Round 17 Monaco's Clivio Piccione was back in action in British Formula Three this weekend, after his recent trip to the Netherlands for the Marlboro Masters. Four days later the F3 circus reconvened at Silverstone, for Rounds 17 and 18 of...
Monaco's Clivio Piccione was back in action in British Formula Three this weekend, after his recent trip to the Netherlands for the Marlboro Masters. Four days later the F3 circus reconvened at Silverstone, for Rounds 17 and 18 of the British series to be run on the long and demanding Grand Prix circuit.
Things didn't get off to the best of starts with Friday morning's qualifying revealing that Clivio's Carlin Motorsport car had problems, most notable being it was oversteering into the slow corners. When you only have a thirty-minute session, major setting changes are out of the question, and so Clivio simply had to try and make the most of the situation. This he duly did, qualifying in 10th for Sunday's race with a time that was only a quarter of a second off pole time, and despite the fact that the car's handling was far from ideal. Provided the oversteer could be dialled out during qualifying for Round 18, there was a good chance that the youngster would be able to move up the order during the race.
The best laid plans, however, have a tendency to derail when other people do unpredictable things. For Sunday morning's race, held under sunny skies, no one could have anticipated that Marcus Marshall (Fortec Motorsport), who was just ahead of Clivio on the grid, would jump the start and then hesitate as the pack screamed round into Copse for the first time. With the Australian in the way, Clivio decided he'd better try and pass the red Fortec Dallara. "So I went to overtake him into Abbey but he didn't want me to get by, so he closed the door on me. I just went for it anyway and locked up and ended up on the grass." By the time Clivio had recovered, he'd lost a number of places. This gave him an opportunity to demonstrate that it is possible to overtake in an F3 car, whatever the doubters say, provided you're brave enough. His bravery in no doubt, Clivio would probably have preferred not to have to play catch up but if that was what he had to do, so be it.
And so, he set about regaining his lost places with marked enthusiasm, and was soon on the tail of his teammate Danilo Dirani. The Brazilian didn't hold him up for long, which was not something that could be said of Lucas di Grassi (Hitech Racing). The Hitech driver put up some stiff resistance, even though Clivio was clearly faster, and it took longer than the Carlin driver liked to actually get past: "Di Grassi was a bit of a problem, because he was defending pretty well, even though it was just for one point. But then I got a really good move and I was able to pull away after that."
Having despatched the Brazilian, Clivio's teammate Alvaro Parente was the next target. He was being rapidly caught, but the short race distances in this championship proved to be a problem. There simply weren't enough laps left to bring the chase to a satisfactory conclusion and he finished the race in 10th place, a solitary point being scant reward for so much hard work. However, Clivio was able to demonstrate that the car was now properly sorted, and was relatively cheerful, convinced that he was in with a good chance of finishing much further forward in the afternoon's race. "The car is now pretty consistent and I think a top five finish is possible this afternoon," he commented later.
Although Clivio Piccione of Monaco had hoped for a top five placing in qualifying for Round 18 of the 2004 British Formula Three Championship, it was not to be. The session started promisingly enough, with a lap that put him way up the order, but then things went a bit pear-shaped for Carlin Motorsport's young driver. With the current tyre from Avon, you have no more than two laps when the rubber is at its optimum. After that, the tyre is no longer effective, and as there are limits to how many sets you can use, you must get your fast lap in while the tyres are still good: "The plan was to do two quick laps, but I only did one. I went out and was pretty quick in the slow corners on my first lap, but the next lap was going to be quicker anyway, so I didn't push into Copse and Becketts. And that's when I did my time. Next lap I would have pushed more so I would have gained at least 4/10ths in those two corners but I had a problem into Copse. The car was just touching on the apex, and so it was unsettled on that lap and that was it. If I knew that was going to happen I would have pushed even more on my first lap and I would have been in the top five I think!" However, the car was still far better than it had been in qualifying for Round 17, so Clivio was still optimistic about his chances in the race. "I think the car is a bit better but we maybe went a bit too far in the opposite direction. I did a reasonably good first lap, and in the second one I should have gone a lot better. At least the car is now relatively good and now I'm really focussed."
As it turned out the race was a complete lottery, the result having little to do with grid positions or even talent. Around ten minutes before the start, it began to rain, dark clouds scudding rapidly over the Northamptonshire countryside, soaking everything in their path, and drying up again just as rapidly. Tyre choice became a monumental gamble. Should you opt for slicks and run the risk of falling off the track in the early stages of the race while the track dried out, or should you go on wet weather tyres and try and make a break for it before the track dried out? While most of the field opted for wet weather tyres, Marcus Marshall (Fortec Motorsport) started on slicks, while Clivio's team-mates, Alvaro Parente and Danilo Dirani, rushed into the pits at the end of their formation laps for slick, thus having to start from the pit lane after the rest of the pack had already gone.
Clivio and his engineer decide it would be best staying with wet weather tyres. "It was a joint decision. I wasn't sure, I told them the track was dry round the back, but then it rained really hard on the start//finish line. I thought if I made a good start I could be sixth or so and fighting for a place in the top five so we decided not to risk it and it didn't work!" A reasonable start saw him hang on to his position, which suggested that the decision might have been right. However, it wasn't long before the track dried completely, allowing Parente and Dirani to charge up through the order to claim 2nd and 3rd, while a somewhat surprised Marshall provided the most surprising winner of the year. The wet tyre-shod men, on the other hand, struggled as their tyres began to disintegrate. And just to make things even worse, Clivio had not one, but two, near misses as Andrew Thompson (Hitech Racing) got it all wrong at Luffield. "He spun once in front of me, then he went back on the track in front of me, and then he spun again. He had two spins in ten seconds." It was a bit unnerving to say the least. And then, to make a less-than-perfect end to a disappointing weekend, Clivio's Mugen-Honda engine began to overheat to the point where he had no option but to bring it back to the pits and retire from the race.
By: Lynne Waite and Stella-Maria Thomas