After a long and cold winter, the waiting has finally come to an end. This weekend sees Felix Rosenqvist return to racing action as he travels to the Paul Ricard circuit on the outskirts of Marseille in southern France to embark on his first season in Formula 3 Euro Series - a championship which has attained considerable attention after paving the way for several of the sport's most famous Formula 1 stars in recent years. With two closely-fought pre-season tests in Spain during the winter still leaving a cloud of questions lingering over the paddock, there is only one certainty as the new campaign approaches; competition will be absolutely fierce from the word go...
Felix's decision to move away from the German F3 championship to join Formula 3 Euro Series means that he once again faces a fresh set of new challenges, while also bringing about another adaption process as he gets to grips with ever-stiffer competition. Formula 3 Euro Series is widely regarded as the toughest F3 championship in the world - a status which has been repeatedly confirmed by the progression of some of its former drivers into Formula 1 and DTM. A new team, new car, new tyres and new circuits make 2011 an interesting chapter in Felix's career, and with a number of promising showings in testing - including a second and a third on the timesheets in Valencia and Barcelona respectively - indications seem to suggest that the relationship with Mücke Motorsport has come off to a productive start.
Taking up the position as Felix's team-mate this year is Nigel Melker; another driver to impress during winter running. The Dutchman topped the times on the final morning at last week's test at Circuit de Catalunya, and is set to combine his Formula 3 Euro Series commitments with a second season of GP3 (also with Mücke Motorsport). Felix and Melker may be complete newcomers on the Formula 3 Euro Series scene, but will help push each other to new heights during the season and have already been named as two potential challengers to some of the more experienced drivers.
Reigning champions Signature-Volkswagen take to the grid with an army of four cars this year, and enter the championship as pre-season favourites with 2010 runner-up Marco Wittmann (Germany) and Laurens Vanthoor (Belgium) - who finished second in the famous Macau Grand Prix in November. The team's driver line-up is completed by Carlos Munoz and one of Felix's toughest rivals from last year's ATS Formula 3 Cup campaign, Daniel Abt. The French squad can also look forward to racing on home soil at Paul Ricard this weekend, and might hold a slight advantage thanks to its knowledge of the technical requirements presented by the Mediterranean circuit.
Another strong performance in pre-season testing has come from Italian outfit Prema Powerteam, who has chosen to emphasise its Latin genetics by opting for an all-Spanish driver constellation in the shape of F3 stalwart Roberto Merhi and former Formula BMW Europe frontrunner Daniel Juncadella. The latter qualified on Pole Position at Paul Ricard last season, and even though championship organisers have introduced a range of new features for 2011 - most notably an altered type of tyres from Kumho to help offset the disadvantage faced by rookie drivers - Prema Powerteam can still count on two well-prepared racers who know what it takes to compete at the top of Formula 3. Merhi has been among the very quickest in winter testing, and ended up fifth overall in last year's standings.
Beside Felix, Jimmy Eriksson will be the second Swedish driver in the Formula 3 Euro Series field this year. The duo will be joining forces as they bid for the so-called Nations Cup title, up for grabs for countries which are represented by a minimum of two drivers. Just like Felix, Eriksson too comes from a campaign in German F3 and continues his relationship with Motopark Academy. The Oschersleben-based team has also signed Kimiya Sato (Japan) and Gianmarco Raimondo (Canada) for its works squad, while simultaneously running a fourth car under the "Star Racing Team" banner for Polish driver Kuba Giermaziak.
In what is a novelty for both Felix and the championship itself this year, every meeting of the series consists of a full three races. The Paul Ricard curtain-raiser will kick off with an hour of free practice on Friday, which will provide Felix with his first and only opportunity to familiarise himself with the circuit before the all-important qualifying session takes centre stage later in the day.
At first sight, qualifying might seem a bit complicated this year, but the format has been designed to spice up races and reward drivers who are able to combine raw speed with lap-after-lap consistence. Drivers will have their two best lap times saved, with their second-quickest effort providing them with their starting position for Race 1 and the outright fastest lap deciding their slot on the grid at the start of Race 3. The grid for the second race of the weekend will be based on the finishing order in Race 1, albeit with a reversed formation for the top eight (eighth place in Race 1 equals Pole Position in Race 2). Races 1 and 3 span over 40 minutes, while the duration of Race 2 is half as long. For more information regarding the 2011 race weekend format, please click here.
Once again, of course, www.felixracing.se will be at the heart of the action, bringing you all the latest pictures, comments and news straight from the circuit throughout the weekend. Furthermore, our live commentary service will be returning for a second season to keep you up-to-date with all the spills and thrills of qualifying and the races - in real time, and as it happens. The commentary feed will also give you the chance to discuss proceedings with other interested followers.
Formula 3 Euro Series - the greatest challenge yet for Felix Rosenqvist. Let's go racing.
Formula 3 Euro Series - Paul Ricard
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