Alan van der Merwe has taken a big step on his way to becoming South Africa’s next F1 star by winning the British F3 Championship at Donington Park this weekend.

Alan van der Merwe has taken a big step on his way to becoming South Africa’s next F1 star by winning the British F3 Championship at Donington Park this weekend.

The British F3 Championship is regarded as one of the best proving grounds for young driver talent... It was in that formula that F1 stars like Ayrton Senna and Mika Hakkinen made their names.

The South African-born Van der Merwe was 10 years old when his father’s career required the family to move to Germany and then the Netherlands. In Holland, Van der Merwe started racing in karts at 16 and then later Formula Ford. Although he now lives in England, the 23-year-old SA national regards himself as a 100 per cent South African and races with the national colours emblazed on his helmet. This year, he has dominated the 2003 season, winning a total of nine races on his way to the crown.

"Winning the championship is absolutely perfect. It’s slowly sinking in that we’ve actually done it," said Van der Merwe, who stared the first race at Donington Park on Saturday on a wet track when virtually all the other drivers started on wet tyres. In the early laps, he slipped down to 18th place, but as the track began to dry he began to catch the leaders.

"In the early laps it was horrible, it was like driving on ice," said Alan. "Plus I was racing other cars and drivers I didn’t even recognise!" As a dry line appeared, Alan scythed his Dallara Mugen Honda through the field. On lap 17 he was in tenth place. Two laps later he was up to third, setting a lap time six seconds faster than the race leader Rob Austin (Menu team).

On the final lap he tried to pass Austin, when the Menu driver suddenly slowed mid-corner. The South African had no choice but to slam on the brakes and spun out of the race. It didn’t matter too much, as with his closest title challenger Jamie Green only finishing 7th in the race it meant that Van der Merwe couldn’t be beaten to the championship.

Then in Sunday’s race, Van der Merwe started from second and finished second at the chequered flag.

"This is definitely the most crucial point in my career," he said. "2003 has been the most important year. For me, it has probably been the start point to the rest of my career. British F3 is the springboard you use to carry on your career.

This has been Van der Merwe’s second season in British F3 with Carlin Motorsport and he has consistently set the standard for the category. "Last year was a learning season, it wasn’t really for getting results, although we did get a few decent results. I knew over the winter what I had to improve on. The whole package has been complete this year. I learnt from my mistakes last year. Staying on with Carlin Motorsport for a second year has certainly helped," he said.

Van der Merwe said he developed much as a racing driver since 2002: "As a driver, I’ve been a lot more complete. I’ve put everything into this season. I live in the UK and everything is geared up now to my racing career."

Looking ahead, Van der Merwe is determined to build on the British F3 title in 2004 and beyond: "Most people who have won the British F3 title have gone on to have successful careers, whether in F2, sportscars or whatever. I want to get into F1."

Original article from Car