After finishing his first two races in the Cooper Tires British Formula 3 International Series inside the top five, championship aspirant Riki Christodoulou is heading into round two at Silverstone this weekend with his tail up and bidding for the podium - but he has revealed that he very nearly didn't make the starting grid at all...

Off the back of a number of highly successful years in karting in both Britain and Europe, a brace of seasons in the Formula Renault UK Championship with Fortec Motorsport in 2007 and 2008 yielded three victories and 13 further rostrum finishes. In 2009 the West Midlands-born star has graduated to British F3, again with Fortec - but for much of the winter he admitted that it had looked like he would be doing very little at all this year...

"It was only a week before Oulton Park that we signed the deal with Fortec Motorsport," he told Crash.net Radio, joking that it had all been 'a bit lastminute.com'. "The main thing was the budget - we just didn't have the money there and we had no sponsors coming on-board.

"Times were getting tough, obviously with the whole economic crisis; we were just concentrating on working hard to try and find the money we needed, but nothing was coming through. Luckily Fortec gave me a good deal and showed how much they wanted me there, and we managed to get the money together to do that.

"Through my whole racing career - the past twelve years, including karting and two years of Formula Renault - I've known what I've been doing quite early on, let's say early January, so you get your mind in gear and you know you're going to do this or that. Going into the first weekend only a week on from doing the deal, something felt a little bit missing, and it did feel a little bit weird turning up to that meeting."

The opening round on the 2009 British F3 calendar took place at Oulton Park last month, and if 'Christo' was up against it in terms of track time compared to his main rivals, he did not let it show. An accident in practice - "In the wet we went well on old tyres, but I've got to hold my hand up and say I didn't read the conditions very well in the dry, and I pushed a bit too hard and put it in the wall' - dented his confidence a touch, but he rebounded well in qualifying and reckoned he could have gone even better still on race day had he not found a 'Japanese roadblock' in his way

"The first warm-up was good on the Friday," he recounted, "and the second one was going good too until I saw Druids... To be honest, that did knock my confidence just a little bit, because it's a very leery corner and I lost a bit of feel in the car, but you've got to just knock those things on the head.

"I think qualifying went decently, even if it could have gone a bit better because in the first session we didn't have enough fuel in the car, so at one point I was P2 but then everyone went a little bit quicker at the end whilst I was sitting in the pit-lane. That was seriously frustrating, seeing the timeboard go ding-ding-ding as I fell down it, but in the second session I managed to muscle the car to third.

"The races went pretty decently too with a fourth and fifth - it was difficult to get past [Daisuke] Nakajima, because the track is so narrow and so aero-dependent that every time I got close I understeered off the track. That meant I felt like it could have been improved a little bit, but it was my first round and it's all about keeping on scoring points throughout the championship."

Indeed it is, and as he sits fifth in the drivers' standings heading into round two at Silverstone this weekend, Christodoulou's enthusiasm and eagerness to get out on-track again to prove his worth are palpable. With the confidence - and pace, it must be said - of a seasoned veteran, it is easy to forget that the 20-year-old is still a rookie, albeit a rookie eminently capable of challenging for glory.

"This weekend I feel back to my normal self," he asserted, "and I feel like I've got that drive back. I've been working hard in the gym and been doing a lot of mind focus work, so I really can't wait to get out on the track. All I have to do now is just improve my qualifying a little bit and improve my starts, and I know I've got race pace and that I can race well. I've worked hard and I'm just itching to get in the car and get on with it - I don't mind whether it's wet or dry. We tested very well in the wet there, so I'm very confident.

"The team are behind me 110 per cent, and likewise I've got a lot of belief in my engineer, my two mechanics, my team manager and just everyone in there. It's good to be the main focus in the team and have everyone driving behind you, and that's going to push me on even more. I know how much they want to be champions as well, so I think all of us together can do the job. It's not impossible."

Having tested a World Series by Renault car over the winter - and mightily impressively too, lapping fastest of anyone first time out - Christodoulou argues that the step-up from Formula Renault to Formula 3 was 'not massive, to be honest', praising the former as a 'good starting breed' and revealing that he rapidly established a solid baseline and feel for his F3 machine. He does concede, however, that with the strength of competition in the series and the closeness of the lap times, even the slightest error is instantly magnified - but any talk of pressure is quickly shrugged off.

"You've got your main guys - you've got [Daniel] Ricciardo, [Nick] Tandy and a few others," the Sutton Coldfield ace reflected, "but they're just other human beings - they're just names. It's all about keeping the focus on myself and doing the best job that I can and on scoring points - and that's what I'm out to do. It's now just about trying to get those extra little bits; the braking is so important, as are carrying speed into the corners and having confidence in the car.

"I always see myself as a contender. I think you have to keep that in your head, because you don't want to fall into being a second-place man. You've got to know that you're number one in your head - obviously don't be big-headed about it, but you've got to know that and feel that, and if you believe that, anything's possible. I believe that I can be champion this year, so I'm going to try and make that possible. That has to be the ultimate goal."

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