F3000 SEASON PREVIEW 2000
After a turbulent 1999, Formula 3000 moves into the new millennium with a very different driver line-up. Champion Nick Heidfeld has graduated to F1, while tragedy has ended the careers of Jason Watt and Gonzalo Rodriguez, second and third in last year's championship.
As a result, predicting the winner of this year's title is not going to be easy. Bruno Junqueira has to be one favourite to clinch the title. He returns with Petrobras Junior, and if he matched his qualifying speed from last year with improved racecraft he will be hard to beat. McLaren's junior team, West Competition (this year renamed mySAP.com Team), were only planning to return if they could find a top-line driver for this year. In Stephane Sarrazin (left) they have a man with experience and speed, and moving to the team he should be a contender for the title.
One obstacle every driver faced last year has thankfully been removed for 2000. The FIA has limited the grids and qualifying will now be less of a lottery, unlike the single "do-or-die" 45 minute qualifying sessions last year. Of course, many teams lose out in failing to secure an entry for the season, having failed to finish in the top 14 on points last year. These include Durango, GP Racing and Monaco. Some have found alternative ways to race on. Veteran Italian team Coloni has merged with Team Martello, the team which won the Italian F3000 championship with Giorgio Vinella. Red Bull Junior, formerly RSM Marko (the team which won the 1996 title with Jorg Muller), has bought ORECA's F3000 team, while Lukoil Arden have bought the F3000 division of Draco Engineering. Draco will step down to Italian F3000.
Formula One continues its recent involvement in F3000 this year. As well as McLaren's junior team, Prost (Gauloises Formula) and Benetton (Astromega) will continue to run their satellite operations this year. Joining them is Arrows. Last year they were involved with former British F3 team Portman Arrows, which folded after just three races. This year they have teamed up with European Formula Racing who seek to improve on a difficult first season. Williams retain their affiliation with Petrobras Junior. Once again every round will be supporting a Grand Prix.
An unprecedented number of current Formula One test drivers are competing in F3000 in 2000. There are seven in total; Darren Manning (BAR), Bruno Junqueira (Williams), Tomas Enge (Jordan), Hidetoshi Mitsusada (Benetton, shown right testing his WRT Lola), Fernando Alonso (Minardi), Enrique Bernoldi (Sauber) and Mark Webber (Arrows).
Driver and team prospects for 2000:
(these are merely predictions; they'll probably be proven wrong in the first race!)
mySAP.com Team (McLaren junior)
TEAM HISTORY: Entered as West Competition in 1998 to continue Mercedes' nurturing of Nick Heidfeld. Heidfeld almost beat Juan Montoya to the title, but had to wait until the following year to clinch it. Now the most professional team in the F3000 paddock. Renamed after new sponsors "mySAP.com".
1) Stephane Sarrazin (F)has to start as championship favourite for the new season. His McLaren junior team has set a new benchmark for professionalism in F3000, and took Nick Heidfeld to dominance last year. The team should be able to refine the talent Sarrazin has shown since his debut in 1998, and if the Frenchman matches his consistency from last year with a little more pace he will be hard to beat. He has already demonstrated the required speed by dominating the official Jerez tests in January and the February Valencia tests.
2) Tomas Enge (CZ):There have to be question marks over Enge's prospects in 2000. He is finally with a team worthy of the talent he demonstrated in his stunning 1998 debut half-season and at Magny Cours last year. The questions lie over whether McLaren is capable of running a two-car team or just concentrating on their championship elect Sarrazin. Enge has the necessary speed to win races and even be a possible championship contender, but Nicolas Minassian and Mario Haberfeld both had dismal seasons as Heidfeld's team-mates at McLaren in 1998 and 1999. The Czech must buck this trend. Testing times suggest he will.
D2 Playlife Super Nova
TEAM HISTORY: David Sears' team first entered in 1994, when Vincenzo Sospiri was in contention for the crown until the final race. F1 comedy driver Taki Inoue partnered him. The dark purple (almost black) cars soon became the most professional team in the field, Sospiri winning the 1995 title and Ricardo Rosset clinching second place. Kenny Brack lost the 1996 title after a legal dispute over a clash with Jorg Muller, but the team responded by taking the 1997 and 1998 titles with Ricardo Zonta and Juan Montoya. A lean year followed in 1999, but Jason Watt got it together to win the last two races before his tragic paralysis in a motorbike crash.
3) Nicolas Minassian (F): The former British F3 runner-up looked a changed man last season, scoring some good results and dominating at Silverstone. Certainly he laid to rest the memories of the 1998 season where he was nowhere in relation to his title-chasing team-mate Heidfeld. Now with three-time champions Super Nova, undoubtedly F3000's top team until McLaren arrived, he has the chance to launch a title assault. Certainly race wins should be likely at least.
4) David Saelens (B):Officially the rookie of the year last year, having joined Super Nova after three races with WRT Fina, the former French F3 champion was on occasion put in the shade by fellow rookies Franck Montagny and Justin Wilson. Nevertheless he progressed as the season went on, finishing fifth in both of the final races. This progression should continue this year. A championship challenge may be too much to ask against the more experienced opposition, but his debut win can't be too far away. One to watch.
Petrobras Junior (Williams affiliated)
TEAM HISTORY: Formerly Den Bla Avis in 1997 and 1998, a secondary David Sears team set up for Jason Watt, in 1999 Petrobras became the team's title sponsor through a deal with Williams. Bruno Junqueira won a race and impressed many, while Max Wilson proved disappointing. For 2000 Petrobras stipulated an all-Brazilian driver line-up once again.
5) Jaime Melo, jr. (BR):The runner-up in South American F3 last year, Melo follows in team-mate Bruno Junqueira's footsteps into the team. Last year the champions and frontrunners of even the more important F3 series found the going difficult upon graduation to F3000, and Jaime is likely to find the same. He will want to make progress through the year and could score points on occasion. He has been quick in testing.
6) Bruno Junqueira (BR):Despite his status as joint favourite in many people's eyes, Junqueira would probably prefer to have just finished qualifying a WilliamsF1-BMW when the first F3000 race kicks off at Imola. Having lost the drive to Jenson Button, at least he has a good chance of winning races this year. And win races he must; last year he was the revelation of the season, always fast but often prone to mistakes. He blew away his highly rated team-mate Max Wilson all year, rubbing it in by winning the Hockenheim race by passing Wilson on the grass! Remaining in the Williams affiliated Petrobras Junior, the sister team of Super Nova, for a second year, Junqueira must be a good bet for top honours.
TEAM HISTORY: Now a veteran F3000 team, Astromega have developed since 1995 into a top team. Early wins were taken by Marc Goossens and Soheil Ayari before the late Gonzalo Rodriguez joined in 1998. He won two races before becoming the only man to mount anything like a challenge to Heidfeld's domination in the1999 season. A sponsorship deal saw the Lolas decked out in Benetton colours last year.
7) Fernando Alonso (E):The winner of the Euro Open Nissan series last year, this little known Spaniard should theoretically find the going tough in his rookie F3000 season. But look at what Marc Gene did at Minardi after winning the same title. Certainly a talent, it is good to see another Spanish driver in F3000 after Gene (1997) and Polo Villaamil (1998/99) both failed to score any points at their attempts. Alonso proved fast on his testing debut with Coloni, and learning from the experienced team at Astromega he could score some points. The newly-signed Minardi test driver ran in the F1 team's Telefonica livery in testing, setting some stunning times.
8) Fabrice Walfisch (F)A strange driver: either very fast or very mediocre. A smooth run to third in the season opener last year was followed by a number of midfield drives for Draco. He then emerged from nowhere to claim pole at Budapest and lead until he suffered car problems. He proved it wasn't a one-off by qualifying second at Spa the following race. Top team Astromega were obviously impressed though, and they will hope he can do a similar job to the late Gonzalo Rodriguez. It seems doubtful whether the former French F3 runner can, unless he dramatically improves his consistency. Could score some good results on occasion.
Gauloises Formula (Prost junior)
TEAM HISTORY: Formerly Apomatox, the team which emerged in the late 1980s. It shook off its uncompetitive reputation by taking Franck Lagorce to second in the 1994 standings, where he lost the title in the final round. In 1998 the team became the satellite operation of the Prost F1 team, Sarrazin taking a lucky win on his debut, while the Gauloises Junior name was introduced for 1999.
9) Andre Couto (MAC)After being Italian F3 runner-up in 1997 Couto made a highly impressive F3000 debut with Prema in 1998. Last season with Gauloises junior was less successful, despite his first podium finish. Sarrazin generally had the upper hand. Now he has been promoted to the role as effective team leader, for team-mate Bourdais will need to learn before he can make his mark. If he improves his consistency and generally improves his performances Couto has the chance to win races, although a title challenge seems unlikely.
10) Sebastien Bourdais (F):He should be proud as French F3 champion from last year, but there is no question that the French series is in decline. Like the F3 graduates last year, Bourdais could be expected to struggle at first. Perhaps a driver to watch for the future, although he has been right on the pace in pre-season testing.
Kid Jensen Racing
TEAM HISTORY: After moderate success in the Formula Opel Euroseries in 1998, DJ David 'Kid' Jensen's team made the surprising decision to graduate to F3000 in 1999. The success the team found in their rookie season impressed many, Minassian dominating at Silverstone and rookie Andrea Piccini putting in some good perfomances.
11) Andrea Piccini (I)Highly impressive in his rookie season last year, he also reminded us on occasion that he had come directly from Formula Opel by failing to qualify. In 2000 he should progress on his two points finishes from last year, but realistically the Italian could hope for a few podium finishes at best.
12) Bas Leinders (B):The 1998 German F3 champion had a difficult first full season last year with Witmeur KTR, scoring just one point and suffering a hand injury after a crash in Barcelona. He undoubtedly has talent, and a move to KJR may prove beneficial. The sensible qualifying procedure this year should see him score some good results, perhaps the odd win, but the driver and team pairing look unlikely to challenge for consistent wins at this stage.
Red Bull Junior
TEAM HISTORY: Originally called RSM Marko, the team set up by ex-F1 driver Helmut Marko. In 1991 they ran a car for Karl Wendlinger, but found their greatest success in F3000 by winning the 1996 title for Jorg Muller. The following season Montoya almost beat Zonta to the title. In 1998 they embarked on an aborted Indy Racing League campaign with Dave Steele, but returned in 1999 as Red Bull Junior. Ricardo Mauricio and Enrique Bernoldi had a poor year, their three points not enough to secure an entry for 2000. The team has instead opted to buy Oreca's F3000 team and will compete with the same driver pair again.
15) Ricardo Mauricio (BR)The diminutive Brazilian was no sensation in British F3, so it's no surprise he struggled last year. After switching from Super Nova to Red Bull Junior, he was outpaced by teammate Bernoldi and ended the season with just one point. He will need to improve this year, and has a good team in RSM Marko to get the best out of him. Surprised many by topping the times in the final pre-season tests at Silverstone.
16) Enrique Bernoldi (BR):The man who looked likely to win the 1998 British F3 championship before Mario Haberfeld took over the season had a difficult initiation in F3000 last season. Impressive on occasion, especially at Hockenheim, he had the upper hand on team-mates Markus Friesacher and Mauricio all year. If he improves his consistency this year he should take podium finishes and the odd win. A fast driver who should spring some surprises. Test times suggest the whole package has improved.
TEAM HISTORY: A veteran team in F3000, having first entered with Alessandro Zampedri in 1993, Nordic have never really established themselves as a top team except for in 1995 when Marc Goossens won a race and finished third overall. Last season Kevin McGarrity started off well, leading and finally finishing second at Imola, but thereafter no points were to be scored as the team suffered badly like others in the single 45-minute qualifying sessions.
17) Kevin McGarrity (GB)The talented Northern Irishman has always struggled to find funds, from his time in British F3 to his part season for Nordic in 1998. He followed up a fourth place finish at Hockenheim in 1998 with a second at Imola this year, but struggled in qualifying afterwards. In the races he often went well, but started so far down that he couldn't reach the points. For 2000 the qualifying procedure and continuity should put McGarrity in a position to score some good results; a few podiums and a breakthrough win could be possible.
18) Justin Wilson (GB):Having won his 1999 Astromega drive as a prize for winning the 1998 Formula Palmer Audi series, Wilson impressed by qualifying for every race and scoring points in his rookie year. Like any rookie he was prone to errors, while also prone to the occasional assault by Max Wilson! In 2000 he joins McGarrity in the all-British Nordic team where he should be capable of producing some decent results.
World Racing Team (WRT)
TEAM HISTORY: The F3000 branch of the Rafanelli sportscar team was first entered last year. A succession of drivers in the second seat failed to score points, but Tomas Enge finished a competitive second at Magny-Cours.
19) Hidetoshi Mitsusada (J)The Formula Nippon frontrunner (occasionally!) has returned for a proper crack at F3000 after a few races in 1998. Whether he will translate his experience into results remains to be seen; a move to Europe in a series as competitive as F3000 is no easy challenge. Could surprise on occasion, but unlikely to trouble the contenders for wins. He has hardly impressed in testing. Mitsusada is also the Benetton F1 test driver for 2000.
20) Ananda Mikola (RI):The Indonesian, a former Italian F3 driver, impressed immensely in his Italian F3000 season last year. He even won on the road at Enna before being disqualified for a technical infringement on his car. The experience should help him graduate this season, although he is likely to take a while to settle in to the higher level of competition. One to watch.
TEAM HISTORY: One of the most successful teams in F3000 history, they have never met their early success in recent years. Since the start of the modern single chassis and engine control formula in 1996 DAMS only have one win to their name, a far cry from the early 90's championship success of Erik Comas (1990), Olivier Panis (1993) and Jules Boullion (1994). An F1 project in conjunction with Reynard failed to get off the ground for the 1995 season.
21) Franck Montagny (F)For many Montagny was the best rookie of last year. Although David Saelens scored more points, Montagny was often in contention for good finishes with the DAMS team which is less of a force than in its early 90's heyday. The general trend suggests drivers need a year to settle in, so this season the former French F3 star could be a winner and should score podium finishes.
22) Kristian Kolby (DK):The Dane has performed well for Fortec in his two years in British F3 and deserves this break. He impressed massively in his Italian F3000 outing at Imola last year. Given time to settle in he should prove competitive and should be fighting to be the year's best rookie.
TEAM HISTORY: The small Arden outfit ran Christian Horner in 1997 and 1998 with little success, before the Brit stepped back into a management role. In 1998 the team linked up with the KTR outfit formed around former British F3 championship contender Kurt Mollekens. Last year Prodrive got involved and the team was renamed Lukoil Arden in deference to their new Russian sponsors. F3000 veteran Marc Goossens became team leader but rarely came close to meeting his earlier race winning form. Disqualified from third at Budapest, the team ended the season pointless and can only return this year after purchasing Draco's entry.
23) Darren Manning (GB):A great talent who, like Marc Hynes, has been overlooked amongst the media attention over Jenson Button. Manning turned to Japanese F3 after drives were not forthcoming in Britain, despite his excellent performances on his few British F3 outings in 1998. He promptly dominated the series and also won the prestigious Macau-Korea double header at the end of the season. BAR snapped him up as their 2000 test driver in F1 and he will race for Arden in F3000. Providing the team can improve their form there is no reason why Manning shouldn't win a race or two. A contender for rookie of the year honours.
24) Viktor Maslov (RUS)It's good to see Russia represented in International motorsport, but the title of Russian F3 champion does not justify Maslov's right to compete. A regular non-qualifier in 1999, he is only in F3000 because of the money Lukoil bring to Arden. One to make up the numbers. He will also compete for Arden in Italian F3000 as he did last year.
European Arrows F3000 Team (Arrows junior)
TEAM HISTORY: European linked up with Edenbridge at the start of last season, but the pairing soon fell out and Edenbridge was dumped. Jamie Davies, a former title contender, and Oliver Gavin struggled all year and the team only just scraped enough points to qualify to race this season. Now Arrows, formerly involved with the short-lived Portman Arrows team, has linked up with the team to form an official Arrows Junior team.
25) Mark Webber (AUS)A very talented driver, not to be underestimated. He returns to single seaters for the first time since his impressive 1997 British F3 season, having competed for Mercedes in the 1998 FIA GT Championship and at Le Mans in 1999 (where he didn't start after two flip-overs). Providing he quickly finds his feet and his European Formula team improve on their '99 form, Webber could bein contention for wins and certainly the rookie of the year title.
26) Christijan Albers (NL):The reigning German F3 champion deserves this drive, and given time to learn the new formula he could impress. Like F3 frontrunners before him (Bas Leinders, Wolf Henzler and Mario Haberfeld to name but a few) Albers and this year's crop of F3 graduates may find this to be a learning year. One to watch.
Witmeur Team KTR
TEAM HISTORY: KTR (Keerbergs Trans Racing) was formed in 1997 as a one-car team for Kurt Mollekens. A link up with Arden in 1998 saw Mollekens briefly leading the championship before deciding to quit as a driver to manage the team. The team has since become an outfit to help the careers of young Belgians and for 2000 it links up with German F3 team JB Motorsport. Last year KTR struggled with Jeffrey van Hooydonk and Bas Leinders, but the two rookies scored enough points to see it qualify to race this season.
27) Jeffrey van Hooydonk (B)One of the few drivers to benefit from team continuity, van Hooydonk quietly impressed on occasion last year. This season he should be able to score some good results.
28) Yves Olivier (B)Another rookie from Formula 3, Olivier is likely to take most of the year to adjust to the very different F3000 cars like Kolby and Albers should be expected to. Only then will we see how competitive he can be. Certainly he has been trailing the field in testing.
TEAM HISTORY: A veteran of British F3, Fortec graduated to F3000 last season with Norberto Fontana and Andrej Pavicevic, two drivers on opposite scales of experience. Fontana impressed on occasion but also made a number of mistakes while Andrej Pavicevic did a competent job considering it was only his second season of single seater racing. This year the team are also entering two cars into F3000 Italia.
29) Mario Haberfeld (BR)The 1998 British F3 champion had a terrible time last year. Teammate to dominant champion Nick Heidfeld at the junior McLaren team, Haberfeld failed to score a single point and had a string of non-qualifications. This year he seems to have been rejuvinated by the move to Fortec judging by the testing times. Should be a force to be reckoned with.
30) Andreas Scheld (D)Moving into F3000 from German Super Touring, German Scheld looks to have the weakest credentials of this year's rookies. His most recent single-seater experience was a few German F3 races in 1998. Testing times back up the obvious view that he will struggle in 2000.
TEAM HISTORY: Team Martello, a former British Formula Renault team, graduated to the inaugural F3000 Italia series last year and won the title with Giorgio Vinella. Thus they qualified for the final entry into this year's championship. Veteran F3000 team and former F1 strugglers Coloni failed to secure an entry, so the two teams link up for the 2000 season. The original Martello outfit will race on in Italian F3000 as the Da Vinci Team.
31) Soheil Ayari (F)The dominant 1996 French F3 champion has always been a contender in his three seasons of F3000, but has also been erratic and accident-prone. The Coloni/Martello partnership does not look like being one of the strongest teams on the grid and Ayari will do extremely well to earn his third F3000 win. He is also competing for Brian Stewart Racing in the nine non-clashing Indy Lights rounds this year, so he will not be totally focussed on the job. Many considered last year to be his final chance, so his plans for 2000 seem a strange decision.
32) Fabrizio Gollin (I)Never more than one to make up the numbers, F3000 veteran Gollin nevertheless performed reasonably in his appearances last year. Realistically a few points are the best he can hope for judging by previous form.