A formula for success and acrimony

Stephen Brenkley witnesses the climax to a contest as bitterly contested as any grand prix
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Whatever else has been passed down the motor racing ranks one vital lesson has been learned above all others. This is, of course, that no event should take place without a simmering row before, after or preferably both.

The names of Schumacher and Hill were heavy in the air at the Thruxton circuit yesterday, though neither of the grand prix combatants was present.

They were invoked frequently if reluctantly in reference to Oliver Gavin and Ralph Firman, the young men involved in a gripping climax to the Formula Three season.

Formula Three is a junior sibling of Formula One in that the cars and any attendant blondes are probably both a little less racy. Its drivers frequently graduate to the grand prix circuit - J J Lehto and the great Ayrton Senna are both former champions, for instance - and they do not come much better at this stage in their lives than Firman and Gavin.

As they arrived on the grid yesterday for the 18th and final time of the year they were locked not only on identical points but also in the sort of dispute which has been an integral part of the grand prix circuit for a decade. It overshadowed the race. When Gavin, 23, took third place on the grid and Firman, 20, could manage only sixth all who suppose that motor racing was perfectly all right without any acrimony must have hoped it would stay that way. Firman, a wonderfully fast racer whose father has manufactured more racing cars than anybody else in the world, has been in trouble lately with the authorities. A few races ago he was penalised 10 seconds for an infringement in a race he won. It cost him several places but the stewards upheld his appeal against the clerk of the course's decision. Gavin's team then decided to appeal the appeal.

The RAC, no less, is due to judge on this early next month, which is perhaps not unlike getting Lord's to determine the destination of the Bain Clarkson Trophy for county cricket's second teams in the event of a fallout over over rates. Since then Firman has had two separate endorsements on his licence for spats out on the circuits, one of them with his close rival.

But if Gavin, who was runner-up two years ago, could finish ahead of Firman yesterday the appeal would have no significance. There was no worry. Gavin romped it. He tucked into third place throughout his drive which was entirely bereft of risks. Firman, who had led the championship for most of the way, could make no impression. He knew it was up for him on the first of the 20 laps.

The young man who was born to the sport though he has achieved what he has because of abundant natural talent, had won six races this season. The number was never going to be increased.

"I did all I could do," he said, dejected but not angry and certainly in no mood to argue with Gavin's right to the title. "We were off the pace all day and certainly none of the other business affected me. You can't let it. I was totally focused."

There spoke a fellow going places and quickly.

Gavin took the podium alongside the man who actually won yesterday's race, Warren Hughes, a 28-year-old from Newcastle. Hughes has been driving rapidly for years without having the deserved patronage necessary to open the doors to any Formula One cockpit. He has adopted a neat line in grey humour to help him. As he did not get up before 11 in the morning, he said, there was no point in the motor racing boss, Ron Dennis, ringing him up early in the morning.

It was perhaps Hughes' sort of luck that in his moment of triumph at the season's end he was edged out by the rivalry between Gavin and Firman. Gavin even had a better way with spraying the champagne.