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Hartley endures troubled start


The opening two races in Brendon Hartley’s European Formula 3 campaign in Germany at the weekend were frustrated by setbacks in the pits and on the track

The New Zealander was relegated to the back of the grid after qualifying because of a tyre mix up by his Carlin team.

In Saturday’s opening race at Hockenheim Hartley battled through the 28 car field to finish 19th  in spite of a drive-through penalty; but he retired his Red Bull Dallara-VW from the second race on Sunday after two pit stops.

Having been on the pace in the Friday practice sessions, Hartley’s problems erupted in Saturday qualifying when the team mixed up the sets of marked tyres for their two cars. Hartley and his young American team mate Jake Rosenzweig mistakenly qualified on each other’s allocated tyres and were ordered to the back of the grid by race officials.

In Saturday’s 16 lap race Hartley Hartley charged up to 16th by the end of the first lap and had improved to 14th on lap 12 when he was penalised with a pits drive-through. He had recorded his fastest sector time in a section of the 4.5 km circuit that was under yellow flags.

Stefano Coletti took his maiden F3 Euro Series victory in the season-opening race on Saturday. The Monegasque driver, who had been set for pole position until a late charge from Sam Bird, snatched the lead into the first corner and was never headed.

Coletti opened out a solid lead in the early stages and resisted a late comeback from Roberto Merhi. Merhi took second after a storming first lap, where he moved up from fourth on the grid in the first few corners. He was pushed all the way for second by Bird.

Bird took the final step on the podium, comfortably ahead of Mika Maki. The Finn ran behind Jules Bianchi early on, but he passed the Frenchman for fourth at the hairpin on lap seven.

Bianchi took a lonely fifth ahead of Jean-Karl Vernay and Christian Vietoris, while Atte Mustonen took eighth and pole position for Sunday's race in which the top eight places on the grid are reversed from the race one finishing order.

Frenchman Jean-Karl Vernay took his first F3 Euro Series victory in Sunday’s Hockenheim race. The French driver made a storming start from third on the grid to lead into the first corner. He initially led a train of eight cars, but gradually he and Christian Vietoris broke away.

While the German challenged for the lead occasionally in the middle of the race, Vernay eventually opened up a lead of just over one second.

The lead pair broke free of the chasing pack as Jules Bianchi struggled to maintain his pace in third, but the ART driver resisted several attacks - including a tap from behind at the hairpin from Mika Maki - to hold on to that place.

Race one winner Stefano Coletti closed in on their battle towards the end but had to settle for fifth, ahead of Sam Bird who took the final point in sixth place.

Pole-sitter Atte Mustonen ended up missing out on the points after gradually falling away during the closing stages. The Finn initially held on to a solid third place after a poor first lap, but he was picked off by those behind.

Hartley passed two cars in the early laps on Sunday before two pit stops so the team could make changes to the set up.

The opening two races in Germany have confirmed the prospect of a tight battle between Mercedes and VW engines in the Euro F3 Championship in 2009. Coletti won Saturday’s race for Mercedes but Vernay was VW-powered for the longer Sunday race; and Maki took fastest lap in both races with his VW engine.

The entire field race in Italian Dallara chassis but only seven of the 28 cars are VW powered.

The next races in the Euro Series are at the Lausitz circuit in eastern Germany on May 30-31.


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