Further tightening his early-season grip on the FIA F3000 title, Vitantonio Liuzzi made it three wins out of three following a dominant performance on the streets of Monaco. It was a race that surrendered itself to the Italian from the moment...
Further tightening his early-season grip on the FIA F3000 title, Vitantonio Liuzzi made it three wins out of three following a dominant performance on the streets of Monaco. It was a race that surrendered itself to the Italian from the moment the lights went out and served to repay Arden team boss Christian Horner for the disappointment at the same venue twelve months previous.
"After last year with Bjorn winning it on the road and giving it away, today made up for it!" Horner declared. "Tonio did a great job, and I have to say he is looking very strong in the championship right now."
Liuzzi made the perfect start from pole position and headed season-long rival Enrico Toccacelo into the first turn before both drivers steadily increased the gap to the rest of the field, headed by Coloni's Jose-Maria Lopez.
Following a large impact with the barrier at St Devote during qualifying the previous day (he was only cleared to race on Saturday morning), and then stalling on the dummy grid as the field moved away on the warm-up lap, the Argentine was lucky to be holding down third place from Jeffrey van Hooydonk. His confidence increasing with each passing corner though, Lopez soon settled into his stride and began to ease away from the Belgian.
While Liuzzi continued to stay ahead of Toccacello at the front, Arden team mate Robert Doornbas was busy defending his position with Patrick Friesacher -- a battle that would last until two-thirds distance, but behind them, all hell broke loose in the midfield with some typical Monaco-style incidents.
With the tight confines of Monte Carlo magnifying driver errors more than a 'road course' circuit - with plenty of run-off space, any collisions on this historic track present drivers with a problem when the road is subsequently blocked. Folk sighed with relief as the entire 18-car pack made it through Ste Devote and Casino Square although Tomas Enge -- held up behind Rafael Giammaria, thought otherwise.
Taking exception to Esteban Guerrieri's move around the outside of the former Loews hairpin, the Czech driver edged the rookie Argentine towards the barrier. With space rapidly diminishing, the ensuing incident was an unnecessary one. Tipped onto two wheels, Guerrieri was fortunate not to head butt the barrier before crashing back down onto the circuit while Enge's front wing detached itself and lay stranded in the middle of the road.
The ensuing mêlee -- as the marshal's struggled to manhandle Guerrieri's BCN entry into the same area as Enge's front wing, was all the more perilous as the remaining cars came around for a second time. Discovering for themselves that space was at a premium, it was a relief to see the course workers remain vertical as the field miraculously dodged their way between the stricken Lola and the enthusiastic helpers.
Deployed briefly, the safety car ensured the marshal's could work with sufficient time to clear the mess away before racing resumed once more. Re-establishing their advantage up front, Liuzzi and Toccacelo got the jump on the field with third-placed Lopez running just ahead of van Hooydonk. Fifth placed Doornbos continued to stay in front of Friesacher with Giammaria holding station in seventh.
Stopping almost as soon as the pit-lane opened for the mandatory tyre changes, the Italian was first in and the judgement proved a decisive one. While others encountered various problems, the AEZ mechanics turned their car around well and subsequently gained track position.
With overtaking at a premium at Monaco, pit-stops are more crucial than normal as many a drivers' race can be ruined by a sticking wheel nut or a hot stub-axle. True to form, there were problems for not a few as among them, van Hooydonk saw his position reversed with Giammaria, dropping three places to seventh while Toccacelo and the ever-improving Lopez were also delayed, albeit momentarily.
Having already been caught by Doornbas and Friesacher, van Hooydonk dropped to eighth after his stop while Lopez -- also encountering a problematic stop and realising Toccacelo was now too far up the road to be caught, set about maintaining his third position.
Still out front, Liuzzi was next in and a copy-book performance by the Arden mechanics saw the Brazilian double his lead as he rejoined the track and concentrated on a mistake-free run to the flag.
Now deciding second place was better than trying to hunt the leader down -- and risk hitting the barriers, Toccacelo was untroubled despite Lopez managing to close the gap over the final laps. With the top three seemingly decided, the focus turned to the remaining points-paying positions and in particular, the three way battle for fourth place between Doornbas, Friesacher and a recovering van Hooydonk with the latter chasing the pair ahead of him who were among the last to make their pit-stops.
Running in tandem, the result was seemingly set as the three-some entered the tunnel in the final laps. Running on warmer tyres, Friesacher dived past the Arden of Doornbas on the approach to the chicane in what was undoubtedly the best overtaking move of the afternoon. It was a text-book manoeuvre even more pleasing to the eye when one considers it was done on the track and not in the pit-lane--
After running out of road at Ste Devote, Mathais Lauda crashed out at mid-distance but surprisingly, Rodrigo Ribeiro was the only other retirement. Recovered and fully repaired after his collision with Guerrieri, Tomas Enge had rejoined the proceedings and eventually came home as the final classified runner -- having had to stop twice, a result of missing the mandatory pi-stop window. Keeping his nose clean to ensure a good finish, Jan Heylen took the final point in eighth position.
All in all, it was a good race, this one. Plenty of action, pressure-induced driving errors and some on-track overtaking combined to make it an entertaining afternoon. Understandably elated with his third win on the bounce, Liuzzi was adamant that although his race looked a comfortable one, it was anything but.
"It wasn't easy," the victor declared. "Monaco is always the toughest race of the year. I always had to control someone, and it wasn't like Barcelona, where I was far ahead. We did a really good pit stop because when I went out I was five seconds in front of Enrico. He was pushing so hard and he closed the gap, so I had to try and push again and see if I could get again a little bit of a gap. But in general, I am delighted with this result, now we move on to the next race!"