Avon Tyres British Formula Three Championship - Round 23,
Brands Hatch, Kent, September 27th/28th
© Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite
Report - Round 23:
Weather: Cold, cloudy
It would have been nice to report that the last two races
of the 2003 British F3 Championship were full of drama and
excitement, but if we tried to say that we'd have to lie.
The first race of the weekend in particular, Round 23, turned
into one of those stiflingly dull races you occasionally get
at Brands, where one driver gets away in the lead and everyone
else sits in a well-mannered queue behind him, watching as
he vanishes into the distance.
The start had the potential for chaos, as demonstrated when
Michael Keohane (Carlin Motorsport) made an unusually atrocious
getaway on the green flag lap. If that was his plan for the
afternoon, it wasn't a very good one. Hopefully the green
lights would have more of a galvanising effect on him than
the flags did, because sitting where he was in the middle
of the grid, life was going to get very messy if he didn't
move when everyone else did.
Someone who wouldn't be moving when anyone else did was Will
Power (Fortec Motorsport). The Australian had offed the car
big time in qualifying on Saturday morning and the team was
fighting to get the rebuild finished in time to start the
race. They didn't make it, so the race would have to start
without Power. Robert Doornbos, meanwhile, pulled his Menu
Motorsport car into the pit lane rather than taking his place
on the grid. Mike Baker tried to convince people this was
planned, and to be fair, if the Dutchman had actually joined
in as soon as the race started, rather than emerging half
a lap down, there might have been some store set by this claim.
There were way too many people with plans about at Brands,
and you got the distinct impression that none of them had
been properly tested!
As it was, what actually happened when the lights turned green
was that Nelson Piquet Jr. (Piquet Sports) managed to do exactly
what he had said he would, and made a superb start to be ahead
of Doornbos' team-mate Will Davison before they ever got as
far as Paddock Hill Bend. Piquet had said that if he got away
in front his plan was to get right away from all of them and
it already looked like that was what he was doing. He still
had a shot at the Championship runner-up slot and he was keen
to take that too, though his only rival for that placing,
Jamie Green (Carlin Motorsport) would need a run of bad luck
if he was going to be beaten now.
Alan van der Merwe (Carlin Motorsport) had qualified in a
distant grid spot after crashing out of qualifying around
the same time as Power. He had nothing to prove but he was
still determined to get a good result. Certainly he was completely
awake when the lights turned green and was progressing well.
It didn't take long to leave Robbie Kerr (Alan Docking Racing)
in the dust, but then Kerr was wrestling the Lola-Dome (and
losing badly it seemed).
And so Piquet led from Davison, with Green in 3rd, which was
too much for Piquet. Danny Watts (Hitech Racing) was 4th,
ahead of Eric Salignon (Hitech) and Billy Asaro (P1 Motorsport).
Van der Merwe, meanwhile, was now 13th, bottled up behind
Ernesto Viso (P1 Motorsport) who was locked into his own battle
to beat Steven Kane (T-Sport) to the Scholarship Class title
if he could. It might have made the Venezuelan easier to pass,
though with "Ernie" you can never be too sure. While
Power finally emerged from the pit lane, Lewis Hamilton (Manor
Motorsport) was having a pretty torrid time in his debut F3
race. The teenager had started well enough but then took a
trip through the gravel and dropped himself way back down
the order. He was now behind everyone except Power and he'd
picked up a slow puncture, which would eventually force him
out of the race. The first retirement, though, came from Green.
On lap 4, Green made a mistake. While he was recovering from
the self-inflicted wobble that ensued, Watts arrived and collected
him. That was the end of Green, but Watts' luck held this
time and he escaped, inheriting 3rd place from Green, while
Asaro took advantage of the incident to take 4th place from
Salignon. That kept Piquet's quest for runner-up glory alive,
especially as he really was pulling out a huge gap from Davison
and the rest.
And that really was about it for interest at the front of
the field. Piquet seemed to have found a short cut somewhere
that was unknown to the rest of them, and was now a distant
speck as far as Davison was concerned. From where van der
Merwe was, he couldn't even see Piquet. This was mostly because
he was temporarily stuck behind Piccione in 12th place. When
he finally did get past the Monegasque, he found he had a
much more serious problem. Now he was stuck behind Keohane
and although they are teammates, there's not a lot of love
lost between the two of them. In addition, Michael is difficult
to pass at the best of times, and when he's battling for a
place with that well-known double act of Richard Antinucci
(Promatecme F3) and Ronnie Bremer (Carlin Motorsport) it's
a long way from the best of times. The fact that van der Merwe
had been trying hard was clear in the fact that he had almost
scraped off one of the decals from his front wing (it was
flapping in the breeze), not for the first time this season.
Even he seemed to think better of tackling Keohane though.
It just wasn't worth the trouble.
Someone who would have loved to be that far ahead was Doornbos,
who was starting to catch up with the back markers, before
a technical problem saw him limp back to the pits and out
of the race. Also near the back, Hamilton was making a major
meal of trying to get past Justin Sherwood (Performance Racing),
but as it turned out that was because he had a slow puncture
after his earlier trip through the gravel and he wouldn't
last much longer out there.
In the Scholarship Class, Ernesto Viso (P1 Motorsport) was
leading the chase for the title, but not by very much. His
nearest rival, Steven Kane (T-Sport) was being held at bay
by Robbie Kerr (Alan Docking Racing) as last year's champion
tried to drag the Lola-Dome round the circuit in a sensible
At the very back, the leader of the two Team SYR boys, Rizal
Ramli, seemed to have left some of his front wing behind somewhere.
Still, he didn't seem to need it - it certainly wasn't likely
to make him any faster. The real mystery was how he'd done
it, because it looked as if he'd been going too fast and had
hit someone up the rear
Apart from puzzling over that, there really wasn't a lot to
hold the attention as the race came to a close. Piquet was
impressive but distant, and now Davison was in a lonely 2nd,
while Watts held off Asaro for 3rd. Salignon was 5th from
Robert Dahlgren, who headed home the third Hitech car of Andrew
Thompson, the Scot getting another decent result now the season
is almost over, presumably having, like Salignon, finally
become comfortable with the car and the category. Antinucci
and Bremer were still 8th and 9th and Keohane grabbed the
last point from a clearly frustrated van der Merwe. Piccione
was a lacklustre 12th, while Viso won the Scholarship Class,
as well as taking the extra point for fastest lap. It still
wasn't over though. Kane was 2nd, 15th overall behind Kerr,
and so the Scholarship Class Championship chase would go down
to the wire, and would not be decided until the final round
of the series.
Scott Speed (Alan Docking Racing) and Fairuz Fauzy (Promatecme
F3) were 16th and 17th, ahead of Karun Chandhok (T-Sport),
who was 3rd in the Scholarship class, while Sherwood was next
up and 4th in class. The final places, predictably, were occupied
by Tor Graves (Manor Motorsport), Ramli, Masato Shinoyama
(Team SYR), and Power who never really had a chance, as he
hadn't even started on the same lap as the others. It was
a pretty dull race really, though it underlined what Piquet
is capable of, and made you wonder what might have happened
if he'd managed to get his starts off pat at the start of
the season. Assuming he is allowed to do what he wants, and
stick around for the 2004 series, he has to start the year
as title favourite.