This afternoon at Donington Jaime Alguersuari (Carlin Motorsport) became the youngest ever British F3 champion after a faultless drive from lights to flag. He was chased home by Nick Tandy (John Tandy Racing), and a determined Sergio Perez (T-Sport). In the National Class Jay Bridger (Fluid Motorsport) won the final race of the season, ahead of rookie Henry Surtees (Carlin Motorsport), and Steven Guerrero (T-Sport) who clinched the runner up slot at the last minute from Hywel Lloyd (C F Racing).
The race start offered drama aplenty, even before the lights went out, with Walter Grubmuller (Hitech Racing) being pushed off the grid and into the pits. As he was so far back it didn't matter much, and it certainly didn't affect what happened at the front.
When the race actually did start, Alguersuari simply powered past the man on pole, Oliver Oakes (Eurotek Racing), the Invitation Class runner just unable to get the power down as rapidly as the Spaniard. Perez slotted into 2nd and Tandy was briefly 3rd, while Oakes dropped to 5th. Alguersuari's only remaining rival in the title chase, Oliver Turvey (Carlin Motorsport) started 14th, failed to get away well and dropped to 20th, possibly tripping up Atte Mustonen (Double R Racing) on the way. As the lap unfolded, Sam Abay (Carlin Motorsport) claimed a couple of places for 7th, while Brendon Hartley, also of Carlin, wrestled Tandy out of the way for 3rd before setting about Perez with enthusiasm. Meanwhile Bridger was leading the National Class and would continue to do so pretty much all the way to the flag, while behind him there was a deal of pushing and shoving between Guerrero and Surtees, Surtees trying very hard to get ahead.
A lap later and Hartley was all over Perez, while Oakes was sticking to Tandy like glue, meaning Tandy had to concentrate on holding him off rather than trying to make up ground. While they were all scrapping among themselves, Alguersuari was pulling away, setting an early fastest lap in the process. He didn't get to hang onto it for too long, Tandy's efforts meaning a lap later he was quickest of all. Mustonen had some thoughts about that, though, and despite being dead last, started to circulate at as much speed as he could muster.
On lap three Grubmuller pulled back into the pits and out of the race, but really no one was watching. We were all too busy watching the various battles raging out there. In the National Class Guerrero was determinedly holding off Surtees, while Hartley was relentlessly piling on the pressure on Perez, pushing incredibly hard as they arrived at Coppice. The trouble with this was that it looked like Tandy would go too if the Kiwi could find a way past the Mexican. They would all need to be careful. At Redgate Hartley almost made it, but he had to back off. That meant Tandy caught up even more, especially as he no longer had to worry about Oakes, the latter dropping back into the clutches of Marcus Ericsson (Fortec Motorsport).
Next time round, Hartley got a really good run through the Craner Curves and was able to pull along side Perez. The two of them ran side-by-side through the next two corners, with Hartley keeping his foot in and Perez refusing to back out, and finally Hartley had to back off, which was when Tandy saw his chance, diving through and snatching 3rd from Hartley. While that was going on, almost unnoticed Dean Smith (Fortec Motorsport) set a new fastest lap, and was gaining on the group ahead of him. That was now starting to get very interesting with Perez holding up everyone as far back as 8th - the train now contained Tandy, Hartley, Oakes, Abay, Ericsson and Smith and looked as if it might get bigger yet, especially as Turvey was up to 13th and was now behind Max Chilton (Hitech Racing), the youngster unlikely to pose much of a challenge given the mood Oliver was in. He wasn't the only one looking very determined now, as Surtees had found a way past Guerrero and was catching Bridger.
One of the star drives of the race was being put in by Abay, however, the Australian demonstrating just how well he's progressed this year by setting about Oakes. The inside line didn't quite work, but that wasn't the point. He was trying to get past and was looking at all the possibilities right now. Turvey was having no such problem, and was very rapidly past Chilton as he fought to save his championship chances. Everyone was promoted further when Hartley pulled into the pits with damage to the left rear wheel, his absence making life easier for Tandy. This time round Tandy dived past Perez at the Chicane for 2nd and it worked. It was a ballsy move, but probably not entirely unexpected. By now Tandy had passed all the National Class runners and that made him 8th. Meanwhile, Abay tried to go round the outside of Oakes at the Schwanz Curves and was able to make it stick. That left Ericsson to the mercies of Smith, who was having a bit of bother holding off Turvey, but not so much that he couldn't still think about ways to demote Ericsson. It wasn't long before they were side-by- side, though Smith would have to retract and reconsider, because there was no way Ericsson was backing down.
All of this meant that the person Perez was holding up most immediately was Abay, and he had half a dozen more cars all piling up behind him, all the drivers wanting to go through. Abay tried all sorts to get past Perez, having a look in various places including the Craner Curves, none of which quite worked. There then followed a period when overtaking was off the agenda with yellow flags at Coppice after Callum Macleod (T-Sport) buried his Dallara deep in the gravel and had to be hauled out by tractor. Annoyingly for Hartley it was just as he went back out on the track, presumably hoping to gain a point for fastest lap if he could.
Once that was cleared Ericsson was able to drop Oakes a place, while Turvey was busy passing Bridger. He'd recovered remarkably well and you had to admire his determination, though it seemed catching Smith might prove to be a much taller order with only eight laps left. As it turned out it looked as if it might be more important to catch Oakes, because Smith got ahead of Oakes at the Chicane and then Ericsson's started to try and sort out a way past the Invitation Class runner. As one of the few people with clear air around them, that made it far easier for Hartley to get a good run and he now claimed the point for fastest lap.
The really fascinating battle now, though, was between Abay and Perez, with Abay looking very threatening - he briefly tried to go round the outside of the Mexican but it didn't quite work, but Perez couldn't actually shake him off no matter what he did. However, Smith and Ericsson had now caught up, and Perez was being as defensive as he could, frustrated by the fact that Abay just wouldn't go away. Finally it all got too much for the Australian and he made a lunge at Perez. It didn't work and he came close to collecting his opponent. The resulting wobble was enough to let Smith get really close, and it was probably only the presence of Ericsson looming in his mirrors that stopped Smith from really having a go.
Turvey, meanwhile, had run into difficulties passing Clemente de Faria Jr (Cesario F3 UK), but had overcome those, and was now not far from the rear of the battle for 3rd. That finally resolved itself when Abay ran wide, letting Smith through and almost allowing Oakes in there as well. That caused Ericsson to slow slightly, and Turvey tried to go through. Ericsson and he collected each other, spinning Turvey out of contention, and thus guaranteeing Alguersuari the title. Ericsson got going again, and lost no ground, but Turvey's chase was over. Perez remained 3rd and he was now well clear of Smith once the dust settled, and that was it, apart from Hartley retreating to the pits and into retirement.
Alguersuari continued in serene isolation, coming home a long way ahead of Tandy, while Perez claimed a hard-fought 3rd from Smith, Abay, Oakes (who won the Invitation Class), Ericsson, Bridger claiming his 5th National Class win of the year, Surtees and Henry Arundel (Double R Racing). 11th was Chilton, who beat home John Martin (Double R Racing), Guerrero, Adriano Buzaid (Carlin Motorsport), an off the pace Stefan Wilson (Fluid Motorsport), Hywel Lloyd (C F Racing), Philip Major (Double R Racing), Mustonen, Clemente Jr. and Grubmuller. Last (and 21st overall) was Jonathan Legris in the Litespeed F3 after a pit stop that dropped him back 6 laps.
The fastest laps of the race went to Hartley, Oakes and Macleod.
Weather: Warm, sunny, dry.
Next Races: Bahrain, March, 2009.