F3 Bahrain preview: who can challenge the Trident/ Prema supremacy?

As the Formula 1 paddock descends on Bahrain’s International Circuit for the opening Grand Prix of the season, Formula 3 is also getting ready to launch its 2022 championship with a fresh format, plenty of new drivers and a title fight that’s anyone’s guess.

The title fight is the minimum for Trident and Prema

Oliver Bearman, Prema (Courtesy of Prema Racing)

Since the FIA F3 championship began in 2019, two teams and their drivers have dominated proceedings – Prema and Trident. The two Italian teams have claimed every drivers’ and teams’ title between them, and ended last season with their two lead drivers – Dennis Hauger and Jack Doohan respectively – far ahead of the rest of the field in the championship standings.

With that record it’s a safe bet to assume those two teams will again be favourites this year, and they certainly have the driver talent to back that up.

Of the two Prema perhaps has the most instantly standout stable. Arthur Leclerc returns for a second season with the team, and although he had a lacklustre debut in 2021 he does come to this year off the back of a pretty dominant Formula Regional Asian title, also with Prema. He’s joined by another sophomore driver in Red Bull junior Jak Crawford, who finished on the podium with Hitech during his debut year and showed impressive pace along the way.

The final member of the Prema lineup is Oliver Bearman – Ferrari junior, and winner of the 2021 ADAC and Italian F4 championships. Although he’s going up against experienced teammates, Bearman’s recent titles and rise through the junior ranks mean he’ll be as much in the title hunt as anyone.

As for Trident, their lineup boasts a similar blend of experienced drivers and rookies. In the #1 car is Red Bull junior Jonny Edgar, who had a solid debut year in 2021 with Carlin, while Roman Stanek joins the team for his third season in F3.

Their teammate is rookie Zane Maloney, who comes with a British F4 title and race wins in Formula Regional European behind him. As one of the fastest drivers in pre-season testing in Bahrain, Maloney will certainly be a rookie to keep an eye on at the front of the field.

Zane Maloney, Trident (Joe Portlock, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA F3)

Can anyone take the fight to the top teams?

Of course, Trident and Prema don’t have an exclusive hold over the title fight. They may have been top of the table in every F3 season so far, but there are eight other teams on the grid, with plenty of formidable talent spread throughout the field.

One name that jumps out is the newly-signed Red Bull junior Isack Hadjar. The Frenchman comes to F3 having finished fifth in Formula Regional European and third in Formula Regional Asian, but more importantly he topped two of the three days of pre-season testing. Hitech may have finished down the order last year, but it wasn’t that long ago they were winning races with Liam Lawson and Juri Vips at the helm.

Isack Hadjar, Hitech (Joe Portlock, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA F3)

Speaking of Formula Regional European, the reigning champion Gregoire Saucy will make his debut this year with ART. Saucy also showed strong pace in pre-season testing and can surely be expected to be in the fight for poles, podiums and race wins in his debut year.

However, Saucy will have to come out swinging at ART to avoid being overshadowed by the team’s new signing Victor Martins. In his debut with MP Motorsport last year Martins was by far the field’s standout rookie, taking a win and five podiums and finishing fifth in the championship.

Although ART haven’t been able to challenge for the title in the FIA F3 era, with a driver like Martins in the car that could change this year.

Further down the grid Zak O’Sullivan leads an all-rookie lineup at Carlin. O’Sullivan’s short racing CV already includes last year’s GB3 title, the runner-up spot in British F4 and Ginetta Juniors and the Aston Martin Autosport BRDC Award, all of which has earned him a place in the Williams F1 Driver Academy.

With Carlin he’s unlikely to be in the title hunt, but given his calibre it would not be surprising to see him on the podium or even end Carlin’s hunt for a first win in FIA F3.

A new format for 2022

Victor Martins, ART (Joe Portlock, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA F3)

Last of all, F3 will see a revised format for this year. After running separately to Formula 2 last year, both feeder series’ are back on the same billing and each with one sprint race and one feature race instead of three races across the weekend.

F3’s sprint race will take place on Saturday and the feature race will be on Sunday before the Bahrain Grand Prix. The grid for both races will be set by qualifying on Friday, with the feature race decided by the full qualifying results and the sprint race by reversing the top 12.

The points on offer for pole position and the fastest lap have been halved to two and one point respectively. Points for the sprint race have also been reduced with the winner taking 10 points instead of 15, and the remainder of the top 10 scoring 9 points for second down to 1 point for 10th place.

The feature race points remain the same as before, meaning the winner will score 25 points following the system used for an F1 Grand Prix.

Formula 3’s first sprint race of the season begins on Saturday at 09:45 and the feature race will start on Sunday at 08:45.

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