The Lloyds TSB Insurance British F3 International Series made motor racing history last month by becoming the first championship to race in Romania since WWII. The fantastic city centre setting got the thumbs up from the teams and drivers, especially from championship leader Marko Asmer, who took the chequered flag in race 1 and travels to Snetterton with a commanding 47-point lead over Stephen Jelley.
Thirty one drivers from 19 different nations around the world are taking part in British F3 this year, reinforcing the position of the series as the world’s leading Formula 3 championship and underlining the word ‘international’ in the series title.
In Bucharest Sam Bird became the third different winner in the six races so far this season, joining Marko Asmer and Mario Engel in ‘Victory Lane’, and this, combined with a third place in race 1, has propelled the 20-year-old from Claygate to third in the championship table in his debut F3 season.
Marko Asmer took the difficult decision to race in Bucharest rather than travel to Japan where he is also racing in the All Japan Formula 3 Championship. The Estonian’s decision was deemed to have been correct as he was the quickest driver all weekend and only a qualifying lottery on a drying track for race 2 stopped Asmer from starting nearer the front of the grid on Sunday morning. However he still scored a 5th place to go with the win on Saturday which meant he moved further ahead of his rivals with 6 of the 22 races completed.
Stephen Jelley looked set to break his British F3 duck in Romania, claiming pole position for Round 6. However a clash with Alberto Valerio dropped the Englishman down the order, but a fight back by Jelley netted him a podium position. However Jelley will be fired up to take a win on the long straights at Snetterton.
Maro Engel had a frustrating weekend in Romania, with a 5th in race 1, followed by a DNF when he was squeezed between Atte Mustonen and the concrete wall in race 2, his first non finish of the season so far. The German is a double race winner in British F3 and, like Jelley, will be looking to step on the top step of the podium this weekend to get his championship bid back on track.
Reigning Formula BMW Champion Niall Breen has adapted to British F3 like the proverbial duck and this has netted the Irish rookie two podium finishes and 5th in the title chase, just 7 points adrift of Carlin team mate Engel.
Jonathan Kennard hasn’t had the best of starts to the season and the race from Tunbridge Wells has only managed one visit to the podium. However with a pole position and a fastest lap, Kennard has shown he has the pace to turn things around in Norfolk.
Romania wasn’t kind to Fortec’s Sebastian Hohenthal, which was his first ever race on a street circuit. Before the weekend he was the top rookie in the championship but a crash with Greg Mansell in race 1 and 7th in race 2 dropped the Swede to 7th overall. However the 2006 UK Formula Renault Champion has already broken the Oulton Park F3 lap record, set the fastest lap in round 4 at Donington Park, has visited the British F3 podium and has been a consistent front runner so far this year.
Alberto Valerio’s Romanian weekend started well, with two front row grid positions and he finished 2nd behind Marko Asmer in the first race of the meeting. It all went wrong in race 2 when an ambitious move on race leader Stephen Jelley dumped the 2005 South American F3 Champion off the track with broken suspension. However the Brazilian moved up three places in the championship table and he will be chasing more podiums this weekend.
A podium finish in Round 3 at Donington Park for Greg Mansell put the family name back on the British F3 podium for the first time since 1979. Greg scored points in the first four races and it was clear to see that the inexperienced 19-year-old was adapting to Formula 3 very quickly. However a badly damaged car was the result of a clash with his spinning Fortec teammate Seb Hohenthal and ended Mansell’s race weekend before it had begun. Romania certainly wasn’t the best of events for the Mansell family after brother Leo was speared off the track by a spinning ‘Frankie’ Cheng and then collected by the unfortunate Francesco Castellacci. Leo was briefly knocked unconscious and was advised not to race due to him suffering from concussion. Both brothers will be hoping for better luck at Snetterton.
Australian Formula Ford Champion John Martin has had a slow start to his British F3 season but the ADR driver adapted well to the tricky Bucharest track. A 4th place in race 2 was the result with an excellent opportunistic move on Marko Asmer and Rodolfo Gonzalez making the Australian the highest placed Mugen Honda powered driver this year so far.
Ultimate Motorsport have been making great strides with the brand new Mercedes powered Mygale Formula 3 chassis and Esteban Guerrieri and Michael Devaney have been getting more competitive as the season progresses. Devaney set the fastest lap of the second race in Romania and with updates to the aero package due; expect further progress towards the front of the field by the two orange and black cars.
Marko Asmer’s Hitech teammate Walter Grubmuller also suffered a huge accident in Romania, which put the young Austrian out of action for both races due to concussion. Grubmuller is due to race at Snetterton and is keen to get back behind the wheel.
While Asmer dominates the overall championship battle the National Class title is a more closely fought affair. Cong Fu ‘Frankie’ Cheng is the current points leader but Mike Meadows and Sergio Perez were the leading class runners in Bucharest, taking a win apiece. Cheng was able to hold onto his championship lead thanks to a podium finish and a DNF by Mike Meadows due to an accident in the second race.
Viktor Jensen netted his third class podium from six races with an excellent drive from the back of the grid in race 2 and the 2006 Formula Palmer Audi runner up is certainly adapting well to the more powerful F3 chassis.
Bahrain’s Hamad Al Fardan stepped up a gear in Romania with a well judged podium finish in race 1. He qualified 2nd for race 2 but a brush with the wall ended a good weekend. Al Fardan’s Bahraini compatriot Salman Al Khalifa has also a podium finish to his name and a friendly rivalry has built up between Bahrain’s first representatives in British F3.
Despite claiming a class pole position in Bucharest, two non finishes put a dent in Alistair Jackson’s push for the title. However the Raikkonen Robertson Racing driver has already tasted the champagne with a 3rd place at Donington and expect him to be a contender at Snetterton.
With a full grid of young F1 hopefuls expect Rounds 7 and 8 of the 2007 Lloyds TSB Insurance British F3 International Series to be an action packed affair in Norfolk.