The mid-nineties were a difficult time for Formula 3000, as several top drivers struggled to break into F1. The 1995 championship was also marred by a fatal accident on the last lap of the season.
By the beginning of 1993, Reynard had killed off the competition and theirs was now the only chassis being used in what was theoretically still a multi-make championship.
However the competition between the drivers was as close as ever. In a season of just nine rounds – the shortest the championship had seen so far – three drivers arrived at the final with a chance to win the title.
Among them were Pedro Lamy, who finished second to Olivier Beretta in the season-opener at Donington, then won round three at Pau. But Lamy’s championship bid was strewn with incidents.
At Enna he tangled with Pacific driver David Coulthard, then spun off later in the race. Coulthard went on to win, capping a string of three consecutive podium finishes which saw him arrive at the final round with a crack at the title.
Enna had been the usual crash-fest, the red flags coming out after a series of accidents around the high-speed Sicilian circuit. The wrecked machinery piled up at the Hockenheimring as well – first Eric Angelvy was flipped on lap two, then five cars were eliminated in another crash at the beginning of lap three:
However Hockenheim also saw Olivier Panis begin streak of wins which continued at the Nurburgring and Spa. That meant he went to Nogaro for the last race of the year one point ahead of Coulthard and Lamy – the latter having tangled with rivals at the Nurburgring and Silverstone.
But the title showdown was a damp squib. Lamy went out on lap three while well out of the points positions. Coulthard’s throttle cable snapped and so Panis claimed the title, despite having been taken out by Vincenzo Sospiri.
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Lola returned to the fray in 1994 but were powerless to prevent another Reynard whitewash. Now in its tenth season, F3000 had begun to face some of the same problems which had ended the old Formula Two championship – chief among which were ever-rising costs. Plans were formed to switch to a single-chassis formula from 1996.
Franck Lagorce and Gil de Ferran were the early pace setters. At the season-opener Lagorce led Coulthard home, but the latter had been unable to persuade Frank Williams to finance his F3000 season and would, at any rate, land an F1 promotion after Ayrton Senna was killed in the San Marino Grand Prix.
De Ferran won the next race at Pau and took the lead in the championship, then followed it up with another victory at Enna. Lagorce hit back with his second win of the year at Hockenheim, moving two points clear at the top of the table.
With three races left in the championship, Jean-Christophe Boullion was trailling by 19 points in the standings. It had been a frustrating season thus far: during qualifying at Enna he had been shocked to come across a group of marshals standing in the track and crashed as he swerved to avoid them.
However in the rain at Spa he passed Lagorce around the outside at Blanchimont and won while the points leader posted his first no-score at the year. De Ferran led at Estoril but was taken out by a rival: Boullion took his second win while Lagorce again failed to add to his tally.
The trio arrived at Magny-Cours separated by a single point. Lagorce beat Boullion to pole, but in a classic showdown Boullion passed Lagorce to take the win and the title. Neither, however, went on to last a full season in Formula One.
While the main F3000 championship had persistently eluded Marco Apicella, he clinched the Japanese title in 1994, albeit in controversial fashion after this final-round tangle with rival Andrew Gilbert-Scott.
Super Nova duo Vincenzo Sospiri and Ricardo Rosset – who would be reunited at Lola’s ill-fated F1 effort two years later – were the prime contenders in the 1995 championship. Rosset led a one-two for the team in the season-opener at Silverstone, but the positions were reversed next time out at the Circuit de Catalunya.
Pau should have been a benefit for the DAMS team as their cars occupied the front row of the grid for the annual race around the narrow street course. But pole sitter Tarso Marques and team mate Guillaume Gomez collided within seconds of the start, letting Sospiri by to take his second win.
The carnage at Enna was milder than usual and Rosset led another Super Nova one-two. Significantly, for the fourth race in a row a Lola had made it among the points scorers. Marc Goosens had been a regular top six finisher previously, reaching the podium at Pau, and now Marco Campos and Jerome Policand made it onto the score sheet.
Finally at the Hockenheimring Goosens became the first driver to win an F3000 race in something other than a Reynard since Jean-Marc Gounon in the 1992 season finale. Lola victories would be more commonplace from 1996, however, as they had won the right to become the series’ exclusive chassis supplier.
Having crashed in Germany Sospiri hit back with a win at Spa. That left him 12 points clear of Rosset with two rounds to go, and as neither reached the podium in the remaining races Sospiri collected the title with a round to spare.
But the very last lap of the season at Magny-Cours brought tragedy. Campos was trying to pass Thomas Biagi’s Reynard when the pair collided, launching the Lola over the barrier at the Adelaide hairpin. Campos suffered serious injuries when his head struck the barrier and the 19-year-old died in hospital the following day.
A revamped Formula 3000 championship returned in 1996. Now a single-specification formula for chassis and engines, the calendar was expanded to ten races including two visits to Hockenheim as the series supported both F1 (three times) and the short-lived International Touring Car championship (at five rounds). Despite this the championship continued to struggle to receive regular television coverage (note how few videos there are of this and other mid-nineties seasons).
The introduction of a standard chassis helped to bring costs down but budgets remained a problem for several drivers. They including Kenny Brack, who mounted a bid for the championship after winning the final race of 1995, and Tom Kristensen, who was left without a drive after the Shannon team collapsed.
Brack won the season-opener at the Nurburgring ahead of Jorg Muller but their positions were reversed at Pau. Brack had joined champions Super Nova while Muller was driving for Helmut Marko’s team.
The title battle see-sawed between the pair throughout the year. Muller moved ahead at Pau, where Brack crashed. A mid-season brace of wins for Brack but him ahead again, but Muller hit back with a triumph of his own at Spa.
Crash at season finale decides title
Unfortunately this fine season-long contest ended in controversy. The pair arrived at the Hockenheimring for the final race knowing a win for either would make them champion. Brack led the early stages but was passed by his rival. Then on lap 18 Muller came under attack: his rival drew alongside approaching the final chicane but squeezed Muller hard, triggering a collision.
While Muller crashed out, Brack continued, but within a couple of laps he had been shown the black flag for his role in the contact. Brack ignored it and crossed the finishing line in first place, but once his disqualification took effect Muller was confirmed as champion.
However concerns were growing over the difficulties top F3000 drivers had experienced in finding an F1 berth. Brack and Sospiri never started an F1 race, and Boullion only made a handful of appearances in the 1995 season. The switch to a single-make formula had not cured all of the championship’s problems.
The Japanese championship also ended in drama. Ralf Schumacher had a two-point lead over his team Le Mans team mate Naoki Hattori as the championship reached its climax at Fuji.
But Schumacher spun out in dreadful conditions on lap three. That opened the door for Hattori to take the title, but seven laps from home he too spun off, handing Schumacher the title.
Formula 3000 memories will continue tomorrow.
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