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Race No. 4: Qualifying Report Round 8

Date: 29 May 2004
Track: Pau/FRA (2,760 km)
64th Grand Prix Automobile de Pau, France - 29th/31st June 2004
© Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite

First Qualifying - Race 2:
Humid, very hot.
Here's what we said last year: "The weather is fine and sunny, the temperature edging its way up into the 30s, and the Pyrenees are almost invisible in the heat haze. The sound of racing engines echoing off tall buildings gives way to the less reassuring sound of the gentle crump of bodywork against Armco…This can only be Pau!" Strangely enough, it seems to be just the same this year. However, due to irreconcilable differences between the Formula 3 Euro series (which is FIA approved) and the other Formula Three championships (which are FIA-sanctioned) - and please don't ask us to explain the difference - this is no longer an international Cup race (or whatever they want to call it this year) and is instead Rounds 7 and 8 of the Euro F3 Series, which has already wended its way round the greater part of Europe before arriving here in France. After a somewhat lively pair of free practice sessions, qualifying finally started a little short of 6pm, though it wasn't any cooler than it had been for the afternoon session.
Hopefully, though, they were all going to behave a little better than they had in free practice, what with collapsing suspension (Nicholas Lapierre [Opel Team Signature-Plus] twice, but that's what happens when you keep hitting the kerbs), and people running up the rear end of other people's Dallaras (Thank you, Lewis Hamilton - Manor Motorsport), to say nothing of general ignorance of yellow flags (Tom Kimber-Smith - Kolles - this does mean you!).
Anyway, with only a dozen or so cars out in each session, and no more than 20 minutes at their disposal, it seemed likely that we might get away with this, at least this afternoon. The first driver to haul himself out was Andreas Zuber (Opel Team Rosberg), so he was also the first to set a time. In previous year's times have started in the 1.20s and only come down slowly. This time the provisional time was in the 1 minute 15 second range by the end of the first flying lap. Jamie Green (ASM Formule 3) was soon up there too, only to be shoved out of the way by Alexandros Margaritis (Opel Team KMS), who was first into the 1.14s. With last year's pole time (1.11:999) to aim for, it seemed likely that times would continue to fall rapidly during the twenty-minute session, despite the humidity and track temperatures that reached 42ºC! And so it proved. With only 10 cars on the track so far, no one could complain of traffic, and Green soon lowered the target time to 1.13. There was obviously more to come. The order was interesting at this stage, with Green leading from the rookie, Roberto Streit (Prema Powerteam), Eric Salignon (ASM Formule 3), Margaritis, Adrian Sutil (Kolles), Philippe Baron (Team Ghinzani), Hannes Neuhauser (HBR Motorsport), Zuber, Greg Franchi (Opel Team Signature) and Charles Zwolsman (Manor Motorsport).
Green was still flying, and was soon into the 1.12s, while the others trailed in his wake, still in the 1.13s, but there was plenty of time left. With 12 minutes still to run, Green upped the stakes with a 1.11, while Salignon was showing his pace, the refugee from British F3 (where he had a miserable time last year) was looking smooth and confident round the streets, and was closing on Green. Streit dropped to 3rd, while Lapierre was also on the move, making up for two crashes in free practice by slotting onto the 4th row of the grid while he wound himself up to try and take pole from Green. He was temporarily demoted by Margaritis, but soon snatched 2nd. However, it was still only a 1.12, and then Streit pushed him back by going 2nd.
At the halfway mark it was still Green, from Salignon, Streit, Lapierre, Margaritis, Zuber, Franchi, Baron, Sutil, Neuhauser, Bruno Spengler (ASL-Mucke Motorsport/ADAC Berlin-Brandenburg) and Zwolsman.
Seeing Spengler that far down was a bit odd, but he'd only just joined in, so there was still time for him to improve. And Lapierre wasn't finished yet either, improving to 2nd again. However, the 1.11s were proving elusive, despite everyone's best endeavours. If anyone could do it, it was probably going to be Lapierre. Green seemed to have peaked and was now having trouble matching his earlier times, and while he was trying to find more speed, Lapierre took provisional pole with 1.11:719. Having been at the back, Spengler and Zwolsman were also showing signs of improvement, while Salignon was now in the 1.11s as well. This simply seemed to spur Lapierre to greater efforts, which in turn made Salignon try harder. And then Salignon was up to 2nd, ahead of Green. And then things seemed to slow right down. Margaritis had an off at Gare, which sparked a fit of yellows and prevented any improvements anyway. By now, the top 4, including Streit, were all in the 1.11s. The order as the flag dropped was Lapierre, from Salignon, Green, Streit, Zwolsman, Spengler, Zuber, Margaritis, Franchi, Sutil, Baron and Neuhauser. However, Baron has been awarded a penalty, which will drop him down 10 places on the next race grid. Quite how this is to be done when he never qualifies far enough up to have 10 drivers behind his is anyone's guess…
Group B was soon underway, and Daniel la Rosa (HBR Motorsport) also got the ball rolling with a 1.15. He was soon joined by Robert Kath (Opel Team KMS), who moved into 2nd. He was quickly displaced by Marco Bonanomi (Team Ghinzani), while Tom Kimber-Smith (Kolles) appeared to be somewhat nervous; as well he might be given his experiences with the waved yellows in free practice. He'd admitted to having given himself a fright. It all looked a bit odd to start with, with la Rosa fastest, from Robert Kath (Opel Team KMS) and Alexandre Premat (ASM Formule 3), who was soon ahead with the first 1.12. Franck Perera (Prema Powerteam) then moved to 2nd but he was still in the 1.13s, while Kath was now 3rd with a 1.14. This session was taking some time to get up to speed.
Rookie Giedo van der Garde (Opel Team Signature-Plus) took 3rd away from Kath, and the order began to look a little more normal. Premat was ahead of Perera (both in the 1.12s), but Kimber-Smith was next up in a 1.13. That couldn't last - and didn't - as Katsuyuki Hiranaka (Prema Powerteam) woke up to go 3rd. Oddly enough, as the session wore on, Nico Rosberg (Team Rosberg) seemed very reluctant to come out to play, as did Hamilton and Loïc Duval (Opel Team Signature). Once they finally emerged it was easier to get an idea of where the session was going.
Premat was a man in very relaxed mood, but he was also impressively fast. He soon reduced the target time to 1.11:815 and it looked as if there was a lot more to come. The order kept right on shuffling, and the only thing that seemed to be stable was Premat on provisional pole. As we got close to the halfway point, Premat was well and truly established, with Perera in 2nd, ahead of Robert Kubica (ASL-Mücke Motorsport/ADAC Berlin-Brandenburg) and Rosberg, but the Hamilton went 3rd, only to be knocked back down by Perera, while van der Garde went 2nd.
The order was now Premat, van der Garde, Perera, Hamilton, Kubica, Rosberg, Hiranaka, Duval, Kath, Gotz, la Rosa, TKS and Bonanomi. Rosberg seemed to be having trouble getting going, but was now beginning to feature towards the top of the times. He put in a fresh effort to go 3rd, finally getting into the 1.11s. However, van der Garde hadn't given up the fight and promptly demoted Rosberg. And it wasn't over yet! Kubica shot up to 2nd, which meant Rosberg was now 4th.
However, the weather was beginning to cool off, which meant that further improvements looked likely. Rosberg was a long way from finished with the session and took the second row grid slot with a 1.11:556. So Kubica was now 3rd. Duval improved to 5th, by which time all the top 5 were in the 1.11s. This was also the faster Group, so Premat looked set for overall pole (though you can never be too sure here until you actually see it in print). And suddenly, as with the first group, the Kumho tyres seemed to have reached their limits, and improvements were hard to come by. Hamilton was able to haul himself up to 6th, only to have Perera go back ahead of him to claim 5th.
In the closing stages, Kimber-Smith edged up from the back, but only as far as row 11, while Perera found a late spurt of speed to claim a 4th row slot. As with Group A, there was a car off - possibly Hamilton but no one seemed too sure - causing yellows to be waved, but the session was all but over anyway. And so the order in Group B was Premat, by a very large margin, from Rosberg, Kubica, Perera, van der Garde, Duval, Hamilton, Hiranaka, Kath, Götz, Kimber-Smith, la Rosa and Bonanomi.
In effect, that means Premat on pole, alongside Lapierre for Monday afternoon's race.



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