or a series that has been read the last rites more often than Barnet Football Club, the European F3000 Championship has a positively roseate glow to its cheeks. When it kicks off at Silverstone on May 2, there should be at least 26 cars present.
And there could be as many as 30.
Either way. that means a full grid, and in the current economic climate, that's no mean feat. Particularly so when one considers how previous sponsors in the series have had such a poor return on their investment in the past. The likes of Marlboro and Camel once used it effectively to groom their chosen subjects for Formula One, but for them it has been no more than expedient business. They certainly weren't in F3000 to increase brand awareness, and there hasn't been a fully tobacco-liveried car in the championship since 1992.
It will be the same story again this year. Those drivers backed by Elf and/or the French government apart (see last month's MOTOR SPORT), competitors have to rely increasingly on a portfolio of relatively small, but loyal and willing, supporters. Small wonder that the average F3000 car is festooned with more logos than Oxford Street. . . While Reynard and Lola have succeeded in reducing chassis costs, and Cosworth
and Zytek Judd have guaranteed that engines will be cheaper to maintain, the series is still going to cost around £450,000 per car per season. Team managers can't do much about travelling expenses, hotel bills and salaries.
We are led to believe, however, that the series may, finally, become more commercially appealing. At Magny-Cours last year, cable and satellite TV channel Eurosport broadcast the race live, which was an unexpected bonus. Now, we hear rumours that the same station is considering expansion of its live coverage. As we closed for press, FOCA couldn't confirm exactly how much television exposure F3000 would receive this year. It is, however, making valid efforts to improve the situation.
It's a small step, sure, but it's a start. Add a few more quality circuits (at the expense of places such as Enna and Vallelunga) and some solid race-by-race promotion, and you won't be far off a half-decent series.
But if quality is still lacking in some areas, it certainly isn't in others.
Take the entry list, for instance . .
Likely champions? Well, there are more potential winners than there are races . . . Tipping F3000 front-runners has always been something of a thankless task, but that's never stopped us trying in the past. Here, then, is our list of the men most likely. 'Jules' Bouillon (DAMS Reynard): His talent was masked for much of last season as Apomatox struggled to balance its Reynards, though that situation wasn't helped by its drivers' early-season predilection for hitting things. He absolutely flew in the junior formulae, and remains by far the most competitive Frenchman ever to have graced the Formula Ford Festival. Reigning champion DAMS will get the best out of him; mercurial team manager Jean-Paul Driot reckons that he can simultaneously
turn him into a winner and dial out some of the Frenchman's extraordinary shyness, a trait that has in the past been mistaken for arrogance.
Gil de Ferran (PSR Reynard): The Brazilian has spent four of the past five seasons with Paul Stewart Racing, and this cozy relationship has produced an F3 title and one F3000 victory. He absolutely marmalised the opposition at Silverstone last season. The team's decision to revert to Judd KV engines is a major vote of confidence for Zytek, which prepares them, and there isn't expected to be much to choose between that and the Cosworth AC. Whatever equipment he's given, de Ferran has brains enough to make the most of it. David Cat:Mord (Vortex Reynard): Past form suggests that threecar teams are not always a good idea, but Vortex which has still to win an F3000 race was prepared to make an exception when the opportunity to run Coulthard arose. The Scot, in his third F3000 season, is on a
hiding to nothing. His eagerness to race is admirable and he is a formidable racerbut he hasn't really got anything left to prove in the formula, so nothing less than outright championship success will suffice for Williams-Renault's favoured test pilot. The good news is that Vortex's standards of preparation are high, and the effectiveness of the Reynard-AC combination is proven. The bad? The deal was done late in the day, and when a series lasts only nine events you need to be on the case from race one.
Franck Logone Operant= Reynard): Winner of the final two races of 1993, with DAMS, his transfer to France's 'other' team was, on the face of it, one of the more peculiar decisions of the winter. But Lagorce is a single-minded individual, and he was clear in his objec
tives. He wanted number one status, and he wasn't going to get that with Boullion around. And it was clear that DAMS wanted Boullion. Indeed, he also effectively blocked the arrival of close friend Eric Helary at Apomatox, such was his determination to have a rookie team-mate. Whether his politicking will pay off remains to be seen. He has proved his ability, but he needs to develop still further if he is to mould Apomatox into a winning team, a trick that has thus far eluded Dominique Delestre's outfit.
Vincenzo Sospiri (Super Nova Reynard): An old hand in a new team, Sospiri's pace has never been in doubt. This year, however, really is his last chance if he hopes one day to be an Fl racer. After all, he first appeared in F3000 back in 1990. Best results have been a couple of second places, although he could have won at Nogaro last year had he not tried to clinch the race on lap two. Temperament has been suspect in the past (notably when he drove team-mate Damon Hill clean off the circuit twice at Nagar° in 1991), but Super Nova boss David Sears knows him well, and is confident he can harness his ability to more positive effect.
Jordi Gene (Nordic Lola): The most talent Spaniard yet to have appeared in top-I; international single-seater motor rac. (though F3 combatants Pedro Martinez a, la Rosa and Ivan Arias may have something to say about that in the near future). Gene has struggled since he won his maiden F3000 race two years ago, if only because he's spent so much time worrying about where his next peseta was coming from that
he hasn't always been able to concentrate on his racing. Indeed, his deal with Nordic wasn't finalised as we closed for press. If it happens as expected, it will present the biggest threat to Reynard's sixth constructors' title in seven years. Lola needs a front-runner to assist its return to the championship, and Gene could be the perfect solution, particularly as he works well with Nordic boss Derek Mower, whose faith in Jordi is absolute. Oliver Gavin (Pacific
Reynard): As long ago as January. Gavin's future appeared to be secure; an Fl test contract with Pacific and a place in its Formula 3000 team. But time has drifted on, Pacific's Fl ambitions have taken priority and Gavin has been
left to wait and see what occurs. He tested a lot before Christmas, but has barely as much as seen a steering wheel since. A genuine natural talent, he has a habit of taking a few races to settle in before emerging as a contender for victory every weekend. He's never spent more than one season in any formula; will he be in Fl with Pacific in 1995, irrespective of his final championship position this season?
Didier Cottaz (PSR Reynard): While Elf continues to back young French drivers in a fairly spectacular way, reigning national F3 champion Cottaz is a rare exception. He has never been assisted by any of the filieres, and has progressed this far thanks to a combination of determination, ability and the support of some hard-working friends. He's pulled off something of a coup in exporting French government backing to help finance a plum seat at PSR, whose experience will help offset the disadvantages placed upon debutants by the FIA's imposition of testing restrictions.
Massindliano Papis (Myth= Reynard): By common consent, Mythos has one of the strongest engineering teams in the formula.
That could be just what Papis needs if he is to become a consistent front-runner. He was a touch erratic last year, but in four of the five races that he finished he scored points. After a period of uncertainty, when two directors of a principal sponsor were arrested on what turned out to be false pretences, the mood at Mythos is upbeat right now, which will help. Fabrixio de Simone (Mythos Reynard): As with Papis, this Italian F3 graduate will benefit from the technical expertise of Giorgio Breda and Roberto Trevisan. Early testing form was good, but he needs to make sure he doesn't become distracted by
his concurrent Fl test programme with Arrows. Fabrizio is very highly rated by his fellow countrymen.
Torso Marques (Vortex Reynard): Vortex played down the results of its new Brazilian charge's initial testing performance at Snetterton. lest anybody else should take too much of an interest. Inexperience may count against him initially, but Marques — fresh out of SudAm F3 — could prove to be the discovery of the year, and he's only just turned 18. Marc Goossens (Nordic Lola): Winning only one British F3 round in two years with West Surrey Racing isn't much of a highlight on one's CV, but the Belgian has shown a decent turn of speed during winter testing. Some drivers just seem to get on better in F3000 than they do
in F3. Ask Christian Fittipaldi. Goossens had just concluded his deal as we closed for press; he and Gene could form one of the strongest driver pairings of the lot.
Guillaume Gomez (DAMS Reynard): The runner-up to Cottaz in last year's French F3 series, Gomez is under no real pressure to obtain immediate results. Like Cottaz, he is in an enviable position for a beginner. Being number two at DAMS is no hardship, as Lagorce proved in 1993.
Allan Mc Nish (Middlebridge Lola): The personable Scot is desperate to return his once meteoric career to its formerly ascendant course. Nobody who has worked with him doubts that he can do the job, but quite how
he can regain the confidence of the world at large remains to be seen. It is sobering to think that few people had heard of Michael Schumacher, and that los Verstappen was still karting, when McNish first won an F3000 race. Yet Allan is still only 24. Middlebridge was competitive back in 1990, though its reputation was sullied by its subsequent involvement with the dying Brabham Fl team. lithe deal comes off, all parties will have much to prove . . . which could just be enough to make it effective.
Patrick Crinelli (Omegaland Lola): Success in the Formula Vauxhall Euroseries is usually a fair barometer of ability, though it is a big step up to F3000. Past Euroseries champions such as Rubens Barrichello and Pedro Lamy have done well in the formula, albeit with the benefit of a season of F3 under their belts in the meantime. Crinelli could prosper in the happy family atmosphere at Omegaland, which last year obtained credible results on a budget that barely covered the cost of the team's paint job.
Kelvin Burt (TBA): As British F3 champion, he should be competing, but he has spent the winter with his attention divided between F3000 and a Jordan Fl test drive. It was getting a bit late in the day for a deal to materialise as this was written, but there are plenty of team managers who would prefer to have him as an ally rather than an adversary.
The rest: France's new team, Danielson, has bags of experience, but has not been involved in F3000 since it ran an old AGS in 1986. Drivers Nicholas Leboisettier and Jerome Policand both showed good form last year, but it could take time for Danielson to get up to speed. The potential, however, is there.
Italian F3 champion Christian Pescatori is clearly no mug, but whether the marriage between his existing team, Supercars, and Durango will allow him to express his ability to the full is uncertain. Durango wasn't exactly a force last year.
Madgwick International has been a frontrunner in the past. Team manager Robert Synge has long yearned to return, and does so with a sensible line-up. Kenny Brack and Mikke van Hool form a steady, rather than spectacular, alliance.
Apomatox boss Dominique Delestre reckons that Emmanuel Cleric() could well be as strong a runner as Franck Lagorce once he acclimatises to the category; it remains to be seen whether he will be blighted by an Achilles injury which curtailed his F3 campaign last year.
There are other potential points scorers, too. Frenchman Ludovic Faure has been out of the single-seater limelight for a while, but was once reckoned to be one of his country's brightest hopes. The same could not be said of Paolo delle Piane, but the friendly Italian has worked hard at his craft in the last 12 months, he enjoys the offbeat humour in the Vortex pit and he has shown that he can drive with aplomb when the mood takes him. Finally, Forti Corse has won races in each of the past four seasons, but has opted this year for Hideki Noda and Pedro Diniz, a pair totalling three years' F3000 experience and a cumulative score of no points. Clearly, maintaining past form will be the Fl aspi rant's toughest assignment to date. S A