Qualifying Weather: Cool, overcast The 14th running of the Marlboro Masters of Formula Three was held, as usual, on the ex-Grand Prix circuit at Zandvoort in the Netherlands. Also as usual, the cream of the world's F3 drivers were ...
Weather: Cool, overcast
The 14th running of the Marlboro Masters of Formula Three was held, as usual, on the ex-Grand Prix circuit at Zandvoort in the Netherlands. Also as usual, the cream of the world's F3 drivers were present, competing for a title that has been won in the past by the likes of David Coulthard and Takuma Sato, both established Grand Prix drivers now. As a result, everyone wants to do well here. The morning's free practice proved something of a pointer towards what would happen later, the Mercedes-engined runners from the Euroseries being on the pace from the very start. The only non-Mercedes driver to challenge them at the start of the weekend was Adam Carroll (P1 Motorsport), his Mugen-Honda apparently well and truly up to the challenge.
With a very short break between the free sessions and the first of the two qualifying sessions, the teams had to hope they'd gone the right way with set up. If they hadn't, there wouldn't be a lot of opportunity to get it right. The odd-numbered cars would go out first, 21 runners at a time being quite enough even on a track as long as this one.
First to show was Roberto Streit (Prema Powerteam), who crossed the line to set a time just faster than that of Fairuz Fauzy (P1 Motorsport), the Malaysian needing to show that he's as good as Carroll, if he could. Local here Giedo van der Garde (Opel Signature Plus) was also busy trying to show that he was worth the sponsorship money Marlboro had spent on him for this event. Of the Dutchmen present, smart thinking was that the tobacco money was in completely the wrong place. While this was going on, the times started to come down from the initial 1 minute 36 second level, with both Lewis Hamilton (Manor Motorsport) and Nelson Piquet (Piquet Sports) taking a turn at topping the times. With Hamilton promptly banging in a time that was over a second faster than Piquet, it was starting to look as if the Euro Series boys were likely to have the edge, especially if they had a Mercedes engine behind them.
Things often get a little weird in the early stages of an F3 practice session, and this one was no exception, with Andrew Thompson (Hitech Racing) going 2nd before his team-mate Lucas di Grassi pushed him down to 3rd, only to lose out to Bruno Spengler, the Canadian driving for ASL-Team Mucke Motorsport seeming to be much faster than anyone would have expected. The next significant change came when Eric Salignon (ASM Formule 3) shot up the order to provisional pole, much as he had at Pau. This was Eric's opportunity to show the British series runners how much better he was than some people believed after his rather dismal showing in 2003 in the UK. He was getting his message across in fine style, especially as Hamilton and Piquet were behind him.
The next ASM Formule 3 driver to move to the top of the pile was Jamie Green, though he didn't get to hold it for long, being knocked back down by Salignon within seconds. Andreas Zuber (Team Rosberg) was fighting Piquet for 3rd, but he Brazilian wasn't about to be beaten by an Austrian with a very strange beard! Hamilton was still charging hard, and was the first man to get into the 1.33s, thus causing everyone else to start focussing hard on what they needed to do to get on terms with Ron Dennis's favourite F3 driver.
Around the ten-minute mark there was a general flurry of activity in the pits, with most people at least making setting changes, even if they didn't change tyres. The order, with a third of the session gone, was Hamilton, Salignon, Green, Piquet, Zuber, Spengler, Thompson, Lo