F3 Mugello preview: advantage Piastri in title decider

Formula 3 takes to Mugello in Italy this weekend for the final round of a sensational 2020 season, and the conclusion of the title fight between Oscar Piastri and Logan Sargeant.

Mathematically there are six drivers capable of becoming champion this weekend, with Theo Pourchaire, Liam Lawson, David Beckmann and Frederik Vesti all still close enough that a near-perfect weekend could earn them the crown.

But realistically, Piastri and Sargeant have been the only drivers with any real claim to the championship this season, and it would take something remarkable to deny either of them now.

Oscar Piastri and Logan Sargeant, Prema (Joe Portlock / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

It’s Piastri who has the upper hand coming to Mugello. After Sargeant failed to score in both races at Monza, Piastri has an eight-point lead over his teammate. It’s not the largest buffer, but it does mean that if Piastri can outscore Sargeant by nine points in the feature race, the title will be his.

This means that if Sargeant misses out on points again in race one, Piastri could finish fifth (providing he doesn’t take any extra points for pole or the fastest lap) and become champion. Alternatively, if Piastri wins the feature race, Sargeant would have to be second just to keep the fight alive into the final race.

Therefore, with overtaking expected to be difficult at Mugello, Sargeant’s best hope will be to qualify ahead of Piastri and hope to create some space between them while also chasing the bonus two points for fastest lap.

But there will be extra drama in the title battle this weekend, as both drivers come to Mugello with grid penalties hanging over them from incidents in the Monza sprint race. Piastri has a five-place penalty for causing Beckmann’s retirement with a Turn 5 collision, while Sargeant will drop three places for cutting across Vesti’s front wing and putting them both out of the race.

This could have huge ramifications for the championship, as Piastri and Sargeant will likely be starting in the thick of the midfield and therefore at much greater risk of a first lap incident.

Theo Pourchaire, ART (Bryn Lennon / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

While the rest of the top six will be hoping for problems for Piastri and Sargeant to give them a last-gasp shot at the title, their focus coming to Mugello will be mostly on the tight battle for third in the standings.

Pourchaire heads the group after his double podium at Monza, with nine points over Lawson. Both drivers have been revelations this season, and will be targeting the “best of the rest” spot as a springboard for a title challenge in 2021.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are eight drivers heading to the final round still in search of their first points: Cameron Das, Lukas Dunner, David Schumacher, Jack Doohan, Sophia Floersch, Federico Malvestiti, Calan Williams, and Alessio Deledda. Each of these will be desperate to make some moves this weekend and not end the season still with a zero next to their name.

Of those, Schumacher will perhaps be the most frustrated if he’s unable to reach the points in Mugello. His mid-season switch from Charouz to Carlin has so far not yielded the step up the order he was hoping for. And to make matters worse, since his move Charouz has gone on to score with all three drivers, including Schumacher’s rookie replacement Michael Belov.

Schumacher seemed to have a turnaround in Monza as he set the fastest time in practice, only to start from the back of the grid after a messy qualifying. But if he can bring that practice pace to Mugello and maintain it across the whole weekend—no mean feat in a field as competitive as Formula 3—then he’s got every chance of being rewarded with his first points and confidence boost for next season.

David Schumacher, Carlin (Photo by Mark Thompson / Getty Images)

F3 Monza: Hughes takes sprint race win as all three Premas retire

Jake Hughes took victory in another Formula 3 thriller at Monza, while teams’ champions Prema endured a nightmare race with Oscar Piastri, Logan Sargeant and Frederik Vesti all retiring after incidents.

The race started with Lirim Zendelli jumping from fourth to first off the line, while reverse polesitter Michael Belov slipped back to fifth and Hughes went from sixth up to third ahead of Liam Lawson. At the back of the grid, title contender Sargeant started his recovery from 26th by climbing five places off the grid.

The opening laps saw Zendelli and Enzo Fittipaldi scrapping over the lead. Fittipaldi took the position on lap 5, but the two continued exchanging first and second until the run down to Rettifilo at the start of lap 8. Fittipaldi started the lap ahead, but as he defended the corner from Zendelli the two made contact and Fittipaldi dropped out of the fight with a punctured rear tyre.

Lawson then assumed the lead from Hughes as Zendelli dropped down the order as well. The Premas of Vesti and Piastri moved up into third and fourth respectively, having made steady progress from the bottom of the top ten, while Sargeant found himself in the points in tenth.

Enzo Fittipaldi, HWA (Sebastiaan Rozendaal, Dutch Photo Agency / Scuderia Ferrari Press Office)

Sargeant’s luck then seemed to improve dramatically on lap 10 as Piastri was spun around at Turn 1 by the attacking Clement Novalak, who spun Sargeant himself out of the points in yesterday’s feature race. David Schumacher and David Beckmann were both caught up in the incident as well, while Sargeant profited from the chaos to leap up to fifth place behind previous race leader Zendelli.

The debris at Rettifilo brought out a brief virtual safety car, but not before Hughes pulled off a well-timed move on Lawson to take the lead of the race. When the race restarted on lap 11, Sargeant continued making progress as Zendelli ran wide through the first Lesmo, gifting Sargeant fourth place and enough points to level the championship battle with Piastri.

Sargeant continued pushing to take third away from teammate Vesti. After narrowly avoiding contact on lap 17 when Vesti locked up into Turn 1, and with the likes of Zendelli and Theo Pourchaire closing in on the battling Premas, Sargeant dove to the inside into Ascari on lap 19 and squeezed Vesti out to guarantee the position.

However, the move ended horribly for both drivers as they made contact on the first apex of the chicane, leaving Sargeant with a puncture and Vesti with front wing damage, which proved terminal for both drivers.

Aleksandr Smolyar, ART (Rudy Carezzevoli / Getty Images)

With three laps left on the board, Pourchaire inherited third behind Lawson and race leader Hughes, and the podium remained this way until the chequered flag. Zendelli looked to have the pace to pass Pourchaire before the end, but was instead passed by the second ART of Aleksandr Smolyar on the last lap, and finished fifth behind the Russian.

Alex Peroni took sixth ahead of Pierre-Louis Chovet, earning his first points since debuting with Hitech at the last round in Belgium. Roman Stanek was eighth for Charouz ahead of Trident’s Olli Caldwell, and Richard Verschoor took the final point in tenth.

Heading now into the final round of the season at Mugello, Piastri maintains the eight-point lead he gained over Sargeant at the start of the weekend. Lawson returns to third in the standings over Pourchaire, with both still mathematically able to challenge for the title at 25 and 26 points adrift of Piastri.

Full race result:

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

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 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 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