British F3 – Whats in a name?
Lost to full course caution and red flags in a 120 minute race.
Climbed by the #1 Aston Martin during the race.
For the BRDC F3 pole sitter on the 2011 F3 grid
Client: TCF Sportscars
Location: Brands Hatch GP, Kent.
Winner: TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage.
I have set a pattern early on with these blog posts that they really represent more of a race report, with which ever puddle I landed in added to the text. This time out I am making a difference and am going to look at an important issue for British motorsport. The so-called BRDC British Formula 3 Championship.
Of course I will bore you silly with talk of the first round of both the British GT Championship and the Protyre Motorsport Ginetta GT5 Championship but the main thrust of this post will be at the naming of the step up from MSA Formula.
To paraphrase the greatest bard in our lands long a distinguished history:
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So British F3 would, were it not British F3 call’d,
It is not often I feel sympathy for Jonathan Palmer of MotorSport Vision. The bloke is minted, hops around his four racing venues and two track day sites in a personally liveried helecopter, has one son in European Formula 3 and another in Formula 1. He is not a man often deserving of any form of pitty, sympathy or even care from the likes of a small businessman trying to make money despite the fact that he is too skinflint to pay to use our photos.
Oh dear, I seem to have pushed one of my own buttons.
Sympathy I did feel though when one of the few bigger fishes in the world of motorsport, the FIA, stormed in and trampled all over a brand he had spent two years building from nothing. Which is exactly what happened when the FIA launched their first level single seater option, Formula 4.
Jonathan Palmer had been running the BRDC Formula 4 championship for two years, having launched it out of the blue with a decent looking car, a nice calendar of events and 20+ aspiring young racers. It has proved effective at launching careers too. The first champion, Jake Hughes, is now in GP3 while Seb Morris and Matty Graham are notable alumni who now race in British GT.
Then the FIA launched a worldwide Formula 4 platform with a higher tech but uglier car and slapped MSV-R in the face by awarding the UK approval for an F4 championship to the struggling MSA Formula Ford Championship of Great Britain. While the old championship, known by the deliberately insulting name of EgoBoost in the paddock, relaunched as the catchy titled MSA Formula, Certified by FIA, Powered by EcoBoost, Palmer was left to find a new way for his series.
The answer was more power, more aero and better tyres. Away went the Yokohama tyres in favour of an F3 Pirelli tyre. The tube frame of the MSV F4-013 was replaced by the Tatuus built FIA F4 carbon fibre tub, about the only thing that remained constant was the engine, which is still a Cosworth prepared Ford 2.0l engine, but it now develops well over 200bhp, rather than the 150bhp required to allow under 16s to race.
This new formula launched with acclaim at the British GT and BRDC Formula 4 media day at Snetterton. We were all impressed and looking forward to the new championship getting under way. Then the next press release came from Kent.
The championship was rebranding as the BRDC British Formula 3 Championship.
Now I am not an F3 purist, to be honest I don’t really like single seater racing cars. They are too fragile, to specialist and have very little real world relevance. I would much rather watch a race between 15-20 Porsches. I can aspire to own a Porsche, there are no practical open wheel daily drivers out there.
I do however agree with the army of people screaming that BRDC British Formula 3 is nothing of the sort. Lets take a look at a couple of reasons why.
The first and biggest test most fans apply to an F3 car is the question of Macau eligibility. A real F3 car from any proper F3 championship can take part in the Macau Grand Prix for F3 cars which effectively ends the F3 year. The Tatuus-Cosworth F4-016 cannot.
Its dimensions are all wrong. The F4-016 has a wheel base 750mm too long for an F3 car, a track up to 400mm too wide and unless the driver is very skinny indeed, it will be heavier. Horsepower is up though. A proper F3 car has about 220bhp, an MSV F3 car has around 230.
The thing is, despite being more stable because of a longer wheelbase and wider track, despite having more power, the damned thing is slower than an F3 car.
I looked at two rounds of the 2011 Cooper Tires British Formula 3 Championship vs the two rounds of the MSV run BRDC British F3 Championship. The Snetterton round was a bit of an outlier because it was the first time many teams have run the new car but the pole sitter at Snetterton in 2016 would have starte 21st on the 2011 grid.
More telling was the Brands Hatch GP round where Matheus Leist, who claimed pole this past weekend, would have started in a shocking 19th place on the grid in 2011.
Both qualifying sessions were held in similar conditions according to TSL, the timing partner for both championships so we cant argue climatic conditions. We can talk about tyres though because British F3 of old ran on Cooper Tires product, while the new ‘F3’ runs on Pirelli. But Pirelli tend to be faster tyres anyway, everywhere they have been raced they have dropped lap times so we can assume they would perform better on the F4-016.
When Jonathan Palmer spoke to the press at Media Day he explained the thinking behind the new, more powerful car as providing a step between the MSA Formula/Formula 4 cars and the European F3 cars. The plan was for an intermediate series with costs between the two and pace that split the two. The whole idea was to not be Formula 3, then he went and re-branded it British Formula 3.
I don’t want to go around knocking the stuffing out of a man for bringing back a name we all thought consigned to history but there were several other names Palmer could have opted for. Formula Palmer Cosworth would have been a good idea, evoking the well loved Formula Palmer Audi name without trashing the history of a series.
While I am not an F3 devotee, I hang around with quite a few of them, both online and in the real world. There is a lot of debate, a lot of anger too. Some feel that calling this series British F3 opens the door to a return of proper F3 cars, which for me is the only saving grace. Others feel that calling this series F3 is an insult to F3. It wouldn’t be so bad if F3 had died out all over the world but European F3 is still going strong, as are the F3 special events like Macau and the Grand Prix de Pau.
So, whats in a name? I am hoping beyond hope, that it’s a return of real F3 to the UK in the next five years. I’m not holding my breath though, asphixia is a horrible way to go.
Now, on to the racing at the opening round of the British GT Championship and Ginetta GT5 Challenge, along with the second round of the BRDC British Formula 3 Championship:
It was like amateur hour out there.
Over the 24 sessions of the weekend, to my knowledge there was not a single session unaffected by red flags. If there was it was in the last two sessions of the weekend, but I wasn’t covering the Caterhams or the Mini Miglias. Barrier damage during the GT race would have left even these with yellow flags at Pilgrims Drop.
You had Will Moore in the Optimum Motorsport Audi R8, determined it seems to ensure he tried out every gravel trap on the circuit for comfort and vehicle stopping ability. By my count he test drove five of the eight gravel traps during the weekend. You have the Ginetta GT5 Challenge who apparently couldn’t make it more than one corner without trashing a good handful of G40s.
Formula 3 was a mess, with several cars off at various points around the circuit for most of the weekend. For the first time in my motorsport career, I saw a Caterham I am convinced will not race again. It takes a real heavy hit to kill a Caterham.
The biggest moan of the weekend came from GTs though. I like GT cars and usually love the British GT Championship. This past weekend showed it in the worst possible light. Every time someone hiccuped, the race director threw out the red flags. Then during the race we had the biggest hiccup of all.
Phil Dryburgh, a mate of mine after a five minutes with interview for Racing-Report.com turned into a two hour long ranging chat about motorsport, misjudged an overtaking move down Pilgrims Drop. The resulting accident obliterated fifteen meters of armco, saw the roof of his Motorbase Performance Aston Martin dig three separate divots out of the grass, demolished a GT4 Aston Martin, and left us under FCY or Full Course Yellow for 40 minutes of the race.
Phil was unharmed which is the most important thing. The Aston stood up to it rather well too, which at north of £150k a pop is nothing to be sneezed at. The GT4 car will need more than a little T-Cut but the driver too, escaped unharmed from the wreckage.
Soon after the FCY was lifted though, Moore parked the Audi in the gravel at Paddock and one of the two Ginetta G55 GT3 entries from Tolman Motorsport decided that it was the right time to burst into flames. Again, no-one hurt but really annoying as the race was red flagged with twenty minutes to go. We raced for half of the planned distance.
I am beginning to worry about the Ginettas. I’ve done the first round of the British GT Championship for four years running now and only once has a Ginetta GT3 failed to toast itself. That was OK though, as the year before, two burst into flames. I think that they need to get re-designing up in Yorkshire.
Drivers are up in arms about the new Full Course Yellow rules. My take in this is get over it. Formula 1 does it, copied from FIA World Endurance Championship who borrowed it from the VLN who half-inched it off Creventic. It is the way forward because a Full Course Yellow in theory, is the only way in which a race can be made safe for marshals to work track side without wiping out the margins hard fought for and well earned.
I am more concerned for the fans of the sport who paid a fair chunk of money to come to Brands Hatch to watch racing, not vast swathes of time in which either everything is circulating at 50mph or nothing is circulating at all.
As has become typical for the first round of two of the best GT and Endurance series out there, British GT clashed with the FIA World Endurance Championship at Silverstone. That also put them up against the European Le Mans Series which shared the Northamptonshire venue and then there was the action at Donington Park. The British Touring Car Championship went there.
Despite all this choice, we had a respectable crowd in the stands and on the viewing mounds. There were more super-telephoto lenses in attendance than there were racing cars when you count the public who came in their droves alongside us pros. So on an important weekend such as this, the British GT Championship and its supporting series put on one of the most embarrassing shows of motor racing I have ever seen.
I hope to god the fans forget this one.
Between the British GT, British F3 and Ginetta GT5 Challenge fields.
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