F3 Spa: maiden win for Zendelli as Piastri retakes title lead

Trident’s Lirim Zendelli controlled the F3 feature race at Spa for his first win in the series, as Oscar Piastri capitalised on problems for title rival Logan Sargeant to retake the championship lead.

Zendelli got a clean start from pole to keep the lead at the start ahead of ART’s Theo Pourchaire and Aleksandr Smolyar. Two rows back, Zendelli’s teammate David Beckmann passed Sargeant to move up from fifth to fourth, and started targeting Smolyar’s podium position.

The early battles were neutralised by a virtual safety car on lap 3, following a series of punctures for Clement Novalak, Andreas Estner and Enzo Fittipaldi that left debris on track, and Alessio Deledda spinning into the gravel.

When the VSC was withdrawn on lap 5, Beckmann pounced on Smolyar to take third. Smolyar briefly retook the position, but Beckmann repassed the ART definitively on lap 7 and pulled out a gap to hold his place on the podium.

At the same time, Zendelli broke out of DRS range from Pourchaire and proceeded to pull away more with each lap. After adding another second over Pourchaire by lap 10, Zendelli continued pushing until the chequered flag, crossing the line almost five seconds clear of the ART in second and Beckmann in third.

Oscar Piastri, Prema (Bryn Lennon / Getty Images)

Behind the leading trio, Piastri finished fifth behind Smolyar in a potentially crucial result for his championship campaign.

Sargeant had stayed in fifth early on after being passed by Beckmann, and was gaining on Smolyar to move up to fourth. Meanwhile, Piastri was making his way up from the lower half of the top 10, passing Richard Verschoor and Liam Lawson to get up to sixth by lap 10.

With four seconds separating the two Premas, Sargeant then suddenly slowed on lap 13, losing two seconds with a suspected engine problem. Piastri closed up to within a second two laps later, before he breezed past Sargeant for fifth on the run to Eau Rouge.

Sargeant continued to nurse his car through the final laps despite saying on team radio that he didn’t think he could make it to the end. However, he lost another two positions to teammate Frederik Vesti and Trident’s Olli Caldwell before the chequered flag, and eventually finished in eighth. The result has given Piastri the lead of the championship again with five points in hand over Sargeant.

Lawson finished in ninth place after struggling with his tyres for much of the race, and Verschoor will start from reverse grid pole tomorrow after taking tenth place. Finally, Pourchaire gained the extra two points for setting the fastest lap within the top ten.

The two rookies making their debuts this weekend, Michael Belov and Pierre-Louis Chovet, finished 20th and 22nd respectively, while Estner finished 27th after his puncture on his return to F3.

Theo Pourchaire, ART (Dan Istitene / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Full race result:

Pos. Driver Team Points
1 Lirim Zendelli Trident 25
2 Theo Pourchaire (FL) ART Grand Prix 20
3 David Beckmann Trident 15
4 Aleksandr Smolyar ART Grand Prix 12
5 Oscar Piastri Prema Racing 10
6 Frederik Vesti Prema Racing 8
7 Olli Caldwell Trident 6
8 Logan Sargeant Prema Racing 4
9 Liam Lawson Hitech Grand Prix 2
10 Richard Verschoor MP Motorsport 1
11 Sebastian Fernandez ART Grand Prix
12 Jack Doohan HWA Racelab
13 Matteo Nannini Jenzer Motorsport
14 Alex Peroni Campos Racing
15 Dennis Hauger Hitech Grand Prix
16 Calan Williams Jenzer Motorsport
17 David Schumacher Carlin Buzz Racing
18 Federico Malvestiti Jenzer Motorsport
19 Igor Fraga Charouz Racing System
20 Michael Belov Charouz Racing System
21 Lukas Dunner MP Motorsport
22 Pierre-Louis Chovet Hitech Grand Prix
23 Bent Viscaal MP Motorsport
24 Roman Stanek Charouz Racing System
25 Cameron Das Carlin Buzz Racing
26 Enzo Fittipaldi HWA Racelab
27 Andreas Estner Campos Racing
Ret. Jake Hughes HWA Racelab
Ret. Clement Novalak Carlin Buzz Racing
Ret. Alessio Deledda Campos Racing

F3 Spa preview: title fight resumes for final triple header

Formula 3 returns this weekend at Belgium’s legendary Spa-Francorchamps circuit, kicking off the final leg of the 2020 championship.

In three weeks’ time, F3 will conclude its season at Mugello and crown a new champion. At the moment that champion looks set to be either Logan Sargeant or Oscar Piastri, who are separated by only a single point at the top of the standings and 31 points clear of the next-best driver.

Predicting who will come out on top of the standings this weekend is almost impossible, as Sargeant and Piastri have mostly matched up well against each other’s weaknesses this year. Piastri has had the more “higher” results of the pair, with two wins and three second places, and has been in the points in all but one race.

But on the other hand, Sargeant has had the upper hand in qualifying, taking the last three pole positions in a row while Piastri is yet to take one at all. And while incidents have dropped Sargeant out of the points on two occasions this year, when he has scored it’s always been inside the top six.

Liam Lawson, Hitech (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

The trouble for Sargeant and Piastri is that while they’re largely on their own in the title battle, they can’t afford to just focus on each other.

Liam Lawson is currently third in the standings with two race wins to his name—the same as Piastri, and one more than points leader Sargeant. Although the Hitech driver’s title bid was hamstrung early on with three retirements in Austria and Hungary, Lawson was actually the second-best scoring driver over the last three rounds.

With a feature race win and two podiums, Lawson scored 74 points in the Silverstone and Barcelona triple header, 20 more than Piastri and only seven fewer than Sargeant. It would take an even bigger swing for Lawson to get amongst the title battle in the final three rounds, but if he can deliver should trouble hit the Prema duo we could be looking at a surprise three-horse race by the time we reach Mugello.

Sophia Floersch, Campos (Joe Portlock / LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship)

Finally, there have been several lineup changes ahead of this weekend. Sophia Floersch will miss Spa as it clashes with the ELMS round at Paul Ricard, and she will be deputised for at Campos by Andreas Estner, who returns to F3 after racing for Jenzer last year.

Last week it was announced that David Schumacher was leaving Charouz as a result of the team’s lack of results. He’s now joined Carlin for the remainder of the season, driving the #27 car previously piloted by Enaam Ahmed, Ben Barnicoat and Leonardo Pulcini.

Schumacher’s replacement at Charouz is Formula Renault Eurocup driver Michael Belov. He will be the second F3 rookie making his debut this weekend, as Max Fewtrell left Hitech after Spain and has been replaced by Formula Regional European driver Pierre-Louis Chovet.

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