Vergne leads Carlin 1-2-3 for race one at Spa

At Spa today Jean-Eric Vergne (Carlin) further stamped his authority on this year's championship with an impressive win over team-mate James Calado despite the latter getting away in the lead at the start. In 3rd after a fraught battle with Oli Webb (Fortec Motorsport) was Rupert Svendsen-Cook, making it a Carlin 1-2-3 once again at Spa. There was chaos before the start with no one too sure where they were supposed to be on the grid. This was due to Blancpain, who do the GT timing, and for whom the mysteries of F3 seem deeply perplexing. With a time sheet that only showed the fastest laps of the session, and apparently seeing no need to issue a sheet with the 2nd fastest times, Blancpain failed to give the F3 circus what they needed in order to set the grid. When one was eventually issued, it turned out to be incorrect. It was withdrawn shortly before the race and a new one was issued based on a sheet produced by someone at Carlin who had painstakingly gone through the lap analysis sheets and established what each driver's second fastest lap had been. That sheet also turned out to be incorrect, but only because they put pole position on the wrong side. It was all getting more than a little idiotic.

Jean-Eric Vergne relaxing between race one and race two.
Photo by Stella-Maria Thomas.

When the race finally got underway it was almost an anticlimax. Calado and Webb both started well, while Vergne bogged down a little and consequently threw away his pole advantage, ending up behind both of them by the time they exited Eau Rouge. It was all change in the middle of the pack too, with Daisuke Nakajima (R?ikk?nen Robertson Racing) spinning out of contention and Gabriel Dias (Hitech Racing) and Carlos Huertas (R?ikk?nen Robertson Racing) making contact. Dias continued while Huertas didn't. Meanwhile, James Cole (T-Sport) also had an off, thus handing the National Class lead to Idafar. Elsewhere, there was a fierce scrap for the Invitation Class lead that involved Carlos Mu?oz (Mucke Motorsport), Daniel Juncadella (Prema Powerteam) and Alexander Sims (ART Grand Prix) all trying to go through the Bus Stop in line abreast.

A lap later and Calado had pulled out a massive gap to the rest of the pack, while Vergne had fought his way past Webb and was now in hot pursuit of the leader. Webb was in no position to fight back either because his mirrors were now full of Svendsen-Cook, while just behind them Daniel McKenzie was holding off Adriano Buzaid (Carlin). Behind Buzaid the rest of the Brazilian contingent was locked in battle with Lucas Foresti (Carlin) and Felipe Nasr (R?ikk?nen Robertson Racing) going hammer and tongs at each other. It was just as well because Dias wasn't doing his bit and in fact was about to retire from the race, joining team-mate William Buller who also limped into the pit lane and out of the race. They weren't the only pit visitors in the early stages as Adderley Fong (Sino Vision Racing) came in with a badly listing rear wing. He would rejoin a lap down and spent the race trundling round a long way from any of the other runners, which was perhaps the best thing for everyone.

At the front Calado was now beginning to feel less and less comfortable in the lead and could see Vergne catching him hand over fist. It would take a while but there was something inexorable about the Frenchman' progress now that suggested there wouldn't be anything in the world that would hold him at bay now he had the scent of victory. He wasn't the only one pushing hard. There was a concerted attempt going on to dislodge Alex Brundle (T-Sport) from 14th by a number of people including Nicolas Marroc (Prema Powerteam) from the Invitation Class, Jazeman Jaafar (Carlin) in an International Class entry just like Brundle's, the Malaysian starting from a long way back by his much-improved standards, and his own team-mates Idafar and Cole, both of them in much older cars and theoretically without enough power to get past an International Class runner. Cole came a cropperat this point but Idafar was determinedly playing with the big boys, getting a run on Brundle at Les Combes and powering past before setting about Sims, the man who leads the Euroseries F3 Championship at present. It didn't take him long to dish out the same treatment to the much-hyped Sims, again going through at Les Combes.

It was at pretty much the same time that Vergne closed Calado down and dived past as they headed out of Eau Rouge for the seventh time. Calado didn't resist - he knew Vergne was faster and didn't want to risk throwing away a solid points finish in a fight he couldn't win. Vergne started to pull away, though he didn't want to push too hard either, preferring to save his tyres for the sprint race later today. As the race wore on and the tyres started to show signs of going away, the race settled down to something of a procession, Vergne now far enough away that Calado had no chance of getting back at him, and Webb now starting to lose touch with Svendsen-Cook. McKenzie was the one in difficulties now, with Buzaid all over him for 5th. Otherwise the main action was in the gaggle of cars bottled up behind Brundle. Marroc was still looking for a way past, as was Jaafar, and they were joined in their efforts by Jay Bridger (Litespeed F3) and Jim Pla (ART Grand Prix). Marroc was the first to make the break and simply vanished up the road, proving that Brundle had been holding him up significantly. A lap later and they were all through, leaving Brundle to trail behind them to the finish.

And so Vergne claimed another win, this time from Calado, Svendsen- Cook, Webb, Buzaid, McKenzie, Nasr, Foresti, Hywel Lloyd (C F Racing with Manor Motorsport) and Invitation Class winner Juncadella. 11th was Munoz, from Idafar (who won the National Class), Sims, Marroc, Jaafar, Bridger, Pla, Brundle, Nathana?l Berthon (ART Grand Prix) and the recovering Nakajima. 21st place went to Cole, from Max Snegirev (Fortec Motorsport) and Fong. Vergne then drew the number 7 on the podium and thus starts the afternoon's 20 minute sprint race from 7th.

Fastest laps went to Vergne, Idafar and Juncadella.

Weather: Clear, sunny.