The largest international Formula 3 grid of the season will gather at Spa-Francorchamps next week when the Cooper Tires British Formula 3 International Series joins up with the FIA Formula 3 International Trophy for a trio of races at the Belgian Grand Prix circuit.
A field of 29 drivers from 15 different nations is expected at Spa. Among the anticipated highlights is the return of a former British F3 Champion, Marko Asmer, and the prospect of the current British championship leader, Carlin’s Felipe Nasr, going head to head with Prema Powerteam’s Roberto Merhi, who leads both the FIA F3 Trophy and the F3 Euroseries.
Further excitement comes with the news that the Spa 40-minute feature race is to be shown live throughout Europe by Motors TV, in addition to the customary edited-highlights TV package screened in the UK on Channel 4 and across Europe via satellite.
Volkswagen driver Nasr, 18, leads the field to Belgium fresh from his twin wins at Paul Ricard in France last weekend, which have brought the Brazilian’s victory tally for the season to seven. Nasr is now 104 points clear of his closest challenger and, though he cannot secure the crown at Spa, a further haul of points would make the maths even more of a headache for his rivals, who are led by his team-mate, Carlos Huertas.
The Carlin, Fortec, Sino Vision and T-Sport teams are all due to field their regular squads in Belgium, with Hitech running two cars in the International class; team regular Pietro Fantin is joined for the weekend by Spain’s Fernando Monje. Double R’s pairing of Pipo Derani and Scott Pye will meanwhile benefit from the drafting-in of Estonian Marko Asmer, who won the championship with the team – then called Raikkonen Robertson Racing – in 2007.
Top Brit William Buller heads for Spa fresh from scoring his maiden British F3 race victory. The Mercedes-powered Fortec driver has extensive experience of the majestic 4.3-mile circuit, having raced there in Formula BMW and in F3 last year: “I’ve a good bit of track knowledge around there,” said the Northamptonshire-based Ulsterman, “and I am looking forward to it. It’s probably my favourite track and it offers so many places to pass – you can slipstream down the straights when there are other cars to tow against, the chicanes, the first corner. I can’t wait.”
While catching Nasr for the championship lead might be a tall order for him, Buller is one of five drivers bidding for a championship top-three slot who are separated by just 29 points with 12 races remaining. The others are Huertas and Jazeman Jaafar – both of whom are also in the FIA Trophy hunt – Kevin Magnussen and Lucas Foresti.
Spa’s inclusion as part of the FIA Formula 3 International Trophy has attracted the Signature, Prema and Van Amersfoort teams. Prema’s Roberto Mehri has a commanding lead in the Trophy after the Mercedes-backed driver won both Hockenheim rounds and scored a second-place finish at Pau in France. The Spaniard’s team-mate and countryman Daniel Juncadella is his closest points rival.
Prema will field a third car, for Italy’s Raffaele Marciello, while Signature will have a quartet of Dallaras in action: Germans Daniel Abt and Marco Wittmann will drive, alongside Colombian Carlos Munoz and Belgium’s Laurens Vanthoor. Dutch driver Hannes van Asseldonk will pilot the Van Amersfoot Racing entry.
British Formula 3 enjoys the headlining support of Cooper Tires and is additionally backed by Sunoco Racing Fuels, Anglo American Oil Company and OAMPS.
Spa-Francorchamps timetable (CET)
Thursday 28 July: 1045 & 1600 free practice
Friday 29 July: 0950 qualifying; 1315 Round 19 (30 mins); 1650 Round 20 (20 mins)
Saturday 30 July: 1240 Round 21 (40 mins)
TV schedule Round 21 LIVE Motors TV UK 1150 BST, Motors TV Europe/France 1250 CET
Highlights Channel 4, 0700 6 August; Motors TV UK 1516 6 August + repeats
Provisional championship standings
British Formula 3 International
1 Felipe Nasr / BRA 237 points
2 Carlos Huertas / COL 133
3 Lucas Foresti / BRA 127
4 Jazeman Jaafar / MAS 115
5 Kevin Magnussen / DEN 113
6 Will Buller / GBR 106
7 Rupert Svendsen-Cook / GBR 104
8 Harry Tincknell / GBR 64
9 Pietro Fantin / BRA 61
10= Riki Christodoulou / GBR & Antonio Felix da Costa / POR 51 etc
British Formula 3 Rookie
1 Bart Hylkema / NED 214
2 Kotaro Sakurai / JPN 213
FIA Formula 3 International Trophy
1 Roberto Merhi / ESP 68
2 Daniel Juncadella / ESP 35
3 Daniel Abt / GER 32
4 Marco Wittman / GER 25
5 Carlos Munoz / COL 16
6 Laurens Vanthoor / BEL 15 etc