This year’s Marlboro British Formula Three Championship has been the strangest in years for no one driver has emerged as the star of the series. It has also been one of the closest with the outcome being decided at the final round at Silverstone on October 13th. There, Brazilian Mauricio Gugelmin (Ralt RT30-VW) scored an emphatic win over Andy Wallace (Reynard 853-VW) so securing the title with Wallace finishing a close runner-up.
For those who have followed F3 over recent seasons, one odd thing about this year was the number of drivers who posted wins. Gugelmin and Wallace each took three races and so did Gerrit van Kouwen who suddenly came good at the British GP support race. Dave Scott and Ross Cheever each won a brace and Gary Evans took a single win. Russell Spence, who had dominated the early rounds in his Reynard, lost faith in his car, his team and himself in mid-season and ended the year never looking like a possible winner. It was a sad case of a driver psyching himself out for at one time, with four wins under his belt, Spence had looked formidable.
If Class A was diverse, with a total of seven winners, Class B (for older cars) was even better for it produced nine. Carlton Tingling emerged as Class B Champion despite missing several of the final rounds due to injury. Tingling amassed most of his points in the early part of the season when his machinery was fresher (he had probably the smallest budget in F3) and there tended to be fewer competitors. Tingling won Class B three times, but Giles Butterfield, who joined the series later, won five times and, in fact, was the “winningest” driver in British F3 this year. Dick Parsons and Ross Hockenhold both took two wins while Mike Wright, Sean Walker, Mark Goddard, Paul Stott, Ray Stover and Steve Kempton won one apiece. Nine different winners in an 18round F3 series is probably unprecedented.
Class B has been good because it has been comparatively inexpensive (certainly most competitors spend less than some in FF1600) and so has attracted decent entries. Almost all the runners have used Bait RT3s convened to “flat bottom” spec and since the model is at the end of its development, the cars have been closely matched and there has been less advantage in undertaking expensive test programmes.
Class B deserves to run as a separate category next year. Everyone involved in it has earned the opportunity to compete for an outright win as opposed to a class win. Banning as a separate championship it would be popular with spectators who could have two F3 races in an afternoon, just like in father’s day. It would give the less well-financed drivers a chance to prove themselves as outright winners in F3 and so help them to attract sponsorship. Running Class B as a separate series would be attractive to drivers and sponsors alike.
One reason why the series overall has been good was the introduction of flat-bottomed cars. This caused all the designers sage back to their drawing boards and start afresh. By winning the opening round in his Reynard, Wallace became the first non-Ralt RT3 driver to win a British F3 race since May 1981 (Mike White, March 813). At first the Reynard-VWs of Wallace, Tim Davies and Russell Spence looked unbeatable but then development of the car faltered and, at the same time, the Rah RT30 teams began to dial in their cars properly and the ranks of Ralt-users were swollen by the mid-season arrival of Dave Scott and Ross Cheever who are both seasoned campaigners and winners.
By the end of the season, the only competitive Reynard was that of Wallace. Tim Davies’ drive was terminated at Swallow Racing, Spence had switched to a Bait, and floundered, the drivers using the Dave Price Racing Reynards were not good enough to win and the two Saab-engined cars run by Madgwick Motorsport encountered so many engine problems that neither Anthony Reid nor Maurizio Sandra-Sala was able to show his talent. In Sala’s case it was a particular shame for the Brazilian started the year as a potential champion.
The Magnum 853, produced by the Family Robinson at Brixworth, Northants, was widely admired as a neat and well-finished design but was unable to demonstrate its worth due to the inexperience of its regular drivers. At Zandvoort, however, Cor Euser was able to put the car on pole by a healthy margin which suggests that the Magnum is a frontrunner in the right hands. The trouble is that until it starts winning it won’t attract quick drivers and it won’t win until it is used by quick drivers.
The Anson SA6 never looked good despite the efforts of Keith Fine who, on merit, should have been a regular points winner. This is odd because the ground effects version has recently been winning in Super-Vee in the States. It seems that the chassis is basically sound but the aerodynamics are all wrong and Anson did not manage to sort them out.
So far as manufacturers are concerned, the final tally reads: Ralt, 11 wins, Reynard, seven wins. It’s always hard for a new manufacturer to break into a category like F3 for the established winners (in F3 that means Ralt) tend to be numerically superior. Reynard did well to pick up so many wins, even if the majority were early-season, but it remains tube seen whether the development of the car can be sustained into 1986. Formula Three needs variety.
On the engine front, the VW unit developed by John Judd of Engine Developments powered all the winners though Tim Davies appeared with an Alfa Romeo unit which appeared to deliver the goods. The problem with F3 engines is the air restrictor which limits ultimate power and creates a narrow rev band with, typically, power between 5 and 6,000 rpm. The light and fairly simple VW unit does the job as well as any and gains by having a single camshaft in that friction is reduced. Much was expected of the Saab unit, and bench readings were promising, but the Nicholson-developed engines were slow in becoming competitive or, even, reliable, and by mid-season the motors had been turned over to Minister.
In recent seasons, five teams have dominated the results. They are Murray Taylor Racing, Intersport (Glenn Waters), Eddie Jordan Racing, Dave Price Racing and West Surrey Racing (Dick Bennetts) and are generally known as the Famous Five. This year, the establishment managed to gain only four wins between them, the rest going to newcomers. True, Dick Bennetts once again engineered the Champion’s car (as he has previously done for Stefan Johansson, Jonathan Palmer and Ayrton Senna) but the success of the newcomers has raised a few eyebrows. Dave Scott, running his own team, entered the series late in the year and, among other good results, took two wins. The last tune a frontrunning driver was so responsible for his own car was Derek Warwick back in 1978 and the common lore was that it couldn’t be done nowadays. Of course, such a belief was to the advantage of teams in the business of attracting customers.
With the final score reading: Famous Five 4, Newcomers 14, this season has put the emphasis back where it belongs, on driving ability. No longer can anyone say that if he were with such and such a team he’d be winning and nor can anyone say that so and so wins because he’s with such and such a team. One of the good things about 1985 is that so much has been fresh and unpredictable. — M. L.