FORMULA 3 ALL SET FOR A SUPERB SEASON With a thrilling new event format, 30 races a year and a grid swollen with talent from both home and abroad, the 2010 Cooper Tires British Formula 3 International Series - which gets underway at Oulton Park...
FORMULA 3 ALL SET FOR A SUPERB SEASON
With a thrilling new event format, 30 races a year and a grid swollen with talent from both home and abroad, the 2010 Cooper Tires British Formula 3 International Series - which gets underway at Oulton Park over Easter (3-5 Apr) - promises to provide a spectacular feast of track action - and maybe a future Grand Prix driver or two.
Talented drivers are flocking to British F3 from South America and Asia, as well as from closer to home, because it provides the best grounding and experience that money can buy for a young track star. It's no accident that the 2008 British F3 Champion, Jaime Alguersuari, was propelled into F1 last year as the youngest-ever Grand Prix driver, nor that the reigning British F3 title holder, Daniel Ricciardo, is already an F1 reserve pilot.
Mindful of world economics and the threat posed by newly introduced single-seater series, the championship has moved swiftly and decisively to improve the cockpit time, race experience and value for money offered by British F3, and those decisions have paid off handsomely in terms of attracting new and returning teams and the talent to drive their cars.
"With 30 races and a bold new format, the Cooper Tires British F3 is on the threshold of a superbly exciting season," said Stephane Ratel, the Chairman of the championship promoter, SRO Motorsports Group. "The teams are to be congratulated on their efforts in assembling such an impressive entry. It bodes well for the continuing growth and stability of British F3."
Exciting 30-race format
Not since the 1990s, when British F3 adopted a twin-race format, has the championship seen such a shake-up. Each of this year's 10 meetings will boast three races, one of them featuring a 'semi-reverse' grid. As a grand finale, there will be a 40-minute feature race to put driving skills and mechanical longevity to the test.
Instead of two qualifying sessions there will be only one, and this will be followed by the first race of the weekend - a 30-minute event. The winner of race one will have an additional task to perform on the podium: he will pick his starting position for race two, drawing from the hat a number between six and 10. If the victor picks eight, for example, he will start race two from P8 on the grid, with the runner-up on P7 and so on, down to the eighth-placed finisher, who lands pole position.
Race two is a 20-minute teaser which attracts a reduced scale of points. With the shaken-up grid and shorter length, it's likely to produce some unexpected winners and plenty of dramatic action as the quicker men try to battle through. The third and final race of the weekend will, at 40 minutes, be the tactically interesting one. The grid will be formed by the fastest times from qualifying, and it's a certainty that tyres will play a key role. Competitors are limited to two sets of dry-weather tyres at each meeting, so those who have played a conservative game and looked after their rubber will stand a better chance than those who try too hard, too early.
Twin visits to the Silverstone Grand Prix circuit and races at the European Grand Prix tracks of Magny-Cours, Hockenheim and Spa-Francorchamps, as well as a return to Britain's fastest track, Thruxton, are among the highlights of the provisional calendar.
The championship gets underway at Oulton Park alongside the Avon Tyres British GT Championship, with which series it will share the bill also at Snetterton, Rockingham, Brands Hatch and Silverstone in August. British F3 is scheduled to join the FIA GT1 World Championship at Silverstone in May and at Spa-Francorchamps, alongside the prestigious Spa 24 Hours. The latter date is one of three overseas events aimed at maintaining the championship's status as an international proving ground for young talent.
Superb TV package
Once again British F3 will enjoy impressive coverage on both terrestrial TV in the UK and via satellite across Europe and around the world. Channel 4's regular weekend morning summer motorsport slot will continue to feature 24-minute edits of the championship's rounds, while Motors TV will broadcast 50-minute shows to Britain via its Sky-platform satellite channel and across mainland Europe to more than 18 million homes with commentaries in English, French, German, Greek, Serbian and Dutch. The championship is expecting coverage also on the Speed Channel in Latin America and across Asia via ESPN Star Sports.
The runners and riders
It's probably the most competitive field that has gathered for several seasons, and there are at least seven British competitors among the dozen-or so drivers who are in with a real shout of title glory in the 2010 Cooper Tires British Formula 3 International Series.
Based on pre-season testing form, Jean-Eric Vergne is certain to be one of the frontrunners; he has been consistently quick and is determined to emulate his championship-winning predecessors in the Red Bull-backed Carlin car - Alguersuari and Ricciardo - by making an early bid for honours. That there has never been a French champion in British F3 will be a further incentive for the 19-year-old Parisian.
Carlin is fielding a fleet of Volkswagen-backed Dallaras, and two more of the team's drivers have, like Vergne, shown strong pre-season pace: Brazilian Adriano Buzaid, who was a race winner last year (with T-Sport) in his maiden season of British F3 and who should prove a major force in 2010, and Racing Steps Foundation-backed James Calado, who is one of the MSA's Team UK Elite drivers and who steps up from Formula Renault UK, where he finished second overall in 2009. Carlin's line-up is complemented by Brit Rupert Svendsen-Cook, Malaysian Jazeman Jaafar and the newly signed Lucas Foresti, from Brazil.
Who can stop Carlin from recording a hat-trick of championship wins? Again on the basis of pre-season testing, you'd have to look towards the Fortec Motorsport and Raikkonen Robertson Racing teams, both of which have stayed loyal to Mercedes-Benz power. Fortec is fielding a brace of promising young Brits: 18-year-old Ollie Webb, from Knutsford, who was third in Formula Renault last year, and 21-year-old Daniel McKenzie, who is the reigning British F3 National class title holder. Webb may be the quicker of the two, but McKenzie has experience and consistency on his side. Joining them at Fortec is Russian racer Max Snegirev, who has behind him a season in the National class.
Quietly getting on with the job is the modus operandi for Raikkonen Robertson Racing under the guidance of new team manager Malcolm Swetnam, and the drivers are certainly among the most experienced. Japan's Daisuke Nakajima - son of Satoru, brother of Kazuki - and Colombian Carlos Huertas both made the podium in 2009 and ought to be ready to win. They are joined by Brazilian hot-shot Felipe Nasr, the reigning Formula BMW Europe Champion.
Last year Hitech Racing was the most consistent challenger to Carlin. There has been much restructuring within the team over the winter, with former driver Ryan Sharp now calling the shots and Volkswagen engines in the back of the Hitech Dallaras rather than Mercedes. There are new drivers also, in the shape of 17-year-old Ulsterman William Buller, another MSA Elite man, who started his F3 career in the best possible style with a victory for Hitech in Brazil in January, and Gabriel Dias, who with T-Sport last season won the National class eight times.
In the 1980s his dad used to spar with Ayton Senna in British F3, and now Alex Brundle is on the grid of Europe's premier single-seater training ground. Will he follow Martin into Formula 1? Only time will tell, but a successful stint with T-Sport would do his career no harm. T-Sport guided Wayne Boyd and Adrian Buzaid to race wins in their debut seasons in 2009, and can be relied upon to nurture Brundle Jnr in a similar fashion.
Corwen-based Hywel Lloyd and his family team, CF Racing, learned a lot about running with the big boys in the International class in 2009. For this season there's a state of the art Mercedes motor in the back of Hywel's car and thanks to the team's newly announced liaison with former British F3 title-winning team Manor Motorsport, some valuable technical assistance. Hywel will have a team-mate also, in the shape of Indonesian Rio Haryanto.
The 2008 National class champion, Jay Bridger, struggled last year to make the Mygale chassis a competitive prospect. This year he has a Dallara under him, Volkswagen power and the Litespeed F3 team looking after the technicalities; better results should flow. The International class welcomes a new team in the shape of Sino Vision Racing, set up by Chris Churchill and Chinese driver Adderly Fong. The pair met at Performance Racing when Fong contested the domestic German F3 championship.
The National Class looks like being a battle between the two T-Sport drivers: London-based Menasheh Idafar and Liverpudlian James Cole. Eighteen-year-old Idafar has shown blistering pace in testing, often finishing sessions well up among the International boys, while 21-year-old Cole, the reigning Formula Ford Champion, has adopted a more measured approach as he finds his feet in F3.
British F3 is sponsored by US tyre manufacturer Cooper Tire and is further supported by Sunoco Racing Fuels, Anglo American Oil Company and Mirror.co.uk