At Oulton Park today, in bitterly cold conditions, Oliver Turvey (Carlin Motorsport) took the first race of the year in the British F3 International Series in a lights-to-flag victory. What should have been a Carlin 1-2-3 went badly pear-shaped...
At Oulton Park today, in bitterly cold conditions, Oliver Turvey (Carlin Motorsport) took the first race of the year in the British F3 International Series in a lights-to-flag victory. What should have been a Carlin 1-2-3 went badly pear-shaped when Brendon Hartley attempted to wrest 2nd from team-mate Jaime Alguersuari three laps from the end and took both of them out, thus handing the other two podium places to Max Chilton (Hitech Racing) and Atte Mustonen (Double R Racing), the latter having started from 10th. In the National Class, Andrew Meyrick made it a Carlin double, also leading from start to finish.
The first race of the season in the British F3 International Series had the potential to be interesting in many ways, not least because the field of 27 contained 19 rookie drivers among the 18 nationalities competing this year. As things turned out, apart from Mustonen making a mistaken lunge at the pitlane at the end of the first of two warm up laps, it was relatively uneventful. This was despite the snow/hail flurry that left the track very soggy in the half hour prior to the race. It did have some effect on the results, however, after pole sitter Alguersuari made the most awful start, getting so much wheelspin that it was a miracle he was able to move at all. That was all the invitation Turvey needed to nip into the lead and hang onto it all the way to the flag, despite what was happening in his mirrors. Chilton barged his way through as well, while his team-mate lost ground to Hartley, who shot into 4th, while Grubmuller slowed and headed for the pits with a misfiring Mercedes engine. Meanwhile Hartley was all over Chilton, though Chilton was clearly not about to let the Nez Zealander through if he could help it. A little further back, Mustonen was charging from 10th on the grid, and had benefited from Nick Tandy (John Tandy Racing) going missing from just in front of him. Tandy eventually got underway but was last at this point.
In the National Class, Carlin Motorsport were also leading with Meyrick cashing in on his class pole, and the fact that he had a couple of International Class cars between himself and Salman Al Khalifa (T-Sport) in 2nd. Meyrick's cushion consisted of Alistair Jackson (Double R Racing) and Ricardo Teixeira (Ultimate Motorsport), though Jackson was looking very hard for a way past.
By the time they came round to start the second lap, Turvey was beginning to break away, while behind him it was all action. It took Hartley another lap to find his way past Chilton, and he made it stick by diving up the inside at Old Hall to set up what looked as if it could be the first Carlin 1-2-3 of the year, provided no one did anything stupid anyway. That left Chilton to the tender mercies of Mustonen, who was 5th now, and all over the back of the teenager. Michael Devaney (Ultimate Motorsport) was right with the Finn now. Lap 3 also saw Jackson attempt to get past Meyrick in what looked like a rather desperate move that didn't come off, suggesting that not much has changed in the Jackson camp since 2007.
With Hartley now lapping fastest on the very damp track, the tension was mounting at Carlin. Alguersuari was not about to back off, but Hartley didn't seem about to do so either. There was potential for disaster here. Meanwhile, someone else making progress was the second of the Ultimate Motorsport's drivers, Esteban Guerrieri, who was now 7th despite being another man to with a pretty poor starting position. Whatever the reason for that, he was really shifting now. Someone else on the move was Marcus Ericsson (Fortec Motorsport) who was all over his team-mate Sebastian Hohenthal. Hohenthal's car wasn't sounding too good but he wasn't about to be the slower Swede if he could help it. The Swedish civil war was shaping up nicely with Ericsson's mad enthusiasm counterbalanced by Hohenthal's experience. Certainly they were going at it hammer and tongs into Old Hall, with Hohenthal getting the better of it the battle though he was having to work very hard indeed to keep ahead.
While the top 4 ran in close formation, the Swedish battle raged, with Sam Abay (Carlin Motorsport) joining in despite also having Henry Arundel (Double R Racing) to deal with.
In the National Class, Meyrick still led though he was shown the driving standards flag in a case of mistaken identity. It should have been waved at Niall Quinn (Team Loctite) who had missed Hislops and gained an advantage twice by this stage. Al Khalifa had gone missing, thus handing the 2nd place in class to Jay Bridger (Fluid Motorsport). Meyrick was pretty much running on his own, so all he had to do was stay put. He reckoned he could have gone faster but saw no point in taking stupid chances, which was reassuring to hear. Common sense in racing drivers is a rare commodity some weekends, after all!
Meanwhile, Turvey was doing just enough, while Hartley was repeatedly setting fastest laps as the track conditions improved and the times came down and down by about a second a lap. Behind the Swedes, Arundel got past Abay, while the Swedes themselves had temporarily calmed down a little but they were now catching Sergio Perez (T-Sport), who had been having quite a quiet race to that point. The top three, meanwhile, had broken away completely now, while Chilton was again coming under some pressure from Mustonen, who now set the latest of the fastest laps. With the track starting to dry now, it was a question of whether the race would end before tyre wear became an issue. Interestingly, a lap after Mustonen set his fastest lap, Devaney closed right up on him, and it wasn't long before he had a go at overtaking the Finn, who was having none of it. The door was emphatically slammed and the Irishman backed off slightly. And behind that battle, Perez now had Hohenthal right with him, which allowed Ericsson to have another go at his compatriot. With Arundel and Abay glued to the train too it would only take one minor mistake for the track to be covered in debris. A determined effort from Ericsson and he was through, though his earlier efforts had left a hole the size of a dinner plate in the nose of the orange and white car.
As the field came back round for the 12th time, Alguersuari had upped the pace, so it was his turn to set fastest lap, thus easing the pressure from behind a little while closing on Turvey - who responded by setting a new fastest lap and re-opening the gap a little. Meanwhile, Perez was taking a bit of a pasting from Ericsson, who couldn't quite get past the Mexican despite starting the move at Lodge and ending it at Old Hall.
As the front-runners started to catch the backmarkers, Hartley decided the time was right and had a go at Alguersuari, thus allowing Turvey some breathing space. As they lapped Craig Reiff (Nexa Racing), Hartley set another fastest lap, and Ericsson finally squeezed past Perez at Old Hall. At the same time, out at Island, the Red Bull backed pair of Alguersuari and Hartley tangled, after Hartley made a lunge for 2nd. They were both out of the race there and then, letting Chilton up to 2nd and Mustonen through to 3rd. The conversation with Dr. Helmut Marko was unlikely to go well. That meant Devaney and Guerrieri were now 4th and 5th, which no one at Ultimate would have predicted in advance. Just for good measure, John Martin (Double R Racing) was now pushing on and had set the latest fastest race lap. He was soon eclipsed by the charging Ericsson, but the Australian looked more confident than he did in qualifying. Just for good measure the next man to fastest lap was Guerrieri, but the pace was still picking up as the track dried out.
The National Class was still running smoothly for Meyrick, though some of the other runners were having a rather more interesting time. Quinn and Kristjan Einar (Carlin Motorsport) were now fighting for 3rd in class, though they had the recovering Tandy coming up on them. And before we knew it, the race was over, as the 30 minute marker was reached. A delighted Turvey came home to his maiden win in the category, while Chilton was 2nd (his first podium in the class), and Mustonen gratefully inherited 3rd. 4th was Devaney, from Guerrieri, Ericsson, Perez, Hohenthal, Arundel and Abay. 11th was Martin, from National Class winner Meyrick, Jackson, Teixeira, Bridger, Philip Major (Fortec Motorsport), Hywel Lloyd (CF Racing), Quinn, Einar, Steven Guerrero (T-Sport). 1 lap down were Stefan Wilson (Fluid Motorsport) and Reiff.
The fastest laps (and the extra point) went to Martin in the International Class and Bridger in the National Class.
Weather: Extremely cold (around 3.5C - 383 F), damp track.