The European F3000 Championship is looking more open than it has done for many seasons. Halfway through what should be a 10-race schedule, only nine points separated the top six in the championship, and series leader Luca Badoer, as consistent as he is fleet, has only clocked up 22 points, despite finishing every race to date in the top six. It is quite feasible, if unlikely, therefore, that the eventual champion might not yet have registered a single point… which could offer scant solace to presently pointless pre-season favourites such as Laurent Aiello and David Coulthard.
So why do we say there should be 10 races?
Because, once again, European F3000 discovers, mid-season, that the original calendar was no more permanent than the HB pencil with which it was apparently first committed to paper. Earlier in the year, the Jerez race was shifted to Barcelona… at two weeks’ notice. Now, with further deposits for travel and accomodation already paid, Le Mans gets the chop.
In its place, according to Peugeot’s Jean Todt, though there had been no official confirmation from FISA as this was written, there would be an extra race laid on at Magny-Cours in October, as part of an F3000/SWC doubleheader. Magny-Cours was only one of several options on a list of possible replacements. Indeed, it was probably the least popular on the list (on the grounds of inaccessibility and shortage of hotels, rather than the available facilities). That spelled disappointment for team principals who were wide-eyed at the prospect of an Indian summer at Paul Ricard (or hopeful that international motorsport might be returning to the verdant majesty of Mugello or the Osterreichring).
Quite why F3000 is allowed to shamble along in this permanent state of uncertainty isn’t clear. The reluctance of motor sport’s governing body to promote anything to the point that it might become an alluring alternative to the Great God F1 is understandable, but F3000 is never likely to do that. It’s a breeding ground for tomorrow’s F1 stars, pure and simple. If FISA and/or FOCA got behind it a little better, they could turn it into quite an asset. Nothing too strenuous is required; brief national media campaigns in each of the host countries (presently Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Belgium and Spain) wouldn’t exactly strain the F1 coffers. Perhaps FISA’s fine bank (which benefited from substantial contributions by Andrea Moda earlier in the year, and has since picked up lesser donations from sporadic investors such as Erik Comas, docked $5000 for being a plonker at Silverstone) could be used to generate publicity for ‘lesser’ series. That would be a highly visible way in which FISA could be seen to be acting in the long-term interests of the whole sport.
At the moment, most church fetes are better organised than the European F3000 series: parishioners usually know where and when to go months in advance, an enviable situation for F3000 operators.
In addition, church fetes would not be held in halls where the floor was likely to collapse, or there was a danger of vistors being hit by falling lead slates. Yet, scandalously, still Formula 3000 goes to Enna-Pergusa…
On the track, away from the administrative nightmares, things have moved on since our last look at developments in F3000. The man of the moment is the aforementioned Lucas Badoer, who has revelled in the ultra-competitiveness of Patrizio Cantu’s Crypton Engineering team, now in its third season of F3000.
Badoer, at 21, is a racing car designer’s dream: small, wiry and incredibly fast. He won four rounds of last year’s Italian F3 series, and placed fourth in the championship. That didn’t offer much of a hint of what was to come when he won back-to-back races at Enna and Hockenheim, where he made full use of several advantages at his disposal.
The first? A Mader-Cosworth engine. Swiss tuner Heini Mader has always been a wizard at extracting a few extra top-end horsepower. At Enna, Badoer was regularly pulling 184 mph coming into the third chicane, where his rivals were struggling to pull 180 with a perfect exit from the second chicane. Badoer’s technique at the latter appeared not to affect his terminal speed. During qualifying at Hockenheim, Badoer and team-mate Michael Bartels were touching 190 mph at the fastest point on the track, only a couple of mph slower than the Jordan-Yamahas which were practising for the following day’s German GP. True, an F3000 car cuts through the air more efficiently with its smaller wings and smaller wheels, but an F1 car should have at least an extra 200 bhp to overcome any extra drag. Whichever way you look at it (and FISA’s scrutineers have done so throughly, twice, without finding anything even remotely illegal). it was an impressive achievement.
The second? A monoshock front suspension set-up of Crypton’s own design. Reynard has tested a similar system of its own, but has yet to use it in race conditions. Crypton tried, unsuccessfully, to disguise the tweak at Enna, where Badoer enjoyed exclusive use. The extra stiffness brings a touch more understeer to the chassis, something for which Badoer has a Prost-like preference. Bartels also had the system at Hockenheim, and admitted that it was taking him time to adapt… though he still finished a delighted second on home soil.
Finally, Badoer is built like a quarter-scale flat jockey. He is over 20 kg lighter than Bartels, which offers obvious power-to-weight benefits. Irrespective of the elements in his favour, Badoer is doing an absolutely brilliant job at present, although his dominance is likely to ebb when we return to circuits possessed of funny things known as ‘corners’. His championship challenge should still be potent, however. At sinuous Barcelona, he was running fourth until his fuel pump expired within yards of the flag, dropping him two places. And Bartels poses a threat, too. He now lies fourth in the table, seven points behind the Italian.
The other winner since MOTOR SPORT’S last F3000 survey has been Andrea Monterrnini, who mopped up in Barcelona to take a long overdue win. In the final stages of a frantic race. Montermini looked likely to be caught by the duelling pair of Laurent Aiello and Emanuele Naspetti… until Naspetti, who was involved in a controversial collision with Montermini in Pau, tried a manoeuvre that was on the ambitious side of optimistic and removed both parties from the race. The Italian has since compensated by finishing second in Enna, where he refused to speak to the media in the wake of criticism in an Italian weekly after the Barcelona incident, and an excellent fourth at Hockenhiem, where a variety of qualifying bothers had left him 13th on the grid. Naspetti, three points behind Badoer in the championship chase, has developed into an accomplished racer in the past couple of seasons, and his credentials are sufficient to warrant participation on a higher plane. He will graduate to F1 with March in the near future.
For Aiello, Barcelona was just part of a cataclysmic series of events that commenced with a damaged monocoque during his first test for Pacific Racing during the winter break. While his less experienced team-mate Jordi Gene has built on his flying start at Silverstone, where he won at a canter, and now ties with Bartels for fourth place. Aiello is suffering a bad dose of the second-season blues. It is astonishing that the Frenchman hasn’t yet scored a point. When he finally looked like scoring one in Germany, albeit for a distant sixth place, he missed a shift and spun off, dropping him to 10th (although at least he finished, which was a step in the right direction).
Last year Allan McNish underwent an even more miserable sequence, but the Scot has bounced back. As he recovers from a viral infection that laid him low earlier in the year, he has become faster and faster. He notched up a couple of points in Barcelona, qualified third at Enna (but retired after a second-lap collision with Jean-Marc Gounon, a conflict for which each blamed the other) and finished a fine third at Hockenheim, rising from seventh on the grid. It was the perfect time in front of the F1 personnel and the sizeable crowd that follows to prove that, whatever it was that led to his dismal form in 1991, it wasn’t the ability to drive a racing car quickly. McNish has formed a solid working partnership with the astute Mike Earle. A late push for the title remains a possibility.
On a less happy note for the Scots, David Coulthard’s season has been a complete nightmare. Tipped, along with Aiello, as one of the men most likely this season, Coulthard has still to register on the scoreboard. At Hockenheim, he ran into the back of Gounon’s Lola as the cars shuffled around to the pit lane before the start of the morning warm-up, and later in the afternoon he demolished one side of his PSR Reynard in an accident at the first corner.
For the first time in his career, the young Scot is having to cope with a string of setbacks, though he remains philosophical and nobody would be foolish enpough to write him off on the strength of one dismal half-season. Generally, PSR has struggled to keep pace with II Barone Rampante, the other (erstwhile) Reynard-Judd exponent, for whom Rubens Barrichello and Montermini have led the way so far. Barrichello led the points table until Hockenheim, thanks largely to his consistency. He finished on the podium in the first three races, but has slipped back of late. Brake trouble sent him skittering off the track in Sicily, and he slammed into a course truck that was trying to retrieve another vehicle from the tyre wall. Had he gone underneath the flat-bed trailer, he would most likely have been decapitated. Mercifully, he hit the vehicle’s front wheel, though the impact was still enough to split his helmet in two…
At the same meeting, IBR turned up with a fourth entry for the first time this year, running Rome-domiciled Sicilian Giovanni Bonanno. Despite a lengthy lay-off, Bonanno ran as high as third before his engine quit after a handful of laps. Bonanno was running a Mader-Cosworth rather than a Judd, which gave IBR very useful direct feedback between comparative performances. It didn’t do them much good at Hockenheim, however, where Barrichello salvaged sixth place only after Aiello’s gyrations. He and Monterrnini will have Mader power for the balance of the year.
Whilst Reynard has won each of the first five races, Lola has so far struggled to pick up crumbs. Fastest representative of the Huntingdon marque has been Jean-Marc Gounon… who has completed only a handful of laps since Pau. At Barcelona he was recovering from a first-corner spin (his second of the year) when he was swiped off the track by an inattentive Fabiano Vandone. This was a shame; at Silverstone, he’d had to play a similar Get Out of Jail card and had finished a stunning fourth. At Enna, the Frenchman collided with McNish on lap two, as aforementioned, and at Hockenheim he suffered a broken differential as he changed up into fifth gear for the first time, a possible knock-on effect of the earlier assault by Coulthard.
According to Gounon, there is nothing wrong with the Lola in race trim, although it has been difficult squeezing the vital last few tenths one requires on a qualifying run with new Avons fitted. Recent changes to the rear suspension and a reprofiled nose section are believed to have helped, but we’re still waiting for Gounon to get past the second lap to prove their effectiveness.
Engine problems have limited the potency of Apomatox’s two young chargers Olivier Panis and Emmanuel Collard, both of whose talent has been disguised of late, though Collard finished a spirited fourth in Spain. After persistent difficulties with Sodemo-tuned Cosworths, team boss Dominique Delestre joined forces with Langford & Peck, and better things are expected once the British preparation company’s variable trumpet system — which looked good during shakedown testing at Snetterton — has been fully developed.
In the last two races, Lola’s only point has been scored by Jerome Policand, at Enna, but there are more desperate cases. Piemme Motors, running highly-rated Italian F3 champion Giambattista Busi, has wheeled out the Raft RT24 with which it started the season. March Cars, owner of the Ralt marque, stopped building these some time ago, hasn’t produced many spares and is doing no development on anything other than its potentially more lucrative F3 and Formula Atlantic programmes. Not surprisingly, Busi is struggling, which is a shame. The man who beat Badoer to the national F3 crown in 1991 must have a few things going for him. A Piemme Raft isn’t one of them.
As far as other Brits are concerned, there has been more gloom than glory. Steve Robertson is only just beginning to get to terms with F3000 after the hiatus brought on by a cracked rib earlier in the year. He finished his first race at Hockenheim, and was pleased to have made progress, even if he was a lowly 18th. Phil Andrews made significant progress at Hockenheim, qualifying and finishing 11th as the Vortex team got through a weekend without any accident damage for the first time this year. Finally, Paul Stewart has enjoyed a better finishing record than PSR colleague Coulthard, but has so far been unable to match occasionally promising qualifying pace in race conditions. S A