In 2007 the world has come to race in the Lloyds TSB Insurance British F3 International Series. Thirty-three drivers from twenty countries are entered, no doubt attracted by the spectacular racing the series provides and the success that previous drivers have gone on to achieve. British F3 International Series has been the traditional proving ground for future stars of Formula One and other leading championships across the globe. Last year’s champion Mike Conway went onto beat the world’s best F3 drivers in Macau and has stepped up to GP2 this season, with a Honda F1 testing contract as well.
The 2007 grid is not just one of quantity, it is also one of quality, with showcasing reigning and past category champions. Two weeks ago at Oulton Park Marko Asmer (Hitech Racing) stormed into the lead of the 2007 title race taking a win in round 2 to add to the second place he took earlier in the day to hold a 7 point lead over Maro Engel. Engel, the only driver on the 2007 grid to win a British F3 race in 2006, was a late signing at Carlin Motorsport but the lack of preseason testing didn’t affect his performance on the track, taking a win in Round 1 at Oulton Park.
Leicester’s Stephen Jelley scored two podium finishes at Oulton Park and is currently one point behind Engel. However such is the mark of Jelley’s commitment this season he was disappointed with the result and will be hungry for his first win on his home track at Donington Park. His Raikkonen Robertson Racing teammate Jonathan Kennard was also disappointed with his results from Oulton Park having started from pole position for Round 2 but only managing a fighting fourth, claiming the fastest lap of the race and equalling the new F3 lap record for the circuit.
The third driver at Raikkonen Robertson Racing is Atte Mustonen and the rapid Finn who graduates to British F3 from Formula Renault has already shown he has the speed as long as he stays out of trouble.
Daventry based Fortec Motorsport are running three cars in the 2007 series and has probably the most famous name in UK motorsport on its books. Leo and Greg Mansell, sons of 1992 F1 World Champion Nigel Mansell, have already shown that despite their lack of experience they have inherited the ‘old mans’ racing gene. Greg took two points scoring finishes in the first races a fortnight ago and will be looking to improve this total further on a track he rates highly. Leo didn’t have the best starts to the season at Oulton Park, finishing the second race watching from the pitlane after he was an innocent bystander in a multi car pile up at Druids.
The Mansell brothers also have a good benchmark this season in the form of reigning UK Formula Renault champion Sebastian Hohenthal. The Swede was the leading rookie driver at Oulton, smashing Nelson Piquet Jnr’s 2004 official British F3 lap record for the circuit in race 1. A podium in race 2 has marked Seb as one of the dark horses in the 2007 championship race.
Over at Carlin Motorsport, the 2005 championship winning team has switched to Mercedes power this year and is running five cars in the championship class. Alberto Valerio makes a welcome return to British F3, the cheerful Brazilian moving from the Cesario team he won the South American F3 title with two years ago. Racing alongside Valerio is his Brazilian compatriot Mario Moraes. Moraes raced in British F3 with Carlin at Spa and Silverstone in the Invitation Class back in 2006, and is back for a full season in a championship that launched the careers of some very famous Brazilian drivers.
Reigning Formula BMW Champion Niall Breen steps up to British F3 in the fifth Carlin entry and has quickly adapted to the more powerful racecar scoring championship points in both races at Oulton Park. Formula Renault graduate Sam Bird had a good start to his British F3 season, scoring in both rounds and ending the first race just off the podium in 4th place and top rookie driver.
Performance Racing Europe are running two highly experienced F3 racers Ricardo Teixeira and Rodolfo Avila as well as two National Class cars. Teixeira and Avila didn’t get the best start of the year at Oulton Park but are set to improve this weekend under the media glare of the Angolan and Macanese media interest in them.
Reigning British F3 National Class champion Rodolfo Gonzalez has moved up to the championship class with TSport and the leading Mugen Honda powered driver will be looking to challenge for the overall title. Two points finishes at Oulton got his season off to a solid start
Ultimate Motorsport are a new team to British F3 but they are also running a brand new chassis in the shape of the Mercedes powered Mygale. The first outing for the French manufacturer wasn’t the dream start they were hoping for but strong performances by Esteban Guerrieri and Michael Devaney have given the team lots of race data to work on before this weekend's races. Mygale know that the company has a hard job to beat the dominant Dallara’s but the Formula Ford championship winning manufacturer is relishing the challenge in the world’s most competitive Formula 3 series.
Australian Formula Ford Champion John Martin and Italian Francesco Castellacci are racing with former British F3 champions ADR and Austrian Walter Grubmuller is racing alongside the highly experienced Asmer at Hitech Racing.
This weekend two new cars are due to appear at Donington Park. 2006 National Class runner up Cristiano Morgado will make his first appearance this year in the grid's only Championship Class Lola. The other new face will be Max Chilton, who was forced to miss Oulton Park because he was only 15-years-old and wasn’t eligible for the International C race licence required for Formula 3. Saturday April 21st will be his 16th birthday and he will looking for a licence shaped envelope in his birthday post. Max will become the youngest ever driver to compete in British F3 at Donington Park.
The National Class for older F3 chassis has increased in size over the winter. Oulton Park was dominated by Cong Fu ‘Frankie’ Cheng, who scored two wins and two fastest laps to take maximum points from the weekend. Viktor Jensen was his nearest rival, the FPA graduate scoring two podium finishes. South African Sean Petterson was equally rapid, taking second place in race 1 but was involved in one of the many incidents in race 2 and was forced to sit out the rest of the race. Salman Al Khalifa was the other National Class podium finisher, with the 2005 Formula BMW Asia Champion becoming the first driver from Bahrain to step onto a British F3 podium.
Britain’s Michael Meadows scored some useful points in race 1 and started from pole position for race 2 but was involved in the red flag incident. Meadows was quick in preseason testing and will be challenging for maximum points at Donington Park.
2007 promises to be a vintage year for the Lloyds TSB Insurance British F3 International Series as the Championship visits some of the best circuits in UK and Europe. With just two races of the twenty-two race series run, there is all to play for.