F3000 REPORT

Webber wins the big one

Mark Webber did it all right at Monaco - even if he did total a car in qualifying. The accident came after he had taken pole position for the big Formula 3000 event of the year. In the race Webber was in total control and so became the first Australian to win on the streets of Monte Carlo since Dave Walker won the Formula 3 Grand Prix in 1971.

In the real estate business position is everything and it is also true on races around Monte Carlo. If you are at the front you tend to stay there because overtaking is tough. Very tough. Webber's pole gave him the advantage and he used it. Behind him Justin Wilson (Coca Cola Nordic Racing) and Darren Manning (Arden Team Russia) collided at the first corner. Wilson was able to keep going but found that his car was not behaving just as he would like it.

"When the team told me on the radio that Justin had been hit by Manning I was not disappointed," admitted Webber after the race.

Qualifying was an exciting affair with the top men trading times as the track improved with each lap. In the end Webber pipped Wilson and Manning but it was close. There were nine cars within a second of pole position and 20 within two seconds.

Frenchman Stefane Sarrazin was stuck into one of the Prost Junior Team cars (which had previously been driven by Nicolas Filliberti). He did a remarkable job for a one-off run, qualifying fourth ahead of fellow countryman Sebastien Bourdais (DAMS). Sixth on the grid was Austria's Patrick Friesacher (Red Bull Junior Team) who was just ahead of Brazil's Ricardo Sperafico in his Petrobras Junior Team entry. Eighth was a pretty good effort for Ricardo who had been drafted in to replace Spaniard Antonio Garcia in the second Red Bull car.

The top 10 was completed by a disappointed Tomas Enge (Coca Cola Nordic Racing) and Fabrizio Gollin (Coloni) while there were disappointing performances from David Saelens (European Minardi) in 15th, Antonio Pizzonia (Petrobras Junior Team) 17th and the two Astromega cars: Dino Morelli was 18th and Giorgio Pantano was 23rd.

First laps at Monaco are usually fairly exciting and this one was no difference. As Webber went into the lead the two Yorkshiremen behind him tangled when Manning slid into the rear of Wilson at Ste Devote.

"I was heading for the first corner," Wilson said, "when I heard this massive thump behind and my car was pointing in every direction but I managed to control it and carry on. Manning removed the nose of this car and had to head for the pits for repairs, leaving Webber leading Wilson, Sarrazin, Bourdais and Sperafico. At the Grand Hotel Hairpin Andrea Piccini (European Minardi) knocked Jaime Melo (Durango) into a spin and the cars behind all ended up stopped at the scene. Also in trouble was Saelens who had to get a new front wing after hitting another car at Mirabeau. Also out was the second Prost car driven by Gabriele Varano.

The various incidents resulted in the Safety Car being sent out but after four laps the race was on again with Webber again going into the lead from Wilson, Sarrazin and the rest. The order was then unchanged until Saelens ran into the back of Pantano in the swimming Pool section and retired. It was five laps before the race claimed its first overtaking maneuver as Friesacher overtook Mauricio for sixth place. A few laps later Friesacher went up the escape road at Ste Devote and dropped back to 15th place, leaving Mauricio sixth but under pressure from Enge.

Two crashes - independent of one another - on lap 25 (Pizzonia and Manning) resulted in a second Safety Car but it made no difference to the order. For the rest of the afternoon it was a case of the leaders holding on while those behind them crashed. By the end of the race only 11 cars were still running. In the final laps Webber eased off his pace and his nearly five second lead dwindled to just 0.8sec at the flag. But it was all that he needed to move up to second in the title race behind Wilson, who increased his lead to 11 points. Enge finished right behind sixth-placed Mauricio but that meant no points for the Czech driver, who had been second in the championship.

"Everything worked out perfectly," said Webber. "I was enjoying it out there!"

Sarrazin finished third ahead of Bourdais, Sperafico and Mauricio.

The Formula 3000 teams now get a month off as F1 heads to Canada. They will be in action again at the Nurburgring at the end of June.

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