Changes: Well, there are no new faces around, and Ernesto Viso (P1 Motorsport) is now an F3000 driver, though a late change means he's gone to Durango and not Supernova. At least we have a replacement in the shape Ronayne O'Mahony (who did the...
Well, there are no new faces around, and Ernesto Viso (P1 Motorsport) is now an F3000 driver, though a late change means he's gone to Durango and not Supernova. At least we have a replacement in the shape Ronayne O'Mahony (who did the first meeting of the year in the Championship Class) who can come out to play now he's finished his first year college exams. He has rejoined the series in the Scholarship Class, driving for Performance Racing.
Weather: Warm, dry.
In the middle of a very complicated weekend, the British F3 Championship was left feeling a little unwanted. Parked in the outer reaches of the paddock, on a patch of land that is usually a car park (and that resembles nothing so much as a deep, dark gravel trap), and banished to the end of the day on both Saturday and Sunday, they could be forgiven for feeling more than a little put out by everything, especially when they were told they couldn't assemble in the assembly area either - instead they had to collect at the entrance to the Melbourne Hairpin! Anyway, duly assembled, the field straggled out onto the circuit, and Nelson A Piquet (Piquet Sports) promptly wobbled through the Redgate gravel and out the other side again. If he wants to get his championship challenge back on track, he wasn't exactly going about it the best way.
The early pace setter was one of the other Brazilians, Lucas di Grassi (Hitech Racing), who set a target time of 1:28.644, giving everyone something to aim at. Second was Danilo Dirani (Carlin Motorsport), but he was almost a second slower. The track has been resurfaced recently, making it quite slippery, and that added to the aviation fuel that gets dumped from aircraft coming in to land at East Midlands airport a mile or so away was not helping anyone.
Meanwhile Fairuz Fauzy (Menu Motorsport) was 3rd, once more driving under the watchful eye of Alain Menu, but he was also significantly slower. Dirani was the next to make meaningful inroads, grabbing pole from di Grassi, while James Rossiter (Fortec Motorsport) was another driver trying to get his season back on track after a mid-season wobble. He was 3rd, but couldn't hold it for very long, losing out to Piquet only seconds later. Fauzy was pressing on while the going was good, and was now on pole, from Dirani, di Grassi, Piquet, Alvaro Parente (Carlin Motorsport), and Rossiter, who was sliding down the order. The situation wasn't what you might exactly describe as normal in the Championship Class.
The Scholarship Class wasn't a great deal more normal, because Vasilije Calasan (Promatecme F3) was on pole. Deeply unlikely though it seemed, it was true. In addition, adding to the strangeness, Adam Carroll (P1 Motorsport) and Danny Watts (Promatecme F3) were slowest of all at this stage. None of this was normal. At the front meanwhile, di Grassi was powering on and had grabbed pole from Fauzy. He was joined on the front row - at least temporarily - by Will Power (Alan Docking Racing), the faster of the two remaining Australians now in British F3 (though Will Davison did a stint in the commentary box on Sunday afternoon). This dropped Fauzy to 3rd while Piquet moved up to 4th. Things became somewhat more normal in the Scholarship Class, when Stephen Jelley (Performance Racing), perhaps a lot more relaxed now his university career is at a successful end, took pole away from Calasan.
However, it wasn't the end of the abnormality. Marko Asmer (Hitech Racing) had been looking more confident in the last couple of races, and now he went third, joining the top two in the 1 minute 27 second range at last. However, di Grassi wasn't finished yet and he promptly went faster.
And of course, that man Ryan Lewis (T-Sport) was now on the move too. He'd claimed class pole from Jelley, but Jelley wasn't about to take it lying down and he fought back, changing places with Lewis more than once. Elsewhere Watts was improving slowly, though he was still a long way back and looking as if he intended making this difficult for himself. Meanwhile, Asmer was now 2nd, ahead of Piquet, but they both got pushed down a place when Power hit back, taking pole, only to lose it again to di Grassi, who hit the 1.26s and looked to be making good on his Snetterton form again. Lower down the order, Karun Chandhok (T-Sport) was again in the top ten, but wouldn't exactly be overjoyed with being 7th. On the other hand, it's a vast improvement on the sort of form he and the team started the season with, so it has to be classed as progress.
The top five were now di Grassi, Power, Piquet, Asmer and, even more oddly, Andrew Thompson (Hitech Racing). Piquet was starting to slip down the order, as Asmer was climbing up it. He now grabbed pole, but then di Grassi went faster - despite finding Clivio Piccione (Carlin Motorsport) and Marcus Marshall (Fortec Motorsport) tangling temporarily at the exit of Goddards. And now Carroll was on the move, setting a personal best time in Sector 1 and looking as if he might be set for pole position this time round. Meanwhile, Alvaro Parente (Carlin Motorsport) was having a bad time, and was 2 seconds off the pole time and clearly not having any fun at all. Carroll didn't get that pole, but he was now up to 3rd and looking a lot better than he did at the start of the race.
Watts was improving too now, though he was still only 8th, while another of the Hitech Racing boys, James Walker was an unprecedented 7th. Whatever David Hayle at the lads have been doing, it seems to be working at last. As we neared the halfway mark, Power was looking good in the first sector, but then he managed to throw it away by going wide at Goddards and losing the ground he'd gained. He was now third, when he ought to have been on pole. At the halfway mark di Grassi was still on provisional pole, from Asmer, Power and Piquet. In the Scholarship Class, O'Mahony set his best time of the session, and though it was only a 1.30, he still had time to find an improvement or two on his return to racing. Di Grassi was still on a roll, and was working hard to stay ahead of Asmer, though he was losing time in the second sector, which might make it difficult later. Dirani had improved to 5th while the battle for pole raged, and meanwhile Marshall in the pits, in 18th and battling not to be last. Near the middle of the field, Chandhok was improving steadily, as he battled to stay in the top ten.
Dirani's speed was also increasing, and he took provisional pole, bumping di Grassi down a place, leaving Asmer in 3rd, from Power, Carroll, Watts and Fauzy. Carroll wasn't finished yet, and he was the next to go quickest, only to lose out to Asmer again, the Estonian showing a remarkable turn of speed this weekend. There were 10 minutes of the session left now, and Piquet had slipped down to 8th. He was struggling more than seemed warranted, and he clearly couldn't figure out what was wrong. It certainly can't be him, which suggests that the problem lies with the team. Maybe they need to get Glen Waters back in his consultancy role; after all, it worked last year. Anyway, if Piquet wanted an improvement, so did Carroll. In fact he wanted his pole position back. He slowed right up at Melbourne to get some clear space and got ready to go for it. While he was doing that, di Grassi took back the lead, while Carroll had to settle for 3rd again.
Further back Rossiter was having an even worse time than Piquet, and had now slipped down to 12th, while Jelley was busy taking the class pole position back from Lewis. Piquet, meanwhile, had pitted for some adjustments, and rejoined with around 7 minutes of the session still to run. It should have left him plenty of time to improve. The times were still coming down, as Fauzy was now 7th, while Marshall had fought his was up to 15th. And with a tremendous effort, Carroll finally got his pole, while Watts was up to 9th and looking set to improve again, which he duly did, going 6th. And then it all came to and abrupt and early end, with just under 5 minutes left to run. Piccione and di Grassi had a coming together at McLean's and left the track. The red flags came out and, with a very tight timetable ahead of us, the session was declared over, leaving a lot of people very unhappy. Carroll was on pole, ahead of di Grassi, Asmer, Dirani, Power, Watts, Fauzy, Piccione, Piquet and Walker. 11th was Thompson, ahead of Rossiter, Chandhok, Parente and Marshall. For a change Jelley had the Scholarship Class pole, ahead of Lewis, Calasan and O'Mahony.
By: Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Wait