After a season of excitement spanning 26 races on Grand Prix circuits across England and in Italy, France, Germany and Belgium, the Cooper Tires British Formula 3 International Series goes down to the wire next weekend (29/30 Sep) at Donington Park.
And what a battle is in prospect with the top two in the championship table – Jazeman Jaafar and Felix Serralles – separated by just six points and with Jack Harvey in third place only 17 points further behind. The points table is so tight that the championship certainly will not be decided in Saturday’s race and, like as not, will go down to the last corner of the last lap of the last race.
All the action from Donington is to be brought to fans’ TV screens on the same weekend as the track action, with the three races being shown “delayed live” on Motors TV in the UK and across Europe.
Events at Silverstone earlier this month show how unpredictable Formula 3 can be: Jaafar arrived there third in the championship, 20 points adrift, and left Northamptonshire in command of the points table. The Malaysian Carlin driver has enjoyed a brilliantly consistent season, claiming three podium finishes from the opening four races and following that up with his first wins, at Pau and Rockingham.
Podiums followed for Jazeman at Brands Hatch, Spa and Snetterton, and at Silverstone he chimed in when it counted with a hat-trick of podium finishes: a win and two seconds. If he can maintain that sort of scoring rate, his title rivals will have their work cut out.
Jaafar says he will not approach the event in any way differently: “I am going to go to Donington like it was any other race weekend, really: push hard and race hard. I am sure that my competitors are going to do the same. Let’s hope for the best. I am not particularly worried; I will just try to get as many points as I can and stay out of trouble.”
Whatever the outcome, Jazeman has enjoyed his three-season stint in British F3: “To get where I am today has involved a great journey and I have really enjoyed the process of learning and developing as a driver and the hard work that Carlin and I have done together. I think the mileage that I have covered has been very beneficial to me and will definitely help me in my future career.”
Puerto Rico’s Serralles is the only Formula 3 rookie of the title-bidders, but he has not let his relative inexperience get in the way. He took his first win for Fortec Motorsport in only his third race, at Oulton Park, won again at Monza, Norisring and Spa, and claimed his fifth win, to equal Harvey’s tally, at Silverstone. And he has made eight additional visits to the podium.
A heavy landing in the final race at Silverstone left him in considerable pain from a bruised coccyx, but Felix is unconcerned: “My back feels OK now, it wasn’t a problem in testing and I don’t think it will be for the weekend.”
He is untroubled also by the pressures of the coming weekend: “I feel the same as if it was just another race. My plan is to do just what I have done since the first race at Oulton Park and do my very best. I don’t have the same pressure as everyone else as this is my first year in British Formula 3 and as always I will be concentrating on keeping focused and driving the best I can.”
For Jack Harvey, the Silverstone races were a character-building affair. He was penalised for a jump start in the first, handed a 30-second penalty in the second after a collision and, on well-worn tyres, struggled around in race three to salvage eighth place. An appeal into the race two penalty has yet to be heard.
It’s been an impressive season for the Racing Steps Foundation-backed Carlin driver. He began it with a win at Oulton Park, added another at Rockingham, and at Brands Hatch won two of the three races. A further victory at Snetterton, plus another seven podiums, looked to have set him up well for his title bid.
Harvey topped the times in testing last week at Donington, which boosted his confidence: “We will fight to the end whatever happens,” he said. “If we get our points back [from the appeal] then we can come to Donington positive about what we can achieve; if not, we can still come here confident of being able to compete for race wins. Whatever happens between now and then, we will be super-confident that we can push on. Anything less than two wins here will be disappointing.”
Harvey, 19 and from Lincolnshire, is bidding to be the first British title-winner since Mike Conway in 2006. Should Serralles seal the deal, he will be Fortec’s first British F3 champion, the first for Mercedes since Jaime Alguersuari in 2008, and will bring to an end a four-year run of championship wins for Carlin.
There is in fact one other driver who has a slim mathematical chances of the championship title: Alex Lynn. Fortec rookie Lynn has impressed with his performances in testing right from the outset, and made his first podium appearance as early as Monza in April, but did not tie everything together in qualifying until Silverstone, where he bagged a brace of poles and went on to claim his maiden British F3 race victory.
There have been race wins also this season for Fortec’s Pipo Derani (two) and Carlin drivers Harry Tincknell (three) and Pietro Fantin. Australian rookies Nick McBride (T-Sport) and Geoff Uhrhane (Double R) are still seeking their first wins, as is Fortec’s Dutch driver, Hannes van Asseldonk. Rupert Svendsen-Cook will once again partner Uhrhane in the Double R team.
There is another championship to be settled this weekend – the all-important National class for the less experienced drivers in their year-old Mugen Honda-powered chassis. There are two Australians in the title hunt: T-Sport’s Spike Goddard and Double R’s Duvashen Padayachee.
Goddard has won the class 12 times to Padayachee’s six and leads the division by 43 points. That’s enough of an advantage for Spike to enjoy the luxury of being able to let Padayachee take the wins in all three Donington races, but it might be a very different story for Goddard if he fails to finish one of them.
The battle between Goddard and Padayachee was joined late in the season by another T-Sport driver, Pedro Pablo Calbimonte; the rapid Bolivian is still chasing his maiden National class victory. Donington Park will see the seasonal debut of Hywel Lloyd, driving the family CF Racing team’s National class Dallara.
The Donington action will receive an unprecedented level of TV coverage. Saturday’s opening race is to be screened in full on Motors TV on Sunday from 1pm (UK time), with race two – recorded on Sunday morning – transmitted from 2.30pm. The British F3 finale will go out on the satellite channel just a couple of hours after it is concluded, at 7.30pm.
The delayed-live shows are in addition to the regular highlights package produced by the UK’s leading motorsport TV production company, HayFisher. These shows will be screened on Channel 4 and Motors TV on 6 October, with several repeats.
“This is a great end to the season for British F3,” said championship manager Benjamin Franassovicci. “We are enormously pleased that Motors TV will be screening all three races so soon after they happen; it will give the championship’s many fans a great opportunity to keep up to date with the title fight.”
Frédéric Viger, head of programming for Motors TV, added: “Motors TV is delighted to further improve its coverage of British F3 and British GT by offering same-day coverage from the final round. Thanks to the efforts of promoter SRO, Motors TV viewers across Europe will be able to follow the final title chase in both series. We believe this is a great step ahead for championships which we have been covering for years, and I hope that SRO’s plan for more live coverage in 2013 will be successful; it would be met by the same commitment from our side.”
Provisional championship standings after Round 26
1 Jazeman Jaafar (MAS/Carlin) 282 points; 2 Felix Serralles (PUR/Fortec) 276; 3 Jack Harvey (GBR/Carlin) 259; 4= Carlos Sainz (ESP/Carlin) & Alex Lynn (GBR/Fortec) 226; 6 Harry Tincknell (GBR/Carlin) 193 etc.
National class: 1 Spike Goddard (AUS/T-Sport) 388; 2 Duvashen Padayachee (AUS/Double R) 345; 3 Adderly Fong (CHN/CF Racing) 161; 4 Pedro Pablo Calbimonte (BOL/T-Sport) 82.
Donington Park timetable
Thu 27 Sep 0955-1040 & 1350-1435 free practice
Sat 29 Sep 1220-1250 qualifying; 1640 Race 1 (30 mins)
Sun 30 Sep 1110 Race 2 (20 mins); 1700 Race 3 (40 mins)
TV schedule 30 Sep Motors TV: 1300, 1430 & 1930.
Highlights 6 Oct, Channel 4 & Motors TV