Alan van der Merwe won the British F3 Championship at Donington Park this afternoon [Saturday].

Even though he failed to finish a stunning round 21 of the British F3 Championship gripped by Avon Tyres, the South African racer cannot be beaten to the crown in the three remaining races.

"This is definitely the most crucial point in my career," said van der Merwe. "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."

van der Merwe is quick to acknowledge that he has developed as a racing driver since the 2002 season. "As a driver, I've become a lot more complete. I've put everything into this season. I live in the UK now and everything is geared up now to my racing career," he says.

"I knew I'd be in a position to win races, and that the title would take care of itself. If I was consistent, I'd be in with a chance of that. It's all gone perfectly, really. We had a plan for the season and we pretty much stuck to it. We wanted to get a big points advantage in the first half of the season, and we did that."

However, van der Merwe is not about to ease up his pace over the three remaining races of the season, starting with round 22 at Donington Park tomorrow [Sunday]. His next target is to equal the record of 12 wins in one British F3 season shared by Ayrton Senna and Takuma Sato. "If I can get 12 wins, I'd be very happy. That's my next target," he says.

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 to F1."

In the immediate future, the Nissan World Series is one option, but van der Merwe has not yet decided on his next step up the racing ladder. "It would be an obvious choice to stay on with Trevor Carlin and do the Nissan World Series. Continuity is something I've always tried to incorporate into planning my season. I'd like to back up a race programme with some sort of F1 testing deal."