FIA F3 European championship and the Space-Time Continuum: Silverstone

Not having seen a live F3 race before I was excited to get out and watch the action at Silverstone this weekend. F3 is a series with tight racing and exciting overtaking that belies its status as one of the junior formulae. It was half-way through April, but in Northamptonshire it was a decidedly chilly, although fairness forces me to admit that the sky was blue as the cars were prepared for the first race. The day before I had walked much of the Silverstone circuit and decided to start watching the race at the exit of the pit lane. There the cars are  limited to 60 kph which gives the man who hasn’t quite mastered panning the chance to take some photos of the cars whilst they are (relatively) stationary. F3 is seen as a feeder formula for F1, with half of the F1 field having competed in F3 in the past. Current F1 champion Sebastian Vettel took part but was beaten to the championship by Paul di Resta. F3 has close racing of its own, but has an added frisson – drivers know that they are competing for a place in the higher series. Recognisable names with motorsport pedigree are involved this year, from Tom Blomquist, Lucas Auer – nephew of Gehard Berger – to Josh Hill, scion of British motorsport royalty. A man wearing shorts walked out to the pit wall as I waited for the race to start. In England in April that is a brave sartorial decision. The sky clouded over to suggest he had made an error of judgement, but as Radio Silverstone said, ‘If you don’t like the weather at Silverstone just wait five minutes and it is bound to change.’ Cars started revving in the pits and soon raced out onto track, as reports came in that the finest of spots of rain had started to fall out at Woodcote. The cacophony increased. It was a good cacophony though, the sort that signals excitement and large engines poised for action. Then the green flag was dropped and the cars thundered towards Abbey corner. Hundreds of them appeared to shoot past me, although having checked the programme it seems there were actually only twenty-eight. From my position just past the pits I watched them hurtle round the first corner, led by pole sitter Harry Tincknell in his Carlin. The awareness that the drivers have to have with so many other cars in the field is phenomenal. Most cars got through this first test, with only one incident as three cars spun off after tangling. F3 first corner action First Corner F3 incident Race 1 photo Flaneur F3 has three 35 minute races spread over the course of one weekend. The main story for the first race was the all-British front row. Harry Tinknell was on pole, with Alex Lynn’s Prema second. The man everyone was watching was Lynn’s Prema teammate Raffaele Marciello, who dominated the Championship kick-off at Monza three weeks ago and leads the Driver’s Championship. The 18 year old Italian who is supported by the Ferrari Driver Academy only managed 3rd on the grid for race one and his start down into turn one was eagerly awaited. He soon slipped back and spent much of the race battling William Buller and Lucas Auer for fifth place. The cars came past again and again. They were quickly spread out and I realised that it takes more to watching motor-racing than just looking. You have to remember the car numbers and their track position. This I had neglected to do, and now I had no idea which group of cars was in the lead. I knew the pole sitter was in a blue car, but suddenly almost half the cars in the race seemed to be blue. I didn’t like to turn to my neighbour and say, ‘Excuse me, is that car winning? Or has it been lapped?‘ It wouldn’t have shown the level of expertise I was trying to exude. Thanks to the images in the programme I worked it out. Harry Tinknell, blue car, number 3. There was no overtaking at the front and Harry Tinknell and Alex Lynn made it a British one-two, with Felix Rosenqvist third. Full results can be found here. Race two of the weekend’s serving of F3 was scheduled for 13.20 and I planned to watch the start from a window overlooking the grid. From the starting gantry the drivers were shown a 5 Seconds sign and the engine noise suddenly reverberated through the window. Five seconds isn’t much of a warning, I thought. Whenever anything is about to happen I prefer to have much more than a five second warning, but the drivers seemed to be OK with it and set off on the formation lap. The cars were soon back in position and lining up on the grid. ‘It’s better for the one’s at the back,’ said a girl watching the grid form. ‘They don’t have to sit there for so long.’ She had a point, but actually none of the cars had to sit there very long and the race was soon underway. Or at least it was in real life. I must have lent on my radio and it had stopped working. When I turned it on again the commentary was half a lap behind. This confused me. Were F3 cars so quick that the commentary couldn’t keep up? Was I in a parallel universe? There was clearly some time-space continuum issue as there had been a crash on the grid involving Mardenborough, Giovinazzi and Serralles which I had witnessed on the the first lap. Even though the cars were already at the other side of the circuit the radio was discussing it as though it was happening at that moment.   F3 race 2 tractor F3 Grid incident Race 2 photo Flaneur Alarmed at the turn life had taken I turned the radio off and watched the action. The cars were behind the safety car, which led them in a long snake through the pits beneath me. As there was no racing on track I fiddled with the radio and tried it again. I breathed a sigh of relief. It was back in sync with real life. Having studied the instructions it seems I had lent on pause. Which is odd as I didn’t know the radio had a pause. So be warned. Accidentally lean on pause and it can cause existential problems. Then the cafe where I was watching the race from was taken over by the WEC Team Manthey Porsche drivers. I was uncertain where to concentrate, but then I was handed a delicious custard tart. That was enough to get my attention and I found myself discussing the finer points of sports car steering wheels with Patrick Pilet. Did you know that they can have fourteen buttons on one steering wheel? And each button can have three positions? That’s a lot to remember when you’re racing flat out in the rain. I find it hard enough to remember that the wipers are on the left. Or is it the right? Another pastry and it was back to the race. I had missed some of the excitements that make up an F3 outing. Rosenqvist had messed up his restart behind the safety car and been overtaken. But he had fought back and passed Buller and Tincknell in a determined drive and brought his kfzteile24 Mucke car home in first place, with Marciello in second and Auer happy with third. Race three had to wait until Sunday morning. There was a bit of sun but the track was damp and several drivers slid off, leading to a safety car deployment. Racing only started again on lap five when Marciello overtook his team mate Lynn. He then closed the gap to the leader and after several unsuccessful attempts managed to overtake Rosenqvist on lap 15. These two finished first and second, with a disappointed Alex Lynn only managing third, having started the race on pole. F3 now moves on to Hockenheim on the 4th-5th of May. After Silverstone Marciello has extended his lead in the driver’s championship, with Rosenqvist moving up to 2nd after his successful weekend. Tinknell retains his third position. F3 is an exciting formula and is a great introduction to motorsport. For more information about the championship and how to buy tickets to see future rounds visit the official FIA F3 European Championship website here.
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