FIA EUROPEAN F3000 CHAMPIONSHIP
Three races; three different winners; three drivers sharing the championship lead; was Formula 3000 ever anything other than congested?
What has been the best news for Formula 3000 drivers in recent weeks? On a personal level. Gil de Ferran and Massimiliano Papis will have drawn great satisfaction from their victories in Pau and Barcelona, respectively. The most significant development, however, was the sight of David Coulthard's Williams running in the top six during the Spanish and Canadian GPs.
Coulthard earned his Fl spurs through desperate circumstances, but if he felt any pressure at being asked to replace the late Ayrton Senna it barely showed. After Barcelona, you could tell that a number of seasoned Fl observers, not many of whom are clued up on matters F3000, were genuinely impressed "He's good that Coulthard, isn't he? I suppose there are a few more like him in F3000 are there .
Indeed there are. David's cheery good manners and down
to-earth commonsense will be missed henceforth in the g000 paddock, but at least his departure subsequently provided the formula with one 'of its best advertisements.
The effective removal of the Scot from the championship fray doesn't make things any clearer. After what had happened to him at Pau in 1993. who could have imagined that Gil de Ferran would return to conquer the streets of the south-western French.town so comprehensively 12 months later?
The Brazilian stuck his PSR Reynard on pole by a copious margin, and not only became the first man ever to have led an F3000 race there from start-to-finish (and this was the 10th time the formula has graced the track), but he did so under continuous, and extreme, pressure from Vincenzo Sospiri, whose terrier-like persistence is matched only by his consistency.
In the first three races, Sospiri has finished fourth, second and third. It is a reminder of the extraordinarily regular form he showed last year, and a tribute to the way that David Sears' new Super Nova team has adapted to F3000. It has also given Sospiri a share of the series lead, with de Ferran and Silverstone winner Franck Lagorce.
While Lagorce has finished fifth in each of the past two races (driving splendidly in Spain to recover from 16th on the grid), de Ferran missed out in Barcelona. Like Lagorce, he had skated off the circuit in second qualifying, which left him a stupefied 18th. His opening burst was extraordinary: by the end of the first lap he was ninth, and not long afterwards eighth. Others' retirements then hoisted him to fifth, but a misfire forced his retirement and deprived him of the opportunity to retain the outright series lead.
De Ferran's win in Pau gave the Zytek-ludd KV engine its first victory since Barcelona 1992; upon F3000's return to the Circuit de Catalunya, it promptly racked up another.
Massimiliano Papis had never previously looked like winning an F3000 race. He'd been a top six runner on numerous occasions, but his form in Spain made you think he'd been winning in F3000 for eons. There were undoubtedly sound technical reasons for Papis's success. After all, Mythos engineers Roberto Trevisan and Giorgio Breda had prepared the II Barone Rampante
Reynards which finished 1-2 at the same venue two years earlier.
There were deeper, emotional reasons too.
Papis is a thoughtful character, a man with compassion and soul. When he arrived in Barcelona on the Thursday before the race, he had been reduced to tears by the sight of the Williams transporter. Massi had been a close friend of Ayrton Senna's and, indeed, the whole Senna family. The relationship stretches back to karting, when they both raced, at different stages, for the same team.
"Although I was very sad when I saw the truck, I felt as though I drew something from it. I felt like there was someone watching me, looking after me. In the car, I felt very strong, like whatever I did would be OK."
You had to wonder. The only man who could hold a candle to the Italian, Jules Bouillon, stalled at the start of the parade lap and was relegated to the back of the grid. Thereafter, Papis absolutely walked it, leading home team-mate Fabrizio de Simone in a convincing 1-2 for Mythos. Bouillon gave a hint of what might have been, scything his
way into the top 10 at enormous speed. Sadly for the Frenchman, it was a question of too much haste: he had skated off by lap 10, having already set fastest lap.
The fact remains, though, that Bouillon has just scored three points, in Pau, from three races, which is somewhat below preseason expectations. Lagorce apart, the government-backed Frenchmen haven't been faring all that well. Didier Cottaz drove a stormer to finish third in Pau, where Guillaume Gomez came sixth after wrestling with a damaged front wing from the first lap, but Emmanuel Cleric() has been unlucky (despite running with the leaders in every race to date) and the new Danielson team has found the learning curve steep. Danielson's Nicholas Leboissetier was fortunate to leave Pau with no more than a bruised thigh after suffering one of the most violent accidents since the European F3000 series was conceived 10 years ago. The Frenchman smacked the wall at the flat-in
fifth kink past the pits, tearing off two whet.ls and, with it, a couple of brake lines. Ng steering; no brakes; arou'nd 1'60, mph . Lel?oissetier's Reynard was transiormed into a high-energy pinball, clouting the guardrail with sufficient force to bend it in thret separate places before the car was finally launched into a roll from which it emerged, 'the right way up, in an escape road. The final impact, with the top of a barrier, sent a pack of photographers diving for cover. Their escape was every bit, as fortunate as the driver's; motor racing might have had a grim time of it thus far in 1994, but don't let anybody kid you that the cars themselves aren't inherently strong.
Of the rest, Lola was encouraged by the improved form, in Spain, of its T94/50. lordi Gene and Marc Goossens finished in the points with their Nordic entries, while Omegaland's efforts to build up a brand new car for Oliver Gavin (following an accident in Pau that caused him to miss the race) were rewarded when the Englishman hauled his way into an early fourth place. Sadly. an early trip across a kerb tweaked his front suspension and the resultant understeer built up and up. . .until Oily slithered out of the contest. It was a promising augury, all the same.
Forti's two recruits, Hideki Noda and Pedro Diniz, have both revealed hitherto unseen speed. What they need most of all is to combine that with the art of finishing races. Noda ran as high as second in Spain, but had spun away his chances by lap six. . .
And spare a thought for Vortex. Having lost Coulthard to Williams, the team has subsequently been thrown into turmoil, Paolo delle Plane had a massive testing accident at Pembrey (he escaped with a shaking), and Tarso Marques crashed during on his first formation lap in Spain, necessitating a night in hospital for observation.
The one bright spot was one-race recruit Allan McNish's form in Pau. He ran a strong sixth in his first race since September 1992, before a post-kerbing suspension breakage pitched him into the wall. On lap eight. .
Away from the track, the formula remains its fluid, unpredictable self.
When the Vallelunga race, originally scheduled for June 5, was postponed, teams breathed a sigh of relief, for it averted the threat of having races on three successive weekends. And now .. . Vallelunga is shifted to September, six days before a new race in Estoril. which replaces the cancelled Nogaro event, which ... The upshot is that the series concludes with three races in successive weekends. and the teams must wrestle with the logistics of hauling their material goods from Vallelunga to Estoril in three days: not a lot, given the distances involved, possible damage repairs and the time required to set up the cars once they get to Portugal. Rome wasn't
btO a day, nor was the journey from there C.rkais ever completed within such a time ' frainework. Leastways, not in a 38-ton trucic loll of racing cars.
good news, of course, is the con/firmation.of a fourth Fl support race, the first tkne that there have been so many such fixtures since 1985. It's a shame that these things 'can't be decided during the winter break, rather than halfway through the season, but better that it should happen late than never at all. The loss of Nogaro will be rued by gastronomists, but probably not by those who regard motor racing as a professional activity. The environs of the Circuit Paul
Armagnac are a culinary delight, but assessed objectively the fact remains that its facilities fall way below the standards with which F3000 wishes to be associated. And besides, the return of the formula to Portugal adds a touch of balance to the schedule: the nine rounds will now take place in seven different countries.
All of this was announced at a meeting of the FIA General Assembly in Geneva on June 3, when it also became apparent that F3000's technical regulations will not be tampered with to the same degree as F 1 's. The two-year chassis stability rule, thrashed out last winter by teams and constructors, remains intact, though engines are likely to be subject to detuning at some point. "It is," said one team manager, "about the only time 1 can recall being pleased that the FIA has ignored us . . . " S A