British F3 Title Chase Still Wide Open at Mid Season Point
With ten races completed the half way point of the British F3 season is upon the teams and drivers as they head to the Hampshire circuit of Thruxton for Rounds 11 and 12 on Sunday 28 June. After two seasons of runaway winners - Mike Conway in 2006 and Marko Asmer in 2007 - picking a favorite to become this year’s champion is about as easy as predicting this week’s National Lottery numbers.
Nobody could call the British F3 International Series boring and predictable this year, with plenty of on track action to keep the fans entertained and a championship battle that is still wide open. Of the top ten drivers in the title race, seven have won at least once and the top two drivers, Spain’s Jaime Alguersuari and Mexico’s Sergio Perez, are separated by just one point.
British F3 history was made at Snetterton last time out when Ireland’s Michael Devaney took the first Formula 3 pole position for French chassis manufacturer Mygale and the Ultimate Motorsport team. Not only did Devaney go on to convert this pole position into the first win, he then rounded off the perfect weekend with another win in Round 10 from 4th on the grid. The Mygale has shone on long, fast circuits and the Ultimate Motorsport team are confident of another strong display on the UK’s fastest road course circuit at Thruxton.
Red Bull driver Jaime Alguersuari heads to Thruxton as the championship leader. Four podiums in the last four races, coupled with a race win at Oulton Park in April, have marked the 18-year-old as a driver to watch in his debut Formula 3 season where consistent points scoring could be the key to lifting the British F3 title.
2007 British F3 National Class Champion Sergio Perez has also been one of the revelations of the ’08 season. Moving up to the International Class this season with T-Sport, the team he won the National Class title with, the 18-year-old Mexican scored a first and a second at Croft and then followed this up with a double win at Monza, proving the Mugen-Honda engine is once again capable of winning races against the Mercedes powered cars. Disappointment at Rockingham and Snetterton has allowed the chasing pack to catch up but expect Perez to bounce back to the front end of the grid this weekend.
Atte Mustonen is currently 11 points behind Perez after a win at Rockingham gave him his first British F3 victory since Thruxton in 2007. The quiet Finn has let his driving do the talking this season and he has been accumulating championship points at all but one of the first ten races and the Double R Racing driver will undoubtedly be in the thick of the action on Sunday.
Like Mustonen, Sebastian Hohenthal won an F3 race in 2007 and took his second at Rockingham last month. Currently eighteen points behind Alguersuari, the Swede has been working hard with his Fortec team to find a setup for his new Dallara F308 that suits his driving style.
Oliver Turvey is currently the top British driver in this year’s field. The Oulton Park race winner is lying in 5th place, six points behind Sebastian Hohenthal. Driving for the Carlin Motorsport team Turvey is backed by the Racing Steps Foundation and has repaid their confidence in his abilities with consistent race results this season.
Marcus Ericsson is the highest placed driver not to have won a race this season, however the reigning Formula BMW UK Champion has shown the pace to amend that fact this weekend in Hampshire.
New Zealander Brendon Hartley is the second Red Bull backed driver to grace the British F3 grid this season and like his teammate, Jaime Alguersuari, the reigning Formula Renault Eurocup Champion has already tasted the victory champagne. Hartley crashed out while leading the last race at Snetterton, which has left a dent in his title challenge but expect the Kiwi driver to be in hunt for points in the next two races at Thruxton.
In 2007 Britain’s Max Chilton became the youngest ever driver to start a British F3 race one day after his 16th birthday. Now 17, Chilton is vying to become the youngest ever race winner and with two pole positions and two podium finishes to his credit he has demonstrated he has the ability. Chilton is racing this season for the reigning British F3 Champions Hitech Racing and so has the technical backing to help him achieve his goal. Chilton’s Hitech teammate Walter Grubmuller is also in his second full season of British F3 and likewise has shown front running pace.
Formula Ford Festival winner Nick Tandy has made the move to British F3 with the Joe Tandy Racing team run by his brother Joe. Fifth in Monza and a front row grid position at Snetterton has underlined Nick and the rest of the JTR team’s determination to be on the podium before the end of their first season.
Other drivers to keep an eye on this weekend are Australian’s Sam Abay and John Martin. This is Abay’s first season in British F3 with the Carlin Motorsport team and the Formula BMW graduate has been steadily gaining in confidence. 2006 Australian Formula Ford Champion John Martin has been struggling to find his form this season but a fastest lap at Oulton Park demonstrated that he has the speed to be a challenger at this level.
While the International Class enjoys the spotlight the ten car strong National Class grid is just as important to a driver’s development. Britain’s Andy Meyrick has been the star turn this year, taking six wins from ten starts in his Carlin Motorsport Dallara. It did seem for a while that Meyrick was going to be unstoppable but a bad weekend in Monza and a crash in the last race at Snetterton has allowed the chasing pack, led by Kent’s Jay Bridger, to catch the Welshman up. Bridger has scored seven podiums, including two wins at Monza and Snetterton, this season and is just seven points behind Meyrick as the season approaches the halfway point.
Two other drivers have stepped onto the top of the National Class podium. Hywel Lloyd was victorious at Monza last month, a massive achievement for the reigning BARC Formula Renault Champion and his CF Racing team. The 2007 McLaren Autosport BRDC Young Driver of the Year award winner Stefan Wilson collected his first British F3 win with a dominant display in the last race at Snetterton, which also netted the driver from Sheffield a top 10 overall finish.
Highlights from rounds 11 and 12 of the 2008 British F3 International Series at Thruxton will be shown on Channel 4 and Motors TV in the coming weeks. Further information on the Series, along with the latest news, TV schedule and interviews with drivers, can be found at www.britishf3international.com