Wanganui's 16-year old Earl Bamber is packing his bags for his second trip to China this year for Rounds 15 and 16 of the Formula BMW Asia championship which supports the Chinese Grand Prix on 1st October.
The young motorsport star is set to again demonstrate his outstanding racecraft in front of F1 teams and drivers, just as he did during the opening event of the Formula BMW Asia series supporting the Malaysian Grand Prix last March.
In China Earl will meet the 2004 Formula BMW Germany champion, Vettel, who is already driving the F1 BMW Sauber team's third car during Friday's testing. Vettel recently set Monza's Friday pole time - the progress that this young German has made since winning the championship is proof of Formula BMW's worldwide status as the entry formula to F1.
Formula BMW Asia is Earl's first international motorport championship. During his first test in a BMW after the World Finals in Bahrain last December, he set a time only 2/10ths off the pace of the German driver Marcus Holser who was awarded a test in a BMW Sauber F1 car for winning the finals. During winter testing with the Meritus team, Earl set the pace at almost every session, going on to finish on the podium during the first event. Earl dominated Rounds 3, 4 and 5 before a wiring loom technical failure caused him to start from the back of the grid for Rounds 6, 7 and 8 at Beijing China where he only managed to earn one podium. Good luck returned for Rounds 9, 10 and 11 on the Sentul track in Indonesia where Earl proved his abilities by winning Rounds 9 and 10 in style and leading Round 11 before a gearbox selector failure.
Going into Rounds 12, 13 and 14 on the short and tight Bira circuit in Thailand, Earl set the pace during Thursday and Friday testing and grabbed pole one and a half tenths quicker than championship rival Sam Abay. Finishing Round 12 in P2 behind Daniel Ricardo, a unnatural error on turn one dropped Earl to last position but what followed was an outstanding display of true grit and racecraft which saw Earl fight back to P4 on a circuit which is notorious for its lack of passing opportunities. Earl took the sport headlines in Asia with his outstanding manoeuvre which saw his car fly one meter during passing, which has again put Earl's name in flashing lights in front of the BMW motorsport management in Munich.
Says Earl: "I was following Mohammad and setting up to overtake him for two laps but he braked early for the chicane and as I was 100% committed I had no option only to ride the curve which put the car airborne and I'm not sure if I flew faster or if Mohammad was shocked and backed off but when the car touched down I was ahead of him for the second chicane!"
Earl started second on the grid for round 14 on the Bira circuit, on a track which had been covered with oil due to previous incidents in the Touring Car race, making it almost impossible to overtake on the already difficult track. However, in true form, Earl put his head down and very quickly overtook the winner of the previous two Rounds, Daniel Ricardo, in an outstanding racecraft manoeuvre which also caused Daniel to lose his concentration and a few laps later he spun off and his race ended in the kitty litter! Having taken the lead, Earl pushed his car to the limit, setting new laps times; there was no doubt that he also proved a point and was the star of the weekend.
Earl says: "the BMW driving instructor came to me on the grid before the start of the race and warned me that it was impossible to pass due to oil on the track which had been covered with sand, and he went as far as to suggest I should just hold my place. I tailed Ricardo for two laps and I was carrying more speed out of all the corners. I took the outside line exiting the last chicane and drove around Daniel entering the long right-hander onto the pit straight and came out in front and he was gone from my mirrors."
Earl goes on to say about his weekend: "the car was perfect and the team did a great job and we put the car on pole. I made a small error at the start which put me off balance for round 12. In Round 13 the track was very gritty after a small oil spill from the pick-up race, the car lost its tail but I kept my focus and I pulled it all together to come back and finish 4th. Winning Round 14 is just fantastic. The car was great and allowed me to push it to the limits throughout the 20-lap race. With Sam Abay's jump start, I am now only 12 points behind - so all in all it was a good weekend but I can do better."
The Shanghai International Circuit is very similar in design to the Sepang Malaysia Formula One circuit which Earl has mastered by winning Rounds 3, 4 and 5 by a huge margin last May. The Meritus team has already won the last four BMW races (during the 04 and 05 championship) supporting the Chinese Grand Prix and has all the race data to assist Earl to put on his best show in front of people who matter in F1. As is usual during Grand Prix events, the head of BMW motorsport Mario Thyson and even the President of FIA Max Mosley will visit and speak to the future F1 stars during the high promotion activities which are part of a Grand Prix weekend.
Having gone into the Thailand event 34 points behind the championship leader, Earl has recovered his position and is now only 12 points behind Sam Abay going into the Shanghai GP with five rounds (two rounds this weekend and three rounds later in October) and 105 points still available for distribution.