With a strong field of 36 cars (comprising most of the regular runners from the British and Euroseries F3 championships), the 17th running of the Masters of F3 turned into a Euroseries benefit, largely as a result of the new qualifying...
With a strong field of 36 cars (comprising most of the regular runners from the British and Euroseries F3 championships), the 17th running of the Masters of F3 turned into a Euroseries benefit, largely as a result of the new qualifying structure which put the British series runners at a major disadvantage and left the way open to make this yet another benefit for the all-conquering ASM Formule 3 team and their lead driver, Romain Grosjean. At one stage it did look as if they might lock out all of the top four grid spots, so maybe the rest of them should be grateful for small mercies. However, that was all to come.
The way qualifying was organized this time, the 18 odd-numbered cars would get the first run at the tricky Belgian circuit, and then the even- numbered runners would take the next half hour session. The top ten from each session would then go into a single qualifying session to fight over the front ten rows of the grid, while those who ended first qualifying outside the top ten could hope for nothing higher than 21st on the grid. It didn't seem particularly fair to the UK series drivers, all of them running on the unfamiliar Kumho tyres that the Euroseries uses all the time.
So, at a circuit most of the drivers (and teams for that matter) had never seen before, the qualifying sessions for the 2007 Zandvoort Masters of F3 - and the first one to be run anywhere except Zandvoort - was always going to be interesting, especially if Alberto Valerio (Carlin Motorsport) had anything to do with it, it seemed. Before the session was five minutes old there was a message on the timing screen requesting that the team manager of car number 41 (Valerio) report to the race director. That message would become quite familiar during the course of the day. It was just as well there was something on the screen at that point because in the press office there was no other information, and certainly no times for the initial part of the session. When we did start to get some information, it seemed that Tom Dillmann (ASM Formule 3) was leading initially from Marko Asmer (Hitech Racing). He was quickly replaced by his team-mate Romain Grosjean, who proceeded to set a blistering if not unexpected pace, while the rest of the tried to catch him. Further down the order, Yelmer Buurman (Manor Motorsport) was proving quick in 4th, while joining Manor for the first time this season was "Frankie" Cong Fu Cheng, moving up from the British National Class to a full scale shiny new Mercedes-powered Dallara. It was quite a brave move, leaving the personable Chinese a great deal of learning to do. He was 6th at this stage, so he didn't seem to be having too many problems.
Someone else looking fast initially was Atte Mustonen (Raikkonen Robertson Racing), who was soon up to 2nd behind Grosjean. A lap later and Asmer was back in second, though he didn't get to hang onto it for long either, as Buurman replaced him, and Dillmann went 4th, from Mustonen. The times were starting to come down, but as they'd been doing 1:24s in free practice on Friday it seemed likely that there was far more to come, as Grosjean had only just got into the 1:25s and everyone else was a little slower.
In a further change in the order, Jean Karl Vernay (Signature-Plus) slotted into 3rd, while Edoardo Piscopo (ASL M