2001 British Formula Three – A Reject Odyssey

Every driver profiled on this lovely website has, of course, an origin story. A tale of where they came from, a tale of their path to Formula One. Said path, obviously, involved going through the feeder series, either in the mainstream path (Formula Two, Formula 3000 or GP2) or in the more loose path (national Formula Two/Three series, Super Formula). 

Considering that fact, there is a question for the curious mind: which feeder series has produced the most rejects? Which feeder series is the most rejectful one of them all? Which class truly represents the failures of motorsport?

There are a few obvious candidates: the 1992 International Formula 3000 season saw Luca Badoer, Andrea Montermini, Michael Bartels (although he had returned after his Formula One stint),  Jean-Marc Gounon, Allan McNish, Pedro Chaves (another returnee), Hideki Noda and Olivier Beretta compete. The 1997 Formula Nippon Championship is another good shout as it featured former HRT driver Pedro de la Rosa completely destroying a field also featuring Grand Prix rejects Norberto Fontana, Toranosuke Takagi, Ralph Firman, Jr., Marco Apicella, Toshio Suzuki, Esteban Tuero and Vincenzo Sospiri.

However, there is a certain je ne sais quoi to rejectdom that goes even beyond the mere number of rejects a feeder series season produced. After all, GP Rejects has never been solely about listing all names that fall afoul of its criteria for being a reject.

For that reason, the author will propose the following candidate as the most rejectful feeder series season of all time: the 2001 Green Flag British Formula Three season.

Twenty years ago, the proud British motorsport scene produced one of the most underwhelming Formula Three classes? Surely, such a preposterous notion unexplained would see questions asked at parliament and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II being less than amused. So, to make the case for that season being worthy of this claim, the best method is to look at all the “full-time” competitors as well as noteworthy part-time efforts and scholarship class entries and look at their stories.

AprilAOur list begins with the championship winner. Japanese driver Takuma Sato, competing with Carlin Motorsport, won the championship with a convincing margin of 73 points. This success would see him move on to Formula One: Jordan, desperate to keep their Honda engine contract, signed the young Japanese driver. He would break out of official reject status at the 2004 Bahrain Grand Prix before, at that year’s United States Grand Prix. becoming the second of three Japanese drivers to finish on the podium (Sato is, to this day, the only one of the three Japanese podium finishers to achieve their podium finish at a venue other than Suzuka). Whilst he would go on to much greater glory in the IndyCar series, becoming a two-time winner of the Indianapolis 500, the fact remains that he was awarded the official Reject of the Year award in 2005.

The runner-up also drove for Carlin Motorsport and would actually go on to be Sato’s teammate later in Formula One as well: Anthony Davidson. He’s our first proper Grand Prix reject and like Sato, he earned his Formula One debut in the following season. After Alex Yoong failed to meet the 107% rule one too many times, Minardi called on Davidson (although only because the planned substitute Justin Wilson proved too tall for the PS02) for two races; he spun out of both of them. Davidson soon found himself behind Sato again, this time in the BAR driver list. He was allowed to substitute Sato in his ROTY season, getting another go at the 2005 Malaysian Grand Prix. He suffered an engine failure at the very same time as his teammate. On the second lap of the race. After BAR installed new engines just for this race. The two would find themselves teammates at Super Aguri from 2007 until the team’s demise. Severing his ties to Honda, Davidson would go on to win the 2014 FIA World Endurance Championship with two races to go despite finishing behind three LMP2 cars.

Third place went to Manor Motorsport driver Derek Hayes. There is little to tell of his story after Formula Three, as his full-time career came to an end a mere three years later. He joins James Rossiter as the only third-place finisher of British Formula Three in the 2000s to not have been full-time driver in 2020, although Rossiter was competing full-time until 2019 and had a role as FIA Formula E tester, so the comparison is not particularly apt.

AprilBJames Courtney finished fourth, driving for the Jaguar Junior Team. His association with the British manufacturer would cause him to experience one of the most horrifying testing accidents of modern Formula One history when he was sent into the barriers at over 300 kmh. Eventually, he found success in the V8 Supercars series, historically inhospitable to drivers from further afield than New Zealand in the East and Perth in the West. Despite winning the 2010 championship, he still is rejectful in spirit, as anyone who named a child “Zara” (yes, with Z) is.

Fifth place in the championship went to Gianmaria Bruni. Once more a proper reject, the Italian would go on to first be a test driver for Minardi, earning himself a race seat in 2004 when he managed to grab sufficient sponsorship. Unlike his teammate, the great HWNSNBM, he proved unable to score a point all year and found himself out of a seat. Bruni would go on to have a long and successful career in sports cars at the Ferrari GTE works team, joining many rejects in getting the glory that eluded them in Formula One.

Andy Priaulx finished sixth for Alan Docking Racing and the voices of every WTCC fan shrill in unison: “How can a three-time touring car champion of the world be a reject?” In itself, a fair question. Until we remember that the WTCC never genuinely was qualified to be considered the real touring car world title. One of the series that qualifies for that honour is, in fact, DTM. Priaulx had a horrible time when he followed BMW to the series in 2012. Despite scoring points in his series debut, that sixth place would equal his best result in DTM (with his second P6 finish coming in his final race in 2013). Especially when contrasted with fellow WTCC alumni Augusto Farfus, who won his ninth race in the series and would add three more victories and a vice-championship before Priaulx’s departure, it is very safe to call him a DTM reject.

Seventh place went to André Lotterer, the German being sent to Britain by the Jaguar team. Despite lacking the familiarity with British venues many of his rivals had, he still managed to grab a win at the first Donington Park weekend (a weekend we will address later). With the big brains at Jaguar preferring Antônio Pizzonia for the 2003 season, Lotterer was left to become a legend of the Japanese motorsport scene before getting a chance with the struggling Caterham team in 2014.

Eighth in the standings and the last race winner in the standings was Team Avanti driver Matthew Davies, despite missing the first two races at Brands Hatch. The fact that this was his last season of what amounts to full-time racing with the sole exception of two club racing seasons nearly half a decade later says more than any description of his career path could.

Mark Taylor was the highest-placed non-winner, driving for Manor Motorsport. A rookie in British Formula Three, he stayed on for a second year in 2002. With a slight improvement, he moved on to the Indy Lights series (or, as it was known back in 2003, the “IRL Infiniti Pro Series”) and dominated there, taking the title with ease. Unfortunately, Indy Lights never was the best of feeder series and the logical jump to the Indy Racing League proved way too big for Taylor. In theory, he had the perfect situation: joining Menard-Panther Racing, who had won the championship in 2002 and added three wins in 2003. However, he proved out of his depth, crashing multiple times in his six races with the team. A jump to Access Motorsports yielded slightly better results. These results would still not prevent his career in motorsport being over after the conclusion of the 2004 season.

Tenth in the championship went to Promatecme UK driver Bruce Jouanny. Following a season in Formula Palmer Audi, the Frenchman had a reasonably decent debut season in Formula Three. He would eventually go on to team with reject Shinji Nakano and Prost 2001 test driver Jonathan Cochet to retire from the 2005 24 Hours of Le Mans as well as having a miserable last open-wheel racing season in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series. Superleague Formula tasked him with developing their car. That fact earned him a role on the Superleague Formula broadcast. Regrettably, he was unable to disprove the fact that any heavily-accented colour commentator is inherently rejectful and a distraction from the race at best (hi, David Coulthard and Davide Valsecchi).

Jamie Spence finished eleventh. Finishing eleventh in a third-tier feeder series at age 28 is pretty rejectful, especially when you start the season by getting pole for the season opener (of course, he would blow that pole position by jumping the start). Indeed, that would be his final season of full-time racing, just like Matthew Davies (who, however, was three years younger). Unlike Davies, however, Spence had quite a career to look back on: National Class champion of British Formula Three in 1993 after a 1992 Formula Ford title – ahead of Jan Magnussen – before more than half a decade of midfield F3 running. Unlike Davies, where you know he simply ran out of funding, Spencer simply and evidently lacked the talent to quite make the jump.

Despite only competing in six weekends, fourteenth went to Nicolas Kiesa. The Dane decided to switch to German Formula Three after failing to qualify at Rockingham Motor Speedway. Despite not faring that much better, he felt confident in making the jump to Formula 3000 for 2002 and Formula One to 2003. Say what you want about him, but he was not lacking in confidence. Unfortunately, motorsport and Formula One in particular, have their methods of crushing irrational confidence. His stint at Minardi was a failure, as was his time in the Colin Kolles scrubwagon in DTM. After the end of the 2007 season, his career in international motorsport was over.

Jeffrey Jones was one of the four American drivers who crossed over the Atlantic to compete in British Formula Three that year. Despite competing in all races, he was not even the highest-placed American competitor, that honour going to Alan Docking Racing driver Paul Edwards. After the 2001 season, Jones returned to the US. After a season in Formula Ford 2000 and a completely random class podium at the 12 Hours of Sebring, he disappeared from the face of the motorsport world.

University of Colorado alumni Alex Gurney finished the season behind Jones, not helped by two DNS in three races. Eventually, the son of Formula One race winner Dan Gurney found a path for him in the  Rolex Sports Car Series, taking two championships paired with two-times Formula Atlantic champion Jon Fogarty. Eventually, Gurney would also take a dive into acting. He appeared in Ford v Ferrari, playing his dad, which is always kind of weird.

AprilCNo article about mediocrity in feeder series is complete without Miloš Pavlović. The Serbian obviously competed in the most rejectful feeder series season of them all. Before being mediocre in Formula Renault 3.5 (except for a down year for the series as a whole in 2007), awful in GP2 and GP2 Asia and then extremely “hit” or miss in the short-lived Williams-Audi FIA Formula Two Championship, he competed in five rounds of this season with a best finish of fifth in his final outing.

Outside of Gurney, another actor competed in British Formula Three that season: Rob Austin, who earned Hollywood acclaim by playing Brett Lunger in Rush. Oh, and he also used to own a midfield BTCC team. Said BTCC team happened to open the door for the conversion of 4WD and FWD cars to RWD cars, resulting in the Subaru Levorg GT and Ashley Sutton becoming the youngest BTCC champion ever. The author sure hopes Sutton showed Austin sufficient gratitude, but could not blame him if he did not. Rob Austin names his cars after tanks, which seems like a universal sign to not associate with someone more than you absolutely have to.

The Stig, in his alias of “Ben Collins”, could not go amiss either. An eighth- and sixteenth-placed finish as well as two DNS would see him finish 20th in the standings. One more step on the path of a legendary masked racer that would eventually end with his reputation shattered after being defeated in a time trial by the future Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year Rubens Barrichello. On a personal note, the author will now use the fact that it would not be off-topic for once to state his heartfelt belief that Top Gear is really, really, really boring and people who watch and like it are also really, really, really boring.

Atsushi Katsumata was the lowest-placed full-time competitor, finishing 21st with only three points-finishes. He was out of motorsport one year later, which would qualify as one of the less surprising developments even to motorsport experts at the time. Phil Giebler had a one-off outing at the season finale. An interesting titbit is that Giebler is one of the few racers to move back to karting after making the jump to open-wheel competition. 

One Japanese driver making his first steps in European competition was none other than Sakon Yamamoto. The future reject joined the British Formula Three field for the second races at Brands Hatch and the season finale at Silverstone, failing to finish three out of four times. He would go on to compete in the German Formula Three championship a year later, performing atrociously. However, it would still prove to be a valuable experience as he joined none other than Colin Kolles for the final three weekends of that season. A connection that would prove valuable, earning him Formula One drives at Spyker and HRT.

The scholarship class, won by future A1GP race winner Robbie Kerr (who would go on to win the British Formula Three championship proper the following season), also featured Dutchman Robert Doornbos winning two class races on his path to fifth in the class championship. Eventually, he would go on to drive for Minardi and Red Bull Racing, his best finish being two twelfth places. Afterwards, he would finish third in both the final ChampCar season and the first Superleague Formula season. Also featured was anonymous Japanese driver Kazuki Hoshino who only receives mention here because he was so anonymous that the Wikipedia article of the 2001 British Formula Three championship has his name linked to the article about Kazuyoshi Hoshino, a much more interesting driver and reject. Since the ill-fated FIA Formula Two of the late naughts was mentioned before, a stalwart of that series also had nine weekends in the 2001 British Formula Three season: Parthiva Sureshwaren.

AprilDWith such an “elite” field of rejects and other oddities, the case is already pretty solid. Earlier, however, the argument was made that the number of rejects alone is not the sole factor in determining the most rejectful feeder series season of all time. Of course, there are still some further arguments to be made.

For one, three of the better teams on the grid were directly or indirectly associated with Formula One teams. The Jaguar Junior Team made its association pretty obvious, Carlin Motorsport functionally was the BAR feeder team and the RC Prost Junior Team switched from an association with Benetton to an association with Prost. Their respective Formula One teams would finish the championship 6th, 8th and 9th, score a combined 30 points (less than half of third-placed Williams) and would be out of the sport within four and three years respectively for BAR and Jaguar, whereas Prost would not even live to see 2002. All of that is particularly hilarious given as Bruce Jenkins, team manager of Jaguar, was absolutely certain “[Jaguar would] improve” when asked about the fact that the junior team had won before the senior team did. In addition, Manor Motorsport would eventually enter Formula One themselves without much success.

Furthermore the racing product itself had a number of rejectful things going for it:

  • A championship fight dominated by Takuma Sato and being even more one-sided than it appeared, given Takuma’s slow start to the season
  • Mid-season driver replacements left and right
  • A Donington Park weekend particularly ripe with rejectfulness featuring such mayhem as. Robert Doornbos literally climbing all over the back of Ernani Judice at Donington Park in the silliest variation of that type of crash the author has ever seen, an intra-team collision at turn 1 between the two Carlin drivers (Takuma Sato and Anthony Davidson) at the first corne, and Jamie Spence casually wiping out Nicolas Kiesa without taking any damage after Kiesa himself had just recovered from a spin
  • More safety car periods than your average Singapore Grand Prix.
  • A race cancelled because of very severe weather conditions and being replaced by casually adding a third round at the next venue 
  • Overheated tyres being cooled by literally dunking them into a water barrel
  • Liberal driving and braking on grass for admittedly very pretty spins from the season opener to the season finale

All of that is of course just the noteworthy stuff, there were of course the usual hijinks that ensure whenever hormone-driven youngsters try to prove themselves in open-wheel racing cars.

With all these factors in mind, the author feels confident in saying that the 2001 Green Flag British Formula Three season is the most rejectful feeder series season of all time, both for the short- and long-term impact of its drivers on the world of rejects as well as the events of the season itself.

Sources: Channel 4, driverdb.com, IMDb, motorsport.com, sportsjournalismsgs.com, F1 TV, Wikipedia

Image Source: Cord Rodefeld (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0), David Merrett (licensed under CC BY 2.0), Formula Two media pool, Juriën Minke (licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0; picture cropped and resized),