Is this how it ends, not with a bang but with a whimper? It began with a hiss and a roar, but a week out from its opening round the F3 Asia ‘Winter Series’ only four entries had been confirmed, suggesting New Zealand’s Castrol Toyota Racing Series will remain pre-eminent among the ‘junior’ series accorded SuperLicence points status by the FIA.
The first round of the championship was set for next weekend at Buriram in Thailand, going directly up against the first round of TRS, but as the latter confirms its last couple of drivers in a grid of 15, the F3 Asia website and other news sources have gone utterly silent on plans for the series.
No entry list has been published and it is believed there are currently only two teams committed, each with two drivers: a Hitech Racing offshoot team with Alessandro Ghinetti and Rhinus Van Kalmthout, and Chinese team Absolute Racing with Ye Yifei (2016 French F4 Champion) and Sri Lankan Eshan Pieris. Unless organisers Top Speed have been holding back a massive slug of driver names, a four car grid just isn’t happening. I wonder how that leaves Tatuus, who were to have provided the cars for the series. Did they expect the teams that contested the main series to simply jump up, spin round and go back into the winter series?
The winter series was announced soon after the start of the main championship which was won by 22 year old South African driver Raoul Hyman. Hyman has confirmed for the 2019 TRS, racing with champion team M2 Competition.
Among Hyman’s M2 team-mates when TRS starts at Highland Park in Cromwell next weekend will be Lucas ‘Luggi’ Auer, on his way to Japan’s Super Formula where he will go up against Kiwi Nick Cassidy. Auer will run in Japan with Motopark team offshoot, BMax Racing with Motopark. BMax is a Japanese based team with extensive experience in Formula 3.
The presence of Auer adds a sharp edge to TRS 2019. He races here with backing from auto accessory brand Remus, and in Japan with Red Bull support. There is no word whether he will carry the team’s colours in TRS.
Meanwhile British driver Dan Ticktum heads directly to Super Formula, carrying Red Bull colours with him. Ticktum was F3 Europe runner-up this year behind Mick Schumacher, having led the championship for several rounds. Red Bull has decided against simply promoting Ticktum from F3 to Formula 2, although selected appearances in the F1-supporting series could still be possible.
Ticktum is still in search of five more SuperLicence points to become eligible to race in F1, and in late 2018 he was wavering between Toyota Racing Series or the Asian F3 Winter Series. In the end it was Red Bull that pointed him toward Japan, where he needs a top-five finish to score the points he needs toward the big licence.
The worst thing about the Asian four-car fizzer – if indeed that is the case – is that it arguably deprived us of the spectacle of Luggi, Hyman and Dan Ticktum mixing it up through the infield corner complex at Highland Park or going wheel to wheel three-wide down that fast front straight at Teretonga.
As the Asian winter series develops a definite pallor, experienced observers point out this is a further endorsement of the pedigree of TRS, which is the only formula outside the current 4-3-2-1 ladder to have regularly contributed talented drivers all the way to Formula One and the World Endurance Championship.
A full 18 years from its first race, TRS has comfortably outlasted similar efforts originating in the northern hemisphere and apparently modelled on the antipodean success.