Weather: Damp, drying, cool. And once again, the Formula Three race is pushed to the end of the day, this time as the last event of the day at around 17.30. The weather was changeable, just as it had been on Saturday, though the rain had held ...
Weather: Damp, drying, cool.
And once again, the Formula Three race is pushed to the end of the day, this time as the last event of the day at around 17.30. The weather was changeable, just as it had been on Saturday, though the rain had held off for most of the afternoon, only falling properly just before the Renault V6 race, thus confirming our belief that the weather gods have it in for the Renaults for some reason. Despite their half hour race, conditions were still very slippery when the F3 grid finally lined up, with the sky a threateningly leaden grey. More rain was clearly on its way, though if we were lucky it wouldn't start until after Round 14 of the 2004 Championship was over. The various team bosses obviously thought we'd get lucky, because everyone was out on slick tyres this time, though Ryan Lewis (T-Sport) might have been wondering if that was a mistake, when he managed to spin at Fogarty's on the green flag lap. He got going again, looking ever so slightly embarrassed.
At the start, there was a certain amount of chaos, though nothing like that of Round 13. James Rossiter (Fortec Motorsport) started to creep before the gantry lights went out, but then came to a dead halt and consequently messed up his start. Nelson A Piquet (Piquet Sports) locked up as he tried to leave the grid, but the man making no mistake was Clivio Piccione, the Carlin Motorsport driver getting it off the line like a rocket and tearing round the outside of Piquet and Alvaro Parente (Carlin Motorsport), to be well ahead by Redgate. Of course these were just the sort of conditions Piccione thrives in, but even so you have to wonder what his manager has been saying to him (apparently Jim has threatened Clivio, or so he says, though with what he wouldn't say), because he's looked like a new man since Snetterton, having got his focus back and along with it his turn of speed. Someone else looking good was Marko Asmer (Hitech Racing), the Estonian following Piccione through to claim 2nd. Piquet was right on Asmer's exhaust though, so it would be interesting to see if the youngster could hold off the more-experienced Brazilian. As it turned out, he could. Piquet made a dive, got it all wrong and ran wide, losing three places as a result and rejoining just ahead of arch-rival Rossiter.
In something of a re-run of Saturday's first lap fracas, Will Power (Alan Docking Racing) was in trouble again, spinning all on his own at Fogarty's, or rather he started it all on his own but then Lucas di Grassi (Hitech Racing) and Andrew Thompson (Hitech Racing) both joined in, so that was three out of four of the Hitech cars Power had tangled with in the space of 24 hours. He only needed James Walker to complete the set… Instead he got Ronayne O'Mahony (Performance Racing). Luckily, they all survived, Power just slotting in behind Lewis (who was leading the Scholarship Class as usual), and Stephen Jelley (Performance Racing), who was trying to find a way to displace Lewis.
As a result of Power's indiscretion, there were now a couple of clusters of agitated individuals towards the back of the field, while at the front Piquet was shedding bits of floppy marker everywhere having dispatched Walker for 4th place. The Brazilian was on fine form as he set off in pursuit of Parente, and it seemed unlikely that the Portuguese would be able to keep the purple car from passing him.
Karun Chandhok was having another fun-filled afternoon, being attacked by Adam Carroll (P1 Motorsport), Carroll having made a good start to try and redeem himself after his awful qualifying session. Chandhok held him off at the Melbourne Hairpin, after he tried to go round the outside, but then Carroll shifted to attempt to ease his way up the inside. Chandhok wasn't having that if he could help it though Carroll was looking alarmingly determined. Another one looking good was Danny Watts (Promatecme F3), the Lola-Dome driver getting ahead of Rossiter briefly before the Fortec car came back at him.
With all the excitement in the pack it was easy to overlook Piccione, who was simply driving away in fine style, pulling out a gap to Asmer, who could see Piquet and Parente slugging it out in his mirrors. Walker was now alone in 5th, while Watts and Rossiter were locked into a battle that would not only last the entire race, but that would expand to include Carroll and Chandhok before it was over.
Something else that almost got overlooked in the chaos was the fact that - and yes, we know this sounds very unlikely, but it's true, we promise - Vasilije Calasan (Promatecme F3) was leading the Scholarship Class from Jelley, while Lewis was headed for the pits as a result of some sort of clash with Marcus Marshall (Fortec Motorsport), which had left him with a damaged nose. Stranger things have happened in F3 over the years, but off-hand we can't think what they were.
Anyway, to return to the mid-field scrap. Watts had another go and got Rossiter round the outside at Redgate, only to go off at Fogarty's. He survived but at the cost of letting Carroll through. That meant that Carroll was now in a position to take on Rossiter, and so it continued, Rossiter probably unsure of just who he was dealing with from lap to lap, though he knew he was a target. Nearer the front, Piquet had slipped back a little which had allowed Parente to close on Asmer. The Estonian was looking increasingly unlikely to be able to hang on to 2nd for much longer, but he was giving it his best shot even so. A lap later, Piquet was getting bored waiting for Parente to go through, which meant we were treated to the spectacle of the three of them in line abreast as they emerged from Fogarty's, with Parente getting though on the inside and Piquet going round the outside at the Melbourne Hairpin. Wisely perhaps, Asmer didn't - or couldn't - make an issue of it, which left the two of them fighting among themselves while Piccione became an ever smaller red glow vanishing into the distance.
Watts and Carroll swapped places again a lap later, Watts going up the inside, to sit on Rossiter's rear wing. It was great fun to watch, and according to both Watts and Carroll afterwards, pretty enjoyable to be part of too. While Piccione speeded up again, the attacking mood seemed to be spreading down the field, because now Power and Thompson were scuffling, possibly because the Australian had it in for all things Hitech this weekend…Piccione, meanwhile, was pushing on as hard as he knew how.
At the end of lap 6, Parente nearly went straight on at the Old Hairpin, though it wasn't enough of a mistake for Piquet to get through. It didn't stop him from having another go though; the Brazilian was probably coming to the same conclusion as the handful of spectators; the Portuguese wasn't going to let him through even though the lilac car was all over him like the proverbial rash. Never one to quit, a lap later Piquet tried to go round the outside, though he still couldn't make it stick. Elsewhere, Lewis was having a go at Jelley, who had taken over the class lead from Calasan, even though he was a lap down after his pit stop. The question why sprang to mind, and it seemed the answer was because he could. He got round the outside of Jelley at McLean's, but then couldn't get away and the whole thing seemed somewhat pointless.
It was still desperate at the front, with Asmer now attacking Piquet, who had been beaten off by Parente, and who then lost ground after he got all sideways, while Watts once more tried to get round the outside of Rossiter, this time at the Old Hairpin, again with little success, and again with the effect of dropping him back into Carroll's clutches. Meanwhile Power was now free to tackle Danilo Dirani (Carlin Motorsport), after Thompson spun out of contention at Goddards. Watts wasn't finished yet; he made yet another stab at Rossiter, though he still couldn't get him, and he was now coming under ever more pressure from Carroll, who was no longer being savaged by Chandhok. After Dirani got boxed in behind the Indian driver, Power suddenly found himself being attacked by Marshall, who was after the last available point for 10th if he could get it away from his compatriot. He was trying very hard…
At two-thirds distance, we lost di Grassi at Goddards, which caused an outbreak of yellow flags and reduced the possible overtaking places, though that didn't seem to deter Watts at all. He wanted Rossiter's scalp and he was determined to get it. A lunge up the outside at the Melbourne Hairpin was following by a dive up the inside. It almost worked but he was carrying too much speed and went wide, letting Rossiter back through, as well as Carroll. With the two of them waving at each other to try and coordinate their attack it was again up to Carroll to try and find a way through. This really was enormously entertaining, quite the most entertaining F3 race of the season so far, especially when you consider that the main battle was between a youngster who seems to have all the budget he needs but few friends in the paddock, and two men who are struggling from race to race, but who weren't letting that stop them. Watts came back ahead of Carroll again, and started to threaten Rossiter yet again. To be fair to the Fortec driver, he remained unflappable despite the intense pressure, and this was good, clean fight with no dirty tactics on anyone's part.
Meanwhile, Piccione seemed to be taking it easy now, because Parente was catching him, setting the fastest lap of the race so far as he started to reel in his team-mate. Maybe it was Piquet that made him so fast, as the 3rd placed man also seemed to be on a charge now. And behind Asmer and Walker, Rossiter was again fending off Watts, who tried to get round the outside of the Fortec car at Redgate, and lost out to Carroll yet again as a result. If either of them were going to grab that place they were going to have to do it soon - time was running out.
And no one's efforts were helped at all by what happened next. With a very sick sounding engine, Calasan came past the pits, the car slowing all the way, and eventually stuttered to a halt in the gravel trap at McLean's. The question was why? It was already sick when he passed the entrance to the pits - any sane individual would surely have pitted rather than keeping going. But no, he didn't do the sensible thing and instead caused yellow flags to be needed on yet another corner. This was beginning to seem a bit daft, to put it politely.
With two laps to go, Dirani claimed the point for fastest lap by virtue of the fact that the track was improving from lap to lap, and regardless of yellow flags anywhere the whole field was speeding up.
With a lap to go, Walker was suddenly facing the prospect of his efforts coming to naught, because the 12-wheeled Dallara/Lola hybrid of Rossiter, Carroll and Watts was now right behind him, so close they could almost touch. It couldn't have been a pretty sight, but he only had to hang on for another couple of miles to get his best finish of the season so far. Apparently overcome by all the excitement, Thompson's race came to an abrupt halt on the final lap when his car quit on him by the start/finish line, and Chandhok was in the pits with a broken front wing, claiming afterwards to be "a disgrace to Formula Three and to T-Sport!" It was a shame that he had lost out at the last because he'd driven well all weekend, and T-Sport seem to be making progress towards the sharp end of the grid at last.
And so, Piccione claimed his second victory of the year, leapfrogging back up the order to fourth, while Parente and Piquet took up the other two podium positions. Asmer was 4th, his best result so far, while Walker was an unprecedented 5th. Rossiter held off Carroll and Watts for 6th, while Dirani and Power were the last of the points scorers.
Marshall was 11th in the end, just ahead of a seriously lacklustre Fairuz Fauzy (Menu Motorsport). The Scholarship Class victor was Jelley, his first of the season, though Lewis didn't allow him the added point for fastest lap, the championship leader snatching that despite finishing a lap down in 3rd place, behind O'Mahony.
While the Scholarship Class battle is almost over, the Championship Class is still an open question, with Carroll and Piquet on equal points (142), ahead of Rossiter, who is a mere 14 points behind. This is turning into one of those years when it seems as if no one actually wants the title. There are 10 races left, out of 24, and we still can't tell you who is likely to walk away with the trophy in October. It's hard to remember a better season in terms of likely winners.
By: Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite