1998 International Formula 3000 Championship – Where Are They Now?

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Source: Blogspot

Before the FIA Formula 2 Championship and the GP2 Series, the International Formula 3000 Championship was viewed as the main feeder series to Formula One and was just as competitive.

The 1998 campaign was a great example of this, in which six drivers took the chequered flag.

Here’s a look at the stars of that year’s championship and how varied their careers ended up.

Juan Pablo Montoya

Source: cr-images.de

Arguably the most famous name in the class of ‘98, Juan Pablo Montoya began the season as the favourite to win the F3000 Drivers’ Championship.

In 1997, he finished 2nd behind Ricardo Zonta for the RSM Marko outfit which was ran by former Formula One driver Helmut Marko.

Driving for Super Nova Racing – one of two teams run by David Sears – the Colombian failed to score in the first two races, before getting off the mark with back-to-back wins at Barcelona and Silverstone.

However, as the season wore on, Montoya’s dominance saw him claim four more race wins, but this was blighted by costly mistakes which allowed his main challenger Nick Heidfeld to close the gap and brought the title down to the wire.

Montoya started the final race at the Nürburgring on Pole, after Heidfeld was disqualified from qualifying.

In mixed conditions, he knew that finishing ahead of the German was enough to win the championship and did so with a third-place finish.

Source: speedcafe.com

Montoya went on to spend two years Stateside, winning the 1999 CART Series and the 2000 Indianapolis 500 for Chip Ganassi, before he made his Formula One debut for Williams at the 2001 Australian Grand Prix.

In the five and a half seasons he spent there, Montoya claimed seven Grand Prix victories for Williams and McLaren respectively, before quitting midway through the 2006 campaign.

He re-joined the Ganassi team in NASCAR, recording two wins at Sonoma and Watkins Glen across seven seasons, before returning to IndyCar – albeit with Team Penske – and won his second race at the Brickyard in 2015.

More recently, Montoya has competed in endurance racing, claiming third in the LMP2 class for United Autosports in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Nick Heidfeld

Source: Michael Copper/Getty Images

Before entering the International Formula 3000 Championship, Nick Heidfeld had already caught the attention of McLaren, having won the German Formula Ford and German Formula Three titles in dominant fashion.

Subsequently, Heidfeld contested the 1998 season with McLaren’s German title sponsor, West, funding the operation under the name West Competition.

The Mӧchengladbach-born driver managed to pick up the pieces when Montoya cracked under pressure, winning three races, and took the title race down to the season finale at the Nürburgring.

However, after taking Pole Position in qualifying, he was disqualified from qualifying after the Stewards found an irregularity in his fuel.

This left Team Principal David Brown to make a bold decision and forced Heidfeld’s team-mate Bas Leinders give up his car to allow the German to race.

Despite their best efforts, Heidfeld managed to fight his way through the field but could only finish ninth.

The 1999 campaign proved to be more fruitful for Heidfeld, claiming four wins and seven podiums to cruise to the F3000 Drivers’ title.

Source: lieutenant2k

At the turn of the new millennium, Heidfeld made his Formula One debut for Prost alongside Jean Alesi, but a slow and unreliable car hampered his ability to showcase his talents.

For 2001, Heidfeld moved to Sauber and was a consistent finisher in the top ten and claimed his first podium after a third-place finish in Brazil.

Yet Heidfeld was snubbed by McLaren, who opted to sign his Sauber team-mate Kimi Rӓikkӧnen to replace the retiring Mika Hӓkkinen.

Two more years followed at Sauber for Heidfeld with little success, before a stop-gap year with Jordan in 2004.

Heidfeld joined Williams in 2005, and was finally able to produce the results a driver of his calibre was capable of, recording three podium finishes and his first ever Pole Position in Formula One at the European Grand Prix held at the Nürburgring.

The German driver then spent the next four years with the BMW Sauber team, and alongside Robert Kubica, they threatened to challenge Ferrari and McLaren at the front of the grid.

In spite of this, Heidfeld was unable to record that elusive first win, with a handful of second places finishes being the best he could deliver and subsequently ended his F1 career in 2011 with the unwanted record of having the most podium and second place finishes without winning a Grand Prix.

Since then, he has raced for Rebellion in the FIA World Endurance Championship, and more recently for the Venturi and Mahindra teams in FIA Formula E.

Gonzalo Rodríguez

Source: Motorsports Tribune

Following a tiresome debut season in 1997 in which he scored only half a point, Gonzalo Rodríguez joined Team Astromega for 1998 and experienced a mixed start to the year, with two podiums finishes at Imola and Monaco being partially overshadowed by inconsistency.

The Uruguayan then showed signs of improvement and strung together two wins at Spa and the Nürburgring to finish the year in third place.

The 1999 season saw Rodríguez continue this run of form, winning the Formula 3000 race at Monaco.

Source: gonzalorodriguez.org

This caught the attention of Team Penske, who gave him a seat for the Detroit Grand Prix and saw Rodríguez finish in a respectable 12th place.

Another F3000 podium at Spa followed before Penske gave him another chance at Laguna Seca.

Unfortunately, tragedy struck during qualifying on September 11th, 1999 when Rodríguez’s car crashed into a barrier and flipped at the infamous corkscrew corner.

Rodríguez suffered a basilar skull fracture, which proved to be fatal, at the age of 27.

Jason Watt

Source: cr-images.de

Following his third-place finish in the 1997 Formula 3000 Drivers’ Championship, Jason Watt was retained by David Sears’ second team, Den Blå Avis.

The forever-smiling Dane got off to a solid start in 1998, winning the race in Imola and adding a further podium at Silverstone.

Nevertheless, Watt’s title chance took a hit when he suffered consecutive retirements at the Monaco and Pau street circuits.

He managed to recover as the season reached its climax, with three further podiums en route to fourth place in the standings.

For 1999, Watt was promoted to the Super Nova Racing team and once again, he experienced some bad luck having retired from three of the first four races.

The Dane managed to gather some momentum and won the final two races of the season at Spa and the Nürburgring; the latter of which was overshadowed by the death of Gonzalo Rodríguez.

Source: valloe.org

These were to be Watt’s final races in F3000, as a motorcycle accident at the end of the year left him paralysed and ended any chance of racing in Formula One.

This didn’t stop him from continuing his motorsport though.

Watt returned home to compete in the Danish Touring Car Championship between 2001 and 2010, winning the Drivers’ Championship in 2002.

Watt also made a one-off appearance in the 2009 FIA World Touring Car Championship at Oschersleben in a SEAT Léon.

He today spends his time supporting the racing career of his eldest son, Noah.

Noah finished sixth in the inaugural Danish Formula 4 Championship in 2017, and has recently tested for BMW in the Danish Supertourisme.

Soheli Ayari

Source: Motorsport Magazine

Soheli Ayari had endured a frustrating 1997 season, with his victory at the Helsinki Thunder street circuit being only one of three points scoring finishes in a car littered with technical gremlins.

And despite a move from Astromega to Durango, his luck remained unchanged.

Out of the first six races, French-Iranian driver retired four times and failed to qualify in Monaco, with his fifth-place finish in Barcelona being his only saving grace.

Then, at the A1 Ring in Austria, everything fell into place for Ayari as he secured his first Formula 3000 pole position, before going on to prevail and win his first race of the year.

Source: cr-images.de

Two more podium finishes for Ayari followed at Spa and Enna-Pergusa to end the season in fifth.

Ayari spent two more years in F3000 with little success before going into a lengthy career in endurance racing.

His most successful results to date are a pair of podium finishes in the LMP2 class in the 2011 and 2012 editions of the 24 Hours of Le Mans for Signatech Nissan and PeCom Racing respectively.

Stéphane Sarrazin

Source: cr-images.de

Having won the French Formula Renault 2.0 Title in 1995 and spending the subsequent two years in the French Formula Three Championship, Stéphane Sarrazin joined the Apomatox team for the 1998 Formula 3000 Championship.

Sarrazin had the perfect start, taking advantage of a mistake by Nick Heidfeld to win on his debut at Oschersleben in changeable conditions.

This though proved to be a false dawn, as the Frenchman could only manage two more points finishes in Monaco and the Hungaroring as he struggled to pick up with the leading pack.

For 1999, Sarrazin joined the Prost team’s F3000 outfit Gauloises Junior, and early in the season, he was given by his Formula One debut by Minardi to replace the injured Luca Badoer for the Brazilian Grand Prix.

Source: f1rejects.com

This led to the famous moment in which Sarrazin spun on the approach to the start/finish line which resulted in the end of his race.

Sarrazin continued his F3000 campaign alongside his testing duties for Prost and won in Hungary to end the season fourth in the standings.

Sarrazin participated in seven more F3000 races, finishing third in his final race in Monaco, before going on to have a successful career in endurance racing.

Driving for Peugeot, Sarrazin won the Le Mans Series twice in 2007 and 2010, in addition to claiming three podiums at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

He’d then gone on to add two more podiums at Le Mans with Toyota in 2013 and 2016 respectively.

Honourable Mentions

Max Wilson

On his day, Max Wilson could compete with the likes of Montoya, Heidfeld and Watt for victory, and tested for Williams in 1998.

However, a failure to produce a win and a lack of consistency across his three-year stint in Formula 3000 meant he was never realistically considered for an F1 seat.

After an unsuccessful Champ Car season in 2001, Wilson turned his attention to touring cars, spending seven years in V8 Supercars before joining the Brazilian Stock Car series and winning the Drivers’ title in 2010.

Bruno Junqueria

Two top-six finishes for Bruno Junqueria in 1998 didn’t do much to prove he was worthy of a chance in Formula One.

However, a much-improved season in 1999 saw the Brazilian claim his first Formula 3000 victory at Hockenheim to help him to a fifth-place finish in the Drivers’ Championship and test for the Williams team.

Junqueria was pipped to a seat alongside Ralf Schumacher for 2000 by Jenson Button, and stayed in F3000 with the Petrobas Junior Team, winning four races on his way to the championship.

Unable to get a seat in F1, Junqueria spent seven years in Champ Car for Chip Ganassi and Newham/Haas respectively, and finished second in the Drivers’ Championship three years straight between 2002 and 2004.

The Brazilian also raced in IndyCar and the American Le Mans Series, albeit with limited success.

Gastón Mazzacane

In the three years he spent in Formula 3000, Gastón Mazzacane only scored two points thanks to a pair of sixth place finishes at Oschersleben and Silverstone.

Instead, he was better known for being a bit of a nuisance towards the faster drivers when they tried to lap him during the race.

However, thanks to the sponsorship money he received from the Pan-American Sports Network (PSN), the Argentine secured a Formula One drive with Minardi alongside the experienced Marc Gené for 2000.

Mazzacane spent most of the season at the tail end of the field, but did briefly run in third during the 2000 United States Grand Prix, before running over his pit crew during a pit stop.

After testing for Arrows, Mazzacane took his PSN backing to Prost for 2001, but was sacked after four races due to a performance clause placed in his contract by team boss Alain Prost and was duly replaced by Luciano Burti.

Mazzacane went on to race in the 2004 Champ Car Series, with his sixth-place finish at Toronto being his best result of the season.

Tomáš Enge

Tomáš Enge competed in 53 Formula 3000 races; more than any other driver.

In 2001, after a successful F3000 season which saw the Czech claimed two wins and three third places, Enge was awarded with a Formula One seat at Prost to replace the injured Luciano Burti.

After three respectable performances, Enge continued in F3000 for 2002, and won four races to win to put him in contention for the Drivers’ title.

It was then later revealed that Enge had failed a drugs test and was stripped of his win at the Hungaroring, which eventually cost him the title.

Despite this, he would go on to pick up a class win at the 2003 24 Hours of Le Mans for Ferrari in the GTS class, before enhancing his endurance career in the European and the American Le Mans Series’ and the FIA GT Championship.

Enge would returned to single seaters in the mid-2000’s, representing the Czech Republic in the A1 Grand Prix.

Christian Horner

After two fruitless seasons in Formula 3000, in which he only scored a single point, Christian Horner retired from racing and became team principal of the Arden team.

As Horner borrowed money from Helmut Marko to setup the team, they regularly ran drivers linked to the Red Bull Junior programme.

Following the championship successes of Bjӧrn Wirdheim and Vitantonio Liuzzi, Horner became the team principal of the Red Bull Formula One team in 2005, which saw them establish themselves amongst the midfield.

Further introductions of Adrian Newey as Chief Designer and the signing of Red Bull Junior Sebastian Vettel resulted in Red Bull dominating, winning four consecutive Drivers’ and Constructors’ Titles between 2010 and 2013; in fact, Red Bull’s 58 Grand Prix wins makes them the sixth most successful Constructor based on Grand Prix wins.

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