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Formula Three, also called Formula 3 or F3, is a class of open-wheel formula racing. The various championships held in Europe, Australia, South America and Asia form an important step for many prospective Formula One drivers. Formula Three has traditionally been regarded as the first major stepping stone for F1 hopefuls – it is typically the first point in a driver's career at which most drivers in the series are aiming at professional careers in racing rather than being amateurs and enthusiasts. F3 is not cheap (a competitive seat in British F3 now costs around £400,000 and about £80,000 in Asia, for a year's racing), but is regarded as a key investment in a young driver's future career. Success in F3 can lead directly to more senior formulae such as a GP2 seat, or even a Formula One test or race seat.
Formula Three (adopted by the FIA in 1950) evolved from postwar auto racing, with lightweight tube-frame chassis powered by 500 cc motorcycle engines (notably Nortons and JAP speedway). The 500 cc formula originally evolved in 1946 from low-cost "special" racing organised by enthusiasts in Bristol, England, just before the Second World War; British motorsport after the war picked up slowly, partly due to petrol rationing which continued for a number of years and home-built 500 cc cars engines were intended to be accessible to the "impecunious enthusiast". The second post-war motor race in Britain was organised by the VSCC in July 1947 at RAF Gransden Lodge, 500cc cars being the only post-war class to run that day. Unfortunately the race was a complete flop, as three of the seven entrants were non-starters, and, of the four runners, all but one were out of it in the first lap, leaving Eric Brandon in his Cooper Prototype (T2) trailing round to a virtual walk-over at the unimpressive speed of 55.79 mph, though his best lap (which was the fastest recorded for any 500) was 65.38 mph.
Cooper came to dominate the formula with mass-produced cars, and the income this generated enabled the company to develop into the senior categories. Other notable marques included Kieft, JBS and Emeryson in England and Effyh, Monopoletta and Scampolo in Europe. John Cooper, along with most other 500 builders, decided to place the engine in the middle of the car, driving the rear wheels. This was mostly due to the practical limitations imposed by chain drive but it gave these cars exceptionally good handling characteristics which eventually led to the mid-engined revolution in single-seater racing.
The 500cc formula was the usual route into motor racing through the early and mid-1950s (and stars like Stirling Moss continued to enter selected F3 events even during their GP careers). Other notable 500 cc Formula 3 drivers include Stuart Lewis-Evans, Ivor Bueb, Jim Russell, Peter Collins, Don Parker, Ken Tyrrell, and Bernie Ecclestone.
From a statistical point of view, Don Parker was the most successful F3 driver. Although coming to motor racing late in life (at age 41 in 1949), he won a total of 126 F3 races altogether, and was described by Motor Sport magazine (in his 1998 obituary) as "the most successful Formula 3 driver in history." Although Stirling Moss was already a star by 1953, Parker beat him more than any other driver, and was Formula 3 Champion in 1952, again in 1953, and in 1954 he only lost the title by a half-point. He took the title for a third time in 1959.
In 1954, Parker took on a young man named Norman Graham Hill as his mechanic and general assistant, and gave him his first taste of competitive motorsport in a 500cc car at Brands Hatch. Some years later, now using his middle name of Graham, this young man twice became Formula 1 World Champion (1962 and 1968).
Don Parker retired shortly after the 1959 season, having chosen not to move to Formula 2 or Formula 1, and thereafter raced only occasionally. However, he maintained his enthusiasm for fast cars, and in 1961 Jaguar built him a specially modified high-performance Mark 2 3.8 litre saloon. This car was reputedly the fastest Mark 2 ever built, having been tested at 140 m.p.h. on the recently opened (but still unrestricted) M4 motorway.
500cc Formula Three declined at an international level during the late 1950s, although it continued at a national level into the early 60s, being eclipsed by Formula Junior for 1000 or 1100 cc cars (on a sliding scale of weights).
A one-litre Formula Three category for four-cylinder carburetted cars, with heavily tuned production engines, was reintroduced in 1964 based on the Formula Junior rules and ran to 1970. These engines (a short-stroke unit based on the Ford Anglia with a special 2-valve Cosworth or Holbay OHV down-draught head being by far the most efficient and popular) tended to rev very highly and were popularly known as "screamers"; F3 races tended to involve large packs of slipstreaming cars. The "screamer" years were dominated by Brabham, Lotus and Tecno, with March beginning in 1970. Early one-litre F3 chassis tended to descend from Formula Junior designs but quickly evolved.
For 1971 new regulations allowing 1600 cc engines with a restricted air intake were introduced. The 1971–73 seasons were contested with these cars, as aerodynamics started to become important.
Two-litre engine rules were introduced for 1974, still with restricted air intakes. Today[update] engine regulations remain basically unchanged in F3, a remarkable case of stability in racing regulations.
By the start of the 1980s however, Formula Three had evolved well beyond its humble beginnings to something closely resembling the modern formula. It was seen as the main training ground for future Formula One drivers, many of them bypassing Formula Two to go straight into Grand Prix racing. The chassis became increasingly sophisticated, mirroring the more senior formulae – ground effects were briefly used in the early 1980s but were banned, in line with other FIA single-seater formulae; carbon fibre chassis started to be introduced from the mid-1980s.
Historically, March (up to 1981), Ralt (up to the early 1990s) and Reynard (1985–1992) had been the main chassis manufacturers in two-litre F3, with Martini fairly strong in France; Reynard pioneered use of carbon fibre in the mid-1980s replacing traditional aluminium or steel monocoque structures. Dallara however, after an unsuccessful Formula One project, focussed their attention on the formula in the early nineties and obliterated all the other marques with their F393. Within a couple of years, the chassis was considered a prerequisite to competitiveness, and today Dallara chassis are ubiquitous to the formula. In order to keep costs down, their chassis have had a three-year life-cycle, with only minor annual updates. It was agreed however to extend the life-cycle of the current F308 to four years to assist teams during the economic recession; it is due to be replaced in 2012. Most F3 championships, most notably the British series, offer a secondary class for cars from the previous life-cycle in order to provide a cheap point of entry for lesser funded teams and drivers.
Formula Three cars are monocoque chassis, using slick racing tyres and wings. Currently, Dallara manufactures the overwhelming majority of F3 cars, though Mygale, Lola (formerly in partnership with Dome of Japan), Arttech and SLC also have a limited output. In many smaller or amateur F3 racing series older cars are frequently seen. Usually these series are divided into two or more classes, to allow more participation.
Engines in Formula 3 are all 2-litre, 4-cylinder naturally aspirated spec engines. Engines must be built from a production model block (stock block), and often must be sealed by race or series organizers, so no private tuning can be carried out. Honda engines (prepared by Mugen) have perennially been popular, as have engines produced by Volkswagen, Alfa Romeo, or Renault. Currently the HWA-tuned Mercedes and the Volkswagen engines dominate the British and European series, with Mugen, TOM'S–Toyota, Opel and Fiat all being used by some teams.
- Width: 1,850 mm (72.8 in) maximum
- Wheelbase: 2,000 mm (79 in) minimum
- Track: 1,200 mm (47 in) minimum
- Weight: 550 kg (1,210 lb) minimum
- Active suspension, telemetry, and traction control are forbidden
- Two-wheel steering only
- Two-wheel drive only
- Manual gearbox, six forward gears (maximum), and one reverse
- Undrilled ferrous brakes
- Wheels, width 11.5 in (290 mm), diameter 13 in (330 mm) maximum
- Controlled fuel from a single supplier, but of a comparative level to pump/street gasoline (petrol)
- Stock derived 2,000 cc engine with 26 mm (1.0 in) width restrictor, hence about 200 hp (150 kW) between 5,000 and 7,400 rpm
Complete regulations: PDF (210 kiB)
Championships and series
There has never been a World Championship for Formula Three. In the 1970s and into the 1980s the European Formula Three Championship and British Formula Three Championship (once one series had emerged from the competing British series in the 1970s) were the most prominent, with a number of future Formula One champions coming from them. France, Germany, and Italy also had important Formula Three series, but interest in these was originally subsidiary to national formulae – Formula Renault in France and Formula Super Vee in Germany. These nations eventually drifted towards Formula Three. The Italian series tended to attract older drivers who moved straight across from karting whereas in other nations drivers typically graduated to F3 after a couple of years in minor categories. The European series died out in the mid-1980s and the national series became correspondingly more important. For 2003, French and German F3, both suffering from a lack of competitive entrants, merged to recreate the Formula 3 Euro Series.
Brazil's SudAm Formula Three Championship, which now has the most powerful engine of all Formula Three series, was known for producing excellent drivers who polished their skills in the British Formula Three championship. Perhaps the most curious of all was the small All-Japan Formula Three Championship. Although few drivers spent a significant amount of time there, future stars such as Ralf Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve scored victories there. An Asian series was established in 2001 and grew to produce current A1 drivers for Indonesia and Australia.
In addition to the many national series, Formula Three is known for major non-championship races typically including entries from the national series, the best-known of which is the FIA Intercontinental Cup at Macau. The first Formula Three Grand Prix of Macau was held in 1983 and won by Ayrton Senna. Michael Schumacher, David Coulthard, Ralf Schumacher, and Takuma Sato have also won there, traditionally the end of the Formula Three season, where drivers from almost every national series participate.
Other major races include the Pau Grand Prix (from 1999 to 2006), the Masters of Formula 3 (traditionally held at Zandvoort), and the Korea Super Prix at Changwon. These events give fans in locations not visited by other major series a way to experience major international racing.
List of Formula 3 series
|Series name||Zone/country||Active years||Additional information|
|FIA European Formula Three Championship||Europe||1975–1984, and 2012 on||Replaced the FIA Formula 3 International Trophy|
|British Formula Three Championship||United Kingdom||1951–1961, and 1964 on|
|All-Japan Formula Three Championship||Japan||1979 on|
|European F3 Open Championship||Europe||2009 on||formerly the Spanish Formula Three Championship|
|Series name||Zone/country||Active years||Additional information|
|German Formula Three Championship||Germany||1950–1953, and 1971 on||Considered a principal series prior to the formation of the F3 Euro Series|
|Australian Formula 3||Australia||1997 on||The current Australian Drivers' Championship|
|Austria Formula 3 Cup||Austria||1984 on|
|Formula Three Sudamericana||Brazil||1987 on|
|MotorSport Vision Formula Three Cup||United Kingdom||2011 on|
|Chilean Formula Three Championship||Chile||1972 on||The F3 Chilean championship does not follow any FIA F3 rules for chassis and engine.|
|Race name||Zone/country||Active years||Additional information|
|Masters of Formula 3||Netherlands||1991 on|
|Macau Grand Prix Formula Three||Macau||1983 on||Also known as FIA Formula 3 Intercontinental Cup|
|Formula 3 Brazil Open||Brazil||2010 on|
|Korea Super Prix||South Korea||1999–2003|
|Pau Grand Prix||France||1999–2006, and 2011 on||Part of FIA European Formula Three Championship|
|Monaco Grand Prix Formula Three||Monaco||1950, 1959–1997, 2005||Supporting Formula 1|
|FIA European Formula Three Cup||Europe||1985–1990, 1999–2002|
|Formula 3 Fuji Cup||Japan||1990–1993|
Notes and references
- Gauld, Graham, "Ford", in World of Automobiles (London: Orbis, 1974), Volume 6, p.696
- "APPENDIX L TO THE INTERNATIONAL SPORTING CODE (International Drivers' licences, medical examinations, driver's equipment and conduct)". FIA. 2012-06-29. pp. Qualification and conditions of issue for the Super Licence (Article 5.1.2–e). Retrieved 2012-12-08.
- Australian Titles Retrieved from www.camsmanual.com.au on 9 August 2009
- Partially sourced from http://www.forix.com/8w/6thgear/champs.html
- Formula 3 Survey, Karl-Friedrich Katabian, International Race Results and Data Association, page 1225
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Formula Three.|
- F3 Euro Series
- British F3 Championship
- ATS Formel 3 Cup (Germany)
- Italian Formula 3 Championship
- Spanish F3 Championship
- Russian Formula3 Series
- Austria Formula 3 Cup
- Nordic F3 Masters (former Finnish F3 Championship)
- North European Zone Formula 3 Cup
- The Formula 3 story
- 500race.org, the historic Formula 500/Formula 3 500cc Race Assn.
- Formula3.cc, F3 and Young Driver news
- F3History, history of Formula 3 (mostly the cars)
- Formula 3 Data Center All Japan F3 statistics