Breaking the mould?
Success in the European F3000 Championship has, in the past, been excellent news for drivers . . . but a gloomy omen for teams. The statistics are quite astonishing.
Since Christian Danner graduated to Grand Prix racing on the strength of his victory in the inaugural championship in 1985, each of his successors has followed suit. As yet, Danner, Ivan CapeIli, Stefano Modena, Roberto Moreno, Jean Alesi, Erik Comas and the reigning champion, Christian Fittipaldi, have not won an F1 race between them, though four of them have ascended the second step of a World Championship podium. Indeed, none of the European F3000 graduates presently in F1 has won a Grand Prix, but 22 of this year's 32 contractees have spent time in the series, not to mention the likes of Mark Blundell, Eric Bernard, Martin Donnelly, Alessandro Zanardi and Williams-Renault's regular test driver Damon Hill. All in all, it's an impressive strike rate.
To the teams under whose wings the aforementioned champions flourished, however, fate has been somewhat harsher.
Danner ran with Bob Sparshott's BS Automotive, who stayed in the formula for two further years, achieving little success and eventually being forced out of the sport with the team facing financial ruin. Sparshott's independent BS Engineering concern flourishes as a major supplier to the industry, however, though it has made no attempt to return. "The money's just too silly," reported Sparshott on a rare visit to Spa last year.
CapeIli was guided by Cesare Gariboldi's compact Genoa Racing outfit, run from a small workshop behind the proprietor's house. When it first started in F3000. Genoa didn't even have a truck of its own, but used to hitch lifts to events with other Italian teams. It was a shining example to all of what could be achieved with a gifted driver and limited funding. While CapeIli and Gariboldi re-introduced the art of smiling to the F1 paddock, with March, Genoa's F3000 fortunes dwindled. The following two seasons brought nothing but headaches for the popular, and increasingly busy, Gariboldi. After sporadic participation in 1988, Genoa's F3000 team faded away. Tragically, the team founder lost his life shortly afterwards in a road accident. March's F1 cars have been type-prefixed 'CG' ever since, as a lasting tribute.
Onyx, champion with Modena in 1987. had an appalling '88 season before abandoning the formula to try its hand at F1. Ultimately, the promising F1 project failed. Having been sold on to Peter Monteverdi, it eventually folded altogether. Bromley Motor-sport enjoyed 1988, winning four races and the title with Roberto Moreno. By the end of the following year, the name had disappeared from the scene, although fragments of the team live on today at GJ Motorsport.
The only F3000 title-holder to have won a race post-championship is EJR. which steered Jean Alesi to the 1989 crown and had Eddie Irvine win at Hockenheim in 1990. By and large though, 1990 was a tough year for Jordan's Camel-funded team. He subsequently dropped F3000 and created Jordan Grand Prix, the rise of which has been well chronicled within the pages of MOTOR SPORT and elsewhere. Despite Jordan's star continuing in the ascendant, however, the F3000 malaise continues. Latest victim is DAMS, who enjoyed the champagne flavour of 1990 championship success with Erik Comas. The bubbles fizzled out last year, however, as the team mustered only a handful of championship points, despite comprehensive backing from Marlboro.
The portents do not look good, then, for 1991 victor Pacific Racing. Maybe the bug has already struck? Last year, damage to either of the team's two cars was minimal, neither of its drivers having an accident worth the name all season. Then, just 40 laps into the very first test session of the 1992 campaign, new recruit Laurent Aiello left the Le Mans Bugatti circuit at high speed, inflicting severe damage to his Reynard after a suspected steering failure . . .
We'll stick our necks out, however, and predict that Pacific will have a good season once the racing starts at Silverstone over the weekend of May 9/10. Despite being hamstrung by the uncooperative Lola T91/50 last season, his first in the formula, former Monaco F3 winner Aiello emerged from a difficult campaign with great credit. His efforts at Jerez in particular, the nadir of Lola's season, were a triumph of determination over an ill-balanced chassis.
At the rapid right-hander where Martin Donnelly had his horrendous accident during qualifying for the 1990 Spanish GP, those using Reynards were able to slam through the corner flat out, with nary a hint of a wobble. The Lolas, frankly, looked frightening, but Aiello never once backed off. As the car bucked every which way, his reactions were superb. Eventually, he reduced the chassis to a pile of steaming rubble elsewhere on the circuit, but just to have qualified in the top 10 was quite a feat. Aiello also had the distinction of obtaining Lola's only pole position of the year, at Spa. His efforts impressed Marlboro; he is the only driver to benefit from substantial funding from the tobacco giant's central budget this season. Pacific's cause will be abetted by the presence of promising Spaniard Jordi Gene in its second car. Pre-season testing form points to several obvious rivals for the ultra-rapid Aiello. One is young Scot David Coulthard, who continues to progress up Paul Stewart Racing's 'staircase of talent'. At the time of writing. Coulthard had yet to sample a '92 Reynard in anger, but had set impressive test times in a loaned 91D with Mugen power. (PSR will race with the promising new Judd KV V8, Engine Developments having produced a compact unit which boasts a useful weight advantage.)
Coulthard was just pipped to the British F3 crown last year by Rubens Barrichello, but F3 insiders reckon that the Scot is the better racer. Barrichello moves up with the grandiosely titled II Barone Rampante (named in honour of team proprietor Giuseppe Cipriani's favourite novel!), and has shown good pace in testing — though both Coulthard and Aiello have consistently had the edge on him thus far. Winter testing can often prove misleading, of course, but there is little doubt that the aforementioned trio will be in contention from the start.
The situation at IBR should be interesting, for the ambitious Italian team has signed Andrea Montermini as team-mate to its precocious young Brazilian. Montermini is entering his third F3000 season. He should, by rights, have a couple of his wins under his belt by now, but mechanical problems stopped him in his tracks at both Pau and Hockenheim last year. He was leading comfortably on both occasions. Barrichello is unaccustomed to the notion of a super-quick team-mate, and will have to get used to the idea smartish.
There could be just as much intrigue at PSR, of course, where Coulthard partners fellow Scot and PSR patron Paul Stewart. Stewart's F3000 baptism was a tough one, but he refused to be put off by the capricious behaviour of last year's Lola and he never gave up trying. The experience won't have done him any harm. Like other sons of famous fathers, Paul has been subject to numerous snide barbs since he took up the sport. He is, however, a very capable racer.
Of the more experienced F3000 campaigners, Jean-Marc Gounon could be the man to revive DAMS's fortunes. Despite its experiences last season, DAMS has remained faithful to Lola, whose reputation hangs on the performance of the promising new 192/50. Gounon is the most spectacular starter in F3000, if not in the whole of motor racing. Last year, he hauled his recalcitrant Ralt from the back row at Mugello up to 13th place . . . before the first lap was complete.
Such heroics shouldn't be required this season. Two years in the category have given him solid experience. He won at Pau last year, and also triumphed on the road at Enna . . . only to be denied by a one-minute penalty for a jump-start. The observer must have had sharp eyes; not even the TV cameras picked up any such 'misdemeanour'. Drag racing reflexes to the green light can have their disadvantages.
Gounon is partnered by rookie Frederic Gosparini, who showed occasional speed in British F3000 last season.
Gounon notwithstanding. Lola has another useful ally in Damon Hill. Usually the fastest man on the track in 1990, Damon was another to be sucked under by the Lola blues in '91, although by carving his way into the lead at Brands Hatch he did provide us with some of the year's closest motor racing, as the rest of the field bunched up behind . . . Hill was due to run a Judd-powered T92/50 prepared by Alolique (ne Middlebridge), for whom he has driven since 1990. However, as we closed for press the team's financial situation was uncertain, although a rescue package was being put together to ensure the Englishman's participation.
Surprise package of 1991 Emanuele Naspetti stays with the Forti team that hauled him from the ranks of midfield plodder to championship contender. He won four races on the trot mid-season, then fell asleep when the championship title was firmly within reach. Ford's fuel supply was the source of much speculation last year; indeed, the sample taken at the Nogaro finale proved to be mildly in excess of FISA's permitted octane allowance. That didn't detract, however, from marvellous drives at Brands Hatch, Hockenheim and Spa earlier in the year. This is Naspetti's fourth year of F3000, though he's still only 24. For his career's sake, it needs to be his last.
Intermittently rapid Italian F3 racer Alessandro Zampedri provides support.
Allan McNish could do with some of whatever it was that stirred Naspetti from his slumbers in the middle of last year. As we chronicled in February's Motor SportT, the Scot appeared destined to be heading inexorably for F1 after a superb debut F3000 season with DAMS in 1990. And then it all turned sour. At the time of writing. McNish was working flat out to finalise a budget to run with the excellent Mike Earle's 3001 International, as team-mate to Japanese F3 graduate Hideki Noda. Earle, with his common sense and professional approach. is just the bloke to put McNish's career back on the rails. If the deal comes off, the partnership should produce spectacular results.
There are several other interesting combinations, too. GJ Motorsport has acquired the combined services of fiery Frenchman Jerome Policand and Coloni F1 refugee Pedro Chaves; Michael Bartels returns after four unsuccessful GP attempts to qualify a Lotus, and will run alongside promising Italian Luca Badoer at Crypton Engineering, one of the many business interests of Patrizio Cantu, co-owner of the now defunct AGS F1 operation; Apomatox could emerge from the doldrums with young French chargers Olivier Panis and Emmanuel Collard, the latter of whom showed stunning pace when he joined the team at Le Mans late in 1991; Briton Steve Robertson has joined forces with Superpower Engineering after a disappointing F3 season: Nelson Piquet has set up a new team to run a Ralt for his Monagesque protégé Olivier Beretta; the only other confirmed Ralt entry is from another outfit new to F3000, Piemme Motors, who will run Italian F3 champion Giambattista Busi; Vortex Motorsport, previously integrated within Superpower, has branched out to run a brace of Reynards for series returnee Phil Andrews and rapid, but sometimes haphazard, Italian Giuseppe Bugatti; Yorkshireman Richard Dean, an impressive debutant in 1990. is waiting on the sidelines, desperately seeking the funds to compete.
According to FISA there are 37 official registrations for the series; by our reckoning, there should be at least 30 cars vying for 26 places on the grid at Silverstone. And a dozen of them have to be regarded as potential winners.
On paper, the championship appears to be wide open. The only safe prediction is that the welcome introduction of control fuel means we'll be able to wander the pit garages in comfort . . . without having to resort to half-hourly doses of Optrex. SA