Since becoming the brand new Formula 3 championship in the United Kingdom at the start of 2016, the BRDC F3 (British Formula 3 Championship) has grown and grown and now only two rounds remain at Snetterton and Donington Park. As the series entered Snetterton for a second time in 2016, returning on the 6th and 7th August for rounds 19, 20 and 21, the title race was being hotly contested between four drivers. With the drivers coming from four different teams in the paddock this created a straight fight for the crown and the driver currently with the target on his back was Carlin’s Ricky Collard, as the son of BTCC driver Rob sat in first position on 354 points with three victories to his name. Throughout the year Carlin have looked the team to beat, taking eight victories from eighteen races, split between Collard, Lando Norris and Colton Herta. With Lando Norris doing a split season between BRDC F3 and Formula Renault Eurocup, four victories so far would have made Norris a title contender; however, the 2015 MSA Formula champion had missed rounds at Brands Hatch and Oulton Park, therefore missing six races before Snetterton and lied sixth in the standings, on 247 points.
The main rival to Carlin and Ricky Collard’s title challenge entering Snetterton was Brazilian Matheus Leist, who was leading the charge for Double R Racing. Taking three wins so far, with his first coming at Snetterton in round two in March; Leist trailed Collard by only four points after a run of strong podium finishes at Silverstone and Spa-Francorchamps. With an eye on Collard in the fight for the title, Leist would need to be cautious of who’s around him, as Australian Thomas Randle has been closing in all season, improving in his debut season in the United Kingdom, with Douglas Motorsport. Sitting on 335 points, Randle is only nineteen adrift of Collard and therefore well in the hunt for the 2016 title. The last driver in with a shout of the title with two rounds remaining was Lanan Racing’s Toby Sowery, as the former MSVR F3 Cup competitor lied fourth on 321 points, but was only just short of a race win behind Ricky Collard. With thirty-three points to make up on his main rival Collard, Sowery had a chance and with three wins so far in 2016 and plenty of podium finishes, it didn’t really make him an outsider for the crown.
With such a competitive field of drivers in 2016, it wasn’t a definite that one of the four drivers would take the race victory and this is what has made the season so exciting. With three races taking place over the weekend, Saturday’s qualifying session would set the grid for Saturday’s race, whilst race two on Sunday would have a partially reversed-grid from race one’s results and lastly the third and final race of a weekend would set the grid by the fastest laps from across the first two races, creating mixed up races which always provide plenty of entertainment. Qualifying for the opening race took place on Saturday, with nineteen cars taking to the Snetterton 300 circuit for what would be a close fought session.
Collard Starts the Weekend on Top Form
With Ricky Collard the man to beat in this year’s BRDC F3, the Carlin driver made sure he would be the one with the field behind him rather than ahead, as he topped Practice sessions 1 to three over Friday and Saturday, before settling for second in session 4. As Qualifying came round though, Collard was again back on form, snatching pole position with an impressive time of 1:43.156s ahead of championship rival Matheus Leist. The gap between the top two was 0.059s, however that was only half the story of qualifying, as the top ten were covered by less than a second and the championship contenders were all close to one another for the start of race 1.
As the lights went out for race one, Ricky Collard got a storming start from pole position and led away rival Matheus Leist, as Toby Sowery controlled third position ahead of the two Douglas Motorsport cars. As the front three made a quick break, the battle between team mates Enaam Ahmed and Thomas Randle for fourth was starting to intensify and unfortunately down the Bentley Straight, it ended in tears. As Randle held position entering the left-hander at Brundle, Ahmed went around the outside and contact occurred. With Randle holding onto his line, Ahmed’s F3 dug into the grass and rolled spectacularly. With Ahmed walking away from the incident unhurt, the safety car was deployed for a number of laps.
With the safety car exciting the circuit after a delay, Ricky Collard seemed unfazed with the pressure of Leist behind, opening up a gap of nearly a second by the time the whole field had safely resumed racing. With one lap completed since the safety car had departed, the gap between Collard and Leist picked up to just under 1.5 seconds, showing the speed that Collard and Carlin had over their title rivals. Behind the leading pair, Toby Sowery remained third for Lanan Racing, just keeping HHC Motorsport pairing of Ben Hingeley and Harrison Scott at bay, with Scott making a return to the series since racing in the BRDC F3 spec car in what was the BRDC F4 Winter Series in 2015 at Snetterton. After his collision with Enaam Ahmed earlier, Thomas Randle was just outside the top five for Douglas Motorsport and pushing to try and close in the HHC Motorsport pairing ahead.
Whilst the rest of the race seemed pretty drama free, apart from Quinlan Lall’s (Chris Dittmann Racing) spin at Nelson, the front two were split by around about two and three seconds, however each time Leist tried to reel Collard in, the Carlin driver was able to respond. By the last lap, Collard’s gap was just over three seconds and he took his fourth win of the season by 3.179 seconds ahead of Leist. The victory extended Collard’s championship lead over Matheus Leist, with the gap being 10 points entering Sunday’s two races. The podium for race one at Snetterton was completed by Toby Sowery, as the Lanan Racing driver pulled clear of Ben Hingeley to secure the final podium spot by at least four seconds. As the rest of the top six remained the same, the final lap saw a change for seventh as Tarun Reddy (Fortec) passed Carlin’s newcomer Nikita Mazepin, with Aleksanteri Huovinen (Double R Racing) and Eugene Denyssen (Sean Walkinshaw Racing) completing the top ten.
BRDC British Formula 3 (BRDC F3) – Round 19, Snetterton – Top Five
- Ricky Collard (No.11 – Carlin) = 15 Laps
- Matheus Leist (No.26 – Double R Racing) = +3.179s
- Toby Sowery (No.8 – Lanan Racing) = +7.469s
- Ben Hingeley (No.3 – HHC Motorsport) = +12.708s
- Harrison Scott (No.45 – HHC Motorsport) = +13.025s
Carlin takes Race Two Honours with Newcomer
For the opening encounter on Sunday for what was round 20 of the 2016 BRDC F3 championship, Carlin lined up on pole position, but this time it was their newcomer Nikita Mazepin, after he secured eighth in race one and benefited from the reverse grid rules. With Tarun Reddy by his side on the front row, it was no surprise that Mazepin found himself under pressure into turn one, however the Carlin driver held his position on a circuit which he was visiting for the very first time. Whilst Reddy searched for a way pass, the Fortec Motorsport driver had to keep an eye on his mirrors as a fast starting Harrison Scott found himself in third, after a great start from row two saw him ahead of Thomas Randle by the end of lap one.
With the cars running at full speed a few laps later, the Carlin car of Nikita Mazepin was certainly in control of proceedings, stretching out a lead of over a second, with Tarun Reddy defending hard in second to keep Harrison Scott at bay. With the front three lapping the Snetterton 300 with similar times, the position remained the same for a while and each driver looked comfortable where they were. With Thomas Randle and Toby Sowery completing the top five at the halfway mark, it was unlikely that positions would change unless any mistakes were made.
The battle on track by the halfway mark that was getting interesting was between Championship leader Ricky Collard and the two Double R Racing cars, which included his title rival Matheus Leist. With Collard and Leist struggling to make an impact after the reverse grid put them on row four, Leist found himself ahead of Collard but behind team mate Aleksanteri Huovinen. With Leist lapping quicker than his Finnish team mate, lap nine saw the Brazilian make his move into sixth position and with Huovinen ahead of Collard, Leist was gaining points back in the championship hunt. Lap eleven though things changed again, as Collard found his way ahead of Huovinen, but the gap between him and Leist was too much to decrease by the chequered flag.
Back at the front, Nikita Mazepin held a comfortable margin over Tarun Reddy and secured his first win on his debut weekend, by nearly two seconds. With Tarun Reddy holding off Harrison Scott, the Fortec Motorsport driver took the second step on the podium, 0.317s ahead of Scott. A further second back from Scott saw Thomas Randle take another top five finish for Douglas Motorsport, ahead of Championship rival for third, Toby Sowery. With the Championship 1-2 in sixth and seventh, lap times from the two would see Collard and Leist take the front row for race three, further intensify the title fight. Aleksanteri Huovinen came home eighth for Double R Racing, whilst Brazilian Enzo Bortoleto was ninth, ahead of another top ten finish for Eugene Denyssen.
BRDC British Formula 3 (BRDC F3) – Round 20, Snetterton – Top Five
- Nikita Mazepin (No.99 – Carlin) = 16 Laps
- Tarun Reddy (No.14 – Fortec Motorsport) = +1.976s
- Harrison Scott (No.45 – HHC Motorsport) = +2.293s
- Thomas Randle (No.49 – Douglas Motorsport) = +3.247s
- Toby Sowery (No.8 – Lanan Racing) = +4.010s
Collard Backs Another Victory before Finale
After gaining back one point on Ricky Collard in race two, Matheus Leist again found himself tied to Ricky Collard on the grid at Snetterton as the two locked out the front row, ahead of the HHC Motorsport pairing of Ben Hingeley and Harrison Scott. When the lights went out though it was Matheus Leist who got the better start, before having the door slammed in his face, Collard took action to avoid the pass and led into turn one. With the HHC duo scrapping over third and fourth, Enaam Ahmed jumped Harrison Scott to spilt the team mates, whilst further behind Krishnaraaj Mahadik of Chris Dittmann Racing collided with Al Faisal Al Zubair before the close of lap one at Murrays, dismantling the front wing and then beaching it in the gravel at Riches on the start of lap two.
After having a near contact on the opening lap off the start line, the opening lap was full steam ahead for championship leader Ricky Collard, as the Carlin driver repeated his form of race one to pull of a margin of nearly a second and a half by the end of lap one, however a burst of pace from Leist after Collard kicked up the dust exiting Nelson, allowing the Brazilian to the end lap two only 0.210 seconds behind. Whilst one Carlin car led out front, the other of Nikita Mazepin was pushing on well and showing that the Russian was growing in confidence after winning race two, as he climbed the grid to overtake Tarun Reddy in the early stages for eighth position. Mazepin would end the race in eighth, showing the pace of Carlin worked well round Snetterton. With the race reaching its closing stages, Collard and Leist continued battling over fastest lap, however the gap between the two didn’t really decrease, as Collard strengthen his position ahead of his title rival and looked in control.
As Collard drove to a fifth win and a double at Snetterton, the final podium spot became a tussle between Ben Hingeley (HHC Motorsport) and Enaam Ahmed, as Ahmed continued to close the margin and pulled away from Harrison Scott. Throughout the final four laps, Ahmed made numerous attempts to take third, but couldn’t make it stick, especially down the Bentley Straight into Brundle, which would have been on Ahmed’s mind after rolling in race one on Saturday. When the chequered flag was flown, Hingeley had done enough to secure his maiden BRDC F3 podium for HHC Motorsport, as Ahmed settled for fourth with Harrison Scott not far behind in fifth.
With Championship contenders Thomas Randle and Toby Sowery back in sixth and seventh, the season finale would take place at Donington Park in September with still four drivers in the hunt for the title. Collard look set to take the title with 438 points, but with Matheus Leist only 15 points behind on 423, anything was set to happen, with 35 points on offer for a race win. With an outside chance of the 2016 BRDC F3 crown, Thomas Randle held third spot with 387 points, 51 behind Collard, whilst Toby Sowery had an even smaller chance on 376 points and 62 behind, but with at least 95 points on offer, the title could go to the final race of the season.
BRDC British Formula 3 (BRDC F3) – Round 21, Snetterton – Top Five
- Ricky Collard (No.11 – Carlin) = 16 Laps
- Matheus Leist (No.26 – Double R Racing) = +1.533s
- Ben Hingeley (No.3 – HHC Motorsport) = +13.022ss
- Enaam Ahmed (No.65 – Douglas Motorsport) = +13.282s
- Harrison Scott (No.45 – HHC Motorsport) = +13.817s
To keep up to date with the BRDC F3, British Formula 3 Championship and to follow how the finale goes on the 10th and 11th September at Donington Park, please visit http://www.britishf3.com/
To see more photos from the action at Snetterton, please click here.
Written and Produced by Chris Collier and Cheryl Closs.