FOR A VINTAGE F3 SEASON
The Cooper Tires British Formula 3 International Series is set to enjoy a vintage season of competition in 2009, providing a blend of on-track drama and close racing designed not only to thrill the trackside and TV audiences but also to find the Grand Prix stars of tomorrow.
As the championship enters its 46th season of unbroken success, everything points towards it being a year of unparalleled competitiveness, with a host of talented young drivers - many of them British - a new chassis bidding to upset the established order and the return of Volkswagen as an engine supplier, keen to recapture past glories.
"This year has the most exciting prospects of any British F3 season I can remember," says Stephane Ratel, the Chairman of championship promoter the SRO Motorsports Group. "The quality of the grid in terms of driver talent is the strongest I think we have seen for many years, with nine or maybe 10 drivers with a strong chance of championship victory."
British F3 blasts into action on Easter Monday (13 Apr) at Oulton Park, with a grid of 20 cars expected at the Cheshire circuit for the first two of the 20 races comprising the season. Befitting its status as an international series, the championship will visit not only the UK's best circuits but also the European Grand Prix circuits of Hockenheim (Germany) and Spa-Francorchamps (Belgium).
By season's end, the Cooper Tires British Formula 3 International Series will crown a champion driver whose name will be added to a prestigious and exclusive roster of the greats, joining such as Jackie Stewart, Emerson Fittipaldi, Nelson Piquet, Ayrton Senna, Johnny Herbert, Mika Hakkinen and Rubens Barrichello, and recent British F3-to-F1 graduates Takuma Sato and Nelson Piquet Jr.
It's not only the rich heritage of British F3 which draws young talent to the championship but also the very valuable learning experience it provides. Unlike every other F1 'feeder' series, the multi-chassis environment of Formula 3 offers drivers the opportunity to experience and influence chassis and engine development - vital career training for the stars of tomorrow.
Teams and driversLeading the protagonists into battle in 2009 is Carlin Motorsport, the most successful squad of recent seasons. Title-winner in 2005 with Alvaro Parente and again in '08 courtesy Jaime Alguersuari, Carlin returns with a very strong driver line-up comprising Max Chilton who, though not yet 18, is about to embark on his third full season of British F3; 21-year-old Henry Arundel, son of the Duke of Norfolk, who is bidding to follow in the wheeltracks of 1984 champion Johnny Dumfries to be motorsport's fastest Earl; former World Kart Champion Oliver Oakes, 21; and Australian 19-year-old Daniel Ricciardo. Carlin is one of the two teams switching to Volkswagen power for 2009, employing the powerplant which found race-winning form in Europe last season. Already Carlin has given notice of its intent to retain the championship title, with its three English drivers performing well in pre-season testing and Ricciardo topping the timesheets at Rockingham last month.
Carlin, like the majority of the grid, remains faithful to Dallara, the Italian chassis builder which has put the wheels under the British F3 champion every year since 1993. But Dallara's dominance is under threat as never before courtesy of the JTR team and Nick Tandy, who plan to turn the French-built Mygale into a regular race-winner in 2009. Quick 'out of the box' with the Mercedes-powered '09 Mygale at Oulton Park in testing earlier this month, 24-year-old Tandy is enthused by his prospects: "The new car has changed a lot from last year's and is immediately very good. We just have to hope that the work that we and Mygale have done is as good as that from Dallara and the other teams. Our target is the championship. we are not here just to make up the numbers. We are in it to win it, though we don't underestimate the task, nor the teams we are facing."
There's more young UK talent on display in the T-Sport team in the shape of 18-year-old Ulsterman Wayne Boyd, who swept all before him in Formula Ford last year to earn a place as a finalist in the McLaren Autosport Awards as well as BRDC 'Superstar' status. Boyd will race alongside promising young Brazilian Adriano Buzaid at T-Sport, both with Volkswagen-powered Dallaras.
Two squads will this year bid for International class glory with Mugen Honda power - CF Racing, the family-run squad developed to further the career of the most promising racer to come out of Wales for many years, 24-year-old Hywel Lloyd; and Team West-Tec, making a first foray into British F3 after several seasons of success in the Spanish championship and employing the reigning National Class Champion, 21-year-old Jay Bridger, to assist. Lloyd will pilot a Dallara, Bridger a Mygale.
The rest of the International field will enjoy the familiar harmony of Dallara and Mercedes. Räikkönen Robertson Racing, the 2006 champion with Mike Conway, will field examples for Colombian Carlos Huertas and for Daisuke Nakajima, younger brother of Williams F1 driver Kazuki and son of Lotus/Tyrrell Grand Prix star of the '80s and '90s Satoru Nakajima. Fortec Motorsport meanwhile has plans to field cars for young Spaniard Victor Garcia and for 20-year-old West Midlander Riki Christodoulou, a front-runner from Formula Renault and a consistent pacesetter in pre-season F3 tests. There are single-Dallara entries from successful French team Barazi Epsilon for Monégasque Stéphane Richelmi and from Hitech Racing for Austrian Walter Grubmüller.