LEIST Jack Cozens
Brazilian beats Brits to revamped F3 title. By
He’s just been a hero.”
That was Anthony ‘Boyo’ Hieatt’s reaction immediately after Matheus Leist secured the 2016 BRDC British F3 Championship crown. Sometimes, assessments are best left short and sweet.
Hieatt doesn’t exactly have a reputation for being an emotional man, but there was a boyish charm about the Double R Racing boss in the Donington F3 paddock in that moment. It wasn’t hard to work out which of his drivers he’d picked up the infectious smile from, either.
“It’s been a really nice year – I’ve enjoyed it,” he continued, after a long pause. “I’ve enjoyed every time we’ve been testing, which makes a difference. He’s [Leist] a great kid and always happy – even if he didn’t [win the title], he’d be happy. He’s got a really good personality.”
With four wins to his name, a further seven podiums and two poles, Leist certainly had the ability to back up the personality – not that Hieatt was short of praise on that front either – but that the title went to a deciding round spoke volumes about a season characterised by a struggle for consistency among the leading lights.
As cliched as it might sound, though the frontrunners were there or thereabouts for most of the season, it took a tempestuous final round at Donington to swing the momentum in Leist’s favour – the Brazilian becoming the first champion of a new British F3 era after a late deal to upgrade the status of the championship.
Four drivers entered the final round with title hopes still intact, but while Toby Sowery (Lanan Racing) and Douglas Motorsport’s Thomas Randle both stood reasonable chances of claiming the crown, the title was likely always going to be a head-to-head fight between Leist and Carlin’s Ricky Collard, who headed the points standings.
Collard undoubtedly went into the final weekend as favourite, and while his Silverstone and Spa events hadn’t been remarkable, his Snetterton outing certainly had – the 20-year-old backing up a crucial qualifying pole (secured on his second run after an electrical glitch had thwarted his first) with two wins, and recording the fastest lap of the year at the Norfolk circuit in the process.
Riding the crest of a wave, Collard had a 15-point cushion ahead of the Donington finale but, in a cruel twist of fate, that was quickly wiped out as the title gradually slipped from his grasp over the course of the weekend.
Starting a damp first race from fourth, Collard’s two-place deficit to Leist was a little unnerving, but after running wide at the first corner, then being involved in a tangle with Enaam Ahmed who’d outbraked himself, Collard was shuffled back to 14th by the end of the first lap.
A gritty recovery drive in the following laps brought him back up to sixth by the end of lap five, where he found the tail of Leist’s team-mate Enzo Bortoleto. Three laps later and still behind the Brazilian, Collard spied a gap up the inside on the run to the first corner, and went for the place.
Seconds later, the pair were in the gravel at Redgate. Collard had hit a wet patch under braking and lost control, collecting Bortoleto and wiping the pair of them, and his points lead, out.
Suddenly, Leist was in the pound seat. The 19-year-old had gone off the road while Collard and Bortoleto’s cars were recovered, briefly handing Harrison Scott the lead, but was awarded the race one victory after the result was counted back.
With Collard scoring no points, Leist found himself with a 20 point lead.
Five more were added to that advantage in race two, with Collard only able to recover to 10th having started from the back, meaning Leist only needed a 10th-place finish in race three to grab the title, regardless of Collard’s progress.
Starting sixth, Collard stayed close throughout, but couldn’t haul in his adversary – fifth place instead enough for Leist to comfortably seal the deal, three days after celebrating his 19th birthday.
“It was just amazing,” he said. “The whole season we worked so hard for this. There are no words to describe this feeling right now.
“It’s always about Carlin – I’m happy I could prove that Double R is a mega team, which did a brilliant job.”
Leist’s aforementioned wins – marking himself out as a title contender with early success at Snetterton, Brands Hatch, Silverstone plus Donington – and the way he carried himself through the final weekend meant he was fully deserving of the title, even if his winning margin of 27 points was perhaps a flattering one.
A glance at the round-by-round points ( see sidebar) should be enough to tell you that Collard can consider himself unlucky not to have claimed the title, having led the