For our latest Racing Rivals feature, Renger van der Zande recalls a fraught 2009 British F3 season, where events behind the scenes were just as interesting as those on track…
It’s quite simple for me. When I was doing British Formula Three with Hitech in 2009, I think that was the craziest year in terms of rivalry. Most people already know the story; I was asked to come and make the team stronger and especially to help the son of the owner, Walter Grubmuller.
It was a crazy year, because my opposition was Daniel Ricciardo, Max Chilton and some other really good drivers, but I would often get the call over the radio to slow down and go behind Walter Junior. I missed the first round at Oulton Park and the last round at Brands Hatch, so that was four races in terms of points, but I still finished third in the championship. I gave away so many points by going behind Walter that if I had been able to drive my own races, I might have won it!
I remember at the Algarve in the second race, I drove all the way from P9 up past Jules Bianchi, past Sam Bird, past Daniel, was leading the race and pulling away and Walter came on the radio. Walter Jr. was 15th or something and he was afraid that I would win this race and be too far ahead in the championship so Walter Jr. couldn’t catch me for second anymore. If you’ve passed all those heroes in ten laps and then get that call on the radio, it was really hard.
I still feel sorry for Max Chilton because every time I had to slow down, he was somehow in a fight with Walter. I would go in between him and Walter and try to stay in the middle and fuck up his race a little, it was just a mess!
Daniel was a very fair fighter, he was a very good driver and he was only in his first full year of Formula 3. I didn’t know the guy until the year before when he joined the F3 Euroseries at the Nürburgring. He was just a guy with a big smile on his face coming into the series for the first time out of Formula Renault and he put the car in the top ten in qualifying straight away, which was very impressive. He had a very good raw speed and was very consistent, so even then it was clear that he was going to Formula One.
At Donington I remember we were going through the Craner Curves, it was half-wet with slicks in the rain, I got a better exit from the Old Hairpin because Daniel went a bit slow there and was holding up the second place, I was third. I went around the outside on the left hander and dive-bombed to the inside for the right-hander at McLeans. Those kinds of moves in British F3 were normal and nice to do, but he spun in the end!
It was a very tense year with a lot of rivalry and everyone getting mad with each other. I remember in Snetterton on the start-finish line I braked to lock up the tyres and I think I gave away a three to five second gap, then after the race Trevor Carlin came to us and said thanks because now Helmut Marko won’t call to ask why we’re so slow!
It was quite a challenging year in terms of mentally going through the ground every time you got a radio call, but it gave me the ticket to keep racing, because I didn’t have the budget to continue with Formula 3. It was actually my first racing drive for free and I never paid for a seat after that.