When your inbox is peppered with press releases for new, high-performance car sponges, or meaningless guff from publicity-hungry insurance companies whose latest surveys reveal that roads are more likely to be treacherous when icy, it’s easy to gloss over the details. So upon receipt of a missive outlining “four key dates in revised British F3 International Series”, you’ll forgive me for assuming this was a bit of fluff to publicise the showcase events.
Far from it: the word “key” proved to be superfluous, for British Formula 3 has not so much been revised as almost completely dissolved. With anticipated entries low, organiser SRO has pruned the schedule from 10 triple-header weekends to just four… and only two take place in the UK. Brands Hatch and Silverstone host one meeting apiece, while Spa and the Nürburgring share the others. I thought it odd when Thruxton, ever a British F3 staple, was dropped from the schedule at the end of 2010, but such as Oulton Park, Donington Park and Snetterton are now similarly sidelined. Dates were selected to avoid clashes with F3 fixtures in other markets, in the hope that reasonable fields might materialise.
Slender entries are nothing new, mind. It is 30 years since Ayrton Senna and Martin Brundle tussled for the British F3 title in one of the most revered of all campaigns, but there weren’t many cars around. Only nine turned up at Cadwell Park that summer… and eight started after Senna mangled his Ralt while beating Brundle to pole by a hundredth, the pair of them more than a second clear of the rest. Nobody complained about thin grids, though, such was the quality of the crown duel.
British F3 was once regarded as a passport to potential stardom, but there have been 21 champions since Rubens Barrichello lifted the 1991 title and none has recorded a Grand Prix victory. Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne are the only British F3 title winners on the 2013 F1 grid – and their graduation was smoothed by Red Bull’s patronage. Of the others who followed Barrichello into F1, Jan Magnussen lasted only briefly (lots of talent, precious little application), Ralph Firman managed a single campaign, Antonio Pizzonia became a peripheral figure, Takuma Sato and Nelson Piquet Jr conjured a podium finish apiece, Jaime Alguersuari survived two and a half seasons before Red Bull dropped him from its roster, Alan van der Merwe drives the FIA medical car and Marc Hynes works for Marussia in a management role (although the bloke he beat into third place in 1999, Jenson Button, has done quite well). The likes of Gil de Ferran and Oliver Gavin went on to stellar careers in other disciplines, but there’s little to suggest British F3 remains a must-do category on the path to F1.
SRO cites the expanded FIA European F3 Championship as a partial cause for the shrinkage, because it has eaten into resources teams simply don’t have, but its latest move reflects the chaotically congested nature of the junior single-seater map. Formula Renault UK expired last year, the FIA F2 Championship has been dropped for 2013 and you might now miss British F3 if you blink.
Too many series have long been supported by a glut of self-interest and insufficient cash – an obvious truth that becomes ever more apparent.