Alex Waters, the 19-year old racing driver from Bristol, had a character- building weekend at Silverstone this weekend, driving for the Promatecme F3 team. Having stepped up to the series at Brands Hatch at the end of August, Alex was looking forward to racing on the track that hosts the British Grand Prix every year, but a series of technical issues combined to make his weekend more difficult than he could have expected.
The Formula Three category has provided training for many of the great names in Grand Prix racing, including World Champions Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher, Nigel Mansell and Damon Hill. In fact, with a tiny handful of exceptions, nearly every driver in Grand Prix racing today has spent time racing in F3. It's an essential step in the development of young drivers, and the British F3 International Series is run using cars that are in effect scaled down versions of Formula One cars, offering ferociously competitive racing on some of Europe's greatest circuits. It is in the National Class in this category that Alex is now making his mark after a season of Formula Ford racing, fitting his university studies around his racing commitments.
The Silverstone weekend started well, with Alex showing well on Friday in testing. He'd not driven the car on the Northamptonshire circuit before, and in heavy rain he was able to run just slightly slower than runaway series-leader Rodolfo Gonzalez, who has won 13 races this year. Unfortunately, having set the car up for wet conditions, the learning process had to start all over again when Saturday dawned foggy and then rapidly became warm and sunny. With only 30 minutes of qualifying for each race, Alex had a lot of work to do to get the car set up to his liking and set a competitive time if he wanted to start from good grid positions in each of Sunday's races. A dashboard failure left him unable to monitor his own progress during the session, and he could only hope that he was going fast enough. He finished the morning session 4th in class, behind the far more experienced guys who have been out there all season, and at the end of the second session he was 5th. Considering the difficulties he'd experienced, it was a very good performance.
By race day, the team had sorted out the dashboard, so Alex started the first race of the day, Round 19 of the series, fully informed as to the lap times he was doing. At the start, Cristiano Morgado (Fluid Motorsport) took off into the class lead, while Juho Annala (Performance Racing) and Gonzalez tangled. Gonzalez dropped to the very back of the pack while Annala continued in 2nd. That gained Alex a place, and he was catching Annala rapidly when Gonzalez, determined to clinch the championship in this race, caught him up. As the wing mirrors on Alex's car had worked loose during the course of the race, he was unable to see if anyone was coming up behind him. Not realising Gonzalez was there meant that he was unable to block the Venezuelan effectively and on the penultimate lap of the race Gonzalez found a way past. The result was a lost podium opportunity for Alex, though he still claimed a fine 4th place.
Round 20 was run towards the end of the afternoon, and again Alex was frustrated by events beyond his control. Running 3rd after a great start, he was again catching Annala for 2nd and looked likely to catch the Finn easily when the leader, Morgado, went out with a mechanical failure. Sensing that this could give him his first Class win, Alex began to push even harder, but also failed to finish the race when his clutch failed. It was a cruel blow for the youngster, and he was deeply disappointed at being unable to capitalise on his speed. He had, however, done enough to move up to 7th in the championship table, well ahead of the driver he replaced at Promatecme.
Alex will be racing again next weekend, when the final rounds of the 2006 series are run at the ultra-high speed Thruxton circuit in Hampshire. After that he will begin preparing for the 2007 series, as well as keeping up-to-date with his studies.