Tough at the Top
The second half of the British F3 season begins this weekend (12/13 July) on the glorious Grand Prix circuit at Brands Hatch in Kent with the prospect of a down to the wire battle for the most coveted Formula 3 title in the world.
The calibre of the entry for the 2008 season is so high that there have been eight different race winners from the first twelve races and the top four drivers are split by just ten points. Formula 3 is the last multi chassis/engine championship before F1 and the competitive nature of the series has been underlined by wins this year for Dallara, Mygale, Mercedes and Mugen-Honda.
Mexico's Sergio Perez has won three races this season, including a double win at Monza in May, and currently holds a slim one point lead at the top of the championship table. The reigning British F3 National Class Champion faltered at Rockingham but has bounced back with three points scoring finishes at Snetterton and at Thruxton.
Perez is being chased hard by Spain's Jaime Alguersuari. The Red Bull Junior driver is one of the season's most consistent point scorers, with a win at Oulton Park and five podium finishes in the last six races to his credit. The Formula Renault Euro Cup graduate is new to British circuits but that hasn't hindered his title aspirations one bit.
The top British driver is Cumbrian Oliver Turvey, the Racing Steps Foundation backed driver enjoying one of his most competitive seasons. A win in the opening race at Oulton Park has been followed by four further podium finishes which has resulted in a strong challenge for the title, just nine points adrift of Perez. Turvey is also leading the standings for the Mirror.co.uk British F3 Challenge Cup which will be presented to the top British driver by the national media group at the end of the year.
Brendon Hartley is the second of the two Red Bull Junior drivers and the 18-year-old New Zealander was in danger of being overshadowed by his Spanish teammate before the last round at Thruxton. However Hartley responded to the pressure with two outstanding wins on the UK's fastest road course circuit two weeks ago, moving him up the championship order to just 10 points off the lead.
Round 8 winner Sebastian Hohenthal is in his second full season of British F3 and the Swede hasn't disappointed with his consistency on the track. he 2006 UK Formula Renault Champion has occasionally struggled to find a setup on his new Dallara but Hohenthal is certainly one to watch at Brands Hatch where he won his first British F3 race in 2007.
Finland's Atte Mustonen is another driver that could return to the top step of the podium at Brands Hatch. As one of the pre season favourites for the title some may say his haul of just three podium finishes, including a win at Rockingham is disappointing, but consistent points scoring has kept the Finn in the hunt and he is just 19 points behind Perez for the title. With a maximum of 42 points on offer this weekend, things can change very quickly.
Marcus Ericsson is the first driver in the list not to have won a race yet this season but the reigning UK Formula BMW champion has shown again and again that he has the speed and determination necessary to win at this level. The 17-year-old Swede could break his duck this weekend on the full Grand Prix circuit.
Ireland's Michael Devaney made British F3 history at Snetterton when he scored the first ever Formula 3 win for the new Mygale chassis and for his Ultimate Motorsport team, in a lights to flag victory. To prove it wasn't a fluke, he repeated the performance in the second race from fourth on the grid.
Max Chilton has struggled to find his form in the last few races but the 17-year-old is nothing but determined to put his championship back on track on his home circuit here at Brands Hatch. Fastest laps, pole positions and podium finishes have marked Chilton out as a driver to watch in only his second full season of single seaters. Chilton is currently lying in second place in the Mirror.co.uk British F3 Challenge Cup, 35 points adrift of Oliver Turvey in the Mirror's support for Britain's new motor racing talent.
Other drivers to watch out for this weekend are Australian's Sam Abay and John Martin. Abay has been steadily improving within the Carlin team and secured his best finish of the season so far with a fourth at Thruxton two weeks ago. Martin, the 2006 Australian Formula Ford Champion, also had a good outing at Thruxton and will be one to watch on a track that he rates as one of his favourites in the UK. Bedford's Nick Tandy also has a liking for Brands after winning the Formula Ford Festival last year. A season best of fifth with the Mygale in Monza and a front row start at Snetterton has underlined his, and that of his JTR team, determination to compete on level terms at this extremely competitive category in their first year.
While the International Class drivers fight for overall honours in the spotlight, the National Class is no less of a competitive environment for aspiring drivers. Running the last generation of F3 chassis and powered by a standard Mugen-Honda engine, the National Class teams and drivers provide some exciting racing while having the potential to mix it with the more powerful International cars.
Welshman Andy Meyrick has set the standard this season, scoring seven wins in the first twelve races but a bad weekend in Monza and a non finish at Snetterton has allowed Kent's Jay Bridger to close the gap to just nine points. Meyrick's exploits on the track has enabled him to move up the points table for the Mirror.co.uk Challenge Cup and is currently the third top British driver, ahead of some of the International Class runners.
Double race winner Bridger has been a consistent visitor to the podium and the driver from Horsmonden is looking forward to benefiting from home advantage in his first British F3 races at Brands Hatch.
Hywel Lloyd is enjoying his first season of British F3 with his CF Racing team. The reigning BARC Formula Renault Champion has taken victory at the home of the Italian Grand Prix, Monza. Columbian Steven Guerrero is another driver who has adapted quickly to Formula 3, taking his first win at Thruxton last time out after a race long battle with Jay Bridger for the lead.
With twenty six of the world's leading young drivers racing on one of Europe's best circuits, sit back and enjoy the spectacle that is the British F3 International Series. You can catch the action again on Motors TV and Channel 4 in the coming weeks, with full reports, interviews and results at www.britishf3international.com