Hungary F3000: as close as you like

The 2000 FIA Formula 3000 International Championship has just two races to run, and it couldn't be closer. The two leading title protagonists are tied - not just on points, but on a countback of results as well

Hungary F3000: as close as you like

Nicolas Minassian and Bruno Junqueira haven't so much as the width of a cigarette paper between them after eight races of one of the most unpredictable seasons in years. Over the course of a topsy-turvy championship, the drivers and teams have been struck by rain in qualifying and races, and sessions that have been cancelled or shortened due to the tight schedule on the F1 support bill. This has led to expected frontrunners being stranded at the back of the grid - or off it altogether - and some decidedly unexpected names on or near the podium.

Through all of this, however, Minassian and Junqueira have proved the most consistent of the field, both being able to switch on the speed and fight through the field despite the adversities thrown at them due to the weather and the enforced flexibility of the race timetables.

This weekend's race is at the Hungaroring, where the likelihood of rain is somewhat lower than at Spa Francorchamps, the final round of the year - in fact, the forecast is for blazing sunshine all weekend. This factor is likely to please the title contenders and give them the chance to make the penultimate round a straight fight with no unseen complications affecting the outcome. Even so, Minassian is not holding his breath.

"Hopefully the last races will be in the dry, because it's much more enjoyable in the dry anyway," he says. "And it's less of a lottery! But you can probably expect something to happen at the last race. The weather is so bad at the moment, I think it's going to last like that until the end of the year."

The pendulum has swung between Minassian, who won the first round, and Junqueira, who came on strong mid-season, and then back to Minassian who won at the A1-Ring and Magny-Cours. Rather than seeing a series of straight fights between the pair, one has often won while the other has been out of the points. This could be set to change in Hungary as both have too much to lose from a poor result. Even so, given the unpredictable nature of the season, the result could hinge on which man is able to make the best of a bad situation, and score points when the other is unable to.

In addition, Silverstone winner Mark Webber, who appeared early on as a possible title contender, is still in with a mathematical chance of the title. It is not beyond the realms of possibility, on paper at least, that the Australian could come through and steal the prize, particularly remembering Jean-Christophe Bouillon's title win from 19 points down with three races to run. However, Webber will have to win both remaining races, and hope that Junqueira and Minassian score in neither. Given Webber's recent wrangles over his F1 testing career, and the team's possible split with F1 backers Arrows, it will be a tall order if Webber is able to challenge.

Other wild cards for the race must include McLaren Jr drivers Thomas Enge and Tomas Scheckter. Enge became only the fourth winner of the season when McLaren got their strategy spectacularly right at Hockenheim, while Scheckter finished second. The Silver cars enjoyed a major reversal of fortune after spending the season in disarray and recently losing their lead driver Stephane Sarrazin.

Other occasional podium visitors have been Arden's Darren Manning, Gauloises Jr's Stephane Bourdais and Nordic's Justin Wilson. Wilson was impressive at the A1-Ring, finishing second to Minassian and able to hold off Manning.

Manning looked capable of victory at Silverstone, but was caught out slightly by set-up choice in the changeable conditions and finished second to Webber. However, it has been an impressive season for the rookie in what had previously been an unfancied team.

Manning lacked a team-mate with whom to spar and help with set-up information, as Russian Victor Maslov lacks both experience and pace, despite a double campaign in International and Italian F3000. However, the hiring of former front-runner and Williams F1 test driver Max Wilson appears to have helped with the car, and Manning could be a contender in both the remaining races.

Whatever the possibilities though, all eyes will invariably be trained on Minassian and Junqueira. The Silver and Green-and-white cars will be the centre of attention as one is likely to come out of the Hungaroring round with an advantage. Minassian believes he has what it takes.

"I think I have been preparing myself really well," he insists. "I'm not suffering from any pressure, I just can't wait to go driving the car, because I can't help feeling that the last race was a bit of a waste. I just want to go there, and drive the car as well as I can. But I'm going to go for it. Go for it big style. I just need to do a good job in qualifying, and as long as you do that, you're sure to be at the front. Start at the front and stay in front. As long as you don't make mistakes..."

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