It feels like an age since Kaylen Frederick clinched the 2020 BRDC British Formula 3 Championship title at Silverstone, but this year’s challengers finally got out on track in anger at Brands Hatch GP at the weekend.
Zak O’Sullivan (pictured) leads the standings for reigning champions Carlin after the first triple-header of the season, with retirements aplenty up and down the grid.
The Checkered Flag takes a look at how the class of the field performed in Round 1.
Zak O’Sullivan – Carlin
Zak O’Sullivan left Brands Hatch with the Drivers’ Championship lead, and more than played his part in Carlin’s place atop the new Teams’ Championship too.
Qualifying third for Race 1 and second for Race 2 paved the way for a pair of impressive drives, as O’Sullivan took a third-place and his maiden British F3 win, with Ayrton Simmons and Bart Horsten colliding ahead of him in Race 2.
Unfazed by starting P17 in the reverse-grid Race 3, O’Sullivan gained ten places in a race truncated by two safety cars.
He showed his pace in the Tatuus BF3-020 immediately, having stepped up from the F4 British Championship over winter after missing out on the title to Luke Browning by four points.
He set the fastest time of Friday’s test by over a tenth from Simmons, arguably the title favourite going into the weekend.
The Gloucestershire driver called the weekend “a really good start to the year”.
“Qualifying gave us a good start to the weekend and even though I didn’t have the best start in Race 1, I was still pleased to get the podium.
“In a way [Race 2] was a bit of a gifted win but I think from there I could just manage the pace and tyres for when we need them in Race 3.
“I didn’t expect [the need for consistency] to be proven so quickly, but obviously a finish is better than a non-finish, no matter the position.”
Oliver Bearman – Fortec Motorsports
Though not a full-season entrant this year, Ollie Bearman put together a solid début weekend in British F3 to leave Brands Hatch second in the championship.
The 16-year-old will split seat time across British F3, Italian F4 and ADAC F4 this season, but impressed on his first time racing on British circuits.
He took third in Practice, second in Qualifying for Race 1, set a second-fastest time that was good enough for a fourth-place grid slot in Race 2, and took two second-place finishes in the opening races of the season.
Though Bearman won’t partake in every British F3 round this season, he proved he isn’t just on the grid to make up the numbers.
Two podiums and second in the standings is an early statement of intent.
If consistency is a stumbling block for the title challengers this year, and Bearman can continue to deliver in his select appearances, he might have an outside shot. Admittedly, that is a big ‘if’ and a big ask of any driver.
But even if not, positive results for the Fortec Motorsports man could still stall those at the top of the table if he can take points away from the front-runners consistently during his part-time campaign.
Think back to Ayrton Simmons’ wildcard appearance at Brands last season. In taking two of four available wins, he limited the possible points haul for the championship contenders, which might have really thrown the cat among the pigeons.
Reece Ushijima – Hitech GP
Reece Ushijima went about his business quietly but impressively at the weekend.
Fifth and third in the first two races represent early progress for the Japanese-American driver, whose best results last season were second-place finishes in both visits to Donington Park.
It’s still very early days, but in three races he bettered last year’s four-race haul from Oulton Park by 23 points. He and Hitech GP will certainly be pleased with that start to the year, especially with the Silverstone-based outfit also sitting second in the Teams’ Championship.
That consistency, should he maintain it, would serve him well for the rest of the season. To paraphrase Kipling, the key in British F3 is to keep your head when all around you are losing theirs.
Besides a rotten weekend at Brands, that’s what last year’s champion Kaylen Frederick largely managed to do, taking the title ahead of Ushijima’s Hitech team-mate Kush Maini.
With Maini moving on, perhaps Ushijima’s second season might be the one where he steps up to be the team’s main title contender in its own sophomore campaign.
He’s already some distance ahead of team-mates Horsten and Sebastian Alvarez, who retired from Race 2 and Race 3 respectively.
The 2021 BRDC British Formula 3 Championship visits Silverstone on 26/27 June, supporting the Intelligent Money British GT Championship.
You can follow all the action on The Checkered Flag.