After yesterday's somewhat processional race, today's British F3 International Series round at Spa proved a very different affair. Brendon Hartley drove brilliantly to claim another victory for Carlin Motorsport after a daring move on the ...
After yesterday's somewhat processional race, today's British F3 International Series round at Spa proved a very different affair. Brendon Hartley drove brilliantly to claim another victory for Carlin Motorsport after a daring move on the penultimate lap that saw him come home ahead of Sergio Perez (T-Sport), the Mexican having started from 6th on the grid. 3rd was Nick Tandy, claiming John Tandy Racing's first ever podium in F3 after a sterling effort and despite pressure early on from Hartley and later from another Carlin Motorsport driver, Jaime Alguersuari. Additionally, Jay Bridger (Fluid Motorsport) won the National Class after a last lap dive past Steven Guerrero (T-Sport), while Salman Al Khalifa (T- Sport) scored yet another podium. In the Invitation Class Daniel Campos Hull (HBR Motorsport) scored a victory as well as bringing it home in 6th overall well ahead of his team-mate Basil Shaaban.
At the start, however, no one could have predicted that result. However, the race began dramatically when Oliver Turvey (Carlin Motorsport) stalled on pole, having had engine trouble on the way to the grid. By some miracle everyone missed him, and they didn't start running into things until they reached la Source. Sam Abay (Carlin Motorsport) and Marcus Ericsson (Fortec Motorsport) tripped over each other disputing the lead, dropping Ericsson down the order and sending Abay into the pits with what looked like a deflated front left tyre.
That allowed Tandy to grab the lead, with Perez slotting in just behind him. The Mexican wasn't going to stay there for long though, and on the run through Les Combes he slipstreamed past in a blinder of a move and was through into the lead. Elsewhere in the order, Michael Devaney (Ultimate Motorsport) was off, as were Atte Mustonen, Walter Grubmuller and John Martin, after Martin clobbered Grubmuller at Fagnes, and Grubmuller hit Mustonen as a result. That was the end of all three of them, though Martin at least managed to limp round to the pits to retire. It also meant there were yellow flags out there for quite some time.
A lap later and Perez had started to build up a lead, while elsewhere Bridger was in the lead of the National Class. Further down the order Kristjan Einar (Carlin Motorsport) had a spin, and Alistair Jackson and Ricardo Teixeira both cut the chicane once too often and gained themselves a drive through penalty apiece for not respecting the track limits. It wasn't proving to be Ultimate Motorsport's day. Oliver Oakes (Eurotek Racing) was having quite a set to with Shaaban, while Henry Arundel (Double R Racing) bundled his way past Max Chilton (Hitech Motorsport) to claim 6th.
For the next few laps things settled down a little, although Guerrero was hard on Bridger's heels and very keen to get past if he could. Meanwhile, Hartley was pushing hard to catch Tandy and Alguersuari, setting the fastest lap of the race as he did so, pretty much simultaneous with Alguersuari attempting to pass Tandy if he could. Tandy was resisting the pressure manfully, but you had to wonder if he had the pace to match the Carlin cars. He wasn't the only one pushing - Campos Hull was beginning to trouble the regular International Class runners, and had found a way past Sebastian Hohenthal (Fortec Motorsport) and was now pursuing Guerrero and incidentally messing up the National Class battle. He gained a couple more places when Jackson and Teixeira came in together to serve their drive through penalties. Before that happened, it was looking as if Teixeira might finally score a point this year, but now it seemed it was not to be.
While Hartley passed Alguersuari, one of his team-mates was not having such a good afternoon. Einar pulled off into the old pits, having missed the entrance to the proper pits, and parked up with his suspension gone. No one was really looking at what was happening back there, however. Everyone was too busy watching the scrap at the front. Having passed Alguersuari, Tandy now had Hartley breathing down his neck and the Kiwi wasn't about to go away anytime soon.
Meanwhile, the National Class boys were still having trouble with the International Class runners interfering in their own internecine battle. This time it was Hohenthal who came through, which finally meant they were left to their own devices. That meant Bridger had Guerrero, Stefan Wilson (Fluid Motorsport) and Al Khalifa all queuing up behind him and all wanting to have a go if they could. At the front, though Hartley thought he'd seen his chance and he went for it at Les Combes. It didn't stick, and he nearly lost it altogether at Rivage, just gathering it back in time to not lose any places. He wasn't finished yet though. Another attempt saw him get alongside but yet again he couldn't quite make it stick/ Tandy wanted that podium so badly, he could taste it and no youngster was taking it from him. Hartley now needed to be smart, because he had Alguersuari and Ericsson right behind him, and the slightest mistake would let them through. He settled back to think about it for a while.
Down the order the two ultimate cars were back in action, and we were treated to the sight of Teixeira passing his team-mate, only for Jackson to get badly out of shape and take to the grass. They both seemed to have calmed down and were now respecting the circuit limits, which couldn't be said for everyone. Oakes was the next driver to be shown the black and white flag for cutting corners, though he seemed to get the message quite quickly and didn't end up with a penalty.
On Lap 7 the National Class lead changed hands when Guerrero slipstreamed past Bridger for the lead, although he couldn't pull out a gap. Campos Hull was still forging ahead and had pass Philip Major (Fortec Motorsport). That meant his next target was Max Chilton (Hitech Motorsport). Meanwhile Hartley finally figured out what to do about Tandy and was through for 2nd. He didn't hang about either, taking off after Perez as fast as he knew how. On the same lap, Chilton lost a place to Campos Hull, and then got demoted even further when Hohenthal came past as well. He really wasn't having a good afternoon.
All eyes were still on the battle for the lead though, and although Perez had a sizeable lead, you could see Hartley starting to whittle it down. Tandy was in no position to try and reclaim 2nd because he had Alguersuari and Ericsson both still looming large in his mirrors, and it was probably only the fear of losing a place to the Swede that kept the Spaniard from trying something to squeeze by Tandy. It didn't stop him having look but he held off really forcing the issue, knowing that he needed the points to keep level with Perez in the title chase.
With the race now drawing to a close, Hartley was on Perez. On the run out of the Bus Stop he tried it, had to back off, looked again at La Source, and again had to back off. Finally, on the way through Les Combes, he dived up the inside and forced the Mexican wide, claiming the lead with a very ballsy move. All he had to do now was hang on for one more lap, despite the fact that it was now starting to rain out the back of the track. It wasn't particularly heavy, so it didn't affect anyone, but it gave everyone pause for thought.
The National Class were about to reshuffle again, with Al Khalifa grabbing 3rd on the last lap and demoting yesterday's winner, Wilson. Just to make some amends to the team, Wilson's team-mate Bridger found he was able to outpace Guerrero on the way from La Source to claim a victory and remove the memory of what he considered his very poor driving in Friday's race. On the run to the flag Tandy was clinging to his 3rd place with as much force as he could muster, which was just as well because Alguersuari was all over him. It was too little, too late though. Hartley came home to a well-deserved win ahead of a somewhat disappointed Perez, a delighted Tandy, Alguersuari and Ericsson. 6th was Campos Hull, a clear Invitation Class winner, then came Arundel, Hohenthal, Major (who lost the place to the Swede on the final lap), and Chilton. 11th (10th in class) was Oakes, then the National Class winner Bridger, Guerrero, Al Khalifa, Basil Shaaban (HNR Motorsport), Hywel Lloyd (C F Racing), Wilson, Teixeira, Jackson and Craig Reiff (Nexa Racing). 21st, and the last classified runner, was Abay.
The fastest laps of the race went to Hartley, Guerrero and Campos Hull.
Weather: Warm, overcast, rain threatening.
Next Races: Rounds 17 & 18, Silverstone, Northamptonshire, 15th/16th August.