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UNOFFICIAL F3000 INFORMATION

F3000 SEASON REVIEW 1998

1998 proved to be a classic season in Formula 3000, one in which Juan Pablo Montoya learned from his mistakes last year and fine tuned his racecraft to match his remarkable speed with consistency. The Super Nova driver was not allowed to dominate, however. West Competition's Nick Heidfeld ensured the title battle went down to the final round with an impressive rookie season.

Nicolas Minassian, West Competition

This year Formula 1 teams were finally showing some interest in the series; previous champions have found it difficult to make the final step up to the senior category. Hopefully now F3000 will become the feeder formula that it is designed to be. West Competition, the McLaren junior team, were the most obvious sign of F1 involvement. Their cars looked just like mini McLarens with their silver West livery. Prost meanwhile became affiliated with Dominique Delestre's Apomatox team, while future F1 engine suppliers BMW sponsored a junior team run by Oreca. Also both Montoya and Max Wilson were Williams F1 test drivers this year.

Monaco - Aguas, Junqueira, Ruberti, Minassian

Many of the races were supporting Grands Prix, too; Monaco lost its F3 race but hosted F3000 instead for the first time. In addtion, the traditional F3000 events at Pau and Enna were joined by a new circuit, Oschersleben in Eastern Germany. The windswept and dull track looked out of place alongside the Grand Prix circuits.

Juan-Pablo Montoya's season started badly; at Oschersleben he dropped back after a slow change to wet tyres while at Imola he threw away the race. He gathered himself together to win at Barcelona and Silverstone, and would finish in the points in all but those first two races. Only once was he outside the top three. The best drive of the year was at Pau, lapping the field to become the first driver to ever win two F3000 races on the tight street circuit. Seven poles and four wins made him the most successful F3000 driver since the series began in 1985. The Colombian's spectacular success earned him the Chip Ganassi Champ Car seat vacated by two time champion Alex Zanardi.

Montoya was challenged all the way by Mercedes protégé Nick Heidfeld. The German was remarkably consistent in his rookie year for West Competition, the McLaren junior team run by experienced F1 engineer David Brown. He took three wins, inheriting the showpiece Monaco event but winning on pace at Hockenheim and Budapest. His consistent scoring meant a head to head battle with Montoya was set up for the Nurburgring finale, but this didn't occur as Heidfeld was disqualified from qualifying as the team accidently put the wrong fuel in the car. He started the race from the back after the team withdrew Bas Leinders and fought spectacularly up the grid, but to reach the front and beat Montoya was an impossible task.

Undoubtedly the top two drove for the best equipped teams in F3000, although their teammates fared less well. Montoya was paired with Boris Derichebourg at Super Nova, an unusual choice for team mate as the young Frenchman was not a consistent performer in his rookie season. He only scored points on two occasions. However, Super Nova was effectively a four-car team in 1998. David Sears also ran Den Bla Avis, a team set up for Jason Watt in 1997 which was expanded into a two car operation for this year. Watt once again showed the speed he demonstrated last year, but lacked consistency. He won at Imola but threw away a commanding lead in Monaco when he crashed into the barriers at Casino, and also threw away second at Pau. The Dane's team mate Gareth Rees finally had a crack at F3000 with a top team, but failed to meet expectations. He finished fourth on three occasions and was mauled by 'team mate' Montoya while heading for points at Monaco, but he rarely matched the pace of Watt or the Colombian. At West Competition Heidfeld was paired with Nicolas Minassian, the 1997 British F3 title contender. The Frenchman had a disappointing rookie season. He showed form on occasion, scoring at the A1-Ring and Budapest, but was comprehensively outperformed by Heidfeld. The team dropped him for the final race in favour of German F3 champion Bas Leinders. The Belgian would not start from his 16th grid slot, however, as West asked him to stand down to give Heidfeld a slim chance of winning the title after their fuel mix-up.

Rodriguez wins at SpaStephane Sarrazin, Apomatox

If Montoya and Heidfeld ran away with the title battle, drivers behind also had their day. Watt has already been mentioned, but it was Gonzalo Rodriguez that ended the season on a high. The Uruguayan proved to be the season's most improved driver, winning for Astromega at Spa and the Nurburgring finale. Both times he was aided perhaps by Montoya's strategy to settle for good points finishes. Nevertheless, the pace he showed in 1997 was now combined with maturity. His sheer joy at taking his maiden win at Spa was one of the enduring memories of the season. Teammate Gaston Mazzacane had a poor season. He scored a point in two races, but his season was summed up by Kevin McGarrity landing on top of him in Austria and a massive pile-up at Hockenheim. Kurt Mollekens was cruising with a damaged car in the rain, and Giovanni Montanari ploughed into the back of him. Mazzacane drove unsighted into Mollekens and other cars careered into the wreckage, the Argentinian's car ending up on its rollbar, driver thankfully uninjured.

Stephane Sarrazin surprised many, including himself, by winning the Oschersleben opener in the rain. Starting 18th, the French rookie's main aim was to get to the finish and learn, but a superior tyre stop by his Apomatox/Prost Junior team gave him the lead, and he drove maturely to take the win. Indifferent races followed, but in Budapest he took pole and followed Heidfeld home for second.

Soheil Ayari, Durango

It was another Frenchman who was the only other driver to win a race in 1998; Soheil Ayari. Driving for Durango, it would always be hard to improve on his up and down first season. He was normally faster than his badly set up machinery, causing him to push too hard and throw it off the road on many occasions. It all came together at the A1-Ring, however, where he was dominant, taking Durango's only F3000 win to date. He only scored on three other occasions, and was excluded from Monaco qualifying for spin-turning in front of Kurt Mollekens. Ayari's French-Canadian team mate Bertrand Godin could not coax as much from the errant machinery in his rookie year, despite proving himself capable in Indy Lights and Formula Atlantic. He suffered a big shunt in qualifying at Barcelona. Kurt Mollekens, whose KTR team joined forces with Arden in 1998, had a promising second season. He led the championship briefly, scoring in four of the first six races, but the big crash at Hockenheim interrupted his year. In his return at Spa he failed to qualify, through no fault of his own, and by the end of the year, after finishing fourth at the Nurburgring, he decided to turn to team management. He should to give himself another chance. Arden/KTR teammate Christian Horner was a backmarker throughout the season, and couldn't reach the points as he had once in '97.

Max Wilson, Edenbridge

Brazilian Max Wilson was expected to be a title contender this year after a promising 1997. The Edenbridge driver didn't deliver though. A lapped second at Pau, a fifth and a sixth were his only results of 1998. Team mate Werner Lupberger was a midfield runner at best. The most interesting thing he did all year was roll at the Nurburgring. Another man expected to fight for the title was Jamie Davies. The Briton was a contender for DAMS in 1997, but this year he slipped down the grid. The team could not find a set up all year, and Davies could only perform where driving ability counted most; in the wet at Oschersleben and at the Monaco race. DAMS must reorganise themselves if they are to bring back their late 80s/early 90s form. Team mate Gregoire de Galzain continued to be a backmarker.

One of the quiet surprises of the year was Andre Couto. The Macanese driver graduated to F3000 with the Prema team he raced for in Italian F3, and scored points in four rounds. His team mate was initially Paolo Ruberti, another Italian F3 graduate. He impressed on occasion, finishing third at Oschersleben before being disqualified for a technical infringement, but couldn't afford to stay for the whole season. He was replaced by the Italian Thomas Biagi, who also raced for Coloni.

Marcelo Battistuzzi, Apomatox

Another rookie who showed flashes of speed was Draco's Bruno Junqueira. The Brazilian SudAm F3 star scored points at the A1-Ring and Hockenheim. Team mate Giovanni Montanari, graduating from the Formula Opel Euroseries, found the going tough and only occasionally showed the required speed. Marcelo Battistuzzi, the reigning Formula Opel champion, struggled as Sarrazin's teammate at Apomatox, the Brazilian scoring a lone point at Spa. The most surprising rookie of the season only joined for the last five races. Tomas Enge, a little known Czechoslovakian, was very impressive for Auto Sport Racing. He ran second at Spa before dropping back to seventh, and scored a point at the Nurburgring finale. He could certainly coax more speed from the Auto Sport Racing Lola than his teammates. Oliver Martini, reigning Italian F3 champion, was only impressive on occasion, while Rui Aguas and Dino Morelli, the latter recovered from his horrific 1997 crash, struggled. Morelli raced four times for the team until his sponsorship ran out. Aguas raced only once but switched to Coloni for five races. Other Coloni drivers Oliver Tichy, Giorgio Vinella and Thomas Biagi all struggled. Vinella graduated from British Formula Renault and wasn't really ready for this level of competition. He also suffered a barrel roll at Imola.

Oreca returned to F3000 after a long absence as the official BMW junior team. Run in white and blue with BMW and RTL sponsorship, the cars of German F3 frontrunners Alex Muller and Dominik Schwager certainly looked impressive. Unfortunately the results didn't come, except for a fourth for Schwager and a fifth for Muller, and Oreca as a result looked a shadow of its former self. Their season was typified by the Hockenheim race; Muller battled with Minassian for third, his best chance of the year, before the two clashed and had to retire. Meanwhile Montoya held back and watched the rookies gift him the position…

Fabrice Walfisch, Nordic

The British contingent other than Davies and Rees also found the going tough. Redman Bright extended their team to a two car operation, with British F3 champion Jonny Kane looking to move them into the big time. Unfortunately Jonny and the team didn't perform, and his orange Lola was soon no longer to be seen when sponsorship ran out. Mark Shaw lasted the season but was generally nowhere, colliding with Jason Watt at Enna. David Cook, an impressive rookie in '97 and the 1996 British F.Renault champion, drove for the team three times but couldn't do much and suffered a heavy shunt in Hungary. Kevin McGarrity never qualified higher than 27th with the new Raceprep team, but when they withdrew he switched to Nordic and finished a promising fourth at the flooded Hockenheim. He also caused an embarrasing accident at the A1-Ring, launching his car over the back of his team mate and landing on Gaston Mazzacane. McGarrity replaced the Argentinian Brian Smith at Nordic, the former British F3 front runner failing to perform. Fabrice Walfisch lasted the season for the team but was generally a backmarker despite his French F3 pace. The Japanese Hidetoshi Mitsusada also raced for the team without success.

Other drivers had equally uneventful seasons. GP Racing fielded a single car, initially for Cyrille Sauvage, the former Draco driver. The Frenchman was generally a midfield runner, but scored points in the Oschersleben lottery. James Taylor replaced him for the final two races, the British pay-driver not belonging at this level. Fabrizio Gollin raced for the new GS team, but remained a backmarker for his third year in F3000. Elide Racing returned after a qualifying effort in 1997, but only for two races. Polo Villaamil did well to qualify in Barcelona in the circumstances.

So, 1998 proved to be a classic year in F3000. The huge grids, F1 involvement and down-to-the-wire title battle meant this year's action will be hard to beat in 1999. Juan Pablo Montoya fully deserves Alex Zanardi's vacated Champ Car title winning seat. With every race supporting a Grand Prix next year, the reigning champion racing for a top team and a new Lola chassis looking more like a Grand Prix car, F3000 should finally be seen as a true "Junior F1".

FINAL STANDINGS 1998:

Position

Driver

Team

Wins

Points

1

Juan Pablo Montoya (COL)

Super Nova

4

65

2

Nick Heidfeld (D)

West Competition

3

58

3

Gonzalo Rodriguez (UR)

Astromega

2

33

4

Jason Watt (DK)

Den Blå Avis

1

30

5

Soheil Ayari (F)

Durango

1

20

6=

Stephane Sarrazin (F)

Apomatox

1

19

 

Kurt Mollekens (B)

Arden/KTR

0

19

8

Gareth Rees (GB)

Den Blå Avis

0

10

9

Max Wilson (BR)

Edenbridge

0

9

10

Jamie Davies (GB)

DAMS

0

8

11

Andre Couto (MAC)

Prema

0

7

12=

Boris Derichebourg (F)

Super Nova

0

5

 

Nicolas Minassian (F)

West Competition

0

5

14=

Thomas Biagi (I)

Coloni/Prema

0

3

 

Dominik Schwager (D)

RTL Oreca

0

3

 

Kevin McGarrity (GB)

Raceprep/Nordic

0

3

 

Bruno Junqueira (BR)

Draco

0

3

 

Oliver Martini (I)

Auto Sport Racing

0

3

19=

Cyrille Sauvage (F)

GP Racing

0

2

 

Alex Muller (D)

RTL Oreca

0

2

 

Gaston Mazzacane (RA)

Astromega

0

2

22=

Marcelo Battistuzzi (BR)

Apomatox

0

1

 

Werner Lupberger (ZA)

Edenbridge

0

1

 

Tomas Enge (CZ)

Auto Sport Racing

0

1

(All cars are Lola T96/50 - Zytek)

 

UNOFFICIAL F3000 INFORMATION PAGES' TOP 10 OF 1998:

  1. Juan Pablo Montoya - Learned from the mistakes of 1997 and was once again sensationally fast. Lapping the field at Pau was a highlight.
  2. Nick Heidfeld - Almost took the title at his first attempt. May have driven for the best team, but still exceeded all expectations. Favourite for 1999 title if he returns.
  3. Gonzalo Rodriguez - A vast improvement in form from his rookie year, now translating speed into results. Should be a title contender next year.
  4. Jason Watt - A mixed season after his impressive 1997 debut. Threw it away at Monaco but still took one win and four podiums.
  5. Soheil Ayari - Had a similar season to last year - flashes of speed, one win, and plenty of offs. But at least this year he could blame the team.
  6. Kurt Mollekens - At one stage the championship leader, a crash at Hockenheim interrupted his momentum, and he didn't score again until th last race. Then decided to turn to team management. A talented driver who should give himself another chance.
  7. Andre Couto - Most consistent of the rookies apart from Heidfeld. Took the new Prema team's Lola to points finishes on four occasions and outperformed Oliver Martini, who beat him to the 1997 Italian F3 title.
  8. Stephane Sarrazin - If the French rookie's win at Oschersleben was a bit of a fluke, he proved he could drive at the Hungaroring with a second from the pole. He couldn't match that form elsewhere, though.
  9. Gareth Rees - No match for Montoya or Watt at the David Sears teams, but he quietly got on with the job and scored a few good results. Best of the Brits in competition, outperforming Jamie Davies, a title contender from last year.
  10. = Jamie Davies - A title contender and race winner from last year, the Somerset man was generally nowhere this year, and his team was largely to blame. Where driver talent can overcome poor car set-up, such as at Monaco and Pau and in the wet at Oschersleben, Davies excelled.

Tomas Enge - The Czech was one of the biggest surprises of the year. Coming from nowhere to race at the front at Spa and score a point at the Nurburgring, he impressed many and is sure to have a full time drive next year.

 

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