All the signs at the start of the 16th running of the Masters of Formula Three pointed towards the third victory in a row for ASM F3, and that any attempts to stop them were unlikely to succeed. There was other business to attend to first though,...
All the signs at the start of the 16th running of the Masters of Formula Three pointed towards the third victory in a row for ASM F3, and that any attempts to stop them were unlikely to succeed. There was other business to attend to first though, with a rapid promotion from reserve to runner for Alex Khateeb, Promatecme F3's Lebanese driver getting a run after Ferdinand Kool (JB Motorsport) failed to take the start.
At the start pole-man Giedo van der Garde (ASM F3) made a bad start, a problem he admits to having had all year, and promptly lost out to his team- mate Paulo di Resta, and also Sebastien Buemi (ASL Team Mucke Motorsport), the Swiss making a superb start. Other people got away well too, including Maro Engel (Carlin Motorsport), the German proving that actually you can get too good a getaway. "My race ended after 200 yards. I was up behind (Michael) Herck (Bas Leinders Racing) and Guillaume Moreau (Signature F3) when I thought I'd better slam the brakes on or it'll be launch control time!"
He wasn't far wrong in his estimate of the situation, which basically left him stranded in 16th place, a long way from the front and in no position to make progress. The fact that his team-mate Christian Bakkerud was equally afflicted and was 17th was no consolation at all. Closer to the front, Charlie Kimball (Signature F3) had found that his superb start was rewarded with a massive jump up the order, and he was now 10th (he'd started from 16th!), and was holding off Kamui Kobayashi (ASM F3) and Jonathan Summerton (ASL Team Mucke Motorsport). Just as the front runners had got themselves sorted, it was all falling apart at the back for Esteban Guerrieri (Manor Motorsport) who was having trouble with his lines in the faster corners and was all over the place.
As di Resta started to try and open up a gap from Buemi, van der Garde was all over the Swiss, and just behind them Kohei Hirate (Manor Motorsport), running in 4th and having to deal with Romain Grosjean (Signature F3) and Sebastian Vettel (ASM F3) breathing down his neck, was losing bits of bodywork, the engine cover of his Dallara breaking apart and flying into the pitlane as they came round for their second lap. The weird thing was it left part of itself in place, but luckily it didn't hit anyone. It certainly gave one or two people a scare though. It didn't seem to hinder Hirate at all, and he was soon able to relax a little after Vettel started a race-long assault on Grosjean, flinging his car through Tarzan corner at some very unlikely angles that made you fear for his sanity.
The other weird thing about this race was that we hadn't actually had any retirements, and there was no trace of a Safety Car, both unusual occurrences at the Masters. That changed a little later, when James Walker (Hitech Racing) exited with broken suspension. He hadn't been very far up the order, so it didn't really benefit the rest of the field much
A more significant retirement came on lap 5 when Mike Conway (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) took himself out of contention and into retirement at the corner after Masters. He wasn't in the least bit happy at being beached in the gravel trap and wasn't about to talk to anyone about what happened. Kimball didn't care. He'd just inherited 9th place. He wasn't about to complain to anyone! It also took some of the pressure off Oliver Jarvis (Carlin Motorsport), the Englishman running just behind the highest placed British series runner, Bruno Senna (Raikkonen Robertson Racing), and he wanted to concentrate on getting past the Brazilian if he possibly could. The trouble is Senna didn't seem inclined to oblige in the least, to Jarvis's obvious frustration.
Up at the very sharp end, the scuffle between Grosjean and Vettel had become something of a battle royal, with the German trying incredibly hard to get past the Frenchman into Tarzan and ending up locked up and sideways in the aftermath of a desperate lunge. He dropped back a matter of millimetres and waited for the next opportune moment to present itself. It was proving very entertaining, and watching the ASM car and the Signature car going through Scheivlak as if they'd been glued together at least gave the 31,000 strong crowd something to cheer about.
There was a little more entertainment further back too. Bakkerud capitalised on a mistake from Engel and had a look to see if he could get by his team-mate, while behind them Stephen Jelley (Raikkonen Robertson Racing) was all over Alejandro Nunez (Prema Powerteam) while Salvador Duran (Hitech Racing) and Yelmer Buurman (Fortec Motorsport) waited threateningly in the wings, and Ronayne O'Mahony (Prema Powerteam) was looking for a way past Ho-Pin Tung (JB Motorsport). They too had a shadow, in this instance Tim Sandtler (Signature Plus), who was keen to progress if only they'd let him. There was one further battling group, but it was only scrapping over 29th place; it consisted of Mario Moraes (Carlin Motorsport), Stian Sorlie (Fortec Motorsport) and Paolo Nocero (Prema Powerteam), the three of them attempting to run side-by-side through Tarzan at one point. It didn't take long before Recardo Bruins (Van Amersfoort Racing) decided he would like to join in too. He squeezed past Nocera and started to investigate to see if he could find any chink in Sorlie's armour. The Norwegian wasn't having that, and resisted, though it did hamper his attack on Moraes rather, despite the fact that the Brazilian was all over the place. Moraes was in need of a break as his car was starting to sound very rough indeed.
At the very back, Khateeb was making the most of being allowed out unexpectedly and was attacking Max Nilsson (Swiss Racing Team), trying not to be last. The Swede was breaking far earlier each time they reached Tarzan, and Khateeb would skitter alongside, only to have the green car accelerate away as they exited the complex and vanished into the distance. It must have been very frustrating for both of them.
There was a change in scenery about to occur at the front, as van der Garde closed down Buemi, taking 2nd from the Swiss on lap 9 in a classic overtaking manoeuvre into Tarzan. He was through and able to start pursuing di Resta for the lead, though given it was his team-mate he'd now be fighting with, there was a possibility that he might not push that hard. It didn't stop him getting right on the Scotsman's exhaust pipes though, and once or twice it looked as if he might just find enough oomph from somewhere to get through. The trouble was, di Resta was wise to his game, and would simply move over and close down the possible gap. It was a master class in defensive driving, and the Euroseries leader was determined to hang onto his lead, despite anything van der Garde could throw at him. Every time the Dutchman attacked, di Resta was able to find the answer, and resisted for all he was worth, driving a very smooth, controlled race in the process.
Kazuki Nakajima (Manor Motorsport) was in trouble as we neared the halfway stage, losing places hand over fist to Guerrieri, then to James Jakes (Hitech Racing), and finally for good measure, to Peter Elkmann (Jo Zeller Racing). He didn't exactly make it difficult for them, running very wide and throwing sand everywhere as a result. It's not the sort of move that does your tyres any good. Mind you, nor was what happened to Jelley when he made a seriously determined attack on Nunez, clearly getting fed up with being stuck behind an uncooperative Spaniard for so long. Jelley got alongside Nunez and wouldn't back off. On the other hand, Nunez wasn't about to give up his place, and so the two of them battled it out all the way through Tarzan and beyond, Jelley ending up on the gravel and grass on the outside of the circuit when Nunez proved an immovable object. It was all great fun to watch, especially as Jelley lived to fight another day!
With van der Garde launching another attack on di Resta as well, it was clear that tyre wear was starting to be a factor, as demonstrated when the Dutchman tried to get round the outside of the Scot, and then gave him serious cause for concern into Scheivlak with 6 laps to go. Kimball was the next to give the crowd something to look at, though in his case it was because he suddenly arrived at Tarzan with his wheels locked, having decided it was time to put a little more distance between himself and Summerton. The tyre smoke was amusing, but probably not wise.
Meanwhile, van der Garde was still trying to find a way past di Resta, though he got heavily blocked for his troubles. It was beginning to look as if it was all over for the lead. It wasn't all over for 5th though, because Vettel was still throwing everything he could think of at Grosjean in an increasingly desperate attempt to get by. It did look as if it might end in tears, or at least in gravel, but surprisingly at the end of the race they were both still there. However, a final lunge from the German into Tarzan saw him claw his way past on the very last lap. It was impressive in terms of determination, and there really was nothing Grosjean could do to stop him this time. He simply waited and took it back again as the youngster came close to running out of road. Elsewhere, Jelley had made another attack on Nunez, been repulsed and Duran had seen an opportunity that didn't exist. The result was one Mexican going backwards, losing a handful of places on the final lap. Jelley survived to reflect that this time he was 18th, whereas last year he'd been 19th. He didn't consider this to be progress. Nor did team boss Anthony Hieatt, whose general opinion of the state of play in the British series camp cannot be repeated here!
Duran wasn't the only one to run into trouble towards the end, Tung going out and having to be pushed away by a bunch of burly marshals, the much-hyped Chinese/Dutchman/whatever he is this week again failing to convince.
And so, a less than scintillating race came to a halt, with di Resta holding off van der Garde to the end, from Buemi, Hirate, Grosjean, Vettel, Senna, Jarvis, Kimball and Summerton. Kobayashi came home just ahead of Antinucci for 11th, with Herck, Moreau, Engel, Bakkerud, Nunez, Jelley, Buurman and Sandtler rounding out the top 20. Guerrieri made his way up the field to 21st, ahead of Jakes, Duran, O'Mahony, Elkmann, Nakajima, Filip Salaquarda (Team ISR), Sorlie, Nocera and Moraes, the latter running with a very rough sounding engine. Bruins was 31st, from Dominick Muermans (Van Amersfoort Racing), while Nilsson kept Khateeb at bay all the way to the flag.
The fastest lap went to van der Garde, in 1:34.558, and the Nations Cup was awarded to the UK "team" of di Resta and Jarvis.