Formula 3 celebrates its diamond anniversary in Britain in the best possible style - with the prospect of another thrilling and vibrant season of the Cooper Tires British Formula 3 International Series.
For 60 years British Formula 3 has been producing the Grand Prix stars of the future. Champion names such as Jackie Stewart, Emerson Fittipaldi, Nelson Piquet, Ayrton Senna, Mika Hakkinen and Rubens Barrichello have gone on to Grand Prix greatness, followed into F1 in recent seasons by Jaime Alguersuari, Daniel Ricciardo, the 2008 and '09 British Formula 3 Champions, and Sergio Perez, the 2007 British Formula 3 National Class Champion. It's with good reason that British Formula 3 is known as the 'university of motor sport'.
The championship gets underway next month at the Italian Grand Prix circuit of Monza, the scene-setter for a 30-race feast of track action which will see a greater number of F1-standard circuits visited than in any previous season, additionally including the Nürburgring, Paul Ricard, Spa-Francorchamps and Silverstone.
British Formula 3 will also visit the cream of the UK's circuits, including a 'christening' of the fabulous new Snetterton 300 track in May and the driver-challenging Oulton Park International and Brands Hatch Grand Prix layouts.
Building on the success of the three-race-per-meeting format introduced for 2010, the Cooper Tires British Formula 3 International Series will again feature at each of its 10 events a 30-minute scene-setter, a 20-minute sprint race with a semi-reversed grid and a 40-minute feature race to really test the mettle of the drivers and team engineers.
And there will be a greater number of pit-stop races this season - at Nürburgring, Paul Ricard, Rockingham and Silverstone - with teams for the first time required to change two wheels on the cars.
Lisa Crampton, general manager of championship promoter SRO Motorsports Group, says British Formula 3 is in a strong position. "I would like to quote from a film about Formula 3 put together by our TV production company, HayFisher," says Crampton. "In it, Sir Jackie Stewart said the following: 'Formula 3 is still the most important formula for aspiring Formula 1 drivers. All of what happens in a Formula 3 car happens in a Formula 1 car - it's more akin than any other formula in the world. It's a good way to create experience for a young driver, I think still the most important'."
Adds Crampton: "I believe 2011 will see British F3 continue to go from strength to strength and, despite the continued financial strain gripping motorsport, retain its shine as the extremely valued and leading development category for a future star."
Key points of the 2011 Cooper Tires British Formula 3 International Series:
* Celebrating 60 years of Formula 3 in the UK: The first F3 championship held in Britain was the 1951 Autosport Championship, won by Eric Brandon in a Norton 500cc-engined Cooper* A stellar field of young racing talent is gathering, with drivers from 10 different countries - Australia, Bahrain, Brazil, China, Colombia, Denmark, Japan, Malaysia, the Netherlands as well as five exciting young Brits* 30 races, plus 20 official test days and five team test days during the season offers competitors unrivalled track time at this level, as well as remarkable value for money* Six UK dates at top circuits plus four meetings at F1-standard European circuits* Exciting meeting format with three races at each, of varying length, and with more pit-stop/tyre-change races* Great links with 'stepping stone' categories including the now SRO-managed Formula Renault 2.0 UK and also World Series by Renault, in which the championship top three will win test drives* The mid-season points leader after Brands Hatch will be a team guest of Lotus Renault GP at the European Grand Prix in Valencia* The champion will receive a prize test in the Lotus Type 125 at Hethel, mentored by Jean Alesi and/or James Rossiter, as well as a prize test in a Lotus Evora GT4* New-look championship branding and marketing initiatives, including a soon-to-go-live redesigned website, aimed at keeping the championship at the forefront of worldwide junior motorsport* Superb TV package featuring both terrestrial TV coverage in the UK and via satellite across Europe and the rest of the world. Channel 4's regular weekend summer motorsport slot will continue to feature 24-minute edits of every event, while Motors TV will broadcast 50-minute shows to Britain via its Sky-platform satellite channel and across mainland Europe to more than 18 million homes. There is coverage also in Latin America and Asia* Strong links with the FIA International F3 Trophy: many of the British Formula 3 teams will be entering cars in the FIA's new Trophy, and the Spa British F3 races will be one of the counters
The runners and ridersBritish Formula 3 has long nurtured young Brazilian talent, and this season there is a bumper crop of youngsters from South America looking to follow in the wheeltracks of such as Fittipaldi, Piquet Senior and Junior, Senna, Barrichello, De Ferran, Pizzonia and the rest.
The Brazilian posse is led by Felipe Nasr, a race-winner in 2010 with Raikkonen Robertson Racing and now berthed with Carlin, whose drivers have won British F3 for the last three seasons. Nasr has made his intentions clear from the outset, besting everyone in the first official test sessions at Rockingham last week. The youngest driver in the International field is 17-year-old Pietro Fantin, who made his car-racing debut aged 16 in British Formula 3 2010; he stays with the Hitech team.
Lucas Foresti, meanwhile, who also started his F3 career last season, has opted to switch teams - from Volkswagen-powered Carlin to Mercedes-backed Fortec. The other boys from Brazil are 20-year-old Yann Cunha, who dipped his toe in the waters last year and who returns for a full season with T-Sport and Volkswagen, and another 17-year-old with a promising future, Pipo Derani, who joins the rechristened and Mercedes-backed Double R Racing team.
Derani's team-mate at Double R is to be Australian hopeful Scott Pye, who rises to F3 after stellar success in Formula Ford in the UK last season.
There are five young Brits also, headed in terms of experience by the oldest driver in the field: Welshman Hywel Lloyd, who turns 26 next week. After three seasons with his family CF Racing team, Hywel has joined forces with Sino Vision Racing for 2011 to partner and assist his promising young Chinese team-mate, 20-year-old Adderly Fong.
A race-winner last year on his debut for Carlin, Rupert Svendsen-Cook showed remarkable pace; with a full season under his belt, the Ipswich driver will be expected to add to his victory tally. Ulsterman William Buller is another second-year student, and will be hoping that his switch to Fortec will bring the results hinted at in 2010. The two British debutants are Buller's Fortec team-mate Harry Tincknell, from Exeter, who has risen from Formula Renault, and Lincolnshire-based Carlin man Jack Harvey, the 2010 Formula BMW vice-champion, who is backed by the Racing Steps Foundation. Another British driver, Midlander Riki Christodoulou, is hoping to join the field with Hitech.
London-born and based Menasheh Idafar will be flying the flag for Bahrain again this season with T-Sport and, after winning the National class in 2010, will be hoping to repeat the sort of form which saw him on the podium at the rain-hit final round of last season.
Carlin's is numerically the strongest squad, with six cars. Lining up alongside Nasr, Svendsen-Cook and Harvey are talented young Dane Kevin Magnussen - the son of 1994 British F3 Champion Jan - as well as Colombia's Carlos Huertas, who is entering his third season in the series, and Malaysian star Jazeman Jaafar.
Finally - for the moment, as teams are still putting deals together with other hopefuls - are 21-year-old Dutch driver Bart Hylkema, who will be T-Sport's third driver and 16-year-old Japanese Hitech driver Kotaro Sakurai, who joins him in the Rookie class.
Superb new prizes for the top guysThe driver with the most points on the board in the Cooper Tires British Formula 3 International Series after the Brands Hatch round at the beginning of June will head to the European Grand Prix in Valencia as the guest of Lotus Motorsport, joining Lotus Renault GP to watch the team in action on the street course as part of a two-day programme.
The driver will meet key team members, spending a day in the garage as the cars take to the track, giving an invaluable insight into the inner workings of a Formula 1 team. He will also enjoy full team on track hospitality and paddock access. "This is a fantastic opportunity for any driver and gives the championship an extra battle at the half-way mark to win this exciting prize," says SRO general manager Lisa Crampton. "Lotus Motorsport is very ambitious and has a wide-ranging motorsport programme, so for any driver to be given an introduction like this is really tremendous."
The 2011 British Formula 3 Champion also receives Lotus 125 and Evora GT4 tests, to take place on the Lotus test track at Hethel at the end of the year. On hand at the track, which is currently undergoing a major redevelopment to meet the latest FIA safety standards, will be Formula 1 legend Jean Alesi or former Formula 1 test driver James Rossiter.
Lotus Motorsport's operations director Miodrag Kotur heralds the new partnership: "We are extremely pleased to be able to partner SRO with this exciting initiative. We are engaged in a broad programme of motorsports at an extremely high level, so it is pleasing for us to be able offer some of our expertise and support to young drivers who are making their way in what is a tremendously competitive sport. With SRO, we are offering a unique opportunity for some young drivers to experience at first hand what it takes to progress and to compete at the very highest levels of their chosen sport."
Provisional entry list
No Driver / Nat Team Chassis / EngineInternational Class1 Carlos HUERTAS / COL Carlin Dallara / Volkswagen2 Kevin MAGNUSSEN / DEN Carlin Dallara / Volkswagen3 William BULLER / GBR Fortec Motorsport Dallara / Mercedes4 Lucas FORESTI / BRA Fortec Motorsport Dallara / Mercedes5 Pipo DERANI / BRA Double R Racing Dallara / Mercedes6 Scott PYE / AUS Double R Racing Dallara / Mercedes7 Pietro FANTIN / BRA Hitech Racing Dallara / Volkswagen8 Riki CHRISTODOULOU / GBR Hitech Racing Dallara / Volkswagen11 Hywel LLOYD / GBR Sino Vision Racing Dallara / Mercedes12 Adderly FONG / CHN Sino Vision Racing Dallara / Mercedes15 Yann CUNHA / BRA T-Sport Dallara / Volkswagen16 Menasheh IDAFAR / GBR T-Sport Dallara / Volkswagen21 Rupert SVENDSEN-COOK / GBR Carlin Dallara / Volkswagen22 Jazeman JAAFAR / MAS Carlin Dallara / Volkswagen23 Harry TINCKNELL / GBR Fortec Motorsport Dallara / Mercedes31 Felipe NASR / BRA Carlin Dallara / Volkswagen32 Jack HARVEY / GBR Carlin Dallara / Volkswagen
Rookie Class41 Bart HYLKEMA / NED T-Sport Dallara / Mugen Honda42 Kotaru SAKURAI / JAP Hitech Racing Dallara / Mugen Honda