Photo: Jakob Ebrey Photography/Racing Steps Foundation
PaddockScout looks back at what remains the strongest ‘national’ junior series, where Jack Harvey prevailed in a three-way title battle to become the first home-grown champion in six years…
When the 62nd season of British Formula 3 kicked off at Oulton Park back in April, you would be forgiven for being concerned at the measly 14-car entry list – 12 for the premier class. Look closer though and you’ll have seen that super-teams Carlin and Fortec had accumulated between them nine very capable drivers all capable of winning races. What the grid was lacking in depth, it certainly wasn’t lacking in quality.
The title race proved to be a tight one, with three drivers entering the final round at Donington at the end of September separated by just a handful of points. There was experienced third-year driver Jazeman Jaafar, highly-rated second-year man Jack Harvey and the surprise rookie contender Felix Serralles. In the end Harvey met expectations and delivered the crown, but all three could be proud of a successful season.
1. Jack Harvey
United Kingdom, Carlin, age 19
319 points, 7 wins, 13 podiums, 10 pole positions, 5 fastest laps
After a somewhat lacklustre rookie campaign last year, the pressure was on Harvey to perform in 2012 and deliver the title. That he did, but only after an up-and-down year. Looked like he might be hard to beat after Oulton opener, but then had a series of disappointments before another purple patch mid-season with three wins in the space of four races. His run-in from there was another rollercoaster of highs and lows, including the Silverstone weekend where he nearly threw it all away with a series of incidents and penalties – one of which he was fortunate to get rescinded on appeal before the final weekend, but nailed it at Donington when the pressure was really on. Last year the Formula BMW Europe graduate was in the peculiar position of knowing the overseas venues but having to learn those circuits on home soil, and it showed in his results, yet this year he puzzlingly struggled on the continent, despite racing at Monza and Spa for the fourth consecutive year.
The title ensured his immediate future with the Racing Steps Foundation’s backing, and next year looks set to switch to the new upgraded GP3 Series with Lotus/ART in preparation for GP2 in 2014. Season rating: 9
2. Jazeman Jaafar
Malaysia, Carlin, age 19
306 points, 2 wins, 14 podiums, 2 fastest laps
After a reasonable 2011 campaign it was a surprise to see Jaafar returning for a third year in British F3 over a step up to another category. The question pre-season was whether he could turn his experience into the speed to rival the likes of Harvey, Sainz and Lynn. With no pole positions (versus Harvey’s ten!) and only two outright wins, the answer turned out to be no. However, he did use his experience to put in an extremely consistent and mature campaign (it should be noted he is still only 19). Excluding the Norisring (where he got shunted by Harvey), he finished in the top five on all but three occasions and the only retirement outside of that German trip was when he was taken out by a punctured Lynn in Donington’s second race. While he was rarely the pacesetter, he was never off the pace either, and was also a great overtaker.
The confirmed lack of pace prevents him from being a truly exciting talent, but his racecraft, maturity and general ability to not crash into people are all positive signs ahead of his move up to more powerful machinery in either GP2 or Formula Renault 3.5 next year. Season rating: 8
3. Felix Serralles
Puerto Rico, Fortec Motorsport, age 20
299 points, 5 wins, 13 podiums, 3 pole positions, 5 fastest laps
If you had to predict pre-season which of Fortec’s quartet would take the fight to Carlin, you wouldn’t have been putting your money on Serralles – a man who had gone largely under the radar in Formula Renault last year. His qualifying results and victory at Oulton Park could easily have been disregarded as a fluke at the time, as could his reverse grid win in the wet at Monza next time out. But then after a quiet weekend at Pau he was again at the sharp end when the series returned to England before a super performance at the Norisring with two overall podiums against Europe’s elite. Another top weekend followed at Spa and he was well in title contention going into the final weekend, but ultimately fell short. The outright pace was there sometimes, and particularly impressively for a rookie he never once failed to finish, but wasn’t quite consistent enough with his speed.
Serralles’s campaign was good enough that he could make a step up if he wanted, but he’s probably best off remaining in F3. A switch to Europe would be most likely, but if he were to return to Britain he would start as pre-season favourite. Season rating: 9
4. Alex Lynn
United Kingdom, Fortec Motorsport, age 19
253 points, 1 win, 9 podiums, 2 pole positions, 5 fastest laps
Big things were expected of Lynn after his dominant run to last year’s Formula Renault UK title, but he couldn’t quite deliver on that promise. Not that he had a bad campaign, mind. He certainly had pace in him, topping several tests both before and during the season but for whatever reason he just couldn’t repeat that form in competition, taking all the way until the penultimate weekend at Silverstone to finally stick it on pole and claim a solitary race win. He was still brilliantly consistent and accumulated plenty of podiums throughout the year and ultimately fourth isn’t a shoddy result for a rookie, but he will have to be disappointed to be outshone by Serralles.
Like Serralles he’s talented enough and certainly has the money behind him to move onto FR3.5 in 2013 but looks set to wisely stay in F3, though he is eyeing the European Championship. Again, a sensible move for a man to have raced exclusively in British series so far. Season rating: 7
5. Harry Tincknell
United Kingdom, Carlin, age 21
226 points, 4 wins, 9 podiums, 1 fastest lap
I, for one, had doubts over Tincknell’s ability before, and switching from Fortec to Carlin there was nowhere for him to hide in 2012. To give him credit, he was a master of the reverse grid races, winning four of them including at the Norisring against the Europeans. In the main races he simply wasn’t good enough though, qualifying poorly and not racing especially well either, producing just five podiums from the 20 proper-length races. His final points tally is inflated significantly by the fact the reverse grid races stupidly carried maximum points.
Could move on to FR3.5 next year and has the backing to do so, but may also make a sensible switch to sportscars having got cosy with the Strakka Racing outfit and with a mentor in the form of Allan McNish. Season rating: 5
6. Carlos Sainz Jr.
Spain, Carlin, age 18
224 points, 4 wins, 9 podiums, 1 pole position, 2 fastest laps (9/10 events)
Sainz had plenty of pressure coming into his rookie F3 season, even ignoring the name. Red Bull had previously sent Formula Renault graduates to British F3 with Carlin in 2008, 2009 and 2010, with Alguersuari, Ricciardo and Vergne all ending up as champions. With the likes of Harvey, Jaafar and Lynn around that looked like it would be a tough ask for Sainz, but nobody would have predicted he would do so badly. Although it should be said his season actually wasn’t that bad for a debutant to both F3 and the UK, it’s just that everyone had high expectations. Was unable to show his speed consistently, and struggled to make his way up the order in those high-scoring reverse grid races. But if you ever doubted his ability, just look at his unbelievably good performances in the wet at mega circuits Monza and Spa.
Red Bull could be tempted to promote him into FR3.5, but he should spend another year in F3 nailing what went wrong this year, albeit in the European Championship as there’s not much point in another year on the British tracks. Ironically I feel his disastrous dual campaign on the continent – done at the behest of Volkswagen, not Carlin or Red Bull – was more a hindrance than a help. It should be remembered he’s only just turned 18 – there’s no hurry, and also plenty of time to iron the creases out yet. Season rating: 6
7. Pietro Fantin
Brazil, Carlin, age 20
195 points, 1 win, 7 podiums, 2 pole positions, 3 fastest laps
While Fantin was not expected to challenge for the title with teammates Harvey, Jaafar and Sainz, he should have been able to at least battle with them for race wins on multiple occasions. To his credit he had one stunning weekend at the Norising where he took two British series poles and one win. But sadly he couldn’t repeat that anywhere else and seemed largely anonymous on any given weekend. Like Tincknell he struggled for attention in Carlin’s five-car team, but you earn that through results and potential. All in all a disappointing campaign from someone who showed potential with a lesser team last season.
Nonetheless he’s served his apprenticeship at this level and can make the next step in 2013. Already tested FR3.5 since the season ended and like most South American drivers in Europe, he probably has the budget to do it. Competition is rife though. Season rating: 5
8. Pipo Derani
Brazil, Fortec, age 19
146 points, 2 wins, 4 podiums, 1 fastest lap
Another Brazilian back for a second year in the championship, but while Fantin didn’t make as much progress as would have been expected from a switch to one of the top two teams, Derani certainly did make big strides following his lacklustre 2011. Joined Tincknell in benefiting from the reverse grid races, taking one win at the season opener at Oulton and another in the middle of the year at Brands Hatch. Also did well to get British podiums in ‘regular grid’ races at Monza and Pau, while two top eight results at Spa wasn’t shoddy considering the expanded grid full of Europe’s top F3 drivers. But ultimately, in his third year driving F3 machinery, he couldn’t even get close to the same heights as rookie teammates Lynn and Serralles.
It’s hard to predict Derani’s next steps. He might want a move to FR3.5, but may find he’s not good enough to actually get a seat. Will join Serralles in New Zealand’s Toyota Racing Series in the new year. Season rating: 4
9. Hannes van Asseldonk
Netherlands, Fortec, age 20
132 points, 1 podium, 3 fastest laps
Van Asseldonk arrived in British F3 following a solid year in German F3, more-impressively followed by a fifth on his Macau Grand Prix debut and a second place finish in the Toyota Racing Series where he was the best of the large contingent of European tourists that included Serralles amongst others. There were big expectations then, even if a lack of track knowledge might prevent him from matching teammate Lynn. However, a last lap off in the season opener while running fourth after starting seventh set the tone for his season, taking just one podium (actually fifth outright) at the Norisring. There was promising pace though, and plenty of top five finishes, but he was never in the place to capitalise in the reverse grid races like Tincknell and Derani were. Home F3 Masters podium deserves a mention here too.
Van Asseldonk will return to Macau with Prema, and would do good to sign with them for next year’s European Championship having previously won races for the squad in Formula Abarth. Season rating: 5
10. Nick McBride
Australia, T-Sport, age 21
85 points, 1 podium
McBride was the first man to be announced outside of Carlin and Fortec ahead of the season, and was consequently the nearest challenger to the top two teams. Unsurprisingly for a driver straight out of Formula Ford and charged with developing his team’s brand new Nissan engine without a teammate, he couldn’t really mix it with the top nine. Alexander Sims proved at the Nurburgring Euro Series round that, in the hands of an experienced and capable driver, the car is a match for its Mercedes and VW counterparts, but that would be a lot to ask of McBride. Impressively started sixth at Brands Hatch and held his own in the races, and came from seventh to third in the reverse grid race at Snetterton, keeping Harvey et al. behind.
His campaign may attract offers from Carlin and Fortec for next year with few other experienced drivers on the market, but he could also stick where he is and build upon what he’s learnt in 2012. Has also been testing Indy Lights. Season rating: 4
11. Fahmi Ilyas
Malaysia, Double R, age 20
After a late deal with Double R, the smaller grid allowed Ilyas to improve upon his measly two points finishes in 2011 with Fortec. There were strong performances early on with a sixth and an eighth at Oulton Park and ninth in the opening race at Pau in the larger European field. However, he was unable to make progress towards the front as the season went on and parted company with the team with two weekends remaining. Season rating: 3
12. Geoff Uhrhane
Australia, Double R, age 21
Uhrhane’s deal with Double R was very last-minute, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be compared to fellow Aussie and Formula Ford graduate McBride, of whom he fell somewhat short in terms of results, usually the bottom of the F312 runners. There were occasional strong points though, including staying out of trouble at the Norisring to claim fourth in class in race one. Ultimately, he was always playing catchup.
Like McBride, his experience mixed with the necessary budget could land him a seat further up the grid for next year. Season rating: 3
13. Rupert Svendsen-Cook
United Kingdom, Double R, age 22
After his funding expired over the winter, Svendsen-Cook was left without a ride for 2012. After acting as driver coach at Double R, he was given the chance to show what he could do in place of Ilyas for the final two rounds. Unsurprisingly he instantly bettered what either regular driver had managed all year, finishing sixth in his first race back at Silverstone and on the tail of Fantin. Sadly he couldn’t hit the same heights at Donington. Will continue to look for an opportunity anywhere to continue his racing career. Season rating: 5
The National Class for the superseded F308 chassis saw just two entries at the start, with Spike Goddard using his advantage of an earlier deal and the pre-season testing that comes with it to beat fellow Australian and late entry Duvashen Padayachee to the title. Experienced campaigners Adderly Fong and Hywel Lloyd showed them how it was done when they made appearances, while Pedro Pablo Calbimonte joined for the last four weekends, often heading Goddard and Padayachee and claiming a string of second places, even if the win eluded him.