Red Bull-backed Carlin and its French driver Jean-Eric Vergne look to be the combination to beat in this year’s British F3 International championship after blitzing the opening rounds at Oulton Park.
Vergne won twice, and Carlin swept up the full slate of honours when another of its drivers, Suffolk’s Rupert Svendsen-Cook, took victory in the one race the new championship leader missed out on.
The biggest challenge to the pair came from Fortec’s Oli Webb, who managed a brace of second places and came away from the weekend splitting them in the championship standings.
All rivalry was put aside, however, at the end of Saturday’s racing programme, when the other teams were happy to follow the lead of Carlin engineer Daniel Hale in a one-lap run around the circuit to raise funds for the Headway charity in memory of Henry Surtees.
Qualifying: Vergne follows in Ricciardo’s footprints
British F3’s new-look race weekend kicked off with Vergne making the best of damp conditions in qualifying to set the top time by a margin of two-tenths of a second.
The 19-year-old, piloting the car raced by 2009 champion Daniel Ricciardo, also took the second slot on the timesheet meaning that under the series’ new rules he would start on pole for both the first and the third races.
The second-fastest driver of the session was Raikkonen Robertson’s Carlos Huertas, with Webb third. Svendsen-Cook was fourth and Litespeed’s Jay Bridger fifth with Hywel Lloyd eighth and Alex Brundle tenth.
However Racing Steps Foundation pilot James Calado, also a member of the six-strong Carlin stable, faced disappointment after sitting out the closing moments of the session with car trouble and ending up 14th overall.
Round one: Vergne leads from pole to flag – but local boy Webb is second
Vergne made the most of his pole position to lead the race from pole to flag by way of a safety car interlude. Webb, who hails from nearby Knutsford, occupied the second spot on the podium after crossing the line 3.5 seconds behind him.
The Frenchman’s faultless start meant Webb’s only real hope of passing him came at the lap eight restart following the interruption caused by Calado colliding with Lloyd, sending the CF Racing/Manor driver off to the pits and retiring himself.
But Vergne left no opportunity for Webb to strike and the pair led home a procession. Brazilian Adriano Buzaid grabbed third on the opening lap stayed there to take the third podium place. Huertas was fourth and Svendsen-Cook, who had started third, was fifth ahead of Raikkonen Robertson’s Daisuke Nakajima.
Bridger was on for seventh but ran off the track two laps from the end, handing the place to Hitech’s Gabriel Dias. Jazeman Jaafar, Daniel McKenzie and Will Buller completed the top 10. In the National Class Idafar survived a shaky start to lead Cole from lap one.
Round two: Svendsen-Cook overtakes for sprint victory
Hitech’s Gabriel Dias started from pole position on a semi-reversed grid decided partly by the finishing order of race one and partly by a draw made by race-winner Vergne who picked the Brazilian’s race number out of a hat.
But it was Svendsen-Cook who took the victory to make it two wins from two starts for the Carlin team.
The 19-year-old from Ipswich overhauled Dias at the start as the pole-sitter spun at a slippery Old Hall Corner, then snatched the lead from Nakajima at the start of the fourth lap.
Behind them at the finish was Huertas, with Carlin drivers Buzaid fourth, Vergne fifth and Jaafar sixth. McKenzie, Webb, Buller and Brundle completed the top 10 while Idafar claimed his second National Class victory after Cole spun mid-race.
Round three: Vergne completes Carlin’s weekend
Vergne ended the meeting with a 17-point championship advantage after winning the feature race by establishing a lead from pole position and never looking back – just as he had done in round one.
Webb once again pushed him hard, securing second place after Huertas stalled on the line, but a mistake on the fourth lap of the race put the win beyond his grasp despite his feeling that he was driving the quicker car.
Svendsen-Cook converted a third-place grid slot into the last podium place and collected the Sunoco Driver of the Weekend award while Dias secured himself fourth ahead of Buzaid. Calado battled up to eighth on the opening lap and was in sixth place by the flag.
Bridger and Nakajima were seventh and eighth while Brundle defended hard all race against McKenzie to win himself the better of the two final top-ten slots. In theNational class Cole was the sole finisher after a first-lap mishap felled Idafar.
• To get the full results and championship standings following the Oulton Park meeting visit the British F3 website here.