Green he may be in terms of his F3000 experience, but you’d never have guessed as much from Gil de Ferran’s performance in the second round of the European F3000 Championship at Silverstone. Disappointed at his failure to capitalise on a front row grid position at Donington Park six days earlier, where his race ended in the gravel, he compensated in as emphatic a style as has ever been seen in European F3000 history. On pole position by the best part of a second, he tore away from the opposition as though they were still driving their road cars.
It wasn’t just a first success for de Ferran, either. It was a first F3000-victory for Paul Stewart Racing, and it was a strong indication of just how well Dave Stubbs’ team is functioning at present The relationship between drivers de Ferran and Paul Stewart is excellent, generating a happy atmosphere, and the latter has added a new dimension to his racing this year. In addition to basic speed, which has been evident since his F3 days, he has added a steely resolve not to capitulate in a racing situation. In each of the first two races he has qualified third, raced hard, and finished fifth. Former PSR driver David Coulthard got a close-up view of the new Stewart at Silverstone, during a magnificent stint which saw him prise his way through from ninth on the grid to second at the flag. “Paul’s a different driver now,” smiled his fellow Scot. “I have never, ever seen him drive so aggressively. That’s not a complaint. He was totally fair. I’m really pleased for him. He’s starting to go well.”
For Coulthard, like his close pal de Ferran, Silverstone provided relief. Keith Wiggins’ Pacific Racing team didn’t have time for much pre-season testing, and its cars weren’t reliable at Donington, David retiring on the last lap when in a points-scoring position. It’s a tribute to Pacific’s powers of recovery that both Coulthard and Michael Bartels made it onto the podium in round two.
There weren’t just changing fortunes for the Donington losers: if you fared well in race one, chances were you’d have a lousy weekend six days hence.
Olivier Beretta surprised a lot of people at Donington, not so much for the speed which earned him pole position, but for the way he held off more highly-fancied runners such as Pedro Lamy, Olivier Panis and de Ferran in the race itself. Between them, the three pursuers have an impressive pedigree. Beretta has a solitary French F3 Championship victory, back in 1990, to his credit. The Monegasque was well prepared, however, after a solid winter’s testing with Forti Corse, and he never put a foot wrong. Even when the race was stopped after a minor early accident. Beretta calmly carried on as before. A shame then that he looked so lacklustre at Silverstone. He qualified fourth, but was forced to start from the back after stalling on the grid. He never made the progress expected of him, even though the likes of Coulthard proved that overtaking, while not the work of a moment, was by no means impossible (as it had more or less proved to be at Donington).
De Ferran aside, most impressive newcomer has been Lamy. Still driving Team Crypton’s championship-winning 1992 chassis, the Portuguese drives with far greater maturity than you might expect from a 21 year-old. And he has a level-headed approach, accepting the frustration of a non-start at Silverstone (a distributor problem promoted a savage misfire on the warm-up lap) with equanimity. No tears, no tantrums. His second place in the opening race was impressive in the extreme, and he should have a new car for the next race, at Pau. Not that it looks as though he is in urgent need of it.
DAMS has emerged as the strongest element of a powerful-looking French challenge. Olivier Panis finished third at Donington, and inherited sixth at Silverstone after the unfortunate Alessandro Zampedri, who had channelled his early exuberance into controlled aggression and risen up the order accordingly, was chucked out when his Nordic Reynard was found to be a couple of kilos underweight (despite having been proved legal on the same scales 24 hours earlier).
Panis’s teammate Frank Lagorce also looks useful, witness his fourth place at Silverstone, as does Vortex Motorsport’s new recruit Massimiliano Papis.
Papis, fourth at Donington, is totally dedicated to his career, but has an unusually realistic approach. If he feels that he and the team have given it their best shot this season, and the results are lacking, then he’ll quit. He doesn’t see the point in busting a gut to become a GP driver, much as he wants to, if practical experience tells him that his true vocation lies elsewhere. Even if he had an unhappy time at Silverstone, due to a mysterious, and enduring, chassis imbalance, his Donington form suggested he’ll probably see reason to carry on with his present career come October.
Less positive has been the form of expected front-runner Apomatox. Some people tipped Emmanuel Collard as a likely title contender, but the Frenchman has been plagued by accidents. At Donington, he did his ribs a power of no good by hitting the wall at Starkeys Bridge in practice. Team-mate ‘Jules’ Boullion finished a promising seventh on that occasion, and was similarly placed at Silverstone when his gear selector broke.
Their woes have been nothing compared to those of MIS, however. The new Stuttgart-based team is preparing its own Cosworth DFVs. Although that engine has now been usurped by the AC, as favoured by PSR, Pacific, DAMS, Nordic and Vortex, amongst others. Beretta and Lamy have proved that there is still plenty of life left in the 26 year-old original. The MIS units do not appear to be a match for those prepared by Heini Mader, however, and the outcome is that a proven talent of Antonio Tamburini’s calibre is struggling at the back of the field. Discussions on the subject were post-Silverstone.
The only other engine in use this year, the Judd KV, has looked competitive in the hands of Mythos drivers Giampiero Simoni and Vincenzo Sospiri, the former of whom scored a point at Donington, while Omegaland’s older KV-powered Reynards have shown flashes of promise.
Before the season commenced, there were fears that Reynard’s new sequential gearbox might prove to be more trouble than it was worth, but the first two races have blown that particular myth. There were certainly teething problems, but race reliability thus far has been good. (It’s the same in Japan, too, where sequential shift Reynards and Lolas have both now won rounds of the national championship.)
Indeed, the course workers have had more trouble from the trick transmission than the teams. Finding neutral on an abandoned car has not been the work of a moment (there is a tell-tale light for the drivers’ benefit, but this functions only if the car’s electrical system is operative), and the accident which led to the Donington race stoppage was banal in the extreme. Adrian Reynard subsequently ventured up to the commentary tower and explained, live on air, how to disengage drive for the benefit of the perplexed marshals. At Silverstone. Reynard-designer Malcolm Oastler gave the assembled officials a pre-race pep talk, and the meeting passed off without a hitch.
With Pau coming up, on May 31, Oastler might need to take a crash-course in technical French. The challenging street circuit, highlight of the F3000 calendar, is notorious for taking a heavy toll on even minor lapses in concentration. S A