Daniel Ricciardo saw off the challenge of title hopeful Walter Grubmuller to extend his lead in the British F3 International Championship at Spa-Francorchamps this weekend to 37 points – the biggest gap he has enjoyed all season.
A win in Round 13 and then a mature drive to second place in a wet Round 14 that saw Ricciardo thinking about his overall championship prospects rather than challenging for a risky win meant he secured an excellent overall result.
Hitech’s Renger van der Zande made the best of the damp Thursday weather to set the fastest time in free practice, proving to be the only driver to break the 2:37 barrier in the day’s second session.
T-Sport’s Adriano Buzaid had gone quickest in the heavy rain of the morning session, but the Brazilian slipped to third overall in the afternoon.
Competing easily with van der Zande and Buzaid was Jake Rosenzweig, one of five invitees from the F3 Euro Series joining the championship this weekend. Carlin driver Rosenzweig and ART’s Esteban Gutierrez were the only guest drivers to break into the top 10.
Round 13 qualifying: Ricciardo asserts himself for Carlin
Carlin’s Ricciardo showed his form by taking pole for the championship’s 13th round, grabbing the position from team-mate Max Chilton by three-tenths of a second on a dry and cloudy day.
Wet practice pacesetter van der Zande went just over two-tenths of a second slower than Chilton to bag third place while CF Racing’s Hywel Lloyd had one of his best results of the season so far, going fourth-quickest.
F3 Euro Series championship leader Jules Bianchi was fifth quickest in his ART Grand Prix Dallara, ahead of Donington race winner Walter Grubmuller in the second Hitech car.
Unfortunately Donington’s other victor, Wayne Boyd, was one of three drivers having problems: “I lost it at Pouhon, spun and hit the barriers,” said the Ulsterman. Fortunately, damage to his T-Sport Dallara was light.
Fortec’s Riki Christodoulou was down in 12th place with Boyd eventually 13th, Litespeed’s Jay Bridger 16th and Carlin’s Henry Arundel 17th in what was a relatively unsuccessful session for the British drivers.
Round 14 qualifying: Maiden pole for Buzaid
T-Sport’s Adriano Buzaid claimed his maiden pole on a drenched track to beat his nearest rival by sixth-tenths of a second. The Brazilian was the only driver with an allowable time to break the 2:38 barrier, with a fastest lap of 2:37.214. He was consistently the fastest driver during the session, and set his best time 10 minutes from the end.
The ART Grand Prix Invitation Class cars of Finland’s Valtteri Bottas and Frenchman Jules Bianchi were second and third quickest in the session, but their qualifying times – along with those of their team-mate Esteban Gutierrez – were later disallowed after their cars were found to infringe the front wing technical regulations. All three were due to start the race from the back of the grid.
Following their demotion, Ricciardo was handed second on the grid, with Boyd third, the latter bouncing back from his earlier qualifying accident to establish himself as the top British driver on the grid. Christodoulou was a net sixth, Arundel seventh, Bridger 10th and Chilton 11th. Hywel Lloyd was not able to repeat his success in the earlier session, and lined up 16th.
Round 13: Ricciardo takes fight to championship rivals
Ricciardo scored his fourth race victory in Round 13 and, with his chief title challenger Grubmuller failing to score, the Australian significantly increased his points advantage.
He led every lap, to the chagrin of dominant F3 Euro Series’ team ART Grand Prix whose drivers Bianchi and Bottas had to make do with second and third places overall. He also took the International Class fastest lap with a time of 2:15.046.
Ricciardo had van der Zande breathing down his neck through the opening corners – until the safety car brought him breathing space. With a restart at the beginning of lap four and just 18 minutes of the race remaining he produced a trouble-free drive to pull clear of his rival.
Van der Zande and Fortec’s Victor Garcia claimed the remaining UK International Class podium places, with Daniel McKenzie the National Class victor for the ninth time. The Dutchman was pushed back to fourth overall two laps from home by Bottas.
Riki Christodoulou collided with Daisuke Nakajima at the La Source hairpin on the opening lap to bring their races to a premature end. Max Chilton stalled on the front row of the grid and was hit by only one car, that of Hywel Lloyd. Both had to pit for repairs at the end of the lap.
Carlin’s Invitation Class runner Rosenzweig finished next on the road ahead of Buzaid, who drove a sound race to sixth overall only to collect a one-minute penalty from stewards who judged he had started from the wrong position.
Garcia finished third in class for Fortec, gaining his first British F3 podium, and beating Chilton and Lloyd, who staged remarkable recovery drives after their pit visits.
Next were Carlin’s Philip Major, Arundel and Bridger. Boyd stopped with a fuel pump problem three laps from the end.
Round 14: Buzaid converts pole into maiden win
Adriano Buzaid has become the eighth man to win a race in this year’s British Formula Three International championship – after his team-mate Boyd also took his debut win in the previous meeting at Donington Park.
However Ricciardo’s second-place finish extended his championship lead to 37 points – the largest advantage that the Australian has enjoyed all season, making him arguably the real victor of the day.
Rain started to fall during the race’s warm-up lap leaving the drivers and teams with a difficult decision to make about tyres. All but Invitation Class runner Jake Rosenzweig opted to start on slicks, and some rued their decision when the rain became heavier on lap five.
Buzaid and Ricciardo edged their way through the opening laps with the Brazilian swiftly repulsing an early attack from the Australian and building a one-second advantage within a couple of laps. He pulled even further ahead as the rain fell and the track became even more treacherous. Ricciardo mindful of his championship lead, was content to drive for points.
Buzaid crossed the line almost six seconds ahead, dedicating his win to Henry Surtees, who he described as “a very good friend of mine.” He was handed the Sunoco Driver of the Weekend award.
Renger van der Zande and Riki Christodoulou diced for third for much of the race, causing both to slide off the track at the Bus Stop chicane on lap seven. They clashed again at the next corner, La Source, with Christodoulou’s car suffering enough damage to end its race. That left van der Zande on course for third until the penultimate lap when he lost time and was passed for the final podium slot by his Hitech team-mate and championship hopeful Walter Grubmuller.
Van der Zande scrambled around the final corner for fourth, ahead of Arundel and Chilton, with Raikkonen Robertson’s Carlos Huertas seventh ahead of Daisuke Nakajima and Hywel Lloyd. Wayne Boyd finished 12th, and Huertas put in the fastest lap of the race, with a time of 2:17.211.
Standings (points-scorers only):
- Daniel Ricciardo, Carlin: 177 points
- Walter Grubmuller, Hitech: 140 points
- Renger van der Zande, 125 points
- Adriano Buzaid, T-Sport: 99 points
- Max Chilton, Carlin: 90 points
- Riki Christodoulou, Fortech: 86 points
- Nick Tandy, JTR: 68 points
- Daisuke Nakajima, Raikkonen Robertson: 68 points
- Marcus Ericsson, Raikkonen Robertson: 65 points
- Henry Arundel, Carlin: 64 points
- Carlos Huertas, Raikkonen Robertson: 44 points
- Wayne Boyd, T-Sport: 38 points
- Victor Garcia, Fortec: 25 points
- Jay Bridger, Litespeed: 18 points
- Hywel Lloyd, CF Racing: 17 points
- Robert Wickens, Carlin: 12 points
- Philip Major, Carlin: 7points
- Oliver Oakes, Carlin: 7 points
- Stephane Richelmi, Barazi Epsilon: 2 points
- Kevin Chen, Raikkonen Robertson: 1 point