mySAP one-two as Enge Czechs out
29 July 2000
Formula 3000's champion team finally came good at Hockenheim, scoring an emphatic formation finish despite the intervention of more adverse weather.
The conditions actually struck before the race was even underway, as the damp track left from the end of Formula One qualifying caught out French rookie Sebastien Bourdais on the formation lap, and reduced the field to 25 cars as it filed away behind the Safety Car.
Thankfully, the track surface was not as wet as it had been for qualifying on Friday and, despite the FIA declaring the event a wet race, there was a definite dry line appearing around the infield section by the time the pack was unleashed for the final 30 of 31 laps.
Almost immediately, poleman Tomas Enge sprinted away from the rolling start, leaving mySAP team-mate Tomas Scheckter to concentrate on fending off the attentions of third-placed Mark Webber. The young South African need not have worried, however, for his Australian rival had been caught napping by the fast starting Jeffrey van Hooydonk and, making the most of the gap left by Bourdais' absent car, the Belgian vaulted into the top three as the leaders set off into the forest.
The conditions between the Clark and Senna chicanes remained the worst on the circuit, and they wasted no time in catching out the unwary and over-exuberant. Returnee Dino Morelli was the first to succumb, taking to the escape road at the Clark Kurve before rejoining, while Fernando Alonso did the same at the Ostkurve.
By the time the field arrived back in the stadium section, the two mySAP cars had a comfortable advantage, but it was Webber back in third after passing van Hooydonk on the run back from Senna.
The championship contenders at this point had made little impression on the point-scoring positions, with Bruno Junqueira and Nicolas Minassian having to contend with the spray after starting in twelfth and 13th places respectively. The Brazilian was already trailing his title adversary, and about to make his main contribution to the race.
A winner in the 1999 running, Junqueira got it horribly wrong heading into the Ostkurve as early as lap three, collecting both David Saelens and the luckless Morelli and propelling all three into the gravel. All managed to rejoin after some delay, with the Petrobras Jr driver the worst affected as his nose-wing dragged along the track all the way back to the pits.
Figuring he had nothing to lose, Junqueira switched to slicks at the same time as taking on a new nose and, in company with Saelens, returned to explore the limits of grip around the back of the circuit. Had it remained dry, the move could well have been an inspired one but, just as Nordic's Justin Wilson opted for dry weather rubber, the heavens opened at Clark, prolonging the need for treaded.
With his championship rival out of the running, Minassian knew that he had the perfect opportunity to open out an advantage at the head of the table - provided that he could dispense with those running between him and the points.
The Frenchman's luck wasn't in immediately, although he was helped by the re-appearance of the pace car, which bunched the field up as various wrecks - including that of Wilson - were removed from the side of the track. At the other end of the scale, however, the man cursing the race director's decision the most would have been Enge, for all his hard work and skill in building up an eight-second lead was wasted in a stroke.
At the re-start, the Czech had Webber right behind him, and determined not to make a mess of the second attempt. Enge held firm, however, and it was not long before the silver mySAP car again began to pull away at the front.
Further back, the spray continued to be a factor, and the low-downforce Franck Montagny wasted no time in removing Austria pole-sitter van Hooydonk from the fray at the Ostkurve. Both rejoined initially, but the Belgian travelled only a small distance before realising that his car was beyond use. Montagny ploughed on for a couple of laps before deciding that his even lower downforce set-up was perhaps not the best for the conditions and pitted for repairs.
All of this, however, finally allowed Minassian to claw his way into the top six, although his joy was to be short-lived. The resurgent Kristian Kolby was the first to highlight the Frenchman's woe, and closer inspection quickly showed his tyres to be well past their best. Indeed, many of the remaining runners were showing dark rings of blisters on their rear tyres, with the resultant lack of grip and, ultimately, loss of position.
As Minassian fell away from Kolby, so his slick-shod Super Nova team-mate Saelens gave the first hint that smooth rubber was the way to go. The Belgian was fairly racing through the field and, although he finally had to pit again, convinced the pit-lane that it was time to wheel out the slicks.
Two laps after his teenage team-mate found a way past the struggling Webber, Enge decided to make his pit-stop. Another multi-second lead was thus wiped out, leaving Scheckter in position to take a fairytale victory in just his second start in the category. Enge rejoined on the fringes of the points, immediately beginning to reel in those ahead of him, but Scheckter continued to drone on, irrespective of the tyres waiting for him in pit-road.
It quickly became apparent that the team was leaving the call to its new charge, for Scheckter passed pit entrance lap after lap as he continued to lead. Enge had fallen further back with a quick spin out of the chicane, and the South African clearly decided to try and make his tyres last the remaining six laps.
Those behind him had opted for the same strategy, with Webber and Andrea Piccini following at a distance in an attempt to take podium positions. Enge, however, had other ideas and, once he'd cleaned the gravel from his tyres, began to charge once more.
Scheckter indulged in a spin of his own at the Ostkurve, resetting the gap between him and his team-mate, as it began ominously to look like a battle between the two Tomases. Enge was still sixth at this point, but slicks were definitely the way to go as the race entered its last five laps.
Enrique Bernoldi was the first to go followed, on the next lap, by Kolby, Piccini and Webber. Nothing now stood between Enge and his team-mate, save for two laps and a few hundred yards of tarmac. The gap reduced at an alarming rate and, on pit-wall, Jody Scheckter soon realised that there was nothing that could be done to preserve his son's lead. Passing the same spot going into the final lap, Enge pounced and, despite brief resistance from the youngster, soon pulled away.
It had been an inspired drive - if not necessarily a healthy one for those watching in the Enge camp - and the Czech was out of the belts as he celebrated on the slowing down lap. Scheckter was quick to draw alongside to offer his own congratulations, while the rest went largely forgotten in the clamour.
For the record, Webber hung on to third to keep his championship slim hopes alive, while Piccini did likewise to score Kid Jensen's first - and most vital - points of the year. Kolby went from zero to hero in 14 days, following four successive non-qualifications with his maiden F3000 points, with Bernoldi hanging onto the final scoring place.
Also largely unnoticed was Minassian's charge back through the pack once he had had his own slicks fitted. The Frenchman was just 2/100ths of a second from taking that championship advantage he sought at the flag but, like Junqueira, will have been glad that no-one was really close enough to challenge the lead on another topsy-turvy weekend.