EVENT PREVIEW: The British F3 Italian Job

Up and down the British F3 grid you’d be hard pushed to find anyone who doesn’t enjoy racing at Monza. The home of the Italian Grand Prix is all about history and Italian style but above all it tests the skill and racecraft of the young drivers and provides some of the best racing action of the year.

Last season saw the first British F3 races at Monza since 2005 and the resulting two races had everyone on the edge of their seats. Victory in race one for Maro Engel was followed by a great wheel-to-wheel battle between Engel and Marko Asmer in race 2, with the Estonian taking the chequered flag on the 5.8 kilometre circuit.

With four races completed the 2008 British F3 International Series drivers championship is wide open with four different winners from each of the races held at Oulton Park and Croft. With 29 drivers from across the globe fighting for the honour of joining the likes of Nelson Piquet, Ayrton Senna and Mika Hakkinen as British F3 Champion, the 2008 series has never been more competitive.

Mexican Sergio Perez holds a slender four point lead after a spectacular showing at Croft that saw the reigning National Class Champion take the chequered flag in round 3, securing the first win for a Mugen Honda powered car since October 2006. Sergio followed this up with a fighting second place behind Red Bull driver Brendon Hartley in Round 4, with the Mexican setting a new lap record, breaking Takuma Sato’s eight year record for the Yorkshire circuit. The 18-year-old is one of the eleven drivers who raced at Monza last year and will be hopeful of retaining his championship lead in Italy.

Raikkonen Robertson Racing’s Atte Mustonen has yet to show the race winning pace he is capable of but the 19-year-old Finn has been consistently scoring championship points to leave Croft in second place overall. As one of the only two race winners from last season Mustonen knows what it is like to step onto the top of the British F3 podium and will be looking to return to winning ways this weekend on a circuit that suits his racing style perfectly.

Round 2 winner Jaime Alguersuari had an indifferent weekend at Croft but he still managed to secure two points finishes to keep him in touch with Mustonen and Perez. The Spanish driver raced at Monza in Formula Renault last season and hopes that this experience, coupled with the experience of his Carlin Motorsport team, will help him return to the top in Italy.

Alguersuari is tied on points with Carlin teammate Oliver Turvey, who is currently the leading British driver. The Racing Steps Foundation driver has already shown that he has the speed to win and he returned to the podium last time out in Yorkshire.

One point behind Turvey is Sweden’s Sebastian Hohenthal. The Fortec Motorsport driver has been consistently scoring points in the first four races, including two podium finishes, but the 2006 UK Formula Renault Champion will be looking for his first win since Brands Hatch last July to keep the pressure on the drivers ahead of him.

When Brendon Hartley finishes, he finishes well up the order. Two finishes from four starts has netted the New Zealander a win and a 4th place finish. The reigning Formula Renault Eurocup Champion has experience of racing at Monza and will looking to gain a few more wins in Italy.

2007 UK Formula BMW Champion Marcus Ericsson has adapted well to Formula 3 and the 17-year-old Swede has already secured a podium finish and pole position but a clash with Sergio Perez in the last race put a dent his championship challenge. Expect the rapid Fortec driver to be at the sharp end of the grid in Italy.

At Croft Esteban Guerrieri gave his Ultimate Motorsport team something to cheer about as the Argentine driver secured the first Formula 3 podium finish for the team and the new Mygale chassis. It was also the Euro F3 race winners first British F3 podium finish. The Ultimate Motorsport team are targeting their first win in Monza and Guerrieri, along with teammates Michael Devaney and Ricardo Teixeira, know that the Italian circuit should suit the Mygale chassis well.

Reigning British F3 champions Hitech Racing have not had the best start to the season after their drivers Max Chilton and Walter Grubmuller shone in preseason testing. A podium for Chilton in the opening race of the season has been the high point so far but both drivers have suffered their fair share of bad luck. However they both raced at Monza last year and are confident of getting their season back on track in Italy.

While the International Class is a closely fought affair, the National Class championship is currently a one horse race. Welsh driver Andy Meyrick has scored 83 from a maximum 84 points in the first four races and spending most of his time running in the top 10 ahead of many of the International Class cars.

Kent’s Jay Bridger is Meyrick’s nearest rival, the Fluid Motorsport racer consistently scoring with a 2nd, 3rd and two 4th place finishes to his credit. However Bridger knows he has to up his game in Monza to get on terms with the championship leader.

Bahrain’s Salman Al Khalifa is the only driver in his second year of the National Class and two second places have left him with a healthy points tally from the first four races.

2007 BRDC Formula Renault Champion Hywel Lloyd has moved up to British F3 this year with his own team, CF Racing. The Welsh team have not only held their own against the established teams such as Carlin, T Sport and Fluid, they have successfully beaten their drivers on the track.

For the first time in 2008 there are two entries in the Invitation Class with Italian F3 racers Matteo Chinosi and Federico Leo competing in their Ombra Racing Dallara F308 Mugen-Honda’s.

Round 5 of the 2008 British F3 International Series will take place at Monza on Saturday 17 May with Round 6 on Sunday 18 May.