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06.-08. August 2004
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Marlboro Masters 2004

07 August 2004: Qualifying 1/2
Track: Zandvoort (4,30749 km)
Weather: Cloudy / Track: Dry

18 August 2004 (tho/wai)

14th Marlboro Masters, Circuit Park Zandvoort, The Netherlands
August 6th/8th 2004
by Stella-Maria Thomas and Lynne Waite

The 14th running of the Marlboro Masters of Formula Three was held, as usual, on the ex-Grand Prix circuit at Zandvoort in the Netherlands. Also as usual, the cream of the world's F3 drivers were present, competing for a title that has been won in the past by the likes of David Coulthard and Takuma Sato, both established Grand Prix drivers now. As a result, everyone wants to do well here. The morning's free practice proved something of a pointer towards what would happen later, the Mercedes-engined runners from the Euroseries being on the pace from the very start. The only non-Mercedes driver to challenge them at the start of the weekend was Adam Carroll (P1 Motorsport), his Mugen-Honda apparently well and truly up to the challenge.
With a very short break between the free sessions and the first of the two qualifying sessions, the teams had to hope they'd gone the right way with set up. If they hadn't, there wouldn't be a lot of opportunity to get it right. The odd-numbered cars would go out first, 21 runners at a time being quite enough even on a track as long as this one.
First to show was Roberto Streit (Prema Powerteam), who crossed the line to set a time just faster than that of Fairuz Fauzy (P1 Motorsport), the Malaysian needing to show that he's as good as Carroll, if he could. Local here Giedo van der Garde (Opel Signature Plus) was also busy trying to show that he was worth the sponsorship money Marlboro had spent on him for this event. Of the Dutchmen present, smart thinking was that the tobacco money was in completely the wrong place. While this was going on, the times started to come down from the initial 1 minute 36 second level, with both Lewis Hamilton (Manor Motorsport) and Nelson Piquet (Piquet Sports) taking a turn at topping the times. With Hamilton promptly banging in a time that was over a second faster than Piquet, it was starting to look as if the Euro Series boys were likely to have the edge, especially if they had a Mercedes engine behind them.
Things often get a little weird in the early stages of an F3 practice session, and this one was no exception, with Andrew Thompson (Hitech Racing) going 2nd before his team-mate Lucas di Grassi pushed him down to 3rd, only to lose out to Bruno Spengler, the Canadian driving for ASL-Team Mücke Motorsport seeming to be much faster than anyone would have expected. The next significant change came when Eric Salignon (ASM Formule 3) shot up the order to provisional pole, much as he had at Pau. This was Eric's opportunity to show the British series runners how much better he was than some people believed after his rather dismal showing in 2003 in the UK. He was getting his message across in fine style, especially as Hamilton and Piquet were behind him.
The next ASM Formule 3 driver to move to the top of the pile was Jamie Green, though he didn't get to hold it for long, being knocked back down by Salignon within seconds. Andreas Zuber (Team Rosberg) was fighting Piquet for 3rd, but he Brazilian wasn't about to be beaten by an Austrian with a very strange beard! Hamilton was still charging hard, and was the first man to get into the 1.33s, thus causing everyone else to start focussing hard on what they needed to do to get on terms with Ron Dennis's favourite F3 driver.
Around the ten-minute mark there was a general flurry of activity in the pits, with most people at least making setting changes, even if they didn't change tyres. The order, with a third of the session gone, was Hamilton, Salignon, Green, Piquet, Zuber, Spengler, Thompson, Loïc Duval (Opel Signature), Streit and, in the only non-Dallara, Danny Watts (Promatecme F3). While most of the runners were loitering in the pits, things got even stranger, with the likes of Tom Kimber-Smith (Team Kolles) shooting up the order to go 5th, although Lucas di Grassi (Hitech Racing) was a much more plausible front-runner, slotting in in 4th. With van der Garde now 7th, Kimber-Smith again went faster, and reclaimed that 5th place. This was just a little strange! It got even stranger when Zuber arrived in the top 10, in 7th place. Di Grassi, meanwhile, was making the most of having a clear track in front of him, and was on provisional pole. Danilo Dirani (Carlin Motorsport) was 3rd, with Duval showing strongly too at this stage, the youngster now 2nd. There seemed to be a strong trend in the direction of people whose names begin with D…
Which in no way explained what Marcus Marshall (Fortec Motorsport) was doing in 7th place. As the midpoint of the session came and went the order was constantly changing, with van der Garde now 2nd, and Katsuyuki Hiranaka (Prema Powerteam) going 6th. Kimber-Smith was still hanging around the top 10 in 7th, while Zuber was an utterly implausible 3rd. What wasn't implausible was Watts putting in a tremendous effort to snatch 2nd place. It just remained to be seen if he could keep it. He should have been joined by Joao Paulo D'Oliveira, but the Japanese series runners had pretty much stayed away, citing a clash of dates, so it was left to Watts to do what he could with the Lola all on his own.
With the final 10 minutes of the session still to run, Spengler catapulted up the order to go fastest, just ahead of di Grassi, Watts, van der Garde, Zuber, Duval, Hamilton (who had been very quiet so far), Dirani, Marshall and Hiranaka.
There followed something of a quiet spell while the Kumhos settled down again, and everyone waited for someone else to make the first move. The change, when it came, was, predictably enough, from one of the ASM Formule 3 boys, this time Jamie Green who moved ahead to 3rd. Piquet was finally starting to hit his stride too, with 4th. He wasn't the fastest Brazilian, but as long as Streit was only 9th, he wasn't the slowest either. The fastest in fact was di Grassi, who grabbed pole in a blink and you'd have missed it moment, only to have Salignon take it back with a time in the 1.32s. Now the gauntlet had been well and truly thrown down. Could anyone actually pick it up with only a few minutes left to run? Salignon clearly thought it unlikely, and pulled into the pits early, sitting watching the monitors, looking very relaxed. He was right to be confident. Last minute improvements from di Grassi (no change in his position), Hamilton (to 7th), and Spengler (back to 3rd again) troubled the Frenchman not at all. Watts was pressing on regardless, but didn't seem to be able to get the necessary speed for pole. While Thompson spun and got going again, Hamilton edged Piquet down to 7th, only to have Piquet come straight back at him to jump a place ahead. Fauzy, meanwhile, was floundering down in 13thand looking much less effective than team-mate Adam Carroll was likely to be. With the clock ticking down it seemed to be all over for this session, though the irrepressible Watts wasn't quite finished. With the chequered flag out he crossed the line to claim 4th in the session, and therefore a 4th row slot.
Thus far it was Salignon for provisional pole, from di Grassi, Spengler, Watts, Green, Piquet, Hamilton, van der Garde, Duval and Streit. Zuber, Dirani, Fauzy, Marshall, Hiranaka, Kimber-Smith, Thompson and Ross Zwolsman (HBR Motorsport) were all through to the race so far. Matteo Cressoni (Ombra Srl) might or might not make it into the race, depending how fast the even numbers session turned out to be, while Peter Elkmann (Swiss Racing Team) and Marco Bonanomi (Team Ghinzani) definitely wouldn't unless they were able to improve significantly in the second session.
The weather was starting to look somewhat ominous as the even-numbered runners took to the track. James Rossiter (Fortec Motorsport) certainly didn't seem to like the look of things, coming straight back into the pits at the end of his out lap. Perhaps he wanted a bucket and spade…
It was left to Alvaro Parente (Carlin Motorsport) to start the bidding in this session, with an opening gambit of 1 minute 36 seconds. It wasn't long before Adam Carroll joined him, the P1 driver seemingly enjoying himself immensely on this challenging circuit. Local boy Charles Zwolsman (though not exactly familiar with the circuit as he'd only raced here twice before) was right up there in 3rd in his Manor Motorsport run Mercedes-powered Dallara, but he had Marko Asmer (Hitech Racing) snapping at his heels. Nico Rosberg (Team Rosberg) was the next to raise the stakes, with a 1 minute 35 second lap to claim the top spot. In another of those implausible developments, Alexandros Margaritis (Vitaphone Racing Team AB Racing - and, yes, that is what it said on the entry list!) was 2nd, only to lose out to Parente, and then to Clivio Piccione (Carlin Motorsport), the Monegasque slotting in to 3rd. However, to prove that it would be unwise to discount the ASM Formule 3 men, Alexandre Premat went to pole, while Zwolsman went 3rd. The changes were coming thick and fast in the early laps, and so it was no real surprise when Premat got bounced by Asmer, while Nicholas Lapierre (Opel Team Signature Plus) was looking pretty useful at this point too, in 6th.
Rosberg wasn't finished by any stretch of the imagination and was soon back to pole, while Margaritis climbed the order to 4th. Piccione topped the times briefly, but Rosberg was soon ahead again. Premat, then Carroll, then Zwolsmann all promptly went faster, however, as did Adrian Sutil (Team Kolles) who was now 4th. With less than 10 minutes gone, Rosberg hit the 1.33s, and it began to look as if this would be the faster session of the two. Premat and Carroll were 2nd and 3rd, while Margaritis was now a much more likely 10th. Asmer edged ahead of Premat just as the pit stops broke out. Meanwhile Ferdinand Kool (Alan Docking Racing) was showing signs of life, with a 6th place.
With the top five runners all in the pits, Rossiter saw his opportunity and took it, rocketing up the screens from dead last to 2nd. He clearly meant to be the fastest rookie if he could. Piccione, meanwhile, was now out of the top 10, while Daniel la Rosa (ASL Mücke-Motorsport) was in it in 2nd place, yet another unexpected development. Rosberg was still half a second ahead of everyone, and was therefore lurking in the pits and showing no inclination to go back out and work if he didn't have to. He wasn't going to be so lucky however.
Rossiter was now flying, and looked like he was about to grab pole, while Premat was also showing an inclination to get back ahead. He was now 5th. Parente was the next man to go ahead, and it now looked as if Rosberg really would have to go back out. No rest for the wicked, it seemed. The order was still very fluid as the Finn/German/Monegasque (or whatever he thinks he is) went back out again. Sutil was now 3rd, while la Rosa went back to 2nd, only to lose out to Franck Perera (Prema Powerteam), the much-hyped youngster going 2nd. Rosberg, meanwhile, had slipped down the order to 6th, while Carroll was only 9th. It wasn't looking too good for the P1 runner. It didn't help that Zwolsman and Lapierre moved him down even further by going 7th and 8th, and the Paolo Montin (Ombra Srl), Formula Three's equivalent of the Flying Dutchman who seems doomed to compete in this event till he finally wins it, moved into 7th. Piccione was on a charge too now and was 4th, looking set to improve further with ten minutes of the session left to run.
The order now was Parente, ahead of Perera, la Rosa, Piccione, Rossiter, Sutil, Rosberg, Asmer, Montin and Charles Zwolsman. Premat was back in 14th, but a superb lap, dredged up from who knows where, was enough to rocket him back to the top of the order. He promptly lost out to Zwolsman, but they were all still in the 1.33s at best at this point, which meant provisional pole belonged to Salignon. It remained to be seen if it still would at the end of the session. A further reshuffle occurred, taking Rossiter to 3rd, from Parente. Rosberg, meanwhile, edged back into the top 10, only to be pushed back down again a lap later. It was still a long way from over, though. Premat grabbed the fastest time again, with Perera now just a row down from him, while Lapierre seemed to find his pace again to claim 4th. Carroll was next to top the times, but if you blinked you missed it because Premat followed him over the line and took it back, setting a faster time than Salignon as he did so. Rossiter again dug deep to move back to 3rd, while Rosberg went 4th only to lose the place to Perera. Rosberg wasn't about to quit though, and a lap later he was up to 3rd, while Premat had decided that there was nothing more he could do to improve his times. He pitted early and waited the session out, watching the monitors and trying not to worry.
As it turned out it was the sensible thing to do. Parente went off as the threatened rain arrived, while Carroll was still pushing hard but no longer had the conditions he needed. Greg Franchi (Opel Signature) was another to skitter off the track and in effect the session was over before the chequered flag was shown. And so the final order was Premat, from Carroll, Rosberg, Rossiter, Lapierre, Perera, Charles Zwolsman, Parente, Asmer and la Rosa. Sutil was 11th, ahead of Piccione, Margaritis, Montin, Kool, Maximilian Götz (TME Racing), Hannes Neuhauser (HBR Motorsport), Franchi, James Walker (Hitech Racing) and Alejandro Nunez (Swiss Racing Team), with Philip Cloostermans (Team Ghinzani) bringing up the rear.
Now it was just a question of what the weather would do in the second session later in the afternoon. After the overcast conditions at lunchtime, you could have been forgiven for expecting heavy rain. It didn't arrive. Instead the skies cleared and the sun came out. This was not what anyone wanting to improve could have wanted; in fact, it was quite the opposite, and it was now looking as if Prémat's pole position was safe, no matter what happened in the second session.
Never ones to not try, Watts and Piquet were soon out on the track again, as was Ross Zwolsman, who clearly wasn't keen on the idea of starting the race a lot further back than his brother. Piquet was almost immediately two seconds faster than the chasing pack, which might have had something to do with a slightly embarrassing ballast issue which no one at Piquet Sports wanted to talk about. In the session, Spengler quickly went 2nd but his time was a 1.36, and although Salignon was fastest again in the session, no one seemed able to match their earlier times. It certainly seemed unlikely that the earlier best time could be bettered. And so it proved, with the first driver to break through and improve on his earlier time being Piquet. He was quickly joined by Kimber-Smith, though neither of them were anywhere near challenging Premat for pole. Bonanomi, meanwhile, managed to throw himself in the gravel, though he emerged again quite quickly. With the front-runners trading times, the session at least had academic interest, but improvements were proving hard to come by. Dirani was one who did go faster, as was Green, but generally it just wasn't happening.
Duval was pushing so hard he soon managed to drop his wheels in the dirt, though he was quick to recover. He was clearly trying hard, but there didn't seem to be a lot of point. Watts certainly didn't think so, and retreated to the pits where he sat out the remainder of the half hour. Marshall was sitting it out too, but that was involuntary. His car had simply stopped dead out on the track and he was going nowhere now. Another who came close to going nowhere was Green, who made a further improvement to leap up the session order to 5th, but then threw it off into one of the exceptionally deep gravel traps. By the time the flag came out to signal the end of the session, less than half the group had improved on their morning session times, and of them, most had not moved up the order significantly, with the exception of Piquet, who could at least now see the front row from where he would be on the grid, no doubt as a result of the car no longer being at a 7-kilo disadvantage.
The final session order was Salignon, from di Grassi, Piquet, Spengler, Green, Watts, Hamilton, van der Garde, Duval and Streit. On the 11th row was Zuber, ahead of Dirani, Fauzy, Marshall, Thompson, Kimber-Smith, Hiranaka and Ross Zwolsman. 19th and likely to be the first of the non-qualifiers was Cressoni, who swapped places to no effect with Elkmann, and last of all was Bonanomi.
If odd numbers had been slow in comparison to what they had been capable of in the first session, the even numbers were even worse. Of the 21 drivers, only three were able to improve, and only two of them actually changed their grid positions as a result. The man whose efforts had no effect at all was Cloostermans, the Belgian, still ending the session last, despite finding over half a second from somewhere. He would still not qualify for the race. And for most of the session, he didn't look likely to improve at all.
In fact, by the time the session was 15-minutes old, a good half of the drivers had taken up residence in the pits and were preserving their tyres for the race, and no one had actually gone faster than in the first session. In fact the first of the trio of improvers was Piccione, who managed to haul himself up the order to be 10th instead of 12th in his session. It wasn't much but it was better than nothing. Walker, meanwhile, who looked likely to scrape in in 37th and last place on the grid, was off in the gravel, after his radio battery worked loose and caught underneath the pedals. It wasn't ideal, but at least he was likely to get a race. The next driver to come a cropper was Carroll. The P1 driver crashed out at Hugenholtz, bouncing over the kerbs and tearing the front and rear wings off. He made a forlorn figure, trudging through the long grass dragging various bits of battered bodywork with him, but at least he was OK, and the car could be fixed. He'd gone third in the session just before, and might conceivably have been about to go faster still, but now we would never know. Someone who did go faster, though he probably shouldn't, was Rossiter, who set a session best time under the yellows from Carroll's accident, though he swore he lifted and that the lift cost him pole. Whatever the truth of the matter, he was allowed to keep his time and would start the race from the second row of the grid; and that was the very last of the improvements
A couple more offs, from Lapierre and Kool, proved that there was no point staying out, and the session fizzled out, the final combined order being Premat, from Rossiter, Carroll, Rosberg, Lapierre, Perera, Charles Zwolsman, Parente, Asmer and Piccione. 11th was La Rosa, then came Sutil, Margaritis, Montin, Kool, Götz, Neuhauser, Franchi and Walker, who just scraped in. Nunez and Cloostermans were out of the event with immediate effect.




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