After a singularly bad-tempered qualifying session that seemed to lead to pretty much everyone protesting everyone else, the British F3 International Series boys finally got to go racing. And what a race it was, seeing Sergio Perez (T-Sport) put...
After a singularly bad-tempered qualifying session that seemed to lead to pretty much everyone protesting everyone else, the British F3 International Series boys finally got to go racing. And what a race it was, seeing Sergio Perez (T-Sport) put in a storming drive from 14th on the grid to win his second race of the season and consolidate his lead at the top of the championship table. 2nd, also from a long way back, was Brendon Hartley (Carlin Motorsport) after what he claimed was a non-aggressive race, while his team-mate Oliver Turvey also survived the mayhem to finish 3rd. For the first time this year the National Class was won by someone who wasn't Andy Meyrick (Carlin Motorsport) in the shape of Hywel Lloyd (CF Motorsport), the gangly Welshman seeming slightly stunned at claiming victory on this most historic of circuits.
Max Chilton (Hitech Racing) made a poor start from the front row, while pole man Matteo Chinosi (Ombra Racing) in the Invitation Class, and thus not eligible for points, took off into the distance closely followed by Sam Abay (Carlin Motorsport). And that was when the trouble started. Chilton's poor start was compounded when Sebastian Hohenthal (Fortec Motorsport) launched himself over the back of Atte Mustonen (Double R Racing) and the tangled Scandinavians collected Chilton, putting all three of them out of the race with almost immediate effect, and coincidentally causing collateral damage in the shape of Nick Tandy (John Tandy Racing) and Jay Bridger (Fluid Motorsport), the latter arriving just in time to clobber Chilton. Into the bargain a large part of the rest of the field had to take avoiding action, the result being the premature exits of Henry Arundel (Double R Racing) and Steven Guerrero (T-Sport), while a gaggle of cars had to slalom through the polystyrene blocks at the chicane.
While the casualties that were able to, limped back to the pits looking pretty sorry for themselves, the remaining runners settled down to race in earnest. Abay had passed Chinosi, and towed Jaime Alguersuari (Carlin Motorsport) along with him, and now Alguersuari was pretty keen on taking the lead from his Australian team-mate if possible. Certainly the Spaniard was trying everything he could think of to get ahead, but a further reshuffle came after a series of slipstreaming manoeuvres saw Alguersuari drop back a place or two, though it was clearly only going to be a temporary respite. We were fast running out of cars though, and a lap later we lost Michael Devaney (Ultimate Motorsport) when someone in the pack, possibly Walter Grubmuller (Hitech Racing) or John Martin (Double R Racing), tagged him and launched the car into a roll - luckily for the Irish driver, the car ended up on its wheels and he was taken to the medical centre to be checked over before being released later that evening. Meanwhile, Abay was still leading, now just ahead of Chinosi, who had found his way back past Alguersuari, who was just ahead of Esteban Guerrieri (Ultimate Motorsport), Meyrick, and Perez who had tip-toed through the carnage in a way that suggested a Teflon coating on him and his car.
Further down the order Viktor Jensen (Nexa Racing) was awarded a drive through penalty after assuming that the pits being open meant he was allowed to drive in and out before the race, thus doing two exploratory laps when he wasn't supposed to. He took his time coming in to serve his sentence, and still didn't seem sure what he'd done wrong afterwards. It probably helped keep him out of trouble though. Someone who seemed determined to get into trouble was Martin, the Australian apparently unaware of the existence of any chicanes at Monza from the amount of time he was spending on the run off areas rather than the track. He was battling with all sorts of people, among them Federico Leo (Ombra Racing) in the other Invitation Class car, the latter having started dead last and now running in 13th place, just behind Hartley who was biding his time.
A lap later and Salman Al Khalifa (T-Sport) was stranded on the kerbs at the Ascari bend and was being hauled away by a crane, while at the front Chinosi lost out to both Alguersuari and Guerrieri while Perez and Marcus Ericsson (Fortec Motorsport) both managed to get ahead of Meyrick, who was still leading the National Class by a massive margin. It was just to be hoped that he wouldn't regret getting embroiled with the International Class runners.
It didn't take long for more change. While Grubmuller joined in the general trend and cut across the Chicane, Hartley was starting to push, setting the fastest lap of the race so far. Perez, meanwhile, had also seen his chance and was now 3rd after Chinosi skittered off and had to haul himself back on again. Perez could see the light at the end of the tunnel now, and the Mexican went for it, snatching the lead by charging past Abay and Alguersuari at Ascari, with Guerrieri seeing his change too and diving through into 2nd on the Mexican's tail. The National Class, meanwhile, was reduced further in numbers when Kristjan Einar (Carlin Motorsport) went off the track and into retirement. At this rate we'd be lucky to have a podium's worth of drivers come the end of the race.
At the front, though, Perez set about trying to break the tow to Guerrieri, which wasn't proving an easy job, as evidenced when the Argentinean set a new fastest lap of the race. The two of them were soon able to pull away from the squabbling mob in 3rd though, probably because the group back there were so busy fighting among themselves, with the four Carlin cars of Abay, Alguersuari, Turvey and Hartley mixing it with Ericsson and Meyrick. That might well be why Meyrick finally made a mistake and fell off at Ascari, letting Hartley through into 6th and allowing Stefan Wilson (Fluid Motorsport) through into the class lead, though he had Lloyd right with him. It also went a long way towards intensifying the International Class inter-team strife at Carlin, which wasn't helped when it started raining, but only on some corners and not others. Chinosi's challenge, meanwhile, had faded as he dropped back to 10th, the local boy finding the regular British series runners just that bit too strong for him. All of this meant there were only 17 runners left out of 28, and we'd only made it to half distance.
At the halfway point, Perez and Guerrieri were now running well ahead, while behind them Alguersuari was holding off Abay, Turvey and Hartley. Martin had now passed Ericsson, but would be shown the black and white flag for corner cutting, a signal that he seemingly took no notice of for the rest of the race (Hartley got the same warning but he seemed inclined to heed it). Behind the Australian came Grubmuller, Chinosi, Philip Major (Fortec Motorsport), Leo, Ricardo Teixeira (Ultimate Motorsport), Wilson now leading the National Class, Lloyd, Craig Reiff (Nexa Racing) and Jensen, who had been in to the pits to serve his penalty now.
The order at the front changed yet again when Hartley's experience on this track told, and he snatched 5th while Abay lost out to Turvey as well. Abay's main problem at the moment seems to be his lack of experience in anything other than Formula BMW. Hartley has raced Formula Renault in Europe, as have Turvey and Alguersuari, and that experience was proving invaluable today.
Hartley was now trying to find a way past Alguersuari that wouldn't involve two Red Bull backed cars sitting in the gravel (to say nothing of an earful from Dr. Helmut Marko for all concerned), while Ericsson was now slugging it out with Abay, the two of them trading places with dizzying frequency. It was hard to know where to look as Guerrieri cut the Chicane and the tow to Perez was broken, Martin went way wide further back, letting Grubmuller through, and the Austrian was able to power past Abay as well. Hartley, meanwhile, thought he'd seen his chance to get past Alguersuari but the Spaniard closed the door firmly. The only person having a quiet time was Perez, who was determined not to have Guerrieri get back on his tail if he could avoid it.
From then on, Martin and Ericsson seemed to take it in turns to run wide and let the other one through, and you couldn't help but think they should stick to the track. Certainly Martin still didn't seem inclined to not cut corners, and now Ericsson was doing it as well. Right at the front, though, things were now hotting up even further, as Guerrieri fell back into the clutches of Alguersuari. It didn't take long for Alguersuari to find a way past, and Hartley managed to pass both of them, with Alguersuari attempting to barge the Argentinean out of the way but being resisted strongly. Behind that battle, Turvey was holding off Grubmuller, Abay, Ericsson and Martin, though not always in that order. They were pretty much all over Grubmuller, and then Abay and Martin seemed to realize it had come down to the fight to be the fastest Aussie.
That's when it started to get really messy with everybody cutting corners, and Martin finally winning out, most likely because he has the experience of slipstreaming from his Formula Ford days. They all moved up a place when the inevitable finally happened and Alguersuari tagged Guerrieri, the latter retiring on the spot and Alguersuari managing to haul himself back on several places further back. That left Hartley in a comfortable 2nd place, with Turvey next up, still keeping Grubmuller, Abay and Martin (or Martin and Abay) at bay. Meanwhile Lloyd had got he better of Wilson to lead the National Class and the 3rd and final survivor in the class, Reiff had gone off - he would still be classified, but it had been one hell of an attrition rate.
At the flag (one lap later than some teams were expecting) Perez came home a delighted winner, from Hartley, Turvey, Grubmuller, Martin, Abay, Ericsson, Chinosi, Major and Lloyd. 11th was Wilson, ahead of Alguersuari (who was awarded a 25 second penalty for his assault on Guerrieri), Jensen and Leo. Reiff and Guerrieri were classified despite not running at the finish and Teixeira was excluded from the results after being investigated for flag infringements.
The fastest laps went to Guerrieri, Meyrick and Leo.
Weather: Humid, dry at the start, rain by the end.