-emerged from the pit lane with some work to do. Buzaid was now 2nd, ahead of William Buller (Fortec Motorsport). In the National Class it was looking a lot like business as usual, with Idafar ahead of Cole. However, there was still a lot of the session left to run so no one was counting their chickens this early. Especially not now that Buzaid was on pole, from Buller. Webb promptly got between them, while Vergne had temporarily dropped to 7th. That situation would soon change, with the next flying lap from the Frenchman moving him back to the top of the order. That was the signal for everyone to start diving towards the pits, with Buzaid and Buller 2nd and 3rd, ahead of Dias, Webb, Nakajima, Jaafar, Huertas, Calado and Lucas Foresti (Carlin). Dias shook things up by going 3rd while back in the National Class Cole got ahead of Idafar for once. The pit-wave pretty much left JEV going round on his own, which was enough to allow him the opportunity to increase his advantage by breaking into the 1:33s, the only driver to do so.
Brundle was still circulating and had now dragged himself up to 13th but was still looking uncertain, as a trip over the grass in the Sachs Curve proved. However, the man in real trouble was Hywel Lloyd (C F Racing with Manor Motorsport) who was dead last, which was not what you would expect. Mind you, Felipe Nasr (R?ikk?nen Robertson Racing) probably should have been 19th either, given how highly regarded he is in some circles. An improvement to get into the top ten was finally forthcoming from Rupert Svendsen-Cook (Carlin), which moved him up to 8th, but then the red flags came out with 7 minutes of the session left. Brundle had gone off heavily in the Sachs Curve, punching a massive hole in the right hand side of the car and shedding bodywork everywhere. He was rescued from the car and stretchered away to the medical centre, but would not be detained after the medics checked him over.
The order at this point was Vergne, from Buzaid, Dias, Buller, Webb, Nakajima, Huertas, Svendsen-Cook, Jaafar and Calado. 11th was Daniel McKenzie (Fortec Motorsport), Foresti, Brundle, Boyd, Max Snegirev (Fortec Motorsport), Jay Bridger (Litespeed F3), Cole, Idafar, Nasr and Fong. 21st and last was still Lloyd. The session would eventually restart, but to very little effect, with the only change coming from Nasr, who was able to edged ahead for 15th, moving Boyd down a place. And that was it, at least out on the track. There was some further excitement afterwards when the observers' reports came in and it was found that every driver had been reported at least once for not respecting the track limits. With over 80 individual lap times consequently disallowed it was a miracle the finishing order didn't change more than it did. The losers were Buzaid (dropped down one place), Calado (who was moved back around half a dozen places) and Bridger (who was deprived of 4 places).
The starting order for Race 3 (on Sunday morning) is therefore Vergne, from Dias, Buzaid, Buller, Webb, Nakajima, Jaafar, Svendsen-Cook, Huertas and McKenzie. 11th will be Foresti, ahead of Calado, Brundle, Nasr, Boyd, Snegirev, Bridger, Cole (on National Class pole), Idafar and Fong. Lloyd is 21st and last.
Weather: Very changeable, overcast.