PREVIEW: Who Will Be British F3’s ‘Top Gun’ at Silverstone?
EVENT PREVIEW: As the Lloyds TSB Insurance British F3 International Series returns to the UK for the final four meetings of the 2007 season, Marko Asmer holds a commanding 60 point lead in the championship. However at Spa Francorchamps two weeks ago the young Estonian faltered and the home of the Belgian Grand Prix became the first circuit that Asmer has failed to win at in 2007, handing his rivals a glimmer of hope that he can be caught before the finale at Rockingham in September.
The 30 drivers taking part in the UK’s premier single seat championship come from all corners of the globe and with 18 countries being represented, British F3 lives up to its international status as the world’s leading Formula 3 category. Since 1964 drivers from British F3 have won 18 Formula One world titles and ever other major race or championship. Names such as Ayrton Senna, Sir Jackie Stewart, Emerson Fittipaldi, Damon Hill, Nigel Mansell, Nelson Piquet and Mika Hakkinen are some of the drivers who learnt their race craft in British F3, a championship that has launched their careers on the world stage.
This season, the series has been dominated by Marko Asmer racing for local team Hitech Racing. With seven wins from fourteen starts Asmer has built up an impressive points total with eight races remaining. However with 21 points on offer for each race, the battle to become the next British F3 Champion is far from over.
While Asmer is in his 4th season of Formula 3, Sam Bird is in his first and the UK Formula Renault graduate has marked himself out as a man to watch. The 20-year-old from Surrey has already won two races, the first on the streets of Bucharest and the second on the awesome Spa Francorchamps circuit two weeks ago. With six further podium finishes, Bird has established himself as the main challenger to Asmer for the title.
Bird’s Carlin Motorsport team mate Maro Engel has had an up and down season so far, with wins at Oulton Park and Monza tempered by mediocre races and mechanical problems. A second place in the last race at Spa has put the young German back in the title chase but he knows that consistent podium finishes is now required for the rest of the year.
Raikkonen Robertson Racing’s Stephen Jelley is the only driver in the top seven not to have won a race in British F3. Two pole positions, two fastest laps and six podiums have demonstrated that the driver from Leicester has the pace to reach the top step on the podium and it seems to be a case of when, rather than if, he can take his first win.
Jelley’s Double R team mate Jonathan Kennard was all smiles in Belgium when the 2004 Formula Palmer Audi champion took his first victory in British F3 in the rain, adding to the points he gained for finishing second in first race of the weekend and securing the fastest laps, including a new British F3 lap record, in both races.
Ireland’s Niall Breen is the second highest place rookie driver, with the reigning UK Formula BMW champion winning at Snetterton in June to lead home the first 1-2-3 of the year for the Carlin Motorsport team. Breen scored two further podiums to push the driver from Dundalk up the championship table.
Sebastian Hohenthal’s first season in British F3 has certainly been eventful, with the reigning UK Formula Renault champion becoming the sixth different winner in 2007 on the full Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit last month. This, coupled with a new British F3 lap record at Oulton Park on his way to 3rd place in his debut race at Easter, has certainly shown the rest of the grid that the 22-year-old Swede is one to watch.
Just one point behind Hohenthal is the fourth Carlin driver in the top ten, Brazilian Alberto Valerio. The 2005 South American F3 champion is in his second full season of British F3 and has secured four podium finishes and a new lap record at Monza. However the top step of the podium has eluded the 21-year-old so far but, like many of the drivers above him in the title race, has shown he has the pace to challenge for victory.
Finland’s Atte Mustonen is the third Raikkonen Robertson Racing driver and the Formula Renault Eurocup graduate has struggled earlier in the season to adapt to Formula 3. However pole position at Snetterton and a second place at Brands Hatch while challenging Hohenthal for the lead has shown the 18-year-old has started to settle in and a win would seem to be on the cards before the seasons end.
Rounding out the top 10 is Rodolfo Gonzalez, the top driver using the Mugen-Honda power plant. The Venezuelan has struggled to reproduce the form that won him the British F3 National Class title last season but at Brands Hatch a fighting drive from 12th to 4th and three further competitive drives in Kent and Belgium has got his season back on track and a first visit to the podium in 2007 shouldn’t be ruled out on his T Sport team’s home track.
Outside of the top 10 the Ultimate Motorsport pairing of Esteban Guerrieri and Michael Devaney are ones to watch. The Northamptonshire based team are new to British F3 this season and are also competing in the brand new Mygale chassis against the dominant Dallara’s. The two drivers have been consistent top 10 finishers, with a fastest lap for Devaney in Bucharest last May.
While the British F3 Roll of Honour reads like a who’s who of motorsport, a famous name has returned to the British F3 grid this season. Formula BMW graduates Greg and Leo Mansell have found the going tough this season, but their pace belies the fact that this is only the brothers second full season of competitive racing. Younger brother Greg has shown that he has inherited his old mans racing gene with a fighting podium finish at Donington Park and has been a consistent top 10 finisher.
The British F3 National Class is run for older Formula 3 cars, where drivers can learn the car and the circuits out of the publicity glare surrounding the Championship Class before stepping up the following season. The class has a tradition of being hotly contested and 2007 has proven to be one of the best title races for many years. Mexico’s Sergio Perez is the current leader, with seven wins, six pole positions and five fastest laps to his credit from the first 14 races. However these impressive statistics have been shadowed closely by China’s Cheng Cong Fu. Both drivers have been on A1GP duty for their countries and their pace in a Formula 3 car has lead to their domination of the class this season.
Britain’s Michael Meadows has won two races earlier in the season but a switch to the Raikkonen Robertson Racing team hasn’t produced a race winning combination. Iceland’s Viktor Jensen is the other race winner, the Formula Palmer Audi graduate taking a win at Snetterton, adding to his tally of four further podium finishes.
With eight races of the season remaining, and 168 points on offer, there is everything still to play for.