Formula Three is a distant cousin of Formula One. It’s a stepping stone to the big league. Like in all professional sport, Motorsport has a development system that serves to test and develop young drivers to allow them to achieve their full potential.
To put it in sporting terms relevant at this point in time, Formula 3 is like State Cricket – a step or two below playing for Australia, but a step forward from playing from your local club on a Saturday afternoon.
Formula 3 is also a global formula, the only one in Australia with true international relevance.
Whilst V8 Supercars have international reach, and Formula Ford is present in other nations, Formula Three is the only truly global Formula Australia has.
There are Formula 3 Championships in Great Britan – perhaps the strongest of them all – a European Series, Championships in Germany, Italy, Asia, Japan, North and South America and even Scandinavia.
The same cars that race here are eligible to race in any of those overseas championships, which despite us being the furthest removed from the Formula One teams and drivers, gives the Australian championship immediate international credibility.
The people who know about the sport instantly know the Formula 3 brand, and that no-matter where in the world, it’s the same formula with the same cars.
This way, the top teams in world motorsport know that if a driver has succeeded in Formula 3 somewhere in the world, they can clearly drive.
Formula 3 cars are also hugely spectacular.
Powered by a production based, Two Litre engine and weighing just 540 kilograms, The cars are the fastest in Australian Motorsport.
At Phillip Island, our fastest circuit, the driver holds full throttle for sixty seconds in an 85 second lap, averaging 180km/hr per lap and experiencing 2.5 Gs though the most challenging corner, Lukey Heights.
There is no racing car in Australia that offer drivers these kind of experiences or give them something so close to a Formula One car.
The cars are also extremely safe. The cars comply to the FIA (Motorsport’s governing body) Formula One Crash regulations, making it one of the safest cars in Australia.
19 of the 24 drivers in the Formula 1 World championship this year, including Mark Webber and the new World Champion Sebastien Vettell, are graduates of the Formula 3 system.
This year’s IndyCar champion, IndyCar Series Runner Up and Indianapolis 500 winner are all graduates of Formula 3 series’ from around the world.
James Courtney, The newly crowned V8 Supercar champion, was a winner in British F3.
Close to home our local series has also had its share in pushing drivers onto professional careers.
Our 2001 Champion Peter Hackett is a former Australian GT Champion. In 2002 James Manderson won the title, raced F3 in Europe and then – thanks to his experience in the category – went to work in a Top level Formula One team as a design engineer, where he remains to this date.
The man that finished second to Manderson that year was Will Power, now one of Australia’s most successful international exports. Will won the Indy Car Series ‘Road Course’ title this year and nearly won the overall title driving for the famous Team Penske.
Our 2003 champion was Michael Caruso, who is one of the next generation of young stars in V8 Supercar Racing now driving for Garry Rogers Motorsport. The following year was won by Karl Reindler, who made his main-game V8 debut this year after taking the rookie of the year honours in the second-tier Fujitsu series two years ago.
Tim Slade, who raced and won in the category in 2004-05, is into his second season of V8’s this year and has several top ten finishes to his credit.
In 2006 a famous name joined us for a one-off round at the Australian Grand Prix. That name was Bruno Senna, nephew of Formula 1 legend Ayrton. Bruno won his first EVER car race in Aussie F3 which was a particularly proud moment for the team and the series and a great thing to be part of. This year, he made his debut in Formula 1 driving for the Hispania Racing Team.
Since then we have had drivers return to Europe, move to V8 Supercars or international GT Racing and onwards.
Our class of 2010 are proving to be the best yet. The champion, Ben Barker, is looking to a move to the Porsche Carrera Cup. 16 year old Kiwi sensation Mitch Evans missed on the title by one point but has a development contract with Mark Webber in his pocket and could well be testing a Formula One car within one to two years. Third placed Tom Tweedie has already signed a deal to race in V8’s next year and made his debut in Sydney recently.
In 2010 we had drivers regularly racing from Australia, New Zealand, the UK and China.
The one Advantage Australian Formula 3 has compared to its European rivals, however, is price. The way the championship is structured allows our teams to operate with budgets up to 75% of that seen in Europe and this is one of the reasons why we have had more than 20 international drivers race with us since 2006, something that only raises the bar for the local drivers.
This year the championship was decided, on the final lap of the final race of the year by whichever driver of the three contending for the crown could set the fastest lap of the race, and get the bonus point that went with it.
Ben Barker set that quick time and thus one the championship by a solitary point – though the difference in quickest laps between he and his main rival Mitch Evans was a scarcely believable five hundredths of a second, ultimately the deciding factor in the title. It just doesn’t get any closer!
Four of the last five championships have come down to the final race of the year between two or three drivers, with the biggest winning margin being less than ten points. The series averages six different winners and ten different race podium finishers each year.
Australian Formula 3 also races for the prestigious CAMS Australian Drivers Championship and Gold Star award.
Celebrating 55 years in 2011, the ADC has been awarded to the champion of Australia’s premier open Wheel category, and as such has been awarded to the Australian F3 champion since 2005.
Throughout the years some of the biggest names in Australian Motorsport have won it, including Lex Davison, Bib Stillwell, Kevin Bartlett, Alfredo Costanzo, John Bowe, David Brabham, Mark Skaife, Jason Bright, Scott Dixon, Rick Kelly, and will Power.