Carlin's success in Formula 3 in recent years has been unprecedented, with Jaime Alguersuari, Daniel Ricciardo, Jean–Eric Vergne and Felipe Nasr winning consecutive British championships for the Surrey powerhouse between 2008 and 2011. This run of success only heightens their lack of achievement in the Formula 3 Euroseries: in their last full season in 2009 with Brendon Harley and Jake Rosensweig, Carlin were limited to a sole reverse-grid win for the Kiwi at Brands Hatch and ranked only eighth in the teams championship. Determined to put things right, Carlin returned to the Euroseries this year with Spanish hotshoe Carlos Sainz Jr. and Northern Irish prospect Will Buller as their nominated drivers, backed-up by British F3 contingent Jazeman Jaafar, Jack Harvey, Pietro Fantin and Harry Tincknell. While at first it appeared to be Sainz that would take the fight to the dominant Prema Powerteam, over the last 3 rounds Buller has emerged as the greater threat, and lays a solid third in points.
When I met Buller at Brands Hatch, he was celebrating a second place finish in race 3, but since then has gone on to take three more podium finishes, including a reverse grid win in Austria. As a result, his targets for the year now appear a far more realistic prospect.
“The goal is to win the championship, that's the only goal we ever have,” Buller said. “That's why we are here. It's my third year in F3, and even though it's my first in the Euroseries, I have the good support of Carlin and Volkswagen. Hopefully we can do it!”
Under Carlin's tutelage, the Northern Irishman is starting to deliver on the promise he first showed as a youngster, winning the invitational Formula BMW race on the treacherous streets of Macau in 2009, despite it being his first visit there.
“Yeah that really boosted my career,” Buller smiled. “Winning at Macau was just a massive achievement. You know, it's not just any race track; it's my favourite race track! It's a difficult place to race, it was a great experience. Knowing how to win round there has been a massive help going there in Formula 3.”
“My first year of doing Formula BMW's was when I was just 16, and I did a few races in Europe and in America as well. All in all, it was a great learning and proving ground for young drivers. It taught me all about discipline and learning how to bring the tyres in, how to break, how to use the down-force at high speed, all useful things like that.”
Winning the inaugural F3 Brazilian Open event at Interlagos further boosted his confidence before embarking on a full year of British Formula 3 in 2010. With five podium visits and eighth overall, Buller's first season was very respectable. But placed in contrast with the disastrous year suffered by fellow debutant and current GP3 team-mate Alex Brundle, who scored just 11 points to Buller's 111, it seems a quantified triumph.
Moving from Hitech Racing to Fortec Motorsports for 2011, Buller broke the Carlin monopoly of the top 6 spots and scored four fastest laps, a record only beaten by runaway championship leaders Nasr and Kevin Magnussen – both with Carlin. One of those fastest laps came in a lights-to-flag victory from the reversed grid at Paul Ricard, but despite such impressive statistics, Buller is hesitant when asked whether the year lived up to expectations.
“Definitely it was good, but it wasn't what I was hoping for: in my second year of Formula 3 I was going for the title, but it didn't work out,” he says. “Fortec did a good job but we just weren't as strong as the Carlin guys, so this year we've joined Carlin and its going a lot better for us. I'm really enjoying the atmosphere in the team and all the guys work very hard: there's a good bunch of people here.
“The thing with Carlin is they have six very good, top drivers, whereas last year I was always quickest or second quickest at Fortec so it was me leading the team. This year everyone is so strong: they have really raised the bar.”
With Sainz backed by Red Bull – a company infamous for their limited patience with young drivers, as seen last week by the controversial axing of Lewis Williamson – Buller recognises that the pressure on him is far lower than on his team-mate. Without the win-or-bust mentality, Buller can afford to play the long game, and it is this consistent approach which is reaping him rewards – disregarding his accident while well placed in the wet at the Norisring, as Sainz also crashed – Buller has only finished once outside of the top 10, that courtesy of engine maladies at Brands Hatch.
“Obviously those guys have a lot more pressure on them,” Buller said. “You want to beat everyone, but your team-mates are the most important guys to beat and it's good to have strong team-mates to measure myself against. I'm happy that I have the team-mates I do.”
Although 2012 is Buller's third year in F3 with as many different teams, he is adamant that it has not affected his preparation. Indeed, Buller believes that the lack of continuity he has experienced has helped him become a more rounded individual, and a better driver.
“The Carlin guys are all very good, all very welcoming. It's probably a bit more of an advantage because you've worked with different people and had more experience in different areas. If you're with the same team for 3 years then you're kind of stuck in a rut, but I've experienced different situations and I'm happy with the position I'm in for this year.
“Carlin approached me: they were keen to have me in the team. Volkswagen put the proposal and everything together so I couldn't ask for much more. The Euroseries is a new challenge for Carlin, but they want to win, so they've got me and Carlos to take the fight to the Prema guys. It should be a strong year: as you can see, the Prema guys have got the advantage at the moment, but we'll work hard to make it better.”
As a third year driver with considerable technical expertise, Buller benefitted more than most from the new specification Dallara unveiled this year.
“The new car this year is a brilliant challenge to have,” Buller said. “Last year Carlin had the car sussed and it's taken a bit more development this year to get the car where we want it. But it's getting better and better and all the guys are pushing hard.
“Obviously this is my third year of F3, so it's important to have experience so you can lead the team in the areas you most need to improve the car.”
Alongside his Euroseries commitments, Buller also competes in GP3 on the F1 support package, where he is partnered by Brundle and Antonio Felix da Costa, the man who replaces Williamson in the Red Bull junior team. Despite the glitz and glamour of the F1 paddock, Buller would prefer to do his winning elsewhere for now.
“At the moment Formula 3 is the most valuable to me,” Buller says without hesitation. “GP3 is a very good proving ground for young drivers. It's got the live TV and you get the experience of racing at Monaco. So there are lots of good aspects to it, but at the moment Formula 3 is the one I want to win the most. I think I can be strong in GP3, but it's taking a while to understand the tires.”
Should Buller manage to overhaul Daniel Juncadella and Raffaele Marciello for the Euroseries crown, Carlin's latest scholar would become the first British champion since Paul di Resta in 2006. And with the support of Volkswagen, who knows what Will Buller can achieve nextâ€¦