At the start of a landmark 60th year of Formula 3 in the UK, the Cooper Tires British Formula 3 International Series will create another small slice of history next weekend (16/17 Apr) when the opening rounds take place beyond these shores.
The Italian Grand Prix circuit of Monza is the venue for rounds one, two and three of the world’s premier junior single-seater series, and a field of 21 cars is expected on the grid for what promises to be a fascinating battle between drivers from all corners of the globe.
Six of the young hopefuls looking to follow of the wheeltracks of recent British-F3-to-F1 graduates Sergio Perez, Jaime Alguersuari and Daniel Ricciardo will be home-grown talent. They are second-season F3 drivers Riki Christodoulou, William Buller and Rupert Svendsen-Cook, championship newcomers Harry Tincknell and Jack Harvey, and the most experienced driver on the grid, Hywel Lloyd.
Ipswich-based Svendsen-Cook, 20, surprised with a win on his debut for the Carlin team last year. His aim for 2011 is, he says, the drivers’ title: “That’s what I want to achieve. I really want to win the championship and I’ve prepared really, really hard over the winter to achieve that. I am with the best team, with the best people, so now it’s down to me to do the job.”
Volkswagen team Carlin – whose drivers Alguersuari, Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne were champions in 2008, ’09 and last season – is fielding a six-car squad which includes 18-year-old Lincolnshire driver Harvey. Jack steps up to F3 from Formula BMW Europe, in which he was championship runner-up in 2010, and is under the wing of the Racing Steps Foundation, which nurtured the careers of F3 stars before him Oliver Turvey and James Calado.
Buller and Tincknell’s Dallaras are powered by Mercedes-Benz engines; both are with the Fortec Motorsport team. Eighteen-year-old Ulsterman Buller says he can’t wait to get to Monza: “I have prepared as well as I can and it’s been going quite well. It’s important to focus on your own programme and not worry about what other people are doing, although it’s always nice to be near the top of the times. I’m in my second year, so I know I should be strong in the championship. The title is the only aim: it’s my second year so there are no excuses.”
For 19-year-old Exeter driver Tincknell, who moves into F3 after success in karts and Formula Renault, it’s likely to prove a steep learning curve. “The step up is massive,” he admits, “with a lot more power and a lot more grip. On top of that I will be racing on some of Europe’s top F1 tracks. It all adds up to being a very exciting time.”
Fortec’s other drivers are promising young Brazilian Lucas Foresti and a late signing to the team, Malaysian ex-Formula BMW racer Fahmi Ilyas.
Welshman Lloyd, 26, has, after three seasons with his family-run CF Racing team, joined forces with Sino Vision Racing for 2011 to partner and assist his promising young Chinese team-mate, 20-year-old Adderly Fong. “The biggest thing for me is having a team-mate,” he says, “and it’s the same for Adderly. We are driving the team forward in terms of what areas we think we can improve. If we can keep working all together we can make some strides towards the front.”
Riki Christodoulou is the sixth Brit: the Sutton Coldfield-based driver’s place in the Hitech Racing team was confirmed only today. He returns to British F3 after a season’s absence.
South Americans have long held British Formula 3 in the highest esteem, and this year there are five young Brazilians and one Colombian on the grid.
The Brazilian posse is led by Foresti and by Felipe Nasr, a race-winner in 2010 with Raikkonen Robertson Racing and now berthed with Carlin. Then there is the youngest driver in the International field, 17-year-old Pietro Fantin, who made his car-racing debut aged 16 in British Formula 3 in 2010; he stays with the Hitech team, alongside Christodoulou and another late signing, Spaniard Bruno Mendez.
The other boys from Brazil are 20-year-old Yann Cunha, 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 Australian hopeful Scott Pye, who rises to F3 after stellar success in Formula Ford in the UK last season. Both Pye and Derani have shown strong testing form in recent weeks.
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.
Lining up alongside Nasr, Svendsen-Cook and Harvey at Carlin are Malaysian star Jazeman Jaafar, talented young Dane Kevin Magnussen – the son of 1994 British F3 Champion Jan – and Colombia’s Carlos Huertas, who is entering his third season in the series. Huertas and Magnussen took turns in topping the timesheets in this week’s final pre-season tests at Snetterton.
The newly renamed Rookie championship for less experienced drivers, who drive pre-2008 chassis powered by Neil Brown-tuned Mugen Honda engines, is a two-horse race this season between 21-year-old Dutch driver Bart Hylkema, who will be T-Sport’s third driver, and 16-year-old Japanese Hitech pilot Kotaro Sakurai.
Monza timetable (local timings, BST+1h)
Saturday 16 April: 0900-1000 free practice; 1250-1320 qualifying; 1640 Round 1 (30 mins)
Sunday 17 April: 0900 Round 2 (20 mins); 1215 Round 3 (40 mins)
Channel 4: 0730 23 April; Motors TV UK 1958 23 April + repeats