1998 FIA Formula 3000 International Championship Round 5, Monaco, Saturday 23rd May by Stella Maria Thomas
The first ever Grand Prix de Monaco F3000 took place on Saturday. For the sponsors this was the one to be at. The teams and drivers were not quite so sure at the end of an incident-packed race weekend. For a number of people the trouble started early with the pre-qualifying sessions on Thursday. Only 30 of the 34 entrants were allowed through to practice and with half an hour to set a good time in, there were bound to be disappointments for some. For Jonny Kane and the Redman Bright team, there was disappointment even before the start of events on the track. The team was there but a shortage of sponsorship meant there was no way that Jonny could take the start. Paddock gossip had it that Kane's part of the team had only turned up in force because the travel and hotel bills had been pre-paid and they weren't likely to get their money back. Of course, Mark Shaw was still due to run so it may just have been a rumour.
Max Wilson was one of the most notable casualties of pre-qualifying, getting involved in a collision with Soheil Ayari at the Mirabeau before he had the chance to set a good lap time. Ayari survived. Wilson was out on the spot. At least he got further than Oliver Martini. Oliver completed three laps only to grind to a halt at Portier. The other two to fail to pre-qualify were Mark Shaw who spun and bumped up against the barriers at the exit from the Port section, stalling the engine, and Gregoire de Galzain, who spun off at Tabac and hit the barrier. It was lucky for Dominic Schwager, as he crashed into the barriers at Sainte Devote and might have failed to make the cut. And so, 30 drivers were through to the next stage. As a reward they would have to attempt to qualify on Friday morning.
Pre-Qualifying (Odd Numbers): 1st Soheil Ayari, Durango Formula, 1:31.642 2nd Juan Pablo Montoya, Super Nova Racing Ltd, 1:32.069 3rd Jason Watt, Den Bla Avis, 1:33.076 4th Rui Aguas, Coloni Motorsport, 1:33.149 5th Brian Smith, Nordic Racing Ltd, 1:33.207 6th Nicolas Minassian, West Competition Team, 1:33.527 7th Jamie Davies, DAMS, 1:33.816 8th Kurt Mollekens, Arden KTR, 1:33.971 9th Dino Morelli, Autosport Racing, 1:34.281 10th Gaston Mazzacane, Team Astromega, 1:34.804 11th Kevin McGarrity, Raceprep Motorsports, 1:35.263 12th Paolo Ruberti, Prema Powerteam SRL, 1:35.505 13th Giovanni Montanari, Draco Engineering SRL, 1:35.533 14th Marcelo Battistuzzi, Apomatox, 1:36.136 15th Dominik Schwager, RTL Team Oreca F3000, 1:36.969
Pre-Qualifying (Even Numbers): 1st Andre Couto, Prema Powerteam SRL, 1:32.289 2nd Nick Heidfeld, West Competition Team, 1:33.147 3rd Alex Mueller, RTL Team Oreca F3000, 1:33.148 4th Gonzalo Rodriguez, Team Astromega, 1:33.802 5th Stephane Sarrazin, Apomatox, 1:33.970 6th Gareth Rees, Den Bla Avis, 1:34.324 7th Cyrille Sauvage, GP Racing, 1:34.462 8th Boris de Richebourg, Super Nova Racing Ltd, 1:34.518 9th Christian Horner, Arden, 1:34.576 10th Bertrand Godin, Durango Formula, 1:34.816 11th Bruno Junqueira, Draco Engineering SRL, 1:35.079 12th Fabrizio Gollin, GS SRL, 1:35.178 13th Werner Lupberger, Edenbridge Racing, 1:35.204 14th Giorgio Vinella, Coloni Motorsport, 1:35.660 15th Fabrice Walfisch, Nordic Racing Ltd, 1:35.897
Did not pre-qualify: Mark Shaw, Redman Bright F3000 Gregoire de Galzain, DAMS Max Wilson, Edenbridge Racing Oliver Martini, Auto Sport Racing
There were some bleary-eyed individuals in the pit lane just after 09:00 on Friday. And with the two groups from pre-qualifying now combined it was going to be busy in there. Perhaps this explains some of what happened although it doesn't entirely account for Soheil Ayari's actions. Despite having set a blindingly fast pre-qualifying time, he seemed to be a man under far too much pressure. Certainly he looked wild in the first session, missing the Chicane before spinning at Anthony Noghes. As he tried to restart, he was in the way of a charging Kurt Mollekens. The two tangled heavily and were both out of the session there and then. Neither of them would take part in the second session and when the stewards met to discuss the matter later, they decided that Ayari had caused an avoidable collision. All his times from the first session would be disallowed, which in effect meant he was out as he set no times in the second session. Later the team issued a statement in which Ayari admitted he had been at fault. This was some consolation to Mollekens and his team as they worked flat out to repair the damage, bolting surviving parts onto a new tub. It meant Kurt would start the race 8th.
Notable among others having an interesting time was Alex Muller, who crashed at Rascasse early on in the first session and ended up having it all to do in the second session. A determined effort by the youngster saw him move up from last to 14th on the grid. This was not his Monaco. Werner Lupberger was also having the sort of day he will probably never forget. At the start he found he had no clutch. He knew he couldn't stop during the session as bump-starting these cars strips all the gears. With drivers almost stopping on the approach to Rascasse in order to try and get space, Werner was desperate not to stall, once driving through the pit lane to avoid the queue. In addition he had a flapping front body panel. "People must have wondered what I was doing. Every time I went into the tunnel I had to reach out and hold it down." Driving Monaco one-handed is certainly not recommended, even for a man who keeps fit by playing ice-hockey. In the 50 minute gap between sessions, the Edenbridge team traced the clutch fault to a damaged hydraulic pipe, removed and refitted the whole gearbox to fix the problem and stuck the panel back down. Werner didn't let them down, making a tremendous effort to get into the race, setting 24th fastest time.
Interesting times were also plaguing Rui Aguas after a shunt at Anthony Noghes put him out of the second session and caused a red flag with just over 10 minutes left to run. No doubt this played a part in Montoya only qualifying 7th and probably didn't help Nicolas Minassian either. On a charge after the session restarted, the West Competition driver arrived at Rascasse rather too fast and hit the barrier. While the marshals were trying to sort this out, the rest of the field came round, Kevin McGarrity having to stop completely, unable to get by, while the others formed a huge traffic jam, most coming to a halt before they could get going again. "I didn't mean that to happen!" the Frenchman shrugged apologetically afterwards.
Another driver in trouble as a result of the stoppage was Brian Smith. His car stopped on the track and was pushed through a gap in the wall into the pit lane. This outside assistance meant that all his times after the stop were dropped and his best time in the session was also taken away from him. As this was a good second slower than his first session time it would not affect his starting position.
Up at the front of the field was Jamie Davies, in 5th on the grid and much happier than of late. "I've had to do a lot of swearing at people, but I think we're getting there," he said. "We just have to get organised." When DAMS do, Jamie is more than capable of being up there amongst the front runners, as he proved on Friday. Also pretty pleased with himself was Gonzalo Rodriguez who set 3rd fastest time and never appeared to put a foot wrong, deliberately creating space for himself in the traffic. The Uruguayan is having a wonderful year and really should win one soon. Certainly his performance at Monaco was committed in the extreme.
Jason Watt was the happiest man of all at the end of practice. He found a clear space towards the close of the first session and managed to get one good lap in. It was enough to snatch pole from Heidfeld by nearly half a second. At the press conference afterwards he was a welcome change as all the previous four poles have gone to Montoya. "Isn't this Juan Pablo's seat," he joked. "Am I allowed to sit here?" He really wanted to win this one and he had put himself in an excellent position to do just that.
Qualifying: 1st No. 3, Jason Watt, Den Bla Avis, 1:30.925 2nd No. 30, Nick Heidfeld, West Competition Team, 1:31.281 3rd No. 12, Gonzalo Rodriguez, Team Astromega, 1:31.294 4th No. 28, Stephane Sarrazin, Apomatox, 1:31.763 5th No. 7, Jamie Davies, DAMS, 1:31.826 6th No. 34, Andre Couto, Prema Powerteam SRL, 1:31.957 7th No. 1, Juan Pablo Montoya, Super Nova Racing Ltd, 1:31.998 8th No. 23, Kurt Mollekens, Arden KTR, 1:32.073 9th No. 14, Bruno Junqueira, Draco Engineering SRL, 1:32.173 10th No. 19, Rui Aguas, Coloni Motorsport, 1:32.249 11th No. 4, Gareth Rees, Den Bla Avis, 1:32.375 12th No. 36, Cyrille Sauvage, GP Racing, 1:32.577 13th No. 35, Paolo Ruberti, Prema Powerteam SRL, 1:32.598 14th No. 32, Alex Mueller, RTL Team Oreca F3000, 1:32.711 15th No. 17, Brian Smith, Nordic Racing Ltd, 1:32.754 16th No. 31, Nicolas Minassian, West Competition Team, 1:32.785 17th No. 9, Dino Morelli, Autosport Racing, 1:32.791 18th No. 2, Boris de Richebourg, Super Nova Racing Ltd, 1:32.976 19th No. 33, Dominik Schwager, RTL Team Oreca F3000, 1:33.146 20th No. 38, Fabrizio Gollin, GS SRL, 1:33.193 21st No. 15, Giovanni Montanari, Draco Engineering SRL, 1:33.254 22nd No. 11, Gaston Mazzacane, Team Astromega, 1:33.287 23rd No. 6, Werner Lupberger, Edenbridge Racing, 1:33.381 24th No. 20, Bertrand Godin, Durango Formula, 1:33.534 25th No. 29, Marcelo Battistuzzi, Apomatox, 1:33.736 26th No. 22, Christian Horner, Arden, 1:33.781
Did not qualify: Kevin McGarrity, Raceprep Motorsports Fabrice Walfisch, Nordic Racing Ltd Giorgio Vinella, Coloni Motorsport Soheil Ayari, Durango Formula - times disallowed
Everyone predicted chaos at the start but surprisingly there was none. Even the few spots of rain just as the grid formed proved to be a false alarm and there was no trouble getting the field away when the lights turned to green. Certainly one of the flag marshals at Sainte Devote appeared to be expecting trouble as he rushed to the barrier, yellow flag in hand, only to stare in amazement at an empty track.
Jason Watt shot into the lead, making his intentions perfectly clear and everyone settled down behind him, all of them seeming to be on their best behaviour. It wasn't long before Watt began to open up a gap from Heidfeld, who was ahead of Rodriguez but only just. Davies had made a good start to gain a place from Sarrazin and the Frenchman was now in the unenviable position of having Montoya breathing down his neck. The field very quickly began to break up, with a group forming behind Davies and another behind Rui Aguas. And everyone circulated round for the first quarter of the race. However, just when it seemed this was going to be marginally less exciting than watching paint dry, the first change happened when Montoya, who had been all over Sarrazin, spotted a gap and muscled past at the Chicane to set off in pursuit of Davies.
Meanwhile Couto crashed out, ripping a wheel off on the barriers and coasting to a halt from 7th place, moving Mollekens to within sight of a point and giving the top 6 some breathing space. On the same lap, Paolo Ruberti pitted to get a new nose and tyres after a moment in the pack that was chasing Rui Aguas. This group numbered 11 drivers at this stage, a number that was reduced on Lap 19 with the abrupt departure of 2nd placed man in the train, Boris de Richebourg, the Frenchman going missing at Loews. Two spaces back from him, Alex Muller, having worked so hard to get into the race, pulled into the pits to retire. And immediately behind him, Junqueira was being shown the black and orange flag as the officials believed his car was losing its exhaust and wanted him to come into the pits to get it checked over. He chose to ignore this flag repeatedly and eventually the officials imposed a stop/go penalty of 10 seconds. Junquiera stayed out for 12 more laps after the first showing of the flag and what would have happened next is anyone's guess. However, it suddenly ceased to matter when he crashed into the barriers, wiping out the offending part as well as his rear wing and retired on the spot. Before that, however, there had been another defection from the group when Rees had made a pit stop for new tyres and rejoined a lap down. It was a little like 'Ten Green Bottles' as they vanished one by one.
At the very back, a long way from all the drama, Bertrand Godin retired with a broken differential shortly before half distance. Meanwhile, Marcelo Battistuzzi was rounding off a depressing weekend by pitting to change tyres and finally retiring wit gearbox problems. The youngster is having to battle lack of experience (having never raced above Formula Opel/Vauxhall before this year) and a car he doesn't yet feel certain of.
At the front, Montoya was charging. "Monty" was a man on a mission and nothing was going to stand in his way. After catching Davies up, he harassed him mercilessly, finally getting through on Lap 21. It wasn't long before Rodriguez too began to suffer the Colombian's attentions. Juan Pablo got Gonzo in a hair-raising manoeuvre into the Chicane by the simple expedient of driving straight across it. This was a move he would have cause to regret a little later. Before that, though, he was in hot pursuit of second placed man Nick Heidfeld. It was only as he caught up with the German that he may have realised that he had made a mistake. On lap 32 the stewards concluded they had not liked the move that got the Colombian up to 3rd. It was announced that by running over the Chicane he had gained a time advantage and he was given a 10 second stop/go penalty. Reluctantly, the Super Nova Team called their star in and he was able to rejoin in 6th place behind Sarrazin. He would have to go through the whole process again. It took the enraged Montoya less than a lap to get past, and then he was after Davies again.
With just over 10 laps to go, disaster struck the leader. Watt was lapping well clear of Heidfeld when he made a slight mistake and brushed the barrier at the entrance to Casino Square. With the car unsettled, the hapless Dane cannoned straight into the barriers and was out. His look of stunned disbelief said all there was to be said about his disappointment. He won't forget his first Monaco in a hurry, much as he may want to. It was a particularly cruel blow to this most personable of young men.
And so Heidfeld inherited the lead although he would have to work to hang on to it. He was catching up with the group fighting it out for 7th behind Aguas and all the while, Rodriguez was chasing him down. Despite frantically waved blue flags, the pair of them found it very difficult to get through as this group was so engrossed in trying to pass each other they had little attention left to spare. It wasn't made easier by the fact that Heidfeld's team-mate Minassian was in the thick of it, as was Gaston Mazzacane, Gonzo's team-mate. Also in the midst of the melee was Werner Lupberger, the South African trying everything he could think of to get past Giovanni Montanari, the Italian proving impossible to pass on the tight track. Werner's best opportunity came when the leaders came through, but Montanari blocked him ruthlessly and he had to settle for 14th place. Rees meanwhile departed the fray with one lap left to run when he hit the barriers at the Mirabeau. It sometimes seems that Gareth is the unluckiest driver in the formula. Finally, Heidfeld cleared the traffic first and was able to hold Gonzalez off at the last. The German was delighted with his victory and with the fact that he has moved into the lead in the series, as well he should be. He did not put a wheel wrong all day and thoroughly deserved the win.
Further back, the battle for 3rd, as it now was, between Davies and Montoya intensified, finally resolving itself two laps from the end when the Colombian rammed Davies at Loews, picking up a puncture and losing his nose wing in the process. He would cling on to finish 6th as both Sarrazin and Kurt Mollekens were able to pass the stricken Super Nova car. One more lap and it is likely that Aguas would have had him too, the Portuguese finishing less than half a second behind. Undoubtedly, it was the drive of the race, though the moves on both Rodriguez and on Davies second time around were ill-considered and had apparently not been thought through. There is no question of it, Montoya is a racer matched by very few of the others in terms of speed and courage; he just needs to temper this with some common sense occasionally and he will be unbeatable.
The next race is the Pau Grand Prix on Monday June 1st. It remains to be seen what Montoya will be capable of round there. But Heidfeld is confident now, having won what may have been the very last Monaco F3 race and the first Monaco F3000. Davies is now much happier, particularly as he managed a podium finish despite an intermittently out of order gear shift. OF course, Rodriguez now has a podium finish to his name too, and proved what a great scrapper he can be on street circuit. Pau should suit him. Throw the names into a hat and see who you think will win. You have as much chance of being right using that method as any other.
1st Nick Heidfeld - 1:18.04.955 50 laps, Best lap 1.32.172 129.363 kph distance 168.350 kph 2nd Gonzalo Rodriguez - Gap: 3.861 3rd Jamie Davies - Gap: 19.510 4th Stephane Sarrazin - Gap: 26.607 5th Kurt Mollekens - Gap: 48.218 6th Juan Pablo Montoya - Gap: 71.560 7th Rui Aguas - Gap: 71.923 8th Dino Morelli - Gap: 72.565 9th Nicolas Minassian - Gap: 87.529 10th Dominic Schwager - Gap: 95.221 11th Brian Smith - 1 lap 12th Gaston Mazzacane - 1 lap 13th Giovanni Montanari - 1 lap 14th Werner Lupberger - 1 lap 15th Cyrille Sauvage - 1 lap 16th Christian Horner - 1 lap 17th Gareth Rees - 1 lap - DNF - Crash at Mirabeau (Lap 49) 18th Paolo Ruberti - 2 laps
Not Classified: Fabrizio Gollin - Lap 46 - Escape road Marcelo Battistuzzi - Lap 43 - Pits and retires - gearbox problems Jason Watt - Lap 38 - Watt - Crash at Casino Bruno Junqueira - Lap 30 - Crash (loses wing). Pits and retires Bertrand Godin - Lap 20 - Pits and retires - broken differential Alex Muller - Lap 19 - Pits and retires Boris de Richebourg - Lap 17 - Spins at Loews Andre Couto - Lap 16 - Crash (lost right rear wheel) at Virage Louis Chiron
Fastest Lap: Montoya - Lap 27 - 1.31.602, 132.324 kph
Points after 5 rounds: 1st Heidfeld, 25 points 2nd Montoya, 21 points 3rd Watt/Mollekens, 14 points 5th Sarrazin, 13 points 6th Rodriguez, 10 points 7th Davies, 8 points 8th De Richebourg, 5 points 9th Schwager/Rees/Wilson/Biagi, 3 points 13th Couto/Sauvage/Mazzacane/Ayari, 2 points