Season review – Craven crowned after rollercoaster season
The second year of F3 Cup as a championship had some high standards to live up to after a thrilling 2012, but once again three drivers fought it out for the title at the final round at Snetterton.
The second year of F3 Cup as a championship had some high standards to live up to after a thrilling 2012, but once again three drivers fought it out for the title at the final round at Snetterton. Alex Craven came out victorious, beating GP3 star Alice Powell and 2012 runner-up Tristan Cliffe.
It was Powell, racing for the highly-experienced Mark Bailey Racing squad, who hit the ground running at the opening round at Oulton Park. A debut pole position was followed up with a double win to announce her arrival on the F3 scene, while the eventual champion Craven started as he was set to continue: by picking up a brace of podiums.
Enigma Motorsport had signed up Henry Chart from BARC Formula Renault, and it wasn't long until the young charger was too on the pace. He became the first driver to beat Powell, at Silverstone's round two, but Powell claimed her third win in four in race two to build an imposing lead in the standings.
When F3 Cup made its first stop at Brands Hatch for round three, Craven converted his comfortable pole into his first win of the season. He then hassled and harried championship leader Powell to the finish, just two days after she had suffered a blown engine in testing. It was also at round three where Cliffe started to feature at the front, picking up his first podium of the year in race one.
Zolder and F3 Cup's second trip to Belgium confirmed Cliffe's credentials as championship contender as the Norfolk man took pole and the opening win of the weekend. An airborne moment in race two after striking a kerb dropped him down the order and compressed two vertebrae, but the drama didn't end there. Alex Craven looked set to double his win tally for the year until he ran wide, allowing Powell to inherit her fifth win of the year. Craven still held on for his fifth second place of the season.
That was the final time Powell stood atop the podium, and momentum swung noticeably towards Craven and Cliffe. The latter dominated the return to Brands Hatch on the Grand Prix circuit and then took two more wins at Silverstone from his seventh pole in a row. Disaster struck Lanan Racing and Craven at Silverstone as fuel filler issues denied him yet another podium and fortune simultaneously favoured and left him when Snetterton beckoned.
The first trip to Norfolk of 2013 produced the biggest talking point of the season when Cliffe and Powell clashed as they fought for the lead. Both careered into the Riches barrier and Craven was handed the lead. But, his fuel filler demons returned and he was forced to slow, allowing David Scott to slip by at that same corner to take a maiden win. Sunday was little quieter, and with Cliffe unable to take his 9th pole position in a row due to damage, Powell and Craven lined up the front row. Craven chased Powell around the opening lap and forced her into a mistake on a slippery track, as she spun in a cloud of dust Craven could do nothing but collect her, ending both of their races. On the restart, Scott doubled his win haul in one weekend.
Craven's best and most impressive weekend arrived at the perfect moment, at the Donington Park-hosted penultimate round. He was untouchable, despite a rear wishbone dislodging in a qualifying session in which he appeared to be on for pole. Instead, Cliffe took his run of poles into double figures, if the race two Snetterton pole stands. Craven made the most of yet another front-row start to lead into turn one and then simply drove away. His second win of the weekend was more hard-fought with Cliffe, and season-long championship leader Powell was handed a 10-second penalty that deprived her of a fourth place finish. The result transpired to move Craven to the top of the table for the first time.
Once again the final round of the season attracted some Macau hopefuls, one being popular double winner from 2012 season finale Antonio Felix da Costa. His friend and Red Bull team-mate Carlos Sainz jnr joined him, as did Lotus F1 Junior Team driver Esteban Ocon. Sainz came out on top of the F1 juniors when the lights went out, just pipping Felix da Costa to the win before an overheated clutch left Felix da Costa stranded on the line of race two.
In the race of the regulars, Craven followed Cliffe to the flag, eliminating the Omicron Motorsport driver from the title race and leaving Powell the uphill task of needing to win and hope Craven misses out on a podium. A brilliant drive from Mark Harrison in the opening race had kept her back in fifth in class to all but hand Craven the title. In the final race of the season, Chart took his second win of the year ahead of Craven, who wrapped up a richly-deserved title.
Powell's campaign partnering Frank Thomas, Nick Robinson and Stuart Wiltshire at Mark Bailey Racing helped them to a dominant Teams' Championship, a fitting send-off to the retiring team boss Mark Bailey. The Trophy 01 Class title went to Dave Karaskas.
2013 not only met the high standards set in 2012 but it raised the bar yet further. The 2014 calendar will be released soon, and it looks set to be another brilliant year of the UK's best value Formula Three racing.