While 2015 was the story of one man, 2016 soon became a season long battle between four titans of the national single-seater world. Two Brits, one Australian and our eventual champion; Matheus Leist took the fight to the final round of the inaugural BRDC British Formula 3 Season.
British F3 is nothing new, in fact it had been running consistently since 1951 under its old incarnation until it disbanded in 2014. But like any great series it wasn’t long before it made a spectacular return, at the hands of Jonathan Palmer.
Just before the opening round of the season, the series announced its change to become the BRDC British Formula 3 Championship. While the name drew many criticisms and a debate over the definition of “Formula 3”, the series rumbled on, continuing the class and excitement that had drawn so many in the past.
The final round of the season, at Donington Park, proved to be the defining moment for the championship as points leader Ricky Collard crashed out in the opening race. He fought back for the Sunday encounters, but it was too little too late as Leist took the crown, completing his true rise to prominence that had started last year.
Ahmed and Sowery Lead the Charge
In typical BRDC series style, the season began at a Stormy Snetterton under Hurricane Katie. While the championship is typically a British GT support series, the opening round was a chance for the drivers to prove themselves as the stars of the show.
It had been announced pre-season that Lando Norris would only compete in part of the championship, but that didn’t stop him beginning the season in style. He took the first ever BRDC F3 pole, fastest lap and race win, from Aleksanteri Huovinen. The weather proved to be a great leveler as Leist’s epic fight back in the reverse grid encounter, concluded in him taking the flag.
The biggest stars of the weekend though proved to be Enaam Ahmed and the consistent Toby Sowery. Ahmed had taken a podium in each of the races, finishing up with a spectacular drive to the flag on Sunday evening.
Unfortunately for Ahmed, his season would go downhill from there, picking up just two more podiums over the course of the season.
As for Sowery, his performance continued into Brands Hatch GP where he picked up another third and his first win in the reverse grid event. He ended the weekend in disappointment, but remained fairly settled atop the pecking order.
Elsewhere, Colton Herta, replacing Norris for the round, held back in race two, setting the fastest lap to claim pole. He was the first to truly benefit from the system that Collard later criticised for retracting from the racing.
Collard and Randle Enter the Fray
As the drivers entered Rockingham, it was Collard who found his way to the top after a number of second places, followed by his first win of the year in race three. With Sowery struggling, he became the man to beat and stayed at the head of the field until the final round.
Despite this, the biggest story to come out of the weekend proved to be Enzo Bortoleto. The Brazilian was the first to truly test the strength of the new Tatuus-Cosworth MSV F4-016 machines as he was launched into the air, barrel rolling and landing upside down on the exit of turn four.
He walked away from the car with minimal injuries, though would not take the restart to race two, in which Thomas Randle took his first victory.
The Australian had finished fourth in the opening encounter, jumping another three places in his victorious second event. Norris had also made his way up to third and was favourite to win the final race on Sunday, but fell back early on gifting a maiden win to team-mate Collard, who extended his championship lead with his first win of the year in front of Leist.
Bortoleto’s incident at Rockingham made national motorsport headlines, but it was Ameya Vaidyanathan who would have the largest accident of the season. In the opening race at Oulton Park he got a run on Sisa Ngebulana, only for the two to touch on the exit of the first corner.
Vaidyanathan spun into the grass, digging the front of his car in and flipping almost 15 feet into the air. The Indian was rushed to the medical centre, though raced the remainder of the weekend. As it turned out, he hadn’t completely recovered and sat out much of the second half of the season.
Collard would beat Randle in race one and three, allowing the Carlin driver to slowly extend his lead. Elsewhere, early season pace-setter Sowery won the reverse grid encounter after a sterling defence of Ahmed.
Leist Shows his Hand
Just like in 2015, Leist had been a consistent competitor though always seemed just out of the title reach. That changed in Silverstone as he made the jump on pole sitter Randle to win by over four seconds. Further back, Tarun Reddy held off Collard for his second podium of the season.
Reddy would become a regular in the top eight, finishing as the highest place midfield driver in sixth, with four podiums throughout the year. Collard meanwhile would find his championship lead significantly cut after contact with Quinlan Lall in race two saw him finish outside the top ten.
The second race had been defined by the treacherous conditions, which had allowed Sowery to prove his form and break away from Norris for his third win of the campaign. Leist would complete the podium as the final race was cancelled due to the flooded track.
Including Spa-Francorchamps on the calendar was key to the series success, as it proved with last years champion; Will Palmer, joining HHC Motorsport for the round. Proof of how far the series had come was seen on Saturday as Palmer failed to hold on to his pole position, dropping to third.
Spa was the last appearance of Norris, though all eyes had been on the Douglas Motorsport drivers. During his sensational plight from ninth, Randle bump drafted Ahmed along the Kemmel straight, gaining two places. The comradery of the pair had been a testament to how close all of the drivers had been over the season, with Randle eventually going on to win race two.
The Final Four
The two rounds at Snetterton and Donington Park saw the pressure enhance on series leader Collard and his closest rival Leist, who’d taken a pair of second places at Spa. Behind them Randle and Sowery remained in contention, but a poor conclusion to the season saw the Australian drop to fourth.
With the gap having dropped to twelve points between Collard and Leist, the 2015 MSA Formula runner-up hit back with a double win in the Norfolk countryside, though was followed home by Leist on both occasions.
Elsewhere, Harrison Scott had returned to the series and proved to be a strong podium contender in the closing rounds, picking up a third in the reverse grid race that Carlin stand-in Nikita Mazepin won. Having been fairly anonymous during the year, Ben Hingeley also found his way to the front with a podium in the final Snetterton race and first Donington encounter.
All would change at Donington with a damp track welcoming the drivers come Saturday. After being pushed wide on the opening lap and dropping to fourteenth, Collard started to recover, only to get stuck behind Bortoleto. The Brit made a risky move, couldn’t control his car and crashed in the first turn.
With a red flag called and Leist taking the win, Collard was mentally distraught going into Sunday on the back foot. After again colliding with Bortoleto, Collard could only manage tenth from the back of the grid, all but securing the title for Leist.
The Double R Racing driver took fifth in the final race as Collard followed him home. It was enough to give Leist the title as a double win for Sowery handed him third in the championship over Randle and Ahmed, who also completed the final podium of the year.
A Packed Field
In their illustrious return, British F3 attracted another strong grid with Reddy lining up as best of the rest behind the breakaway top five. Thomas Maxwell‘s consistency saw him take seventh despite just one podium, while Norris held on to eighth.
Huovinen started and ended the season with exceptional pace, but a lack of any strong result ensures he was only ninth ahead of Hingeley. The Formula Jedi champion became a front-runner at the end of the season and could be a threat come next season.
Elsewhere, Bortoleto’s triple retirement at Donington dropped him to eleventh in a year he’ll be remembered for being upside down. Al Faisal Al Zubair was the highest place returning BRDC F4 driver, with the South African’s of Eugene Denyssen and Ngebulana behind. The latter was forced to miss the end of the end of the season due to injury.
In fifteenth and sixteenth, Lall and Jan Jonck also missed the final few events as Scott beat Akhil Rabindra despite only featuring in three rounds. Herta’s two weekends put him ahead of season regulars Krishnaraj Mahadik and Jeremy Wahome, with the latter having been as high as fourth at Donington.
Completing the list was those who featured in occasional weekends, with the injury strewn Vaidyanathan in twenty-second ahead of Mazepin, Omar Ismail and Palmer. James Pull, confirmed for 2017, also made a final round appearance and thus beat Raoul Hyman, Paul Sieljes and Ali Al Khalifa.
Full Championship Standings can be found Here.