2002 Australian Formula 3 Champion, James Manderson made the big move from Australia into the highly competitive world of European open wheelers this year. In the last round of the Euro F3 series, Manderson scored his first top ten finish...
2002 Australian Formula 3 Champion, James Manderson made the big move from Australia into the highly competitive world of European open wheelers this year. In the last round of the Euro F3 series, Manderson scored his first top ten finish of the season.
How did you deal with SRT come about?
It came through my old team in Australia, Team BRM. In fact, the car I raced in the Australian Championship came from Swiss Racing Team. (I later found out that it was crashed heavily at Korea right before being sent to Australia!). Straight after I won the championship, we wanted to organise a test session in Europe, and the link between BRM and SRT already existed, so we tried it out.
Did your time in the Australian Formula 3 Championship help prepare you for the Euro F3 Series?
For sure, but I still had no idea what I was in for when I started competing in Europe. In fact, I argue that a lot of the race craft I use in Euro F3 was learned from racing Formula Vees, but then I built on that experience in Australian Formula 3. I remember being taught a valuable lesson by Peter Hackett, when I attempted to pass him in Honda corner at Phillip Island. I was trying the "over and under" move on him, and he slowed down mid corner, to ruin my run. It worked well, and I can't count the number of times I've used it since! Of course, now I've learned a few more ways of defending and getting around people, and it can get quite complicated.
Would you recommend the Australian Formula 3 Championship to other young Australian drivers looking to race in Europe?
Without question. The category is directly relevant to racing overseas, and I've spoken to a number of teams over here in Europe. Once you say "Formula 3 Champion", they have no more questions. If I had raced any other category, they would have asked "what sort of engine, what chassis" and so on - it's just too complicated to explain it all.
For anyone who's serious, I would recommend they get over to Europe and do a test with a good team ASAP. You have to find out what the level of competition is, and learn exactly how these cars should be driven. Most teams have data from top drivers (eg SRT has data from Jarno Trulli), and it is really nice to be able to compare against them.
What has been the biggest hurdle you have had to get over to get to where you are today?
Money. I'm not from a rich family, and I need more money to continue! It's actually amazing how many drivers in the field aren't from rich backgrounds, and how many are struggling themselves. I used to be cynical and assume they were all children of rich fathers, but a lot of them have made it here on their own merit.
How are you settling into the new team?
Fine. They are a fun group of guys, and they work really hard. I go to the workshop every day, mostly taking care of emails and my website, but I also help out when they need things picked up from the painters or from the sticker guy. I find myself quite busy most days.
What was the major difference between the Australian Formula 3 Series and the Euro Series?
The Euro Series is unbelievably competitive. When I first started, the fastest people were more than 2 seconds a lap faster than me. It's a really tough road to improve steadily and get closer to their times. Also, I've had to step into a new car, and it takes some time to tune the car so that it fits you like a glove. We're getting close now, and I'm becoming more confident with the car, so I'm able to improve faster.
Also, the organisation at European race meetings is unbelievable. Everything is timed to the minute, so when we are sitting in pit lane waiting for our session, the mechanics watch their own watch, and tell us when to start the car. Seconds later, the pit lane exit turns green and we fly out onto the track.
Also, there's much less respect for yellow flags here. Everyone just keeps pushing, and if a car is parked on the track in their way, they'll find another way around. The officials try to slow everyone down, but it never works. For instance, at Pau last weekend, I was waved past the safety car (because it was trying to pick up the leader), and the whole circuit was under yellow flags. I had to keep pushing, because the safety car didn't even stay out long enough for me to catch the end of the pack! It's really crazy.
Have there been any similarities?
Not many. The cars are similar, that's about it! Also, SRT works with the same organisational structure as BRM - with dedicated mechanics on each car, then engineers for the cars, and team bosses taking care of everything else.
What are your team mates like to work with? Do you work together on setup or is it all done independently?
We talk a lot about setup. We try not to be too competitive with each other, because we all need to move up the grid. In a 3 car team, we have the advantage that different things can be tried on different cars, and then the data shows us which one is the correct choice. It helped us a lot at Pau, which is a street race. In the first practice sessions, each car was different, and then we tried to take the best from each and get a good setup.
What is it like living in Switzerland?
Boring at times. It's a nice country, and nice people, but there's just not that much to do. They are a long way behind on using the internet, because the whole country is decentralised. For them to lay new fibre- optic cables to every house is nearly impossible, especially because most of the buildings are really old.
At least the weather is nice at the moment (30+ degrees!). In the winter is gets quite cold, but every building here has double glazed windows and heaters, so its not a big problem. I wouldn't mind going skiing if I can stick around long enough.
Do you have any contact with any of the other Aussies racing in Europe at the moment like fellow AF3 competitor Will Power?
I haven't heard from Will since I spoke to him on the phone last year! I read all the things in the papers, and my dad keeps me up to date with the latest gossip, but the only Australian I have any contact with is Briscoe, and that's only at the race meetings. He's not a bad guy to be in contact with, considering that he has a commanding lead in the championship.
The new paint job has left little doubt as to your nationality when you are racing, what was the reason behind the new design?
Err, I was bored one day and started messing around in Photoshop with a photo of a Formula 3 and a picture of the Australian flag. It turned out remarkably well, but I never imagined that we would actually paint the car that way.
How much input did you have with the design?
It was completely my work, except there were some requirements for SRT to have MOTOREX on the side of the car, and some constraints from the sticker guy.
Have you had much feedback about the colour scheme?
A fair bit. Everyone loves it, and at the races everyone who walks past our pit stops to take a small look. Briscoe likes it too, and I'm guessing that he wishes that Toyota was an Australian company, so he could paint his car like that too.
Do you have a chance to keep an eye on what is happening in the AF3 series while you are away? Any tips for the Championship?
I have to say Cressey is looking pretty good. I've looked at the results a few times, mostly to see how the BRM guys are doing. Karl Reindler seems to be improving quickly, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him battling Cressey and Caruso by the end of the season.
What are your plans for next year?
Stick with SRT and have a go at winning the Euro Series.
Motorsport Identity most admired: Valentino Rossi - what a character!
Career Highlights: Getting to race in Europe!
Ultimate Racing Ambition: F1
Favourite moment in Motorsport Career so far: Getting on the plane to come over to Europe.
Worst moment in a race car: Driving a GTS commodore which wanted to spin every time you hit the brakes. I nearly stuck it in the wall on the second lap.
Why you race cars: Because you constantly make split second decisions which have big consequences.
First Race Car: Formula Vee - Elliot mark 3
Which driver (in your category) do you most like racing against and why? Briscoe!
What do you do in your spare time: I go to the workshop, and I go jogging to keep myself fit.
Most embarrassing moment: Stalling on the warm down lap at Mallala after winning the race, trying to do a wheel spin and stalling it