As the eighties turned into the nineties Formula 3000 cemented its position as the leading category for aspiring Formula One drivers. However risings speeds brought with it an increase in danger.
Jordan started the 1989 with race-winner Martin Donnelly alongside Jean Alesi, who had endured a trying 1988 with ORECA. Both would make their F1 debuts at mid-season in the French Grand Prix, Alesi securing his grand prix future with an excellent fourth place for Tyrrell.
Donnelly suffered a more frustrating campaign, being stripped of victory at Vallelunga when it was found his car’s nose had not been crash-tested. Fabrizio Giovanardi inherited the win, which was March’s only triumph all season.
A slow-starting Eric Bernard triggered a first-corner pile-up at Pau. When the race finally got going, Alesi won after Donnelly crashed out and Bernard was held up by another accident on the narrow French street track.
Team mates collide
The Alesi-Donnelly rivalry reached a new height at the super-fast Enna-Pergusa circut. The pair locked out the front row, and when Donnelly made an audacious bid for the lead he put Alesi out of the race.
But Donnelly was also doomed not to finish this crash-fest. Just five of the 26 starters were still running at the chequered flag.
Wins for Alesi at Birmingham and Spa put him out of Donnelly’s reach in the championship, though the latter repeated his 1988 Brands Hatch triumph following an audacious pass on his team mate.
Points tie in title race
With two races to go Alesi’s haul of 38 points left him well clear of Marco Apicella (23) and Erik Comas (21) with nine points available for a win. However victories in the final two rounds for Comas almost saw him snatch the title. The pair ended the season tied on 39 points apiece, Alesi taking the title by dint of his three victories to his rival’s two.
Comas returned as the clear title favourite for 1990 and underlined his credentials by winning first time out at Donington Park. However a shocking accident for his DAMS team mate Allan McNish on lap four of the race saw the Lola clear the barriers, killing a spectator and knocking McNish unconscious.
Despite the harrowing start to his season, McNish led Comas home in the second round at Silverstone.
Comas crashes at Pau
Just four drivers were still circulating at the end of the gruelling Pau race. McNish crashed out four laps from home but was still classified in sixth place behind Franck Freon. Eric van de Poele took the victory, Comas also hitting the wall.
Birmingham’s last race
Van de Poele didn’t score again until the Birmingham Superprix six races later. It was the final bow for the Midlands street circuit, and once again the racing was interrupted by red flags. Marco Apicella, racing his fourth season of F3000, led until debris damaged a radiator.
Comas now had a ten point lead in the championship over McNish, and his emphatic victory in the next race at Le Mans sealed the title. Van de Poele rounded of the season with a third win in a wet-dry race at Nogaro – the championship had been due to finish at Dijon, but that race was cancelled with just nine days’ notice.
It was a frustrating season for Damon Hill, who took three pole positions but failed to win a race. He recorded a best of second at Brands Hatch, and crashed out while leading at Hockenheim.
Eddie Jordan’s team, meanwhile, was contemplating a move to Formula One, and had hired Gary Anderson the previous February. Eddie Irvine had a slow start to the season but rallied in the second half, ending the year third in the championship.
The chassis war took a decisive turn in 1991. Lola, which had won its first title courtesy of Comas the year before, were left trailing in the wake of Reynard. The latter only lost a single race all year, when Jean-Marc Gounon gave Ralt their final victory at Pau.
Alessandro Zanardi had made a one-off F3000 start two years earlier, but on his return with the Il Barone Rampante squad he won first time out at Vallelunga. However technical problems frustrated his campaign: a broken driveshaft at Pau, tyre failure at Enna and broken alternator at Le Mans. Aside from a spin at Hockenheim, he finished every other race in the top two.
Meanwhile the Lola-mounted drivers struggled. McNish failed to qualify twice, Marco Apicella parked his car five laps into the Spa race, and others jumped ship to Reynard when they could. They included Hill, who got his chassis for the Nogaro finale and qualified third, only to be taken off by team mate Vincenzo Sospiri while lapping him.
Emanuele Naspetti failed to score in the first four races but by the last of those, at Mugello, he had switched from Lola to Reynard. He then took control, winning four races in a row, while question were raised over the fuel his Forti team were putting in their cars. By the end of the season several teams were rumoured to be using something other than what the stickers on the car indicated – Zanardi’s team obtained some of the Benetton F1 squad’s fuel via Flavio Briatore.
Christian Fittipaldi, whose Pacific team had been using Reynards all year, arrived at Nogaro with a two-point lead over Zanardi and Naspetti. The latter suffered a setback when his fuel was analysed and deemed illegal. Fittipaldi led Zanardi home and clinched the title.
However it was Zanardi who made his F1 debut first, substituting for Roberto Moreno at Jordan’s new F1 team for the last three races of the year in a deal arranged via Maurizio Arrivabene, then working for Marlboro.
Michael Schumacher’s only F3000 race
Zanardi’s Jordan deal came about after another driver had jumped ship after just a single race for Jordan. This was Michael Schumacher, who had arrived in F1 largely on the strength of his Mercedes sports car performances.
However Schumacher had made a single F3000 start in the Japanese championship round at Sugo. He finished second behind Ross Cheever, while sixth-placed Ukyo Katayama went on to take the title.
The British championship was marred by tragedy, however. Paul Warwick, the brother of F1 driver Derek Warwick, dominated proceedings, winning the first four races from pole position. He also took pole for the fifth, at Oulton Park, which he was leading when he crashed at Knickerbrook corner and was fatally injured. He won that race, and the championship, posthumously.
Reynard tightened its grip on the competition in 1992. March withdrew after Silverstone and by the end of the year DAMS and Apomatox were the last teams left on Lolas. A single Ralt was the only other non-Reynard machine. Meanwhile the FIA clamped down on the use of exotic fuels.
Naspetti, who won at Pau, soon quit the championship to pursue March’s F1 ambitions – unluckily for him, the team did not last beyond the end of the year.
It was a year of stand-out rookie talent. Luca Badoer, having moved up from Italian F3, took control of the championship at mid-season with three wins on the trot. By the time the series arrived at Magny-Cours he had already clinched the title, but he and runner-up Andrea Montermini scrapped as if the championship was still on the line, clashing repeatedly at the hairpin and both eventually retiring.
Reigning British F3 champion Rubens Barrichello also impressed with a consistent though win-less campaign which saw him end the year third overall. He and Badoer soon made their way into F1: Barrichello with Jordan, Badoer unfortunately as part of Scuedria Italia’s woeful 1993 effort.
Barrichello had been fortunate to escape injury in a frightening crash at Enna when his car hit a recovery vehicle – fortunately for Barrichello, he went in backwards. But for the second year in a row an F3000 driver lost his life in a race outside of the main championship. Japanese driver Hitoshi Ogawa was killed after he collided with Andrew Gilbert-Scott in a race at Suzuka.
Akihiko Nakaya survived another shocking accident at Suzuka when his car was launched into the air approaching the chicane:
Formula 3000 memories will continue tomorrow.
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