Oscars of F1 to announce the next Lewis Hamilton this Sunday
Motor racing might be taking its winter break, but six young British drivers are as fired up as ever as they face their biggest challenge yet: the Autosport Awards and its famous 'star of the future' prize, the McLaren Autosport BRDC Award.
The McLaren Autosport BRDC award recognizes young British racing talent, and the winner will be announced at the glittering annual awards event at the Grosvenor House Hotel on Sunday 2 December at 8pm.
The ceremony will be broadcast on ITV1 at 11:20pm on Tuesday 4 December.
Along with the kudos that comes with winning this coveted title in the presence of the Autosport Awards' distinguished and influential guests, the winning driver also receives £50,000 to further his racing career; a test drive in Lewis Hamilton's Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Formula 1 car; and membership of the British Racing Drivers Club, along with the Chris Bristow trophy.
After being voted for by the readers of Autosport magazine, five of the McLaren Autosport BRDC Award finalists were selected by a panel of motor racing experts. The sixth was the winner of a special shootout race in identical Formula Palmer Audi single-seater racing cars between 22 drivers who just missed out on the panel's nomination. As a result, shootout winner Nick Tandy joined Duncan Tappy, Dean Smith, Callum MacLeod, Henry Arundel and Stefan Wilson on the list of finalists.
The six contenders had to prove their abilities at Norfolk's Snetterton circuit behind the wheel of three very powerful racing cars: a World Series by Renault single- seater; a Mercedes-Benz DTM touring car and a Porsche Carrera Cup sports car.
All six drivers will be attending the Autosport Awards in the hope of becoming Britain's next Formula One hope. Previous recipients of the award include David Coulthard, Anthony Davidson and Jenson Button.
Duncan Tappy, 23, from West Ewell in Surrey: In 2007 Duncan won the Formula Renault UK championship - the series which helped catapult world champion Kimi Raikkonen into Formula 1. In 2005 he finished second in the Formula Ford UK championship and won the Formula Ford festival - a world cup for junior single-seater racers. This is the second time he's been an award finalist.
"The McLaren Autosport BRDC Young Driver Award isn't something you can apply for," he says. "The nominations come direct from an expert panel of judges, so I'm very happy just to be there.
'My aim for next year is the World Series by Renault. It's the logical step and the cars are closer to F1 than Formula 3. Should I win, the prize money will be fed directly into the team I drive for."
Dean Smith, 19, from Wolverhampton Dean finished second in Formula Renault UK this year, scoring nine fastest laps along the way. In 2005 he won the Formula BMW UK series, so despite his youth he's already gained a lot of single-seater experience.
"If I win the award I will be over the moon - it'll be like winning another championship," he says. "The money would be a great help, and to drive a Formula One car is every racing drivers dream. Perhaps most important, though, will be the kudos of being Britain's best up-and-coming driver and the connections that can come with it.
"It's been a great year for British drivers, what with Lewis Hamilton doing so well, and I actually think he's helped me a lot. I'm following his footsteps through Formula Renault, and teams and sponsors are looking at British drivers with keen interest."
Callum MacLeod, 19, from Gloucestershire and now living in Northampton Callum won the 2007 Formula Ford UK championship, taking 14 wins in the process, and helps pay the bills by working as a racing instructor.
"The first race my dad ever took me to was the British Grand Prix when I was seven, and ever since then racing has been the only thing on my mind," he says. "It came as a shock when [former grand prix driver] Jonathan Palmer rang me up to say I was nominated - it was one of my ambitions for this year.
"My target for next year is British F3. Winning the award would directly help with this and, as Lewis Hamilton has proved, with the right kind of help you can get to the top fast. I'm really looking forward to Sunday. It's the most prestigious event in British motorsport and anyone who's anyone will be there. I can't wait to be a part of it."
Henry Arundel, 19, from West Sussex Formula BMW UK racer Henry was rookie of the year and third overall in 2007.
"Next year I'll be racing in Formula 3 for Double R I'm really looking forward to it," he says. "Just to be nominated for this award is really mega, but it is also one of those competitions where winner takes all.
"Driving those three different cars was a really great experience. So much more power than I'm used to - great fun. The competition is about getting chucked in the deep end and seeing who can keep their head above water. Whoever wins will have deserved it."
Stefan Wilson, 18, from Sheffield 2007 was Stefan's first season in single-seaters, having raced karts for the past seven years. In his debut season with Formula Palmer Audi he finished second in the championship, scoring four wins, nine podiums, six fastest laps and two lap records. He's the brother of former F1 driver and current Champ Car frontrunner Justin Wilson.
"I was really pleased and didn't expect to be in contention for the title at the start of the year, but I learnt quickly how to get the most out of my car," he says.
"I thought that Tim Bridgman, who won the Formula Palmer Audi title, might get the nomination over me. He has six years of single-seater experience and has done F3 and Champ Car Atlantic. But I managed to chase him down to the finish."
Nick Tandy, 23, from Pavenham in Bedfordshire Nick has raced in the Formula Ford UK series for the past two years, winning the Formula Ford Festival this year, and now is heading for F3 with his family JTR team.
"I got into the selection for the award through the Formula Palmer Audi shootout," he says. "It was good because it gave those of us who didn't perhaps have the best equipment or luck this year the chance to compete on a level playing field.
"To be coming to the Autosport Awards is a massive break for me. The best parts of the prize are the foot in the door you get with McLaren, the publicity in Autosport and also membership of the BRDC, which is probably the most exclusive club in the world."