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The VSC was withdrawn on lap 3, but on the following lap the full safety car was deployed when Leong Hon Chio, making his series debut with Jenzer, crashed out as well.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