Justin Wilson’s pivotal F3000 moment

This is it. The last lap. It's now or never. Justin Wilson has been tracking his Nordic Racing team-mate Tomas Enge for the entire 36 laps of the race. His car is handling better than the Czech's but overtaking in the one-make Formula 3000 era is incredibly hard. Even for someone with excellent race-craft like Wilson, his only chance around Magny-Cours is if his rival makes a mistake

Justin Wilson’s pivotal F3000 moment

Now Enge has done just that. As they start the last lap, Wilson is latched on to the back of the sister Coca-Cola car and he is planning his move. Hanging on to the coat-tails of the car in front is tough through the long Estoril right hander, but Wilson is still breathing down Enge's neck as they approach the Adelaide hairpin.

Enge hits the brakes, but his timing has let him down. His wheels lock and for a fraction of a second, his turn-in is delayed as he waits for control to come back to him. Wilson doesn't hesitate. He dives inside and Tomas can do nothing to stop him coming out of the hairpin in front. Second place is his.

That was the turning point of the F3000 season. Wilson went on from there to become the first British driver to win the F3000 International Championship with a record number of points. Why was the move so important? Because it was the beginning of the end for Enge's title challenge and it allowed Justin to cling on to his points lead over the man who won the race, Mark Webber. He left France with only a single point advantage, but small things like that matter psychologically in the midst of an intense title battle. If Webber had taken the championship lead, maybe - just maybe - the season would have turned out a little differently.

Having said that, Wilson's incredible consistency of scoring points in 11 of the 12 races suggests that Webber would always have been up against it, whatever the psychological nuances of the season. Mark was brilliant on his day and Magny-Cours was one of those, but he made too many mistakes as he struggled to adapt back into F3000 mode for every race after a punishing Formula 1 testing schedule for Benetton. Webber never made a big thing of this, but it was a disadvantage that should not be underestimated.

As for Enge, his season came off the rails somewhat after France. From then on he only scored seven more points. The mistakes came thick and fast, even if he was often the fastest man on the circuit. Meanwhile his team mate kept up a metronomic pace - always quick, always safe, always on the podium.

There should have been a bigger moment in Wilson's career later in the season, after he had finished with F3000. It should have been when he clinched a Formula 1 drive for 2002. But that moment never came.

After being ignored by F1 for months, Wilson finally began to attract the attention of F1 teams late in the summer as they all realised that here was a guy worth looking at. McLaren, Williams and Jordan all looked at giving Justin his first test, and it was the last of these that delivered.

Wilson tested twice for Jordan and it was clear that the team were seriously considering him for a race drive. He was really impressive. But in the end, that chance went to Takuma Sato, the British Formula 3 champion who deserves his chance just as much as Wilson.

A combination of factors has left Justin with few options for the coming season. One reason he has been left on the F1 sidelines is his height of six foot three. He is adamant that he can fit comfortably in the cockpit, but it has been said by some insiders that it is just too much of a squeeze to be safe. Others say that his weight, which goes hand in hand with his height, is also a disadvantage of potentially a tenth of a second a lap.

Whatever. The bottom line is that a talented British driver who has made history in 2001, faces a nail-biting couple of months to see what might come his way. Seems ridiculous, doesn't it?

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