Carlin’s Jean-Eric Vergne regained the lead of the British F3 International championship as the series visited Hockenheim, winning both the first and third races with ease from pole.
He now holds a 34-point advantage over Oli Webb, with James Calado a further 39 back. Both of the British drivers struggled over the weekend with penalties, race pace and off-track adventures, and it was the Brazilian rivals Gabriel Dias of Hitech and Carlin’s Adriano Buzaid who provided much of the opposition.
Qualifying: Vergne quick, clean and efficient
Vergne earned both pole positions at stake as the only driver to set a sub 1min 34sec lap, and was also one of the lesser offenders when the field developed the habit of cutting corners during their qualifying runs and the stewards started dishing out penalties.
What’s more, the Carlin driver did it despite reliability issues that restricted his time on track. “I only got about four flying laps before the engine developed some problems. I was quite lucky,” he said.
Behind him were Dias and Buzaid, with William Buller and Webb fourth and fifth as the best-placed British drivers. Rupert Svendsen-Cook qualified eighth and Daniel McKenzie 10th.
Other Brits in the International class included Calado in 12th after losing some of his best times to penalties, Alex Brundle in 13th, Wayne Boyd making his return to the series in 15th, Jay Bridger in 17th and Hywel Lloyd in 21st.
Race one: Lights-to-flag victory for Vergne
It took three attempts to start the weekend’s opening race as Dias suffered repeated clutch problems and was eventually relegated to starting from the pitlane – but, when it did begin, Vergne wasted no time in building a winning lead.
Never behind at any point in the race, the Carlin Frenchman’s victory was made even more emphatic by his rivals’ continued inability to avoid cutting corners. Buzaid lost second place to a penalty, and Buller and Daisuke Nakajima might also have had podiums had they kept their noses cleaner.
Webb, who had led the championship coming into the weekend, seized third from Jazeman Jaafar but then suffered a double dose of handling problems, running off track twice to eventually finish eighth.
At the end, it was Jaafar who finished second, ahead of McKenzie who took his first International Class podium. Calado was fourth ahead of the recovering Buzaid, then Bridger and Dias.
Webb’s eighth place gave him pole for the second race when Vergne made the draw for the partially-reversed grid, while Buller was 10th behind National Class runner James Cole. Svendsen-Cook was 12th, Brundle 15th, Boyd 17th and Lloyd 20th.
Race two: Dias makes lemonade from lemons
Gabriel Dias could have been forgiven for thinking the stars were aligned against him in the second Hockenheim race – first his race kit and helmet were trapped in the team truck behind a jammed door until moments before the off, and then the new clutch his team gave him after his first-race woes led to him bogging down at the start and losing second place.
But once the race settled down and he got to grips with the changes to his car he was unbeatable, hoovering up first Buzaid and then Webb to take a winning lead with five laps remaining. He said: “The car was just so good – so good that I could catch the guys in front easily. It was so superior I could just drive straight past them. Great work from the team.”
A rather shell-shocked Webb added: “We knew that Dias would be quicker, he had newer tyres than us because we opted to save ours for the third race – but we didn’t think he’d be that quick.”
Behind Dias, Webb and Buzaid was Bridger, who resisted race-long pressure from Vergne to take an excellent fourth. Calado was sixth and Buller seventh despite the best efforts of Jaafar. Svendsen-Cook finished ninth and McKenzie 11th, with Brundle, Boyd and Lloyd filling 14th – 16th places.
Race three: Another big win for Vergne
Another dominant win for Vergne, in which he took the flag more than 21 seconds ahead of his rivals in a 25-lap race, showed he had shaken off the disappointment of his poor performance at his home races in Magny-Cours the previous weekend.
He said: “It was an easy race for me, to be honest it was like a 40-minute qualifying session. The car was amazing and really easy to push with. Now I can forget last weekend – after Magny-Cours I was feeling really bad, really upset and angry and I wanted to come here and put things right.”
If Dias and Buzaid thought they would be battling for second as they watched Vergne disappear into the distance, they were proved wrong by first Buller and then Jaafar, who passed them to fill the lower steps of the podium.
Calado fought through from a poor qualification position to finish sixth, while Svendsen-Cook took eighth. Brundle was 10th and Webb 11th after a drive-through. Bridger finished 12th and was awarded the Sunoco Driver of the Weekend prize, while Boyd was 13th, Lloyd 15th and McKenzie 16th.