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06/12/2007:
2007 SEASON REVIEW: Mark of a Champion

 

2007 proved to be a bumper year for the Lloyds TSB Insurance British F3 International Series. By the time the teams gathered for the official media day at Silverstone last March the grid had swollen to 32 drivers from 20 different nations, underlining British F3's status as the world’s leading F3 category.

As the most experienced racer on the grid Marko Asmer was aiming for nothing less than the most coveted Formula 3 title in the world, driving with the team he came so close with in 2005, Hitech Racing.  He didn’t disappoint and duly wrapped up the championship with three races remaining claiming eleven wins, two further podiums, eleven pole positions, nine fastest laps (including five new BF3 lap records) and 293 points, 85 points ahead of his nearest rival Maro Engel. The season got underway at Oulton Park for the traditional Easter weekend opener.  Maro Engel got his title challenge off to a great start with a pole to flag victory ahead of Marko Asmer.  Jonathan Kennard, in his first meeting with Raikkonen Robertson Racing, claimed his maiden British F3 pole for Round 2, however two red flags forced the depleted gird to compete in a 10-lap sprint to the flag, with Marko Asmer winning ahead of Stephen Jelley and reigning UK Formula Renault champion Sebastian Hohenthal.

Asmer followed this up with two wins at Donington Park, including a new lap record for the East Midlands circuit.  Jelley was second in the first encounter with Greg Mansell taking the final podium position in only his 5th F3 race.  In Round 4 UK Formula BMW Champion Niall Breen scored his first F3 podium just ahead of Jonathan Kennard.

Marko Asmer added a fourth victory in a row on the streets of Bucharest in May, going down in history as being the very first winner of a race held in the Romanian capital city.  Alberto Valerio put in a stunning performance to take his best finish in British F3, just ahead of his rookie teammate Sam Bird.  In race 2 it was Bird who stepped onto the top step of the podium to become the first rookie winner of the year ahead of Niall Breen and Stephen Jelley. Asmer was 6th in a race that saw John Martin narrowly missing a podium finish and Michael Devaney taking the fastest lap in the quickly improving Ultimate Mygale.

It was back to the UK for Rounds 7 & 8 at Snetterton and Niall Breen took the chequered flag in the opening encounter ahead of Bird and Valerio to make it a Carlin podium lockout.  A puncture for Asmer caused the Estonian’s first DNF of the season.  Normal service resumed in race 2 as Asmer romped home for his 5th win of the year, with Valerio and Bird swapping places on the podium.

Rounds 9 & 10 were held at historic Monza with Engel coming back to form with an emphatic win in the first race ahead of Bird and Valerio for another Carlin 1-2-3.  Round 10 was a slip streaming epic between Engel and Asmer, with Asmer getting the upper hand to take the win.

Brands Hatch was the next stop on the calendar for another thrilling encounter on the full Grand Prix circuit.  First blood went to Marko Asmer, his 7th win of the year, but the man of the race award went to 4th placed Rodolfo Gonzalez, who stormed his way through from 12th. In race 2 Sebastian Hohenthal was all smiles, finishing ahead of Atte Mustonen after a great wheel-to-wheel battle.

The third and final European trip of the year was to Spa, with Marko Asmer having his worst weekend of the year.  The Estonian crashed heavily in free practice, but the Hitech team worked hard to prepare the car and Asmer still came away with two points scoring performances.  Sam Bird took his second win of the year ahead of Jonathan Kennard and Stephen Jelley, with Kennard posting a new lap record on the brand new Spa layout.  Rain greeted the drivers for the second race, with Jonathan Kennard scoring his maiden win in the pouring rain from pole position. 

Back to Silverstone for Rounds 13 & 14 and Asmer scored a perfect 42 points with two race wins and two fastest laps on his Hitech team’s home track.  Engel took second spot in both encounters, with Mustonen and Greg Mansell in third.

At Thruxton Marko Asmer had a chance to sew up the title but the fates decided otherwise scoring just 10 points from the two races as the Estonian struggled with straight line speed.  Jelley took his maiden British F3 win, leading home a Double R 1-2 ahead of Kennard and Engel, the German racing up the field from 15th.  Race 2 was also a cause for celebration for the team as Atte Mustonen took the chequered flag ahead of Breen and Gonzalez, the first Mugen Honda podium of 2007.

Croft returned to the BF3 calendar and was the scene for a Marko Asmer celebration party.  Engel had a mathematical possibility of snatching the title but it all came to nothing at the first corner when a collision with teammate Niall Breen put both cars in the gravel, handing the title to race leader Marko Asmer.  However on lap 13 Marko Asmer retired, with Jelley taking the flag ahead of Bird and Greg Mansell.     Race 2 saw the Marko Asmer championship celebrations begin in style as he took the chequered flag and fastest lap.

The season finale saw another new circuit added to the calendar as British F3 headed back to Rockingham for the first time in four years.  Marko Asmer was victorious in the penultimate race of 2007 ahead of Mustonen and Hohenthal.  The final race of the year went to Maro Engel with Sam Bird securing his position as 2007 Rookie Champion with second place. 

Marko Asmer joins an impressive line up of British Formula 3 champions, a fact that won’t be missed by GP2 and F1 Team Principles as Marko Asmer sets his sights firmly on securing a seat in Formula One. 

A National Class Mexican Tidal Wave

While the Championship Class was dominated by one driver the National Class was very much a two horse race for the first part of the season.  Mexican Sergio Perez had been signed by reigning National Class champions T-Sport, with Chinese racer Cong-Fu ‘Frankie’ Cheng signing for Performance Racing. 

The National Class had grown to ten drivers for the 2007 season, including the first two entrants from Bahrain in British F3’s 43-year history.  Hamad Al Fardan would line up alongside ‘Frankie’ Cheng at Performance, while 2005 Asian Formula BMW Champion Salman Al Khalifa would start the season off at Promatecme alongside Alex Waters. 

Cheng got his 2007 campaign off to a fantastic start with a maximum 42 points at Oulton Park, while Perez left Cheshire with nothing after two DNF’s.  However, the Mexican bounced back at Donington finishing the first race behind Michael Meadows, followed by victory in the second encounter.

After Donington Park Sergio Perez won 13 races, and was second 4 times, in 18 starts. Cheng was unable to respond, taking just 3 wins, but was always challenging Perez.  At the end of the season Perez was 111 points in front of Cheng, but the Mexican had to wait until the penultimate meeting at Croft to be mathematically sure of securing the title.

Hamad Al Fardan was third overall, consistently scoring points with 12 podium finishes from 22 starts.  Michael Meadows took two early season victories at Donington and at Bucharest before switching teams. 

Salman Al Khalifa switched teams mid season he was rewarded with four podium finishes in the last five races to move him up to 5th overall.

Viktor Jensen’s season got off to a good start with a win at Snetterton.  However Jensen suffered problems with his Dallara after that and the Icelandic teenager finished 6th overall.

The National Class provides drivers new to F3 the opportunity to gain race experience out of the spotlight.  Many of the drivers from this year will be back in 2008 to cash in on the experience gained during one of the hardest seasons in the long history of British F3.

 

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