As the Formula 3000 field shrunk alarmingly in the early 2000s, a plan was hatched to axe the series and replace it with a new championship named GP2.
Wilson wins and spins
Formula 3000 ventured to Interlagos in Brazil for its 2001 season-opener as part of its biggest-ever calendar of 12 races. The crowd-pleasing grid saw four Brazilian drivers at the sharp end: Jaime Melo followed by twins Ricardo and Rodrigo Sperafico, and Antonio Pizzonia.
But the first win of the year went to eventual champion Justin Wilson – although he took the shine of his achievement by spinning immediately after taking the chequered flag.
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A super-consistent campaign by the Nordic driver saw him take three wins and six second places over the course of the season. Team mate Tomas Enge was third, tied on points at the end of the year with Webber, but the Australian driver’s three wins put him ahead.
However the value of an F3000 title was again called into question as Wilson failed to gain immediate promotion to F1. In Wilson’s case his 1.9m frame was a significant obstacle, though he eventually made his grand prix debut in 2003. In the meantime Kimi Raikkonen had rocked the F1 establishment by making his F1 debut without so much as an F3 start to his name, let alone F3000.
Near-miss at Imola
Webber scored his first win of the year at Imola, but the race was notable for a dangerous incident which happened under the Safety Car. Gabriele Varano was being attended to after a dizzying, high-speed crash at the exit of Tamburello when Derek Hill crashed into Gianluca Calcagni, sending the marshals running for cover.
First-corner carnage at A1-Ring
Wilson’s second win of the year came in Austria where front row occupants Sebastien Bourdais and Patrick Freisacher skidded off at turn one, followed by many of their pursuers.
Webber’s season flatlines
With four races to go Webber was just four points behind Wilson, thanks to wins at Imola, Monaco and Magny-Cours. But he failed to add to his tally in all of the last four races, including at Spa where he crashed heavily at Eau Rouge.
One of the most notorious episodes in Formula 3000’s history occurred in 2002, when Tomas Enge lost the championship due to a failed drugs test. Enge was stripped of victory in the Hungarian round of the championship after he tested positive for cannabis.
The news of the test came through before the final round and meant Enge arrived at the race 12 points behind leader Bourdais instead of just one adrift. Enge’s second place meant he ended the season six points behind Bourdais – the lost points from Hungary had cost him the title.
Bourdais beaten by Pantano
Bourdais won the second round of the championship at Imola but lost out in a thrilling, race-long scrap with Giorgio Pantano at the Circuit de Catalunya. Pantano filled his mirrors all race long, and Bourdais finally cracked with just half a lap to go.
More woe for Haberfeld and Hill
The Hungaroring race was punctuated by a Safety Car period which began with a collision involving Mario Haberfeld and Antonio Pizzonia. Haberfeld, who had survived a serious F3000 crash two years earlier, was pitched into a barrel roll by Pizzonia. A train of cars then arrived on the scene, several of which lost control including Derek Hill, who struck Pizzonia’s stationary car.
Mauricio launches at Monza
Bjorn Wirdheim ended his first season in fine form by winning from pole position at Monza. But the race also saw a spectacular crash involving Ricardo Mauricio and Ron Nguyen.
The F3000 entry list had been pruned from 44 cars to 30 in 2000, but two years later grid sizes had shrunk to just 20. Rising costs in F3000 and increased competition from other championships were to blame as aspiring F1 drivers began to look elsewhere.
It didn’t help matters that the reigning champion had again failed to land an F1 seat – Bourdais eventually would, but not until 2008. In the meantime F3000 was beginning to look a little long in the tooth.
Wirdheim’s moment of misery
Wirdheim sustained the trend of F3000 champions who missed out on a shot at F1. Despite winning the championship convincingly with three wins and six second places from ten races, and spending 2004 as a Friday driver for Jaguar, a race seat eluded him.
Unfortunately for Wirdheim, one moment which stuck in the minds of those who saw his 2003 campaign was not how emphatically he won it, but how embarrassingly he threw away victory at Monaco. Christian Horner, by now Arden’s team principal, could only look on in disbelief as Wirdheim slowed to celebrate with his team on the final lap, only to be passed by Nicolas Kiesa before he reached the line.
Mandatory pit stops introduced
While Wirdheim piled up the silverware, behind him the field was shrinking. Kiesa’s Den Bla Avis team collapsed mid-season and other outfits cut back to single-car entries. Just 14 Lolas took the start at the Hungaroring.
By this point Wirdheim had already wrapped up the title, so the organisers took the opportunity to trial a new innovation: mandatory pit stops, which would be a feature of the final year of the championship in 2004.
The curtain came down on two decades of Formula 3000 at the end of 2004. For the third year in a row Arden were champions, this time running Red Bull junior driver Vitantonio Liuzzi. Both he and team principal Christian Horner would soon make their way into F1.
Liuzzi dominated proceedings even more emphatically than Wirdheim had. At the end of the ten-race championship he had amassed seven wins, a pair of second places, and only failed to score at the Nurburgring where he had to make an early pit stop due to tyre damage.
Enrico Toccacelo took the plaudits at the Nurburgring, and five more second places saw the Italian driver take second in the final standings ahead of Robert Doornbos and Enge, who had returned for another season.
But before the season began it was already known this would be F3000’s final year. In a bid to attract more teams and drivers to the series a new formula was devised: GP2 promised more powerful cars plus two races per weekend.
However ten years on the FIA is keen to reintroduce the name ‘Formula Two’, which F3000 replaced three decades ago. The brand was revived as a sub-GP2 series between 2009 and 2012, but it seems in the near future it will be restored to its logical place as the intermediate step between F1 and F3.
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