F3 Bahrain: Martins sweeps to victory as Leclerc charges through the field

Victor Martins took victory in the first Formula 3 feature race of the year in Bahrain, while Prema’s Arthur Leclerc stormed through the field from well outside the points to finish on the podium.

The race began with Franco Colapinto and Van Amersfoort on a debut pole, with Roman Stanek alongside for Trident and Martins in third. The top three held position at lights out, but Leclerc made up five places at the launch to go from thirteenth to eighth.

Behind the top three however, the first corner quickly became chaotic as Zane Maloney in fourth suddenly lost drive and became an obstacle for the chasing pack. Oliver Bearman and Caio Collet were two of the drivers who had to run wide to avoid the Trident, and when Collet rejoined the track he broke his right front suspension and was forced to retire. Francesco Pizzi was also caught up in the incident and retired as well.

The safety car was deployed while the stricken cars at Turn 1 were recovered. When the race got underway again on lap 5 Colapinto went weaving down the main straight to break the tow for Stanek behind. But instead of challenging for the lead Stanek found himself under attack from Martins, who stole past the Trident into second at the first corner.

Franco Colapinto, Van Amersfoort (Dan Istitene, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA F3)

Stanek then had to defend again from Alex Smolyar in fourth. As Stanek ran Smolyar to the edge of the track to hold third place, Smolyar made contact with Stanek’s rear right tyre and triggered a puncture for the Trident.

With Smolyar dropping to the back of the field, Leclerc moved up to seventh place. That then became fifth on lap 7 as he despatched first Isack Hadjar and then David Vidales. Leclerc soon found himself on the rear of the podium battle as Smolyar was passed for third by Juan Manuel Correa. On lap 10 Leclerc picked off Smolyar for fourth, then a lap later he passed Correa as well to move up into third place.

Smolyar continued to come under pressure from the cars behind. But when Hadjar made a move on him for fifth place they made contact similar to Smolyar’s incident with Stanek, and Hadjar also came off with a rear right puncture that dropped him out of the points.

Meanwhile at the front of the field, Martins was shadowing Colapinto with only half a second between the two. By lap 14 Martins brought that down to two tenths, but had to wait until the start of the following lap to make a move. After first trying the outside of Turn 1, Martins took advantage of Colapinto running deep into the following corner to cut back through and take the lead down to Turn 4.

Arthur Leclerc, Prema (Clive Mason, Getty Images / FIA F3)

By the time Martins assumed the lead, Leclerc had managed to slash his five-second gap to the front and was running just half a second behind Colapinto. On lap 18 Leclerc then made a late dive on the brakes to the inside of Turn 1, and snatched second place away from the Van Amersfoort.

Colapinto’s race began to unfold in the final stages after that. With Gregoire Saucy pressuring him for third place and his tyres seeming to fall away from him, Colapinto picked up several warnings for exceeding track limits which eventually became a five-second time penalty. Colapinto was able to hold off Saucy on the road, but the penalty dropped him down to fifth and moved Saucy up to third to complete the podium.

Correa followed Saucy home to make it three ARTs in the top four, and Leclerc’s Prema teammates Bearman and Jak Crawford finished sixth and seventh behind Colapinto. Smolyar was in the points until the very end of the race when floor damage dropped him down the field, meaning that Vidales, William Alatalo and Kaylen Frederick rounded out the final points positions.

(Dan Istitene. Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA F3)

The results of the feature race mean Martins leads the championship after Round 1 with 25 points, with Arthur Leclerc a point behind in second and Oliver Bearman in third on 17 points. ART lead the teams’ standings with 54 points, followed by Prema on 47.

Formula 3 returns on 22–24th April at Imola in support of the Formula 1 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

F3 Bahrain preview: who can challenge the Trident/ Prema supremacy?

As the Formula 1 paddock descends on Bahrain’s International Circuit for the opening Grand Prix of the season, Formula 3 is also getting ready to launch its 2022 championship with a fresh format, plenty of new drivers and a title fight that’s anyone’s guess.

The title fight is the minimum for Trident and Prema

Oliver Bearman, Prema (Courtesy of Prema Racing)

Since the FIA F3 championship began in 2019, two teams and their drivers have dominated proceedings – Prema and Trident. The two Italian teams have claimed every drivers’ and teams’ title between them, and ended last season with their two lead drivers – Dennis Hauger and Jack Doohan respectively – far ahead of the rest of the field in the championship standings.

With that record it’s a safe bet to assume those two teams will again be favourites this year, and they certainly have the driver talent to back that up.

Of the two Prema perhaps has the most instantly standout stable. Arthur Leclerc returns for a second season with the team, and although he had a lacklustre debut in 2021 he does come to this year off the back of a pretty dominant Formula Regional Asian title, also with Prema. He’s joined by another sophomore driver in Red Bull junior Jak Crawford, who finished on the podium with Hitech during his debut year and showed impressive pace along the way.

The final member of the Prema lineup is Oliver Bearman – Ferrari junior, and winner of the 2021 ADAC and Italian F4 championships. Although he’s going up against experienced teammates, Bearman’s recent titles and rise through the junior ranks mean he’ll be as much in the title hunt as anyone.

As for Trident, their lineup boasts a similar blend of experienced drivers and rookies. In the #1 car is Red Bull junior Jonny Edgar, who had a solid debut year in 2021 with Carlin, while Roman Stanek joins the team for his third season in F3.

Their teammate is rookie Zane Maloney, who comes with a British F4 title and race wins in Formula Regional European behind him. As one of the fastest drivers in pre-season testing in Bahrain, Maloney will certainly be a rookie to keep an eye on at the front of the field.

Zane Maloney, Trident (Joe Portlock, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA F3)

Can anyone take the fight to the top teams?

Of course, Trident and Prema don’t have an exclusive hold over the title fight. They may have been top of the table in every F3 season so far, but there are eight other teams on the grid, with plenty of formidable talent spread throughout the field.

One name that jumps out is the newly-signed Red Bull junior Isack Hadjar. The Frenchman comes to F3 having finished fifth in Formula Regional European and third in Formula Regional Asian, but more importantly he topped two of the three days of pre-season testing. Hitech may have finished down the order last year, but it wasn’t that long ago they were winning races with Liam Lawson and Juri Vips at the helm.

Isack Hadjar, Hitech (Joe Portlock, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA F3)

Speaking of Formula Regional European, the reigning champion Gregoire Saucy will make his debut this year with ART. Saucy also showed strong pace in pre-season testing and can surely be expected to be in the fight for poles, podiums and race wins in his debut year.

However, Saucy will have to come out swinging at ART to avoid being overshadowed by the team’s new signing Victor Martins. In his debut with MP Motorsport last year Martins was by far the field’s standout rookie, taking a win and five podiums and finishing fifth in the championship.

Although ART haven’t been able to challenge for the title in the FIA F3 era, with a driver like Martins in the car that could change this year.

Further down the grid Zak O’Sullivan leads an all-rookie lineup at Carlin. O’Sullivan’s short racing CV already includes last year’s GB3 title, the runner-up spot in British F4 and Ginetta Juniors and the Aston Martin Autosport BRDC Award, all of which has earned him a place in the Williams F1 Driver Academy.

With Carlin he’s unlikely to be in the title hunt, but given his calibre it would not be surprising to see him on the podium or even end Carlin’s hunt for a first win in FIA F3.

A new format for 2022

Victor Martins, ART (Joe Portlock, Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images / FIA F3)

Last of all, F3 will see a revised format for this year. After running separately to Formula 2 last year, both feeder series’ are back on the same billing and each with one sprint race and one feature race instead of three races across the weekend.

F3’s sprint race will take place on Saturday and the feature race will be on Sunday before the Bahrain Grand Prix. The grid for both races will be set by qualifying on Friday, with the feature race decided by the full qualifying results and the sprint race by reversing the top 12.

The points on offer for pole position and the fastest lap have been halved to two and one point respectively. Points for the sprint race have also been reduced with the winner taking 10 points instead of 15, and the remainder of the top 10 scoring 9 points for second down to 1 point for 10th place.

The feature race points remain the same as before, meaning the winner will score 25 points following the system used for an F1 Grand Prix.

Formula 3’s first sprint race of the season begins on Saturday at 09:45 and the feature race will start on Sunday at 08:45.

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