With the Rockingham round of the BRDC British F3 Championship a few days away, The Checkered Flag looks ahead at the weekend through the eyes of one of the pre-season favourites for the title. Australian Thomas Randle, explains how he hasn’t travelled half way across the world to lose and what his goals are for this weekend.
Before the name change to ‘F3’ was even announced, it was clear to many that 2016 would be a high quality year for the championship with a number of national F4 title contenders lining up to take on the challenge. After two rounds, we’ve seen a few perform at different levels than expected, but with only 39 points separating the top seven, the title is still wide open.
A breakthrough 2015 saw Randle finish as runner-up in the Australian Formula 4 championship, picking up seven wins throughout the season. Like many of his Australian predecessors, he upped sticks from down under, finding a new home in the UK.
“I still think it’s part of the overall progression, as my overall goal is to get into Formula 1. I did a test with the T-Sport Formula 3 team in Valencia for the FIA European Formula 3 cars and it went really well, but the budget for [Euro] F3 is just ridiculous.
“He [Jonathan Palmer] has made a really affordable category here, with an eight round calendar, three races in each, one round in Spa and it’s a great car. It’s the most affordable championship I would have been able to do overseas.”
A pre-season test showed promising signs. “My first day was at Donington about 3 and a half weeks [before the start of the season] and I loved it! The car’s extremely quick to drive, it’s got a lot of aero, lot of downforce, lot of power with the 230bhp Cosworth Engine and since then I’ve continuously wanted to jump back in it.”
With so much at stake, Randle knows that a strong result is vital. While he’ll be slightly disappointed with one podium from six races, a consistent weekend in Brands Hatch currently sees him third in drivers standings, 34 points off leader Toby Sowery.
“My aim is to win it!” he said with an air of confidence. “I didn’t travel half way around the world to come second. It’s all about trying to learn as quickly as you can, as I’m at that age where, at each round, I’ve really got to step it up.”
“I’m with a great bunch of guys at Douglas Motorsport, I love working with them and I want to win. I know the competition is going to be tough, but I guess I won’t know where I am until first qualifying at Snetterton.”
A tough opening weekend for the Aussie, saw him suffer from brake issues before aquaplaned off the circuit in the opening race, bending the steering column and demoting him to the back. Unable to set a quick lap in wet, he struggled to regain track position before pitting.
“We couldn’t have been better prepared going into the opening round but things started to go astray in the last practice session when a vibration in the steering developed and I started to lose valuable braking performance.” he told the press after the race.
“I really have no idea how I ended up sailing off the road in race one. I was on the same line as those in front of me and it just let go and speared me off the road. I was happy with my race two drive to ninth and we set the third fastest lap time in the last race so we’re not too far away.”
His rise to prominence in Australian F4 was largely down to an ongoing rivalry with Jordan Lloyd that continued as the season progressed, with each driver taking the initiative in different rounds. Both drivers also fought for the 2014 Australian Formula Ford title, with Randle coming out on top, after an intense final round.
Coming to the other side of the world brings a number of logistical and personal issues, however, when it comes to the racing, Randle will have a whole new set of rivals to compare himself against, with only fellow Australian Thomas Maxwell and Lando Norris providing the Douglas driver with any previous data.
“I like going into a new championship with all new competitors. With Lloyd, we’ve had three years having an extreme rivalry, every time we’ve been in a championship, there’s been only a couple of points in it. It’ll be good to be with a fresh crop of drivers, I haven’t raced against any of them, except for Lando, who I raced against in the Toyota Racing Series.”
The biggest and most immediate challenge for any driver is to beat his team-mate. Despite being drafted in just before the start of the season, Enaam Ahmed has quickly risen to the challenge, taking the championship lead after the first weekend. Randle spoke of the first time the two met.
“He’s a really nice guy, I first met him at the Silverstone test a few weeks after Donington. Ahmed’s a great lad, a good peddler, so I think he’ll be a good team-mate to base myself against and help me find that little bit extra in myself as well.”
While Randle admitted, that he’d had no previous relationship with Douglas Motorsport, he was eager to jump at the chance of driving in Europe as the opportunity presented itself.
“They contacted me and asked me to drive for them. I was pretty keen as well, as they knew they wanted to win the championship, so it was good to get people with the same goals. I think they’re providing me with the best support at the moment and I hope to grow throughout the season and get a good result.”
“[Next year] really comes down to budget, I’d love to do GP3 next year, as it’s a Formula 1 feeder category and also if you win British F3, you get a paid for test day in the series car, so it’s a logical test. I’ll take each event, one race at a time and we’ll see where we go.”
Having not raced in the UK before 2016, Randle knows that his biggest challenge will be the lack of experience on each circuit, though this won’t be the first time the Australian has driven round the Speedway after a recent test in which he decided his machine settings for the weekend.
“We had an error free day up at Rockingham, where we were trying out new suspension settings and I believe we made a step in the right direction. The last round at Brands Hatch was fantastic. I scored my first podium in the championship and moved up to third in the standings, so I have my eyes on the prize for this weekend.”
The Rockingham weekend kicks off April 30th, with Qualifying starting 10:55 BST.