There's a bit of a formula in the F3 Euro Series at the moment. Firstly, don't even think about winning the title in your rookie year - it's too much to ask. The second piece of the puzzle involves getting yourself a drive with ART (formerly ASM) for your second season, then it's just a case of getting the job done.
It worked a treat for Jamie Green, Lewis Hamilton, Paul di Resta, Romain Grosjean and Nico Hulkenberg from 2004-2008, and as Hulkenberg's title-winning season drew to a close last year, Frenchman Jules Bianchi seemed the natural heir to the throne. In the end, his campaign was even more dominant than Hulkenberg's so the 2010 GP2 field had better watch out.
Round 1 Hockenheim, May 16-17
Bianchi was surprisingly off the pace, which was later attributed to a rear damper problem. But that left an open goal for someone to get a headstart on the favourite, and it was Prema Powerteam's Stefano Coletti who did just that, taking advantage of a fluffed start from pole man Sam Bird to win the season opener.
Race two honours went to Jean-Karl Vernay, who had been dropped by Red Bull over the winter. Bianchi at least made it onto the podium this time, but he left the opening weekend a disappointed fourth in the standings.
Round 2 Lausitz, May 30-31
The wrongs of Hockenheim were righted next time out at Lausitz, although Bianchi still had the small hurdle of rookie team-mate Valtteri Bottas to overhaul after the Finn snatched pole and led the early laps. In the end it was a comfortable Saturday win for the man driving car No.1 though, the first of many.
The tone for the season was starting to be set by Sunday, as Mucke Motorsport's Christian Vietoris took Sunday honours, a feat that would form the base of his challenge to Bianchi as the year wore on.
There were also smiles at Carlin Motorsport, as Brendon Hartley notched up two points finishes, suggesting that the dominant team in British F3 was starting to get a handle on the Euro Series in its second season.
Round 3 Norisring, June 27-28
Jules Bianchi (ART Dallara-Mercedes) overtakes Alexander Sims (Mucke Dallara-Mercedes) at the Norisring © LAT
Formula 3 at the Norisring means low downforce, which more often than not means great racing and a fair bit of carnage. 2009 was no different.
Bianchi notched up another Saturday win after mugging rookie Alexander Sims at an early restart, but there was confusion at the end as the race was red-flagged due to rain. By the time the officials decided to restart the race, there wasn't time for a racing lap, so Bianchi took the chequered flag on the 'restart'.
A post-race argument broke out between Bianchi and third place finisher Coletti, which resulted in the Prema driver throwing a punch at the Frenchman. Coletti was thrown out of the whole meeting and his season never recovered.
There was more chaos in race two, which enabled Vietoris to take Sunday honours again. Early in the race Bird had been leading, but his hopes of a first Euro Series win were dashed when he was collected by out of control team-mate Sims at Turn 1.
A late restart caused more drama, as Vernay and Bianchi (who had been as low as 11th early on) kept swapping places in the battle for second. Vernay eventually got the place, while Mika Maki jumped Bianchi at the line but was then penalised for a yellow flag infringement.
Round 4 Zandvoort, July 18-19
Zandvoort was calm compared to Norisring, but it was still a weekend where headlines were made.
Bianchi underlined his superiority over the field to become the first driver to win both races in a weekend since the Euro Series adopted the reversed-grid format in 2006. Sebastian Vettel also has that achievement on his CV, but that was only thanks to Paul di Resta being stripped of a victory at the Nurburgring.
It was one of the rare opportunities to see Vietoris and Bianchi go head-to-head in the first race, but the ART driver was in command, stretching out a big lead before a late safety car period allowed Bottas to jump the German as well.
Bianchi's race two win came from eighth on the grid and included a pursuit of race leader Sam Bird where the Frenchman was over a second a lap quicker. Bird described the pass for the win as "inevitable", and it was looking that way in the championship too.
Round 5 Oschersleben, August 1-2
Crash at the start of Race 1 at Oschersleben © LAT
There was another Bianchi/Bottas ART 1-2 in race one, but Oschersleben will be remembered for more madness from the stewards on the Sunday.
The officials decided to give 30-second penalties to 21 of the 23 finishers in Sunday's race for yellow flag infringements, after deciding that it was too dangerous to make them all serve drive-through penalties. Pitlane speed limit, anyone?
That handed victory to Vietoris, who had in fact finished seventh on the road. The decision also put the final nail into the coffin for Coletti, who had won the race on the road but was furious to find out he'd been bumped down to second.
It was disappointing for Bianchi too, as he'd put the move of the season on Vietoris earlier in the race, which had surely killed off the German's hopes of reeling him in for the championship.
Round 6 Nurburgring, August 15-16
ART locked out the podium in race one, as Bianchi took a dominant win ahead of Bottas and Esteban Gutierrez. His winning margin of 13 seconds was the result of a relentless push to the flag, something that would become one of his trademarks. "I never just push for five laps and wait for the flag," he said after the season. "I want to push for the whole race to win by as much as possible."
Vietoris was set for more Sunday success with a reversed-grid pole, but he lost out fair and square to team-mate Sims, who took a well-deserved maiden F3 victory.
That left Bianchi 25 points clear heading to Brands Hatch, where Vietoris desperately needed him to slip up.
Round 7 Brands Hatch, September 5-6
The seemingly impossible happened when the Euro Series came to Britain. Not only did Bianchi's streak of Saturday wins come to an end, but he headed back to mainland Europe without adding to his points tally.
The championship leader had thrown it into the barriers in qualifying and while trying to make up for that in race one he had a nasty collision with Tiago Geronimi at the same place - Paddock Hill Bend. Race two was a lost cause and Bianchi eventually withdrew to preserve his neck, which he'd injured the day before.
With the red and white car out of the way, Mika Maki took a first win of the year, while Bottas was frustrated to be second again even with Bianchi out of the picture. Race two honours went to Hartley, who took Carlin's first Euro Series win in a season that had failed to build on that early promise.
Vietoris comprehensively missed his golden opportunity to make up ground in the championship, taking just nine points from a possible 17.
Round 8 Barcelona, September 19-20
Basil Shaaban © LAT
Thanks to a dominant weekend in the British F3 meeting at Algarve, Bianchi arrived in Spain full of confidence despite his disastrous Brands Hatch round. He was back to Euro Series winning ways with another Saturday success, but there were noteworthy performances behind him.
Sims, who had enjoyed a summer of very strong performances, pushed the likely champion all the way to the flag. It was reminiscent of some of Bianchi's late-2008 drives against Hulkenberg, and certainly laid a marker for the Briton's future.
But the feel-good story of the weekend went to Basil Shaaban. Not only did the Lebanese driver take his first points in race one, but he turned that into a first podium with third place on Sunday. Renger van der Zande proved he still had what it takes to win Sunday races despite not doing a full season this year, while with second place Sims was the only driver to beat Shaaban in both races.
Round 9 Dijon, October 10-11
The title was there for the taking on home soil for Bianchi, but that pressure led to one of his only mistakes of the season. While leading the opening race, on course for the title, he went too early on a restart and caught the safety car.
As he and the cars directly behind hit the brakes, Vietoris swept around them all into the first corner to take the lead from fifth place. Bianchi then blistered his tyres trying to seal the title on the day and couldn't catch his rival.
The disappointment was clear in the ART camp post-race, but it was all forgotten when Bianchi won from the fourth row of the grid on Sunday to wrap the title up in style.
Round 10 Hockenheim, October 24-25
There was little at stake on the final weekend of the season, which was highlighted by the fact that Vietoris and Bird opted for some GP2 Asia testing rather than seeing out the F3 season.
Bianchi didn't need to be there either but he was, and finished the season with his seventh Saturday win, and ninth victory of 2009. Again Bottas was second, but that was a good result for the Finn who was battling Sims for rookie of the year honours.
Race two will go down as an all-time classic. Vernay won despite making a pit stop, as a drying track forced most drivers in for slicks at some point. The Frenchman won the race in thrilling circumstances, passing Christopher Zanella (who had gambled on slicks from the start) for the win on the final lap of the season.
|The top 10 Euro F3 drivers of 2009|