For generations of young racers trying to climb the precarious ladder in a bid to reach the dizzy heights of Formula 1, one of the rungs that could make or break the climb is marked Formula 3 – a junior-racing category with a long and successful past, and one in which the cream has always risen to the top.
Created during straitened times following the end of the war in the late-1940s, F3’s first foray was centred around the creation of simple, lightweight chassis with equally insubstantial 500cc motorcycle engines that offered a cheap and manageable way to go racing.
The concept was an immediate hit and the formation, in 1951, of the British Formula 3 Championship would ensure the discipline quickly became an international talent barometer. With Jackie Stewart, Emerson Fittipaldi, Roger Williamson, Tony Brise, Gunnar Nilsson, Nelson Piquet, Ayrton Senna, Johnny Herbert, Mika Hakkinen and Rubens Barrichello on the champions’ roll of honour, as well as current F1 drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Felipe Nasr, that fact is more than borne out.
The half-litre movement lasted until the late-1950s, when Formula Junior (using 1000 or 1100cc production engines depending on chassis weight) enjoyed a spell in the limelight, before F3 re-established itself in Britain, in one-litre form, in 1964. Through the 1.6-litre era of 1971-’73 and the 1974 switch to 2-litre power that exists to this day, the mantra remained the same: British F3 was the finishing school for serious pros.
And Goodwood was one of the circuits at which wannabe grand prix stars could hone their skills in the hope of attracting attention and realising their dream. In fact, the circuit’s inaugural meeting, on September 18, 1948 featured one such race.
That day, a young man who the day before had turned 19 romped to an almost half-minute victory aboard a Cooper-Jap, marking himself out as a driver to watch. His name? Stirling Moss. And the rest, as they say…
Just a few years after that inaugural encounter at Goodwood, the British Formula 3 Championship came to West Sussex, the circuit hosting the 1952 series’ second round in April. The race was won by Moss, this time in a Norton-motivated Kieft. Moss, who’d already made the jump to F1, but whose raison d’etre was ‘race anything, anywhere, anytime’ won again in September, having switched back to the Cooper, with fellow Cooper-mounted Brit Bob Gerard taking the spoils in a June visit.
Two Championship rounds took place at Goodwood in 1953 and ’54, in April and September, with Alan Brown – like Moss already a grand prix driver – and the man who would become category king, Don Parker, sharing the wins aboard Cooper and Kieft respectively in year one, and Les Leston and Parker doing the business in the second.
Goodwood hosted just one round in 1955, with future Jaguar Le Mans 24 Hours winner Ivor Bueb on top in a Cooper. He won again in ’56, with Jim Russell – who went on to found the world-famous racing school – taking two victories later that season.
500cc F3’s final period hurrah at Goodwood came in 1957, when Stuart Lewis-Evans took a brace of wins, either side of making his grand prix debut for Vanwall in the French GP. He was a genuine star of the future, only to lose his life a year later in a crash in the season-closing Moroccan GP.
The half-litre hero-makers still attract a strong following all these years later. They proudly featured on the racecard of the inaugural Revival meeting in 1998, 50 years to the day after Moss got the ball rolling, and have staged some superb battles during their eight appearances in that time. They’ll make a welcome return to the 2015 Revival after a four-year lay-off, with numerous chassis/engine combinations set to scrap for the Earl of March Trophy.
And just to add to the highly authentic feel of the race and, of course, the event as a whole, among the entry is the very same Cooper in which Ivor Bueb won at Goodwood 60 years ago.
Photography courtesy LAT