SEASON PREVIEW: Talent Spotting in the Class of 2008
Everyone who knows about UK motorsport is aware that since 1964 British Formula 3 has been the championship for young drivers wanting to make their mark in international motor racing. Over the years British F3 has launched the careers of drivers such as Jackie Stewart, Emerson Fittipaldi, Nelson Piquet, Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna. However, it isn’t just in the history books that British F3 makes its mark and you only have to look at the past four title winners to see this.
2004 British F3 Champion Nelson Piquet is racing in his first season of F1 at Renault, 2006 Champion Mike Conway is a development driver for Honda F1 and Marko Asmer, fresh from winning the 2007 British F3 title, was snapped up as a test driver for BMW Sauber. The 2005 British F3 champion, Alvaro Parente, had further success by winning the 2007 World Series by Renault crown and testing for Renault F1 as part of his prize.
Also on the F1 grid this season is British F3 champion Rubens Barrichello (1991) and Takuma Sato (2001). 2002 British F3 Rookie Champion, and the last driver to win the last British Grand Prix support race, Heikki Kovalainen is now at McLaren, with Jenson Button, David Coulthard, Mark Webber and Anthony Davidson all race winners in British F3.
So who is likely to join this very exclusive group from the class of 2008? With twenty-six drivers from 16 different countries across the globe racing in 22 races on 11 of the most challenging race circuits in the UK and Europe, the British F3 International Series is one of the most hotly contested championships in the world. To be a race winner in British F3 goes a long way to getting a driver noticed by the team owners at the top of the sport. However winning the British F3 International Series title sets a driver up as a future motor racing star.
With new cars in the shape of the Dallara F308 and the Mygale M-08F3 and a new name for the leading class, moving from Championship to International Class, the scene is now set for a great season of racing beginning this weekend at Oulton Park.
2007 Championship winning team Hitech Racing have two second year drivers racing for them in 2008. Max Chilton became the youngest ever driver to start a British F3 race at Donington Park last year, taking to the track the day after his 16th birthday. The younger brother of BTCC racer Tom, Max Chilton honed his skills throughout last season and has already been showing race winning pace in the recent official tests. Chilton’s Austrian teammate Walter Grubmüller has also been working hard over the winter and likewise has been one of the fastest drivers in testing. Hitech will be looking to add a second title in 2008 and their two young drivers will be fighting for themselves and their team.
Carlin Motorsport have won more British F3 races than any other team and are running four cars in the International Class and a further two in the National Class. Red Bull drivers Brendon Hartley and Jaime Alguersuari both competed in the Formula Renault Eurocup last year, with New Zealander Hartley lifting the title. They are joined by 2006 McLaren Autosport BRDC Award winner, Oliver Turvey, who took part in the final two races of the 2006 British F3 season at Thruxton, and the Racing Steps Foundation backed racer has signed up for his first full season after a year in Formula Renault. The fourth Carlin driver is Australian, Sam Abay, the 20 year old from Melbourne is also a Formula BMW graduate.
2006 British F3 Champions Räikkönen Robertson Racing have an impressive line up of four drivers in the International Class, with three of them in their second season. The rookie is Henry Arundel who moves up from Formula BMW. Finishing 3rd overall in that championship landed Arundel a McLaren Autosport BRDC Award nomination. Aussie, John Martin, moves across from ADR after a roller coaster year that saw him narrowly miss a podium in Bucharest. Alistair Jackson raced in the National Class with team for the first half of 2007 before moving up to get some experience. The 19-year-old from Belfast will be wanting to capitilize on this experience in ’08. Atte Mustonen was one of the revelations of the 2007 season. Nobody denied he was quick but after an indifferent first half of the year the 19-year-old Finn started to produce the results and ended the year with a win at Thruxton, including a new lap record on the UK’s fastest road course circuit, four further podiums and two pole positions.
Sebastian Hohenthal heads up three car team at Fortec Motorsport and the 2006 Formula Renault UK Champion will be looking for better things this season after a race win at Brands Hatch and a new lap record at Oulton Park on his British F3 debut gave the 23-year-old Swede a taste for success in the category. He is joined at the team by fellow Swede Marcus Ericsson, the 2007 Formula BMW UK Champion, and Canadian Formula BMW USA graduate, Philip Major.
Ultimate Motorsport had an excellent debut season in British F3 last year with the brand new Mygale chassis. Last year’s drivers Michael Devaney and Esteban Guerrieri are back for another season with the new 2008 Mygale chassis and they are joined by Angolan Ricardo Teixeira for his fourth season in the championship.
T-Sport is running a single car entry in the International Class and two in the National category. 2007 National Class champion Sergio Perez is the International Class entry and is driving the only Mugen-Honda powered car in the field. That didn’t seem to matter to the 18-year-old Mexican at the recent Silverstone test when he topped the time sheets. Perez took 14 class wins last year and certainly doesn’t expect a repeat performance in such a talented field, but expect to see the Telmex Dallara at the sharp end over the coming months.
JTR with Marshall Westland is a brand new team for the 2008 season following on from their success in Formula Ford. Formula Ford Festival winner Nick Tandy will drive the team’s Mercedes powered Mygale.
The National Class runners all get new cars this year with all the teams choosing to run the last generation Dallara. 2007 National Class Champions T-Sport have a pair of cars for Colombian Steven Guerrero and class returnee Salman Al-Khalifa, who became the first driver from Bahrain to step onto the British F3 podium at Oulton Park 12 months ago.
Fluid Motorsport have swapped their Lolas for a pair of Dallaras for Formula Ford graduate Jay Bridger and 2007 McLaren Autosport BRDC Award winner Stefan Wilson.
2007 BRDC Formula Renault Champion Hywel Lloyd has stepped up to British F3 with his own team, CF Racing. The 22-year-old Welsh driver, who was recently named as the 2007 Welsh Driver of the Year, rates Oulton Park as his favourite circuit.
Carlin Motorsport have a two car entry in the National Class which they will run alongside the four International class cars. Reigning Icelandic karting champion Kristjan Einar begins his first season in cars alongside BRDC Formula Renault graduate Andrew Meyrick. The 22-year-old from Chester has been the class leader at all of the official pre season tests and starts the season as a favourite to take the title.
2004 Formula Ford and 2005 Formula BMW Championship winning team Nexa Racing have set their sights on adding the British F3 National Class title to their honours board. 16-year-old German karting champion Craig Reiff will begin his first season in cars in the most challenging single seat category in Europe, but is confident of challenging his rivals as the year progresses.
The latest news and information on the British F3 International Series can be found at www.britishf3international.com and don’t forget to catch the action once again on Channel 4 and Motors TV. Full TV schedule will be on the British F3 website.