Lord Luca

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Shortly after the Portuguese Grand Prix, several F1 teams stayed on to conduct some serious testing. Some of them used their sojourn in Portugal to evaluate a few F1 rookies. One of these was European F3000 series leader — and soon to be champion — Luca Badoer, who was allowed 25 or so laps in one of Scuderia Italia’s Dallara-Ferraris. It was one of only two glitches in Badoer’s season. In the short time he was allowed to acclimatise to F1, he suffered one broken gearbox, one engine failure and his lap times were nothing to write home about. Suddenly, the Italian press was on his back, ranting on about how the nation’s apparent Boy Wonder wasn’t cut out for F1 at this stage in his career.

To anybody who has regularly watched Badoer in action this year, any such suggestion will appear quite preposterous. His consistent speed has netted him four wins and one second place, but he has shown greater attributes than pure pace. At Pau, for instance, where his car was snagged in the first lap snarl-up, he nursed it home at a sensible pace and scored a well-deserved point as his rivals bounced off the guardrails right, left and centre. At the Nürburgring, where he was unusually beaten to pole position during his glorious mid-season run of four victories in five races, he sliced aggressively past Emanuele Naspetti at the end of the first lap, and thereafter demoralised his adversaries with a searing turn of speed in the opening few laps. At Spa, he had a huge accident at Raidillon, knocking himself senseless and qualifying himself for a one-night stay in a Liege hospital. Although physically unharmed, medical opinion was that he shouldn’t drive for a couple of weeks. If the shunt had any psychological effect on him, he kept it well-hidden. The next time he sat in a racing car, at the fiddly new Spanish venue of Albacete, he stuck it on pole position. At Nogaro, where victory could assure him of the championship title, there was more pressure in his front tyres than there was in the cockpit. He streaked away once again, and — as it transpired — the title was his.

He’s a fighter, too, when need be. He and erstwhile title rival Andrea Montermini had a mighty scrap for the lead at Magny-Cóurs, the series’ finale providing the best F3000 race for many a year. After passing and repassing each other on a couple of occasions, the two Italians finally thumped each other hard enough to precipitate their retirement. Streaking into the pits, Badoer gesticulated furiously to the damaged right-rear corner of his Crypton Reynard. It was the only time the 21 year-old showed any real emotion all season.

Where did Badoer’s advantage come from? Cynics suggested that the rise from relative obscurity of team-mate Michael Bartels, who was seldom far from Badoer’s pace, though he never looked like winning a race, was evidence that Crypton had found something which had escaped its rivals. Certainly, Patrizio Cantu’s well-organised team was the first to make use of monoshock front suspension technology — at Enna, in July — and there is no question that one of Heini Mader’s Cosworth engines was the thing to have behind your shoulders. Even so, there were plenty of Reynard-Maders around, and monoshock kits were available to anyone who wanted one by the end of the year (although Crypton’s system was developed in-house by engineer Gianfranco Bieli, while other teams used a Reynard conversion kit). Reynard’s John Thompson, the factory engineer seconded to Crypton throughout the season, insists that there was no big secret: “The team paid particular attention to the damping when developing the monoshock, that’s all. The set-up we ran all year was pretty close to standard on both cars.”

The biggest threat to Badoer was unquestionably Montermini, whose challenge became more effective when he switched teams midseason. Initially, Forti Corse’s title hopes rested on the shoulders of Emanuele Naspetti, but the latter had a verbal agreement with team boss Guido Forti that he should be free to leave if any F1 opportunities arose. For someone in his fourth season of F3000, it was an understandable request, and when he got the chance to replace Paul Belmondo at March he was togged up in green overalls before you could say “transverse gearbox”. Meanwhile, Montermini had just had a timely falling out with Il Barone Rampante, over one of those thorny financial problems. Ford snapped him up, and Andrea promptly won the next two races, adding to the victory he scored for IBR at Barcelona in June.

Despite the latter, it was a pretty disastrous year for IBR, which started out with the new Judd KV engine. Promising though the KV was, it was a developing, rather than developed, unit. After the German GP support race at Hockenheim, IBR followed Crypton and Ford down the Mader-Cosworth route, a decision that was costly in more ways than one. “We lost a month of development,” recalls Rubens Barrichello with hindsight, the Brazilian staying on as the team’s sole leading light after Montermini’s departure. “While our cars were in the workshop being converted, Crypton and the others were testing, testing, testing.”

Even equipped with Maders,IBR was unable to run at the same pace as Crypton or Forti, though Barrichello’s fifth place in the Magny-Cóurs finale did at least give him third place in the championship, at the expense of three-times runner-up Bartels. It was less than had been expected from a team that had emerged as the shining new star of 1991, and the campaign ended on a discordant note. The key engineering staff, Giorgio Breda and Roberto Trevisan, were known to be leaving to set up a team of their own, and rumours of financial strife were widespread. Nothing daunted, IBR founder Giuseppe Cipriani insists he’ll be back in 1993.

Places in F1 are almost as rare as close friendships nowadays, and a strong F3000 season is certainly no guarantee that Ron Dennis will be anxiously scanning through the international ‘phone directory looking up any Monterminis. Ask Alessandro Zanardi: narrowly beaten to the European title by Christian Fittipaldi in 1991, he failed to find regular employment as a racer this year. There is every chance that a similar fate could befall at least one of this year’s top three. As this is written, Barrichello — who has substantial backing behind him from Arisco — appears not to have too many worries. A Jordan-Hart beckons. Badoer is confident that his discussions with Scuderia Italia and Tyrrell will bear fruit one way or the other, and it is hard to believe that Marlboro, one of his main backers, won’t massage a path into F1 for him. Every F3000 champion since the series’ instigation in 1985 has raced in F1 the following year, and there’s no reason to believe this impressive record is in immediate danger. Montermini, the most experienced of the trio? He said that he had an F1 offer open to him if he won the title; failing that, he’d probably look to Japan.

Outside the top three, there were several other promising newcomers. After his surprise victory in the opening round, at Silverstone, Jordi Gene kept himself in the championship hunt with some impressive drives, most notably at Spa, where he finished second to Montermini. The Spaniard lacked the consistency to maintain a serious push for the crown, though there is little doubt that he represents his country’s most serious F I hope for a long time. He certainly put highly-rated team-mate Laurent Aiello in the shade throughout the year. Only at Barcelona, where he was the innocent victim of Naspetti’s failure to respect the laws of physics (“You can’t fit two cars into a space wide enough only for one,” — see also Senna v Prost, Suzuka 1989) did the Frenchman look truly at home. Unfortunately, Aiello didn’t really feel at home at Pacific, and his season gradually fell apart. The aforementioned Naspetti is proof that it is possible to take several stabs at this formula before you are taken seriously, but such cases are rare.

In many ways, Aiello suffered from what might be labelled the `McNish Syndrome’: a promising debut season leading to a complete nightmare. Allan McNish, who went through the same thing in 1991, went a long way towards restoring his reputation this summer, under the guidance of Mike Earle at 3001, though without major backing his attention was usually divided between finding the finance to race and actually racing. The Scot finished third at Hockenheim, but had to curtail his activities after eight rounds, his funds exhausted.

Thus far, all those mentioned made use of Reynard’s 92D, a logical development of the previous season’s highly successful chassis. Lola was not the number one customer choice, after a dismal 1991, although the new T92/50 certainly looked the part. In the opening race, there were 19 Reynards and only six Lolas. Still, the latter evolved as the season wore on. There were several good drives from Apomatox’s two young chargers, Olivier Panis and Emmanuel Collard. The former started and finished the year on the podium, but only had one finish in-between times. Collard was third at Albacete, and picked up three fourth places. It was a yo-yo season for both in many ways, but each served notice of real potential. Collard, in particular, has time on his side. At 21, he is the younger of the two by five years.

Ultimately, best Lola representative was Jean-Marc Gounon, who rescued what had, to that point, been a poor year by finishing second at Nogaro and winning at Magny-Cóurs. The oldest regular competitor, he will be 30 on New Year’s Day, Gounon has a refreshingly persistent approach to his racing. He was all set to sign for Crypton during the previous close-season, until guidance from sponsor Marlboro France led him to the number one seat in the DAMS Lola team. He recovered from 19th, after a first-corner spin, to finish fourth at Silverstone; he was lying third in Pau when a front suspension bolt broke; he was fastest man on the circuit at Barcelona, as he recovered from another first-corner incident, until an inattentive backmarker swiped him off the track. Generally, it was a troublesome year until the final two races, and although his victory in the finale owed more than a little to the over-exuberance of the two Italians up ahead, it was nothing less than he deserved. It was tribute to his temperament under pressure, too; at one stage, there was just over a second covering the first five cars, but the Frenchman never once made a mistake. At his age, he concedes that he is not the most obvious commodity in the F1 market-place, but he hopes his experience may count for something. It certainly stood him in good stead at Magny-Cóurs.

At the start of the season, David Coulthard’s reputation was worth a handful of victories on its own, but it took the young Scot time to get into his stride. The PSR team finished the season with a flourish though, with fourth places at Spa (Coulthard) and Albacete (Paul Stewart) and third places at both Nogaro and Magny-Cóurs (Coulthard). All in all, it was a good first year for Coulthard, and team-mate Stewart made solid progress too, maturing into a regular top 10 qualifier by the year’s end. In addition to his impressive drive at Albacete, Paul also set fastest time in the soggy race warm-up at Spa, which takes some doing.

Other Britons failed to get on the scoresheet. Steve Robertson had a trying time with Superpower, though a switch to Mader power coincided with a mild upswing in his fortunes in the last couple of races. Phil Andrews finished seventh at Pau, where partner Giuseppe Bugatti scored Vortex Motorsport’s only points in what was a horrifically expensive year for the new team. Bugatti was primarily responsible for the string of wrecks, and was fortunate to escape without a scratch from particularly severe accidents at both Enna and Albacete. If the substantial sponsorship to which he has access is enough to find him a place in F1 (as it almost did with Fondmetal before the Portuguese GP), it could knock a huge hole in Reynard’s profit margins…

The future

Despite the economic climate, Formula 3000 attracted full grids in 1992. What it didn’t attract were full audiences or a great deal of media interest outside the specialist press.

Hardly surprising, while FISA continues to pack it off to the likes of Enna and Alabacete. We ranted at length about Enna’s unsuitability to host international motor races in September’s Motor Sport… but at least you feel safe to use the word ‘race’ in Sicily. Albacete is little more than an overgrown kart track. It’s difficult to get to, has no obvious catchment area (there is a prison next door, but the inmates aren’t allowed out on racedays) and only permits overtaking if you have the absolute complicity of the man ahead. Nogaro is a marginal case, too. The southwestern French circuit is popular with those who appreciate fine wine and good cooking, but it isn’t exactly what you’d call an international facility.

Maybe now is the time to increase the number of Grand Prix support races. Sharing circuits with the F1 crowd wasn’t universally popular back in 1985, but there were administrative teething problems. Nowadays, the events at Hockenheim and Spa both work well, and at least give F3000’s handful of sponsors some return for their investment. Even on F1 qualifying days, you get 50 times the crowd you would on raceday at some F3000 venues.

The calendar also needs to be better balanced: this year, there were two French teams, and the remainder were either British or Italian, yet there was only one event in the UK, and none at all in mainland Italy…

The adoption of control fuel appeared to succeed this year, but other technical issues (such as the advent of traction control) need to be addressed. Primarily, however, the formula’s problems are more to do with logistics than they are with electronics.

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