It seems nowhere is free from the effects of the current credit crunch and motorsport is no exception. With Honda's recent troubles fresh in the minds of most people in the vicinity of Silverstone, it would probably have come as no surprise to anyone arrive at the 2009 Media Day for the Cooper Tires British F3 International series and discover that there are markedly fewer cars out there than at the same time last year. However, that doesn't mean that the quality is any less. It does, however, mean that a number of teams are not present, most notably Ultimate Motorsport who are concentrating on World Series by Renault this season, and that of those that have returned, there are fewer cars - at least in some instances.
In other changes, the Volkswagen power unit has found its way to Britain, while most of last year's drivers have moved on, leaving a field with a high proportion of rookies. That should worry a few people, most notably the marshals on the first corner at Oulton Park this Easter. Additionally, the calendar has shrunk by one meeting to take account of the economic woe we're all living with, and in the last few days the Bucharest round has fallen by the wayside, though more because Madonna wants to stage a concert there on what would have been our race weekend, so instead we're off to Portugal on September 12th/13th to the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve, near Portim?o.
As last year's champions, Carlin Motorsport is fielding a full house of International Class runners, with Oliver Oakes and Henry Arundel both joining the dominant outfit for their second year in the formula, while Max Chilton is back for a third time, and having moved from Hitech has everything to prove this season. The three British drivers are joined by RedBull backed Australian Daniel Ricciardo, who is new to this series but of whom much will be expected after the success of Jaime Alguersuari last year. They will be powered by Volkswagen this year, as will T-Sport.
T-Sport too have a full roster of drivers, with Brazil's Adriano Buzaid and Wayne Boyd from Northern Ireland in their startlingly yellow International Class cars and Gabriel Dias, another Brazilian, as their sole National Class runner. Dias of course will be powered by a Mugen Honda, as all National Class drivers are required to be.
Buzaid, in particular, seems to be up to speed already, although Russell Eacott, team boss, was as gloomy as ever when congratulated on Buzaid's turn of speed, pointing out that the season starts at Oulton Park and "We're always crap at Oulton."
Raikkonen Robertson Racing are sticking with Mercedes engines for another year, but their numbers are down with only two drivers signed so far. However, in Colombia's Carlos Huertas they seem to have found a driver who is quick straight out of the box if his form over two days at Silverstone is any guide. His team-mate, Daisuke Nakajima, on the other hand, seems to be finding adapting rather more difficult, and was responsible for the first stoppage of the day on Tuesday when he modified the car somewhat after 12 minutes running and had to be hauled back on the breakdown truck looking more than slightly embarrassed. It remains to be seen whether the Japanese will improve fast enough to challenge for the title.
Fortec Motorsport are also sticking with the tried and tested Dallara/Mercedes combination and they at least have three cars, with Britain's Riki Christodoulou and Spain's Victor Garcia taking on the International Class and Daniel McKenzie, who seems to be a bit of a livewire to say the least, taking on the National Class. It's going to be something of an uphill struggle as they are all three new to the category, although they are also raring to go if their press conference performance was anything to go by.
If things look a bit tricky at Fortec, they look positively bleak at Hitech Racing. They only have Walter Grubmuller at present running in yet another Mercedes-powered Dallara. The fact that he's the sole runner is not that surprising, given the state of affairs there since the Austrian's people pretty much bought the outfit and then opted not to run with anyone who could have helped them get faster last season. Into the bargain Walter has opted to run number 13, which caused more than a few eyebrows to shoot up towards hairlines. Short of painting the car green as well, there aren't many things more guaranteed to horrify the superstitious in the paddock.
In addition there are four more teams running single cars in the International Class, starting with West-Tec, with last year's National Class champion, Jay Bridger, moving up to the International Class with the new team. They will be running the new Mygale with a Mugen Honda power unit, and will also have a National Class runner in the shape of lanky Russian Max Snegirev, in a standard issue Dallara Mugen Honda.
There's another International Class Mugen Honda-powered runner in the shape of Welshman Hywel Lloyd, though he's driving a Dallara. He and his family-run outfit C F Racing are making the step up together after a remarkably effective debut season in the National Class in 2008.
Also back again for a second year, and likely to prove fast as well as ferociously competitive yet again, is Nick Tandy, in the second Mygale, and also in a family-run team, JTR. They've opted for Mercedes engines though. Tandy shook a few of the more established teams with his pace last year, and may well do so again this season. It's just a shame the economic climate means no team-mate to help him along.
Completing the International Class field is Monaco's Stephane Richelmi, running with Barazi Epsilon, who has opted to race in the British series this year. The team is also running a Dallara with a Mercedes engine but will face a massive learning curve as neither they nor Richelmi know the tracks.
That leaves one more National Class competitor. Litespeed F3 are returning for what they hope will be a full season this time, having learned some valuable lessons last season, with ex-Formula Ford racer, Victor Correa from Brazil at the wheel.
And so it all kicks off again in a week and a half at Oulton Park.