Trouble and strife
It has not been a happy start to the 1989 FIA European Formula 3000 Championship season. The results of two of the opening four races are still subject to appeal following post-race protests, but that’s only part of the reason for the fragmented relationships in the once sociable surroundings of the F3000 paddock …
FISA would do well to explain some of the ludicrous decisions of its own stewards. Consider the following: Ross Hockenhull and Alain Ferte both had partial budgets at the start of the season, and both beat a path to the office of Cobra Motorsport’s Colin Bennett. The Briton would contest four-races, the Frenchman six.
Last year, FISA stressed that teams could only change one driver per car per season, so in order to ascertain that his intended jobshare was acceptable, Bennett contacted FISA. Yes, they said, he could interchange the two drivers in the same car, but that would be his lot. One good car, two good drivers and a solution that was acceptable to everybody.
So came Jerez, for the fourth round of the series, and it is Hockenhull’s second turn at the wheel. Ross was allowed to sign on, but was than refused permission to take part in the meeting. The reason? Prevailing steward Marcel Martin ruled that this was a second change: Hockenhull for one race, Ferte for two — there had already been one change, he insisted. Either the latter did the rest of the races, or Bennett could not run the car for which he paid in excess of £70,000.
Try explaining this crass logic to sponsors from whom drivers now require around £450,000 if they want to do a full season with all whistles and bells attached. What it meant, at a time when the formula boasts its lowest level of entries for three years, is that a perfectly good car went to waste, and nobody present could see any sense in that at all. Except, apparently, Monsieur Martin. Similar stupidity prevailed at Pau. After Stephane Proulx had damaged his GA Lola beyond immediate repair, the team built up a completely new car around the tub on non-qualified team-mate Jacques Gondchaux’s car. This took the hard-pressed mechanics most of the night. The following morning, after the Canadian had been allowed to take part in the race warm-up, he was told he could not race: new car, hadn’t been scrutineered (although all the major component parts had), and they wouldn’t scrutineer it now.
Proulx had to explain this extraordinary distortion of common sense to a posse of representatives of sponsor Player’s, who had flown in from Canada just to see him compete. Nice to know that they’ll have returned from Europe with such a strong impression.
Motor racing needs major sponsors like that. It is presumed that by increasing professionalism, the multinationals will come flocking. Unfortunately, Formula 3000 is not running along professional lines at present. It is most certainly not the fault of series co-ordinator John Macdonald, himself a former entrant, nor is it that of the teams. The blame lies entirely with FISA’s bureaucrats.
Outside the scrutineering bay, there are at least a few rays of sunshine. For one thing, and perhaps most importantly, the depth of talent remains, and the championship contest is likely to be as close as any of the four that have gone before.
After Jerez, Frenchman Jean Alesi leads the title-chase, albeit with a paltry 14 points. He took his Camel/Eddie Jordan Racing Reynard to a maiden victory at Pau, and has consolidated his challenge with fourth at Silverstone and fifth in Spain.
Pau may have been sweetness and light for Alesi, but for most of the 21 starters it was something of a nightmare. Only five of them made it to the first corner intact; the rest were piled into each other having barely left the grid. Happily, that necessitated the only red flag to have blotted the series’ copybook thus far. And amazingly, all but five of those in the scrapyard took part when the event recommenced 45 minutes later.
Alesi’s team-mate Martin Donnelly won two of his five races with EJR last year, and added a brace of seconds to place third in the final points table. He thus started the year as a big favourite, but has yet — pending appeals — to register a point.
After spinning on his own oil at Silverstone, he dominated Vallelunga, only to be protested out by Jean-Paul Driot, manager of the works Lola team. Driot argued successfully that Donnelly’s Reynard had used a revised nose section, contravening FISA’s regulation that the nosebox of all cars must pass a strict crash-test, and that any modifications require further such examination. EJR has appealed …
Martin has since dropped out of third place at both Pau and Jerez, courtesy of an accident and a couple of punctures.
A new maturity has characterised Thomas Danielsson’s driving this year, the Swede returning to Madgwick Motorsport, with whom he enjoyed some success in British Formula Three. Having lost his licence pending an eye operation last July, he bounced back with a quite brilliant victory at Silverstone, and was running second to Donnelly when he spun off at Vallelunga.
Reigning French Formula Three Champion Erik Comas has made a stunning impact with the works-blessed DAMS Lola team, notching up useful points in each race he has started. His drive to fourth (following Donnelly’s exclusion) at Vallelunga was quite breathtaking, having started half a lap down after stalling on the grid. Comas was second at Jerez to fancied team-mate Eric Bernard, whose miserable run of luck appeared to have ended until both DAMS cars were protested immediately after the race … This time, the result stood, but that decision, like that at Vallelunga, is subject to appeal.
Bernard, as affable as he is talented, was punted out of the Silverstone season-opener escaping a high-speed accident with nothing worse than a bruised knee — fair return for a 140 mph impact which tore the engine clean from his car! He dominated Pau until careless marshalling caused him to get stuck behind a brace of stranded cars. Even then, he stormed back through to second place before tripping over Mark Blundell.
The latter, still seeking his first F3000 win, has looked capable of producing such a result with his Middlebridge Reynard, but has thus far had to settle for third at Silverstone as his best effort. The team is new to F3000, but with Gary Anderson engineering (Gary looked after champion Roberto Moreno last year), Mark has been bang on the pace everywhere.
First Racing began the year with a trio of Leyton March 89Bs, but started a gradual switch-over to Reynard after the opening race. Team leader Marco Apicella has two front-row starts to his credit, although his engine seized while leading at Vallelunga and he was forced to take off from the pit-lane at Pau when the technical wizards declared his car was leaking oil. So why let him start at all? Better ask them. In the event, he charged through to second place without spilling a drop.
Ironically, Apicella’s team-mate Fabrizio Giovanardi inherited victory at Vallelunga (after Donnelly was kicked out) in one of the outgoing March chassis, but has yet to reproduce the form elsewhere.
One of the most impressive rookies, if not the most, has been Eric van de Poele, one of GA Motorsport’s four Lola occupants. Sixth at Silverstone, third at Vallelunga and fourth in Jerez, he was lying fifth at Pau when his Cosworth caught fire, courtesy of an oil-leak. With a solid touring car background but comparatively little single seater experience, he has been a revelation.
The Belgian’s team-mate Philippe Favre took pole at Silverstone, finished second to Danielsson, and has also gone well elsewhere, although he has yet to add to his opening points tally.
After blitzing the British F3 series at its first attempt, Pacific Racing has graduated immediately to F3000, taking highly-rated Finn JJ Lehto (née Jyrki Jarvilehto) with it. Ferrari’s official test contractee lost third place for an unfortunate technical infringement at Silverstone, but has since had two points finishes and cannot be discounted for a third consecutive championship with Pacific, to put alongside his FF2000 and F3 crowns. Team-mate Eddie Irvine lost second place in Jerez with engine trouble.
Amongst the old guard, reigning champion team Bromley Motorsport is running a year-old Reynard for Gary Brabham, who still lacks a proper sponsor for the series, although old F3 flame NEC is supporting his British F3000 Championship campaign.
There are several new things about F3000 this year, and not just amongst the teams. The arrival of Mugen V8 engines has produced three wins (on the road) for the Japanese concern. Donnelly’s Vallelunga exclusion let the Honda-based Judd get a share of the limelight, while Danielsson’s Silverstone victory proved that the faithful Cosworth is far from obsolete.
The balance of power between the chassis available to F3000 competitors has continued along last year’s trend. Ralts are no longer manufactured for this formula following the March takeover, and the popularity of March tubs themselves has continued to plummet in the face of the Reynard and Lola options.
When Jean Mosnier’s Lola Motorsport (which, having lost the works contract, was running Marches!) fell foul of “moneyitis” after Silverstone, Leyton March set up its own team to run a lone car — now the only March in the field, in fact — for highly-rated Italian Mauro Martini. As yet, the team is so far behind in terms of test-mileage that Martini’s results can hardly be considered representative.
Japanese concern Footwork has sent its eponymous chassis over for Ukyo Katayama, who has to combine most qualifying sessions with geography lessons, having limited knowledge of European circuits, and has twice failed to qualify.
One thing this formula has always had is strength in depth. The numbers may have dwindled slightly since the staggering population explosion of 1986, but the quality remains. One just wonders how long it will do so while the reins are left in the hands of the existing rulemakers. LWTNS