Mercedes junior Frederik Vesti took his first win of the 2021 Formula 3 season in the Red Bull Ring feature race, beating polesitter Dennis Hauger in a race-long fight.
Starting from second on the grid, Vesti launched an immediate challenge on Hauger on the opening lap. Hauger had to go defensive as early as the first corner, and on the run down to Turn 4 he was forced to cover off the inside as Vesti pulled alongside him under slipstream.
Hauger set an early fastest lap but was unable to pull away from Vesti over the first phase of the race. Vesti started lap four just a few tenths behind the Prema and again attacked Hauger around the outside of Turns 3 and 4, but was again rebuffed.
But on the following lap Vesti was close enough to pull alongside Hauger under DRS down to Turn 4 and take the lead. The move then left Hauger vulnerable to Vesti’s ART teammate Alex Smolyar, who followed Hauger closely before taking second place on lap 7.
Over the short lap Vesti faced the same difficulty in pulling away as Hauger did, and he found himself having to defend from Smolyar as well. After an unsuccessful move at Turn 3 on lap 10, Smolyar came back at Vesti under DRS on the following lap to take the lead. But the Russian’s time at the front only last one corner, as Vesti fought back up the inside of Turn 4, with Hauger following him through to retake second place as well.
Vesti wasn’t able to drop Hauger over the remaining laps, despite moving eight tenths clear at one point, but neither was Hauger able to make any serious attempts at retaking the lead. Meanwhile, Smolyar dropped back after losing the lead and came under attack from the #3 Prema of Olli Caldwell.
Smolyar managed to hold off Caldwell for a while, including multiple moves at the Turn 3 overtaking spot. But with four laps to go, Caldwell finally managed to get past Smolyar at Turn 4 to take his third podium of the year and second of the weekend.
Behind the podium fight, there was another fierce battle throughout the top ten as a DRS train covered the points positions. Clement Novalak was at the head of that group in fourth for much of the race, defending from the likes of Jak Crawford, Jack Doohan and Victor Martins, while Caldwell and the #2 Prema of Arthur Leclerc came up the order behind them.
On lap 9 Caldwell and Leclerc had finally made their way to the front of the train, and Caldwell slipped past Novalak at Turn 3 to take fourth place. Leclerc tried several times to pass Novalak for fifth but was fended off, which left him in turn defending from Martins in sixth.
On lap 14 Martins got a run on Leclerc through Turn 1 to take sixth, but Leclerc came back at him on the straight down to Turn 4. As they fought, Leclerc lost his front wing as he tagged the back of Martins then ran onto the grass and lost control.
After first clouting the wall and breaking his front right suspension, Leclerc shot across the braking zone of Turn 4 and collected Novalak. Both retired in the gravel trap, while Martins dropped to the back with a puncture and the safety car was deployed.
Crawford inherited fifth place ahead of Doohan, but they also came together on lap 22 and promoted Matteo Nannini to fifth ahead of Ayumu Iwasa and Caio Collet. Logan Sargeant, Calan Williams and Jonny Edgar rounded out the top ten by the chequered flag.
With podiums in each race this weekend, Hauger leaves the Red Bull Ring with 115 points and a substantial championship advantage. As Hauger’s main rivals Doohan and Martins both failed to score in the feature race, Vesti now moves up to second in the standings, albeit 41 points behind Hauger and just two ahead of Doohan.
Formula 3 returns in four weeks’ time in support of the Formula 1 Hungarian Grand Prix in Budapest.