The 2008 British F3 International Series is heading for an end of season showdown as the title battle hots up and the teams and drivers head to Romania for the penultimate meeting of the year on the streets of Bucharest. Four drivers have a realistic shot at lifting the 2008 title and the chance to join the elite ranks of Ayrton Senna, Mika Hakkinen, Nelson Piquet and Jackie Stewart as British F3 Champion.
Last year the British F3 International Series became the first championship to race on the brand new 1.944 mile street circuit in the centre of the Romanian capital city with Marko Asmer and Sam Bird taking the two race wins.
Oliver Turvey is currently the driver on form, taking three wins in the last four races and holds a nine point lead at the top of the championship table. The 21-year-old from Penrith has been on the podium in every race since Thruxton except for Round 16 at Spa when an engine problem left him stranded on the grid after qualifying on pole position. Turvey has never competed on a street circuit in his racing career but on current form he would be a safe bet to continue his run of podium finishes.
2007 British F3 National Class Champion Sergio Perez has been one of the most consistent finishers this season with the 18-year-old Mexican bringing home the Mugen Honda powered T Sport Dallara in the points to keep his hopes of adding the overall British F3 title to his collection. Perez is the only driver in the title race to have raced on the Bucharest circuit and he will be looking to use this knowledge to overhaul the nine point gap to Turvey and regain the initiative in the race to the title.
Red Bull Junior driver Jaime Alguersuari has also been a consistent points finisher, taking race wins at Oulton Park and Brands Hatch with six further podium finishes keeping him in contention. The 18-year-old Spaniard had two disappointing races at Silverstone last weekend but still managed to score some very useful points to keep him in touch with Turvey in the championship battle.
Nobody can deny Brendon Hartley’s race speed. The New Zealander has been one of the fastest drivers on track but while his Red Bull teammate has been consistently picking up points, Hartley’s season has been less so. However four race wins and four further podium finishes has kept the reigning Formula Renault Eurocup Champion in the hunt for the British F3 International Series crown and he knows he will have to produce the goods in Romania if he is going to add the British F3 crown to his trophy cabinet.
Atte Mustonen started the season as one of the favourites for the 2008 British F3 title but just one race win at Rockingham has left the Finn trailing the top four in the title battle. However he has been able to demonstrate why he is such a highly rated driver but with only ten points from the last four races Mustonen is trailing Turvey by 62 points with a maximum 84 left in the final four races.
Marcus Ericsson scored two podium finishes at Silverstone last weekend to get the young Swede’s season back on track. The reigning UK Formula BMW Champion has yet to win in British F3 but Ericsson has frequently demonstrated he has the race craft to win at this level. Two pole positions, three fastest laps and five podium finishes underlines this fact and the 17-year-old will be hoping to claim that elusive victory before the end of the year.
Michael Devaney made British F3 history at Snetterton when he took the first ever win from pole position for Mygale at this level. To underline the win wasn’t a fluke the Irishman then repeated the feat in the second race, this time from fourth on the grid. Since then things haven’t gone Devaney’s way but he did race in Bucharest last season and, like Perez, will be looking to use this knowledge to help end the season on a high note.
Australia is well represented on this year’s grid. Carlin Motorsport’s Sam Abay has been steadily improving and narrowly missed out on his first podium finish at Silverstone last weekend after a clash with Nick Tandy two corners from home put his Dallara into the gravel. 2006 Australian Formula Ford Champion John Martin took his best race finish in 2007 in Bucharest and has repeatedly shown he has the pace to compete at the front of the field this year.
While the spotlight is on the International Class the battle for National Class honours is just as hard fought. Illness has sidelined the early championship leader Andy Meyrick, handing the advantage to Fluid Motorsport driver Jay Bridger. Bridger is currently 78 points ahead of Columbian Steven Guerrero and is on the verge of securing the National Class crown in Bucharest. The Formula Ford graduate has taken an impressive fourteen podiums in the eighteen races run so far, including a podium finish in the last eleven races.
T Sport driver Steven Guerrero had a slow start to his British F3 career but has improved to become a title contender winning races at Thruxton and Brands Hatch. Welsh driver Hywel Lloyd returned to the podium at Silverstone last weekend, including a surprise race win in the last round, after race leader Stefan Wilson clashed with Salman Al Khalifa, to add to the one he took at Monza in May.
Stefan Wilson has taken three wins in 2008 and at Silverstone was the driver to beat after claiming a double pole and winning Round 17. Despite retiring from the lead in the last race at Silverstone the 18-year-old from Sheffield will be a leading contender in Romania.
Bahrain’s Salman Al Khalifa is searching for that elusive debut win in British F3 having picked up seven podium finishes in 2008. Al Khalifa is the only National Class driver to have raced in Bucharest last year so maybe the trip to Romania will bring him that winner’s trophy.
Round 19 will take place on Saturday 23 August, with Round 20 the following day.