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 FIA INTERNATIONAL F3000 - 2001 SEASON PREVIEW

Updated on 29/3/01

Introduction / Team-by-team preview / Testing summary / 2001 Calendar

2001 SEASON PREVIEW

The 2001 season sees a few changes, with the series finally earning its "International" tag in its 17th year. The opening round will be held on the Interlagos circuit in Sao Paolo, Brazil, on the 31st March. The calendar has been extended to 12 rounds, Monza making a welcome return after a long absence. Race distance has been decreased to 150km, while qualifying now leaves more margin for error with two 45-minute sessions. At least non-qualification is no longer a threat, since only 13 of the 15 available entries for teams have been taken up.

On the driver front, three of year 2000's top four (Bruno Junqueira, Nicolas Minassian and Fernando Alonso) have left for CART and F1, leaving a number of promising regulars and rookies to fight it out for the crown. Mark Webber starts as an undoubted title favourite. Rookie of the year last season with European Arrows, a move to Super Nova means he has every chance to win the championship. Other title contenders are likely to include two Brits. Sophomore driver Darren Manning set the pace in testing in late 2000, team continuity at Arden meaning he has had a settled winter season to develop the car. Justin Wilson will similarly benefit from continuity, remaining with Nordic for a second year. Both drivers can race, but must improve their qualifying positions on last year. Tomas Enge partners Wilson; the Czech driver has talent, but is erratic.

Petrobras Junior will find it hard to win a second drivers' title, with newcomers Antonio Pizzonia and Ricardo Sperafico, champions of British F3 and Italian F3000 respectively. It will be interesting to see whether Sperafico's experience of F3000 machinery will help him to upstage the highly rated Amazonian. Team Astromega have signed German F3 champion Giorgio Pantano. Undoubtedly a special talent, the young Italian should make up for the loss of Fernando Alonso to F1, but a title challenge in his first season is probably beyond him.

The team line-up has changed a little; gone are McLaren, WRT and Fortec, while Kid Jensen Racing, struggling to find drivers, merged with the returning Monaco Motorsport who were in a similar situation. With the exception of Monaco, only one new team has come in to replace those that have quit. Durango make a welcome return after a year spent concentrating on Italian F3000, and bring their Benetton junior team status with them. Like Kid Jense Racing, KTR were granted a reprieve for 2001 due to the lack of interest in the three available entries, despite finishing outside of the top 12 teams in points last year.

Now a look at the year's prospects, team-by-team. Remember, these predictions are exactly that, and will probably be proven totally wrong as the year unfolds…

SUPER NOVA RACING LTD

1

Mark Webber (AUS)

2

Mario Haberfeld (BR)

Prediction: Super Nova enter this season as title favourites, and have a new livery which includes the Benetton colours. Webber is definite title material. Rookie of the year with European Arrows last year, the move to Super Nova should see a sorted car for qualifying and race and let him consistently perform. Anything less than the title will be considered a disappointment. Hopefully his Benetton F1 testing activities won't provide too much of a distraction. This season is also crucial for Haberfeld. Yet to score a point in the series after seasons with McLaren and Fortec, the Brazilian will hope for an injury-free year and should at least have a car allowing him to rediscover his F3 form. Podiums and race wins should be possible. The pressure is on both men.

PETROBRAS JUNIOR TEAM

3

Antonio Pizzonia (BR)

4

Ricardo Sperafico (BR)

Prediction: Junqueira took the title last year for the other David Sears team, but this year that looks unlikely. Two highly rated Brazilians should spur each other on, but many F3 champions like Pizzonia in the past have struggled on their arrival in F3000. That may benefit Sperafico - the Italian F3000 champion has a year's experience in similar machinery to the Lola B99/50. Both are yet to prove themselves at this level, and should be given time before their full talent shines. Expect strong races and maybe the occasional win from both drivers.

TEAM ASTROMEGA

5

Ananda Mikola (RI)

6

Giorgio Pantano (I)

Prediction: Astromega has an eye for talented drivers, and German F3 champ Pantano could be another sensation in the mould of Gonzalo Rodriguez and Fernando Alonso. With so little car racing experience, he may struggle at first to get to grips with the formula, as testing form suggests, but should produce some good results if the circumstances are right. Teammate Mikola will want to lay to rest memories of his 2000 rookie season at WRT. The Indonesian could rediscover the potential he showed in Italian F3000 with the move to a top team.

EUROPEAN MINARDI F3000

7

David Saelens (B)

8

Andrea Piccini (I)

Prediction: Paul Stoddart's purchase of Minardi sees his F3000 team become the squad's junior arm. David Saelens was fast in his second F3000 season with Super Nova, and the move to European Minardi could well see the 1998 French F3 champion take his debut win. Piccini impressed on his F3000 graduation two years ago, but last season was a disaster. The former Formula Opel front-runner must perform this season, also testing European Minardi's F1 car. Podiums should be possible. Question marks remain about the team, however, which has yet to prove itself as a consistent frontrunner and is still relatively young. A race win in F3000 for Minardi at least looks more likely than in F1.

COCA-COLA NORDIC RACING

9

Tomas Enge (CZ)

10

Justin Wilson (GB)

Prediction: A Nordic car should return to the winners circle in 2001, barring disaster. A strong line-up may be compromised by the need for different set-ups; Enge has a unique tail-happy driving style. Wilson showed his racing abilities in his sophomore year, but the team has yet to establish itself as a consistent top outfit. If qualifying performances are improved, the lanky Brit is a definite title contender, with Enge an outside bet. Wilson has been consistently quick in testing. Coca-Cola money is a great boost to the squad.

F3000 PROST JUNIOR TEAM

11

Nicolas Filiberti (RA)

12

Gabriele Varano (I)

Prediction: Major changes at Dominique Delestre's squad. Losing the Gauloises backing of the past two years, Prost's junior team gains PSN sponsorship and the talented Sebastien Bourdais is unceremoniously kicked out. There are many South American talents out there that would meet sponsorship needs, but Nicolas Filiberti is yet to prove he is one of them. A handful of Italian F3000 races and an International F3000 qualifying attempt in 1999 were not impressive. Points will be an achievement. Similarly Gabriele Varano will be expected to struggle. With little experience, he was an Italian F3 front-runner in 1999 and had a part-season of Italian F3000 last year. Again, points would be his initial target.

ARDEN TEAM RUSSIA

15

Darren Manning (GB)

16

Viktor Maslov (RUS)

Prediction: Manning has been consistently quick in winter testing, and heads into a second season expected to be a title contender. The team remain unproven, Manning often struggling in qualifying last year with set-up problems. If he and the team can improve in that aspect, his racecraft will take him to wins and possibly the title. Maslov makes up the numbers, the Russian showing little form in the last two seasons. Points look likely only in circumstances like the Nurburgring last season.

RED BULL JUNIOR - RSM MARKO

17

Patrick Friesacher (A)

18

Antonio Garcia (E)

Prediction: Losing Enrique Bernoldi to F1, Red Bull Junior enters the new season with an unproven line-up. Garcia is the reigning Formula Nissan champion. Undoubtedly a talent, he may well not prove such a sensation as Fernando Alonso on his arrival in F3000. Friesacher similarly still has much to prove after finishing sixth overall in German F3. His testing form has been impressive, suggesting he's adapted well to the new machinery. The team will be desperate to rediscover their former title winning form (as RSM Marko) after two mediocre years. But team boss Helmut Marko concedes that points and podiums by the end of the year are their realistic goal.

COLONI F3000

19

Fabrizio Gollin (I)

20

Rodrigo Sperafico (BR)

Prediction: Hardy F3000 perennials Coloni return year-after-year to F3000 despite securing very little in terms of results. Fabrizio Gollin stays at the team. The veteran's best result of second came in the lottery-like conditions of the Nurburgring last year. In normal circumstances he could be expected to pick up some points on occasion at best. Rodrigo Sperafico joins brother Ricardo in the series at the last minute. A talent in F3000 Italia, his fourth place overall was overshadowed by his brother's championship victory, but Rodrigo often had the upper hand in SudAm F3. Joining the team so late he is likely to struggle at first.

DAMS

21

Sebastien Bourdais (F)

22

Derek Hill (USA)

Prediction: It is six years since DAMS last won the F3000 title, and in recent seasons its been downhill all the way. Rumours last year even claimed Jean-Paul Driot would sell the squad he set up with Rene Arnoux. But the team fight on with a new driver line-up. Sebastien Bourdais joins from Prost Jr, where changing sponsorship meant he was unfairly turfed out at the last minute. Bourdais was a revelation last season in his rookie year, and he has the talent to take podiums and wins (as demonstrated by topping the times in March's big Silverstone test), but the onus is on DAMS to provide him with a car that does the job. Otherwise he could end up lost like Jamie Davies, David Terrien, Kristian Kolby and Franck Montagny before him. Derek Hill joins after a season in Italian F3000 with Da Vinci. As in Formula Palmer Audi, he showed flashes of form but ultimately disappointed. He has talent as his American results showed, but he is unproven at this level. One to watch.

KTR

25

Bas Leinders (B)

26

Joel Camathias (CH)

Prediction: Only remaining in the field thanks to a lack of interest in the available entry slots, KTR need to improve their performances. Results went downhill since the vastly underrated Kurt Mollekens quit driving to manage his Belgian squad. Leinders returns after a poor season with Kid Jensen Racing. The Belgian is clearly talented, but has yet to truly show it in F3000. Joel Camathias can be expected to struggle in his rookie year. He has steadily improved in two Formula Nissan seasons, but points will be an achievement at this level.

KJR MONACO MOTORSPORT

27?

Justin Keen (GB)

28?

TBA

Prediction: After struggling to find drivers over the winter, Kid Jensen Racing have merged with the returning Monaco Motorsport. Last year was a disaster for Kid Jensen Racing, and the fact that the new team's participation was revealed once pre-season testing came to an end means they are likely to struggle. Newcomer Justin Keen was runner-up in Euro Formula Palmer Audi last year, but his first run as the team's driver (bar a 2000 test for KJR) will be at Interlagos for the opening round. Too early to make any predictions.

DURANGO BENETTON JUNIOR

29

Jaime Melo, Jr. (BR)

30

Gabriele Lancieri (I)

Prediction: After a season spent solely in Italian F3000, Durango finally get the opportunity to return to the International series. Melo Jr has much talent, but largely failed to show it with top team Petrobras Junior last year. His first race at Imola showed what he was capable of, while he surprised in pre-season testing at the same circuit. It remains to be seen if he can be consistently quick at Durango. The Brazilian is aiming for a top 5 placing in every race; he should certainly achieve at least that on occasion. Lancieri was one of the rookie finds of the Italian F3000 series, having mounted a championship challenge last year. At this level the competition is greater, but the Italian clearly has talent and could surprise on occasion.

 

PRE-SEASON OFFICIAL WINTER TESTING RESULTS

Pos.

Barcelona (Nov 2000)

Estoril (Nov 2000)

Imola (Feb 2001)

Silverstone (March 2001)

1st

Enrique Bernoldi*

Enrique Bernoldi*

Justin Wilson

Sebastien Bourdais

2nd

Justin Wilson

Tomas Enge

Jaime Melo Jr

Mark Webber

3rd

Darren Manning

Patrick Friesacher

Mark Webber

Mario Haberfeld

4th

Jeffrey van Hooydonk

Darren Manning

Patrick Friesacher

Darren Manning

5th

Enrico Toccacelo*

Justin Wilson

Mario Haberfeld

Justin Wilson

6th

Tomas Enge

Sebastien Bourdais

Rodrigo Sperafico

Antonio Pizzonia

*Bernoldi (Red Bull Jr) & Toccacelo (Coloni) tested over winter but will not be racing in round 1.

2001 FIA INTERNATIONAL F3000 CALENDAR

Round

Circuit

Date

1

Interlagos (BR)

31st March

2

San Marino (I)

14th April

3

Barcelona (E)

28th April

4

A1-Ring (A)

12th May

5

Monaco (MC)

26th May

6

Nurburgring (D)

23rd June

7

Magny-Cours (F)

30th June

8

Silverstone (GB)

14th July

9

Hockenheim (D)

28th July

10

Budapest (H)

18th August

11

Spa-Francorchamps (B)

1st September

12

Monza (I)

15th September

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