After a series of delays caused by lost Minis, crumpled TVRs and the like, the third round of the 2003 British Formula Three championship finally got underway about half an hour late. At least the sun was shining on Sunday morning as a full grid...
After a series of delays caused by lost Minis, crumpled TVRs and the like, the third round of the 2003 British Formula Three championship finally got underway about half an hour late. At least the sun was shining on Sunday morning as a full grid of 30 cars lined up to take the start, which was a huge improvement after the glacial weather on Saturday.
Snetterton can be tricky, especially the first corner, so it was with some trepidation that the usual suspects lining the inside of Riches waited for the lights to go green. As they did, poleman Alan van der Merwe (Carlin Motorsport) showed that his two lightning starts at Donington had been no fluke. He floored the gas pedal, getting the jump on Nelson Piquet Jr. (Piquet Sports), and by the time they reached Riches he was well clear of the Brazilian teenager. Behind them, however, a minor traffic jam had developed, as Richard Antinucci and Ronnie Bremer (both of Carlin) managed to trip each other up, not for the first time. By the time Bremer had slammed the door on Antinucci, the ripple effect had taken out Ernani Judice (Promatecme F3), who went very wide before scrabbling back on and continuing on his way. Probably the luckiest man was Steven Kane (T-Sport). The Scholarship Class runner failed to get off the line and thus arrived at Riches after all the bumping and barging had ended and all that was left were some unwanted pieces of bodywork lying in the middle of the track. It was certainly better than being caught in the middle of the field although Kane of course didn't see it quite that way!
As the field reappeared, van der Merwe was beginning to open a gap between himself and Piquet, who had his hands full keeping Bremer at bay. In 4th was Antinucci, from the fourth Carlin driver Jamie Green, who was heading up Danny Watts (Hitech Racing), Rob Austin (Menu Motorsport), Adam Carroll (Sweeney Racing), Robert Dahlgren (Fortec Motorsport), Fairuz Fauzy (Team SYR) and Clivio Piccione (Menu Motorsport). Ernesto Viso had got off to a storming start too, and was carving his way up through the Scholarship Class field although he would have to go some to catch Ivor McCullough (Meritus Racing) and Christian England (Promatecme F3) who were battling for the lead. It wasn't long, however, before Antinucci deserted Bremer and, having dropped right back, disappeared into the pits, leading to speculation that most of the bodywork at Riches was his.
Antinucci wasn't the only man in trouble, with Carroll falling right down the order after a spin and Judice struggling with an unhappy looking Dallara. Will Davison (Alan Docking Racing) was another in trouble with a remarkably sick sounding engine. By lap four he was last. Van der Merwe, on the other hand, had no such worries and continued untroubled at the front, despite Stefano Fabi (Manor Motorsport) diving back out of the pit lane to find the leader bearing down on him. Luckily Piquet was not close enough to challenge. Bremer was still 3rd, and Watts was harrying Green for 4th. Austin and Dahlgren were next, with Judice trying to recover and Fauzy and Piccione rounding out the top 10. McCullough had got the better of England, while Scott Speed (Alan Docking) and Will Power (Diamond Racing) were holding up Michael Keohane (Promatecme). Viso's charge had been halted by the Irishman and he was now having to hold off Karun Chandhok (T-Sport). They were being shadowed by Andrew Thompson (Hitech), Justin Sherwood (Performance Racing), Tor Graves (Manor), Eric Salignon (Hitech), Rizal Ramli (SYR), Sergio Hernandez (Azteca Motorsport), Farriz Fauzy (SYR) and Carroll, Already falling back were Alex Pozzobon (Essencial Motorsport), Stefano Fabi (Manor) and the out of luck Davison. And so they continued for a while until, on lap 8, McCullough lost the Scholarship Class lead to England, only to get pushed off the track at the Bombhole immediately afterwards. And so began the first Safety Car period of the weekend. It's fair to say that one or two people may need to go away and read up on Safety Car procedures, as some of the drivers were rather late in slowing despite the presence of numerous waved yellows and SC (someone's crashed) boards.
The top ten now was van der Merwe, Piquet, Bremer, Green, Watts, Austin, Dahlgren, Fairuz Fauzy, Judice, and Piccione. Then came Speed, England (leading the Scholarship Class), Keohane, Viso, Power, Chandhok, Thompson, Sherwood, Salignon, Carroll, Graves, Hernandez, Ramli, Fabi, Kane, Davison, Farriz Fauzy and Pozzobon. Carlin took the opportunity to send Antinucci back out, although the car sounded very rough. At least he could try for a point for fastest lap, which would mean he would no longer be the only Carlin driver who had no points at all. And perhaps he could also be useful to van der Merwe in his bid to keep Piquet at bay? Four laps later the lights on the Safety Car finally went out, by which time we had lost Judice to mechanical failure. Still, everyone was ready to race again. Van der Merwe nailed the start perfectly again, leaving Piquet in his wake and it seemed we might get a clear run to the flags, when Power speared off at Riches and finally came to a halt in the field beyond the tyre wall. Meanwhile, Keohane had taken a run at England, and it had all gone horribly wrong. This was embarrassing in the extreme, as England was leading the Scholarship Class and the man who took both of them out of the race was his Championship Class teammate. Team boss Chris Weller's reaction is not recorded. The reaction of the officials was to scramble the Safety Car again. About the only move of any consequence was that of Watts, who made the most of the restart to take Green with an audacious move up the inside at the Esses. Danny was pleased with himself afterwards. "It was a real screamer," he said. He was now keen to get on terms with Bremer, but he would have to wait.
Once again, van der Merwe led the field round behind the Safety Car. The top ten now consisted of van der Merwe, Piquet, Bremer, Watts, Green, Austin, Dahlgren, Fairuz Fauzy, Piccione and Speed. Viso had inherited the Scholarship Class lead and was 11th overall, from Chandhok, Thompson, Sherwood, Salignon, Carroll, Graves, Hernandez, Ramli, Fabi and Kane. Davison was losing ground, though he still had Farriz Fauzy and Pozzobon behind him, and Antinucci was trailing round a long way back. When Davison ground to a halt, all three of them passed him, but he somehow coaxed the car back to life and got going again. This time the mayhem took three laps to be cleared, and once again van der Merwe controlled to restart perfectly. Piquet, on the other hand, did not, and found himself the subject of Bremer's robust attention, always a rather unnerving experience for a young driver. Austin and Dahlgren were engaged in a ruffianly battle too, the Swede getting the better of the Englishman after a bout of wheel banging through Riches. Austin skittered off and came back on in 14th, with some of the bodywork not quite where it should have been.
Van der Merwe had again built up a substantial lead again, as Piquet was fully occupied with defending himself from Bremer. And anyway, even if he could have got away from the Dane, he would now have to go through Antinucci to get to van der Merwe, the American now slotting in behind the South African, ready to ride shotgun if necessary. Meanwhile, the pressure on Piquet was lessened slightly by the fact that Watts was on Bremer's rear wing just waiting for a mistake. It didn't come, but Bremer couldn't get Piquet either. And so van der Merwe recorded his first win of the season on the track (rather than in the stewards' office), and a very fine win it was too. Piquet held off Bremer all the way to the flag, while Watts had to settle for 4th. Green was 5th, ahead of Dahlgren, Piccione, Fairuz Fauzy, Speed and Thompson. Viso came home a delighted Scholarship Class winner in 10th overall, with Chandhok 2nd, and Sherwood 3rd.
Antinucci did get a point for the Championship Class fastest lap so he no longer had zero points. Steven Kane was fastest of the Scholarship Class runners, despite finishing outside the top three after recovering from his poor start.
- Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite, Guest Writers