F3 Styria preview: pressure on for Prema

When Formula 3 returns to the Red Bull Ring in support of the Styrian Grand Prix this weekend, all the pressure will be on Prema to maintain their dominant start to the season.

The Italian team started last weekend with Oscar Piastri and Logan Sargeant taking a 1–2 in the feature race, and Frederik Vesti scoring solid points in both races. As such, Piastri leads the championship with 30 points, with Sargeant in third and Vesti fifth.

Liam Lawson’s win in the Austria sprint race has him second in the standings behind Piastri and makes the Red Bull junior one to watch again this weekend. Alex Peroni also shone at the last round, taking third place behind the Premas in the feature race, and it will be interesting to see if he can continue this forward momentum in his second F3 season.

Trident also had a decent start to the season with Lirim Zendelli and David Beckmann scoring in both races, putting the team second in the championship. To capitalise on this start they’ll need Beckmann and Zendelli to push on towards the podium this weekend, as well as for new signing Olli Caldwell to join them in the points.

David Beckmann, Trident (Clive Mason / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

One driver who will be hoping for better fortunes in Spielberg this weekend is Sebastian Fernandez. The ART driver claimed a surprise maiden pole for last weekend’s feature race but lost his shot at victory when he was spun by Piastri at Turn 1. But if Fernandez can hook it up in qualifying again this Saturday, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be able to take the fight to Prema and challenge for his maiden win.

Jake Hughes will also be eager to move on from a disappointing season opener. He was all but out of the feature race before it even began with technical problems meaning he couldn’t start from his qualifying position inside the top 10. But in the sprint race he climbed 16 places from the back row of the grid to P12, showing he has the pace and experience needed to fight at the front, provided his car doesn’t let him down.

Finally, Charouz and Jenzer are the teams most in need of an improvement this weekend as they are the only two outfits still yet to score points with any of their drivers. Charouz came closest last time out, with a best of P15 for David Schumacher in the sprint race, but neither team really came close to worrying the top 10. In such an unusual season, both Charouz and Jenzer will have to find improvements fast if they’re to avoid being stuck to the bottom of the standings.

Sebastian
Fernandez, ART (Dan Istitene / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

F3 Austria: Piastri leads Prema 1–2 in feature race

Oscar Piastri cruised to victory at the Red Bull Ring in the first Formula 3 feature race of 2020, leading teammate Logan Sargeant in a Prema 1–2.

Piastri started from third on the grid behind ART’s polesitter Sebastian Fernandez and Trident’s Lirim Zendelli, but made a rapid launch to challenge for the lead into Turn 1. By Turn 4 he was into first place, having clipped Fernandez into a spin at the first corner and passing Zendelli shortly after.

With no further action taken on his contact with Fernandez, Piastri was free to build an early lead over the chasing pack. After setting an early fastest lap, Piastri already had several seconds in hand over second-placed Zendelli by lap 5.

Lirim Zendelli, Trident (Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship)

While Piastri ran away at the front, the rest of the top 10 ran in a tight train all within DRS range of each other. Zendelli held onto second for the first few laps, but on lap 6 he was passed at Turn 4 by both Sargeant and Alex Peroni, who had charged up from eighth on the grid.

Three laps later, Zendelli lost another place to Frederik Vesti and dropped to fifth. Behind them, Red Bull-backed Liam Lawson continued his rise from 12th on the grid by passing David Beckmann for sixth.

Further back, Aleksandr Smolyar and Clement Novalak occupied the final places in the top 10, having been gifted positions by Fernandez’s spin and Jake Hughes pulling into the pits after the formation lap.

Logan Sargeant, Prema (Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship)

On lap 14 Sargeant set the fastest lap and began to capitalise on the tyre wear Piastri had incurred in his early charge. As the race neared its closing laps Sargeant reduced the gap to his teammate from 3.5s to 1.7s, with Piastri having visibly less grip than the chasing Prema.

However, with the laps ticking down Piastri had enough in hand to stay ahead of Sargeant until the chequered flag, and take the feature race win on his F3 debut. Sargeant came home in second for a Prema 1–2, while Peroni took his first podium in third. Peroni also set the final fastest lap of the race, taking an additional two points.

Vesti made it three Premas in the top four, and Zendelli finished fifth ahead of Lawson, Beckmann and Smolyar. Novalak took tenth place, earning the reverse grid pole position for tomorrow’s sprint race.

Alex Peroni, Campos (Carl Bingham, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship)

F3 Russia: Shwartzman clinches title as Armstrong wins feature race

Ferrari academy driver Robert Shwartzman sealed the 2019 Formula 3 title in the Sochi feature race, but was denied a home race victory by his Prema teammate Marcus Armstrong.

Shwartzman qualified for the race on pole, his first since the season opener in Barcelona, with his sole remaining title rival Jehan Daruvala alongside him in second. But it was Armstrong starting from third who got the best launch of the three Premas, as he passed Daruvala off the line before slipstreaming Shwartzman for the lead through Turn 3.

While Armstrong went off into the lead ahead of Shwartzman, Daruvala’s chances of taking the title to the final sprint race all but disappeared. Shwartzman’s points gap coming into Sochi meant that Daruvala had to win the feature race to have any chance of snatching away the title, but after being passed by Armstrong he then lost further places to Niko Kari, Christian Lundgaard and Leo Pulcini.

Daruvala managed to repass Lundgaard for fifth on lap two, but struggled to gain any more ground as Pulcini had too much pace ahead of him to present an opportunity.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

The early stages of the race were made tricky as light rain fell on some parts of the circuit, while the rest remained dry.

On lap 2 Bent Viscaal put his HWA into the wall at Turn 5, bringing out the Virtual Safety Car. Devlin DeFrancesco and Felipe Drugovich took advantage of the situation to gamble on a switch to wet tyres, although they were the only drivers to do so.

The VSC was withdrawn on lap 3, but on the following lap the full safety car was deployed when Leong Hon Chio, making his series debut with Jenzer, crashed out as well. The safety car remained out for two laps, during which the rain stopped and DeFrancesco and Drugovich both pitted again to switch back to slicks.

Carl Bingham, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

Armstrong managed the restart on lap 6 well to pull away from the field, although Shwartzman behind was caught by Kari and demoted to third place. Meanwhile, further back in the top ten Juri Vips hit the rear of Lundgaard while trying to position himself for an overtake, spinning the ART out of the points and earning himself a 10-second time penalty.

Once clear of Shwartzman, Kari set the fastest lap to close up to the back of Armstrong. On lap 9, the Finnish driver then went around the outside of Armstrong into Turn 13 to take the lead.

Armstrong continued fighting back against Kari over the following lap, but on lap 11 Kari’s lead seemed to be secured when Armstrong went deep into Turn 2 trying to retake first and instead dropped to fourth behind Shwartzman and Pulcini.

However, Kari’s time in front didn’t last long, and on lap 13 he was passed by championship leader Shwartzman into Turn 2.

One lap later Armstrong got back into the podium positions after passing Pulcini for third, then managed to work his way back past Kari for second on lap 17.

Carl Bingham, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

With four laps remaining Shwartzman looked to have enough of a buffer to keep ahead of Armstrong, and wrap up the championship with a home race victory. But Armstrong quickly settled into a rhythm and closed steadily up to the back of his teammate.

At the start of the final lap, Armstrong pulled to the inside of Turn 2 and took the lead away from Shwartzman, who offered little defence with the title on the line. Armstrong then crossed the line with just over a second in hand over Shwartzman, to take his third win of the season and his first in a feature race.

Kari held on to third for his second podium of the year, with Pulcini fourth ahead of Daruvala, Pedro Piquet and Jake Hughes, who also took two points for the fastest lap. Vips managed to finish third on the road ahead of Kari, but with his time penalty dropped to eighth and will start on reverse grid pole tomorrow morning.

Sauber Junior Team’s Raoul Hyman scored his first points of the season in ninth, and Richard Verschoor took the final point in tenth.

David Schumacher, making his F3 debut for Campos in place of the injured Alex Peroni, finished in P22 after being spun around by Keyvan Andres on lap 11.

Sauber’s Fabio Scherer retired on lap 9, while the team’s third driver Lirim Zendelli withdrew from the round ahead of the race.

Carl Bingham, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

F3 Russia preview: Down to the wire

The fight for the 2019 FIA Formula 3 title comes to an end this weekend, as the championship heads to Russia’s Sochi Autodrom for its eighth and final round.

Runaway championship leader Robert Shwartzman has about as good a chance as he can hope for of claiming the title at his home race. The Prema driver has only one challenger remaining who can snatch the title away from him—his teammate Jehan Daruvala. But with 33 points between them against only 48 on offer this weekend, Daruvala’s chances are looking slim at best.

Discounting the points for pole and fastest lap, Daruvala must finish the feature race in first or second while hoping Shwartzman fails to score to even take the title fight to the final sprint race on Sunday. Meanwhile, a top two finish for Shwartzman in the feature race will earn him the title with one race to spare, regardless of how Daruvala scores.

If Shwartzman does leave Sochi with the F3 title, it will cap off a season in which the Russian has claimed three victories, five further podiums and helped Prema to clinch the year’s teams’ championship.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

While Shwartzman and Daruvala chase the top honours, there is a fierce fight behind them for third in the standings, between Hitech’s Juri Vips and Prema’s Marcus Amstrong.

Vips was a title contender back in the summer after victories in Austria and Great Britain, but has endured a run of pointless finishes since the Spa feature race. This has left him 58 points adrift of Shwartzman and only two ahead of Armstrong, whose two sprint race wins in Hungary and Belgium have propelled him up the standings.

Both drivers have plenty to prove by taking the coveted third spot. For Armstrong, that he can lead Prema’s title charge when Shwartzman likely graduates from F3 next season. And for Vips, that he still deserves Red Bull’s focus as their next best junior progression to Formula 1.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

Two new faces will be joining the F3 grid for the Sochi finale.

The first is 2017 Asian Formula Renault and Chinese F4 champion, Hon Chio Leong of Macau. Leong will race in the third Jenzer car, which has been notable for its revolving lineup this season with Artem Petrov, Giorgio Carrara and Federico Malvestiti all contesting at least one race as teammate to regular drivers Yuki Tsunoda and Andreas Estner.

Leong will also be with Jenzer at F3’s post-season test in Valencia, with the aim of competing on home soil at the non-championship Macau Grand Prix.

The second new driver is David Schumacher, son of former F1 driver Ralf and cousin to Prema F2 driver Mick. Schumacher joins Campos in place of Alex Peroni, who is missing the Sochi finale after fracturing his vertebrae in a crash at the last round at Monza.

UPDATE: There will be one further change this weekend, as ART’s David Beckmann will skip the Sochi finale due to a family emergency. He will not be substituted, meaning ART will field only two cars for Christian Lundgaard and Max Fewtrell.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

F3 Belgium: Armstrong untouchable in Spa sprint race

Prema Racing’s Marcus Armstrong took his second Formula 3 victory of 2019 at the sprint race in Belgium, as a fierce battle for the podium positions behind allowed him to cruise away in the lead.

Armstrong made a good start from reverse grid pole to cover off a challenge from Hitech’s Leo Pulcini, who started second on the grid. Pulcini then found himself sandwiched between Red Bull juniors Yuki Tsunoda and Juri Vips going into the La Source hairpin, where he made contact with Tsunoda trying to defend second. This forced Pulcini wide, where he in turn banged wheels with Vips on the outside of the corner and sent the Estonian driver onto the run off.

With Pulcini and Vips dropping back, Tsunoda assumed second place and ART’s Christian Lundgaard took third ahead of championship leader Robert Shwartzman. Pulcini initially filtered back into fifth between Shwartzman and Jehan Daruvala, but was passed by the final Prema into Les Combes on lap 3.

Meanwhile, Vips dropped back to eighth and immediately had to defend from Max Fewtrell’s ART. Fewtrell got the move done into the bus stop chicane at the end of lap 2, demoting Vips out of the sprint race points. Behind them, Logan Sargent got involved in his second incident of the weekend by spinning around MP Motorsport’s Liam Lawson.

Gareth Harford, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

On lap 4, the safety car was deployed after Simo Laaksonen lost control of his car at Blanchimont while fighting Alex Peroni and ended up deep in the barriers. The medical car was deployed to bring him to the medical centre for treatment, although initial reports are that Laaksonen is not badly injured.

The race resumed on lap 9 of 17, and the restart brought incidents throughout the field. Vips ran into the back of Fewtrell trying to retake eighth and broke off his front wing in the process, which left the Red Bull junior vulnerable to Fewtrell’s ART teammate David Beckmann. Vips shortly dropped to the back of the field, where he was joined by Jake Hughes and Devlin DeFrancesco, who collided going into Les Combes.

At the front, Armstrong opened up a lead of 1.4 seconds over Tsunoda at the restart. Tsunoda seemed to struggle during this second phase of the race, and within a few laps was under pressure from Lundgaard. The Dane closed up to within half a second, then on lap 14 dove down the inside of Tsunoda and took second place.

Gareth Harford, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

However, Tsunoda kept with Lundgaard and on the following lap tried to retake the position around the outside of Les Combes. Although that move was unsuccessful, Tsunoda managed to beat Lundgaard on the inside there on the following lap, after Lundgaard ran into his rev limiter defending down the Kemmel Straight.

Losing second to Tsunoda dropped Lundgaard back into the clutches of Shwartzman, who was only three tenths behind the ART. On the final lap and again at Les Combes, Shwartzman moved up the inside and took his seventh podium of the year, and second of the Spa weekend.

At the end of lap 17 Armstrong crossed the line with four seconds in hand over Tsunoda and Shwartzman. Lundgaard held on to fourth ahead of Daruvala, Saturday’s feature race winner Pedro Piquet took sixth place from Pulcini, and the final point went to Carlin’s Teppei Natori after Fewtrell retired from eighth with a puncture.

After the Spa weekend, Shwartzman’s championship lead has been extended to 23 points over Daruvala, who has moved up to second at the expense of Vips. Armstrong consolidated his fourth place over Lundgaard and is now only three points behind Vips.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship