F3 Russia: Vips sees off Armstrong for final sprint race win

Red Bull junior and Hitech driver Juri Vips took victory in the final sprint race of the season in Sochi, seeing off a charge from yesterday’s feature race winner Marcus Armstrong.

Vips was slow away from his reverse grid pole position, which allowed second-placed starter Jake Hughes to challenge him into Turn 2. Behind them, Leo Pulcini went around the outside of Pedro Piquet to take third place while Armstrong got the jump on Robert Shwartzman and Niko Kari to move up to fifth.

Hughes kept up the pressure on Vips throughout the early laps and on lap 4 pulled alongside the Hitech into Turn 13. But Vips closed the door and Hughes dropped back from the lead to come under attack from Pulcini. The Italian driver set up a move on Hughes into Turn 5, but came off worse as the pair banged wheels and Pulcini was spun out of the points.

Carl Bingham, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

Their incident allowed Piquet and Armstrong to both pass Hughes for second and third. Armstrong then took second from Piquet at the start of lap 7 only to be repassed by the Trident at Turn 13, but on the following lap Armstrong once again passed Piquet into Turn 2 and got far enough ahead to keep the position.

After breaking out of DRS range of Piquet on lap 10, Armstrong set about reeling in Vips with a series of fastest laps. At the start of lap 14 Vips had an advantage of 3.5 seconds over Armstrong, but this dropped to half by lap 17.

However, Armstrong’s charge faded in the final few laps as his tyres eventually ran out of grip. Vips was able to open the gap back up between them, having two seconds in hand when he crossed the line to take his third win of the season.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

After being demoted by Armstrong, Piquet had been running in a comfortable third for most of the race. But on lap 17 the Brazilian driver pulled over and retired with a mechanical problem, promoting newly-crowned F3 champion Shwartzman to third.

Hughes finished in fourth after his clash with Pulcini, and Kari was fifth for Trident. The battle for the last three points positions raged throughout the final laps with Richard Verschoor, Yuki Tsunoda and Max Fewtrell all changing positions. But in the end Hitech’s Yi Yifei, who was trailing at the back of the trio, took advantage of their fighting and managed to jump all three to take his first points of the season in sixth. Verschoor finished seventh, and Liam Lawson took eighth place after Tsunoda and Fewtrell both ran off the road with fading grip.

With second place and the fastest lap, Armstrong gained enough points from the sprint race to overhaul his Prema teammate Jehan Daruvala for runner-up in the final standings. Daruvala had been due to start from fourth on the grid, but was relegated to a pitlane start due to an engine problem before the formation lap. He then picked up a five-second penalty later in the race for leaving the track and gaining an advantage, and ultimately finished in 15th place.

Carl Bingham, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

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 Italy: Tsunoda takes first win in sprint race

Honda and Red Bull junior Yuki Tsunoda took his first Formula 3 win during the wet-dry Monza sprint race, seeing off challenges from Liam Lawson and Jake Hughes.

Tsunoda made a rapid start from sixth on the grid and joined Hughes and Pedro Piquet in challenging reverse polesitter Fabio Scherer for the lead into Turn 1. Hughes emerged from the Rettifilo in the lead, with Tsunoda slotting into third behind Scherer after muscling past Piquet through the chicane.

By the end of the second lap, Tsunoda had already passed Scherer for second while the Swiss driver struggled in the wet conditions, and stayed tight to the back of race leader Hughes.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

Tsunoda’s charge was hindered by a couple of mistakes, which dropped him over three seconds behind Hughes by lap 9 and forced Tsunoda to defend briefly from Scherer and fellow Red Bull junior Lawson.

But as the track dried out, Hughes struggled to keep his wet weather tyres cool and Tsunoda put in a series of quick laps to close back up to the front. Within five laps Tsunoda was already within a second of Hughes, and on lap 15 the Japanese driver swept around the outside of Hughes into Turn 1 to take the lead.

Hughes briefly retook the lead on lap 16 following a mistake from Tsunoda, but Tsunoda regained it the following lap with a dive to the inside of Turn 1.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

The battle for the remaining podium positions continued throughout the race. Scherer held onto third for a while but was unable to keep pace with Hughes and Tsunoda in front, which brought Lawson and Richard Verschoor onto his gearbox.

At the start of lap 10 Lawson forced Scherer into a mistake at the Rettifilo and moved into third. Richard Verschoor also took advantage of Scherer’s error to take fourth place shortly after, and put pressure on his MP Motorsport teammate Lawson for third, although Lawson managed to see off the challenge in the end.

Tsunoda and Hughes’ battle at the front allowed Lawson to draw up to the back of them. After Tsunoda saw off Hughes’ resurgence on lap 16, Lawson then managed to reel in the HWA driver and take away second place into Turn 1.

As the race entered its final phase Lawson looked as though he had the pace to challenge Tsunoda for the win, as he closed up to within a second of the Jenzer driver by lap 20. But Tsunoda responded to the challenge and opened the gap back up, and by the end of lap 22 he beat Lawson across the line by 1.5 seconds.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

Hughes held onto third ahead of Verschoor, while Scherer dropped back through the order to finish seventh behind Piquet and Leo Pulcini. The final point went to championship leader Robert Shwartzman, after he beat ART’s Christian Lundgaard to eighth by 0.067s across the line.

Shwartzman leaves Monza with a 33-point lead over title rival and Prema teammate Jehan Daruvala, with 48 still remaining at the Sochi finale. Juri Vips and Marcus Armstrong, who both finished outside the points in both rounds this weekend, are no longer in contention for the title.

Tsunoda’s sprint race win and third place in the feature race move him up to eighth in the championship.

Formula E: Season 5 Preview

Formula E is set to kick off for a fifth season this week with the brand new Gen 2 car waiting in the wings to take the electric series into the next phase of development. Season 4 was certainly as interesting as the preceding seasons, with another new champion in the form of Jean-Eric Vergne and Audi finally overturning Renault to become the top dog of the manufacturer’s battle. But what can we expect from season 5? The series has a new car that is able to last the entire race distance, different circuits in brand-new locations and the arrival of BMW permanently into the sport and HWA, a precursor to the Mercedes outfit expected in season 6.

Audi Sport Abt Schaeffler

Credit: LAT/Formula E

Audi arguably had the most energy-efficient powertrain last season and despite a few minor issues with reliability, they fought back to finally claim the manufacturer’s title, one which had proven elusive in the first few seasons. Audi are certainly looking to start the new season on a high. They have continued to develop the powertrain and for the first time, will provide customer engines to British outfit Virgin Racing.

Audi have chosen to retain their line up of the past four seasons, a wise decision on their part. The solid partnership of season 3 champion Lucas di Grassi and Daniel Abt will work in their favour as the pair are familiar with the team and how the sport has developed since its infancy. Both drivers have proven over the course of their time in the German outfit that they are capable of producing results. Abt, in particularly, enjoyed a successful previous season, finally picking up his first win in Mexico City and finishing a respectable fifth in the championship. Di Grassi too had an insurgence towards the latter end of the season which enabled him to join in the championship duel between Vergne and Sam Bird.

Allan McNish delivered everything he was supposed to in his and Audi’s first year in the electric series – the title they so longed for. He also managed to placate his two drivers throughout the course of the season, showcasing that he is able to make tough decisions if necessary and will surely take forward his experience into the new season. Expect Audi to be favourites to snatch the title once again.

DS Techeetah

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The Chinese outfit came close to the coveted manufacturers title last year, impressive considering their customer team status. However, this season, they have chosen to partner with DS Automobiles, who have a proven track record in Formula E after working with Virgin since the series debut. By moving away from their customer status, the team will be afforded more testing time and more development of their own powertrain – something that held them back to an extent last year.

They have chosen to retain champion Jean-Eric Vergne and Andre Lotterer as their line-up which is no surprise. Vergne had an incredible season, showered with many moments of mastery such as taking pole backwards in the first round at Hong Kong to dominating the streets of his home eprix at Paris. Lotterer too has begun to bed in and become more acquainted with the style of driving in Formula E and has been rewarded with a string of podiums. It still remains to be seen if Techeetah will continue where they left off, but it’s certain that they won’t be quiet next season.

Envision Virgin Racing

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Virgin had a stellar season – they almost handed Sam Bird his first ever Formula E championship title last year. The car too had zero reliability issues, certainly on Bird’s side of the garage which will be a comfort to new partner Techeetah. However, after Alex Lynn’s strong start in the British team at the latter end of season 3 in which the Brit took pole in his first ever qualifying session, he struggled immensely within the car with a string of retirements and placed no higher than sixth. It was to nobody’s surprise that Virgin announced once again that Bird would lead the charge for his fifth season in the sport.

However, change is on the horizon as Virgin are to be Audi’s first customer team and with such an arrangement, comes the arrival of Robin Frijns. Forced out from Andretti due to his Audi commitments last season, the Dutchman will provide a worthy teammate for Bird – one who knows the sport and will be warmly welcomed back to settle unfinished business. The Audi customer status has not limited Virgin’s testing hours with Bird and Frijns revealing that the supplier gave up some of their testing time to the British outfit. Lack of testing time did not hinder Techeetah last year from almost walking away the team title, and the team will have arguably the best powertrain on the grid. The British team will certainly be one to upset the party.

Mahindra Racing

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Mahindra’s pre-season was shaping up to be as dull as the latter half of their last season. After a strong start in Marrakesh with Felix Rosenqvist claiming the top step, the Indian team seemed to tail off and even their prized asset Rosenqvist struggled to impress. They suffered a double blow early in pre-season with Nick Heidfeld is stepping down into a development role and losing Rosenqvist to Indycar. However, the Indian outfit seized Jerome D’Ambrosio’s frustrations at an uncompetitive Dragon team and swooped in for the electric racing stalwart.  

His attachment to the team was no surprise as he had tested the car in pre-season. A driver with a wealth of experience in the sport, it is an excellent career move for the Belgian to move away from the struggling American outfit. Pascal Wehrlein, now free of the ties of Mercedes, will fill the second seat. He has tested the car and uniting both experience and new blood has worked for Mahindra in the past. We could see a revival of their good fortune in the past few seasons – certainly if they provide D’Ambrosio with the car he deserves.

Nissan e.dams

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Renault are gone but Nissan will fill the void left by the sport’s first ever constructor champions. After choosing to focus solely on their Formula One programme, the French team has handed over the reins to the Japanese outfit. They had a season to forget last year, with even the reliable Buemi failing to score a single win. He came close in Marrakesh but the Renault of season 4 seemed to lack the bite of previous seasons. Misery was added to the French outfit in that  their customer team Techeetah scored four wins through eventual champion Jean-Eric Vergne.

However, Nissan are looking forward. They have retained Buemi – a smart move as they are new to Formula E and how it operates. The Swiss is a proven winner and capable of extracting everything he can from the machinery. They were dealt a further blow when they lost their rookie driver Alexander Albon to Formula One, just one day into their pre-season testing. However, the Japanese team recently announced the arrival of Oliver Rowland. The British driver is no stranger to the sport, having filled in for Nick Heidfeld at Mahindra when the German was ruled out with a hand injury. Rowland also has a proven track record in junior categories, and as talent such as Mitch Evans and Felix Rosenqvist have proven, Rowland could be a diamond in the rough. However, one question remains unanswered. Have Nissan let Audi and Techeetah take the upper hand in terms of development? Only time will tell.

Panasonic Jaguar

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Jaguar have gone from strength to strength this year with Mitch Evans taking the team’s first ever pole and even claimed a podium in the early stages of the season. The Kiwi driver finished a respectable seventh in the championship and showcased some excellent drives, particularly in Hong Kong and Punta del Este. Jaguar are a far cry from the team of two seasons ago and development of their powertrain coupled with retaining their strong driver line up has only aided them in their success.

It is expected that Jaguar will continue to grow stronger going into season 5 – as the British outfit have chosen to retain previous champion Piquet and Evans. This is crucial as both drivers know the car and how the team operate, so they were able to focus purely on race data and the configurations for the car during testing. The car’s reliability is still a cause for concern, certainly on Piquet’s side of the garage, but it is certain that this will improve. Jaguar are viewed as dark horses, and it would be foolish to write them off this season. It’s certain that they will be looking to improve on last year’s results.

Venturi

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Venturi benefited last year from Edo Mortara’s extensive Macau knowledge which allowed him to navigate the tight streets and take the team’s only podium. However, with Mortara tied to a DTM drive with Mercedes for the majority of the season, they missed out on crucial opportunities to gain points and for him to have a solid standing in the championship. At times, his inexperience showed – for example, when he lost the lead in Hong Kong with three laps to go, after becoming overly-confident in the win. However, he showcased that the talent and speed were there. Equally, his teammate Maro Engel quietly scooped up a number of points paying positions, including a fourth place in Paris.

The Monegasque team seem rejuvenated, however, as we approach season 4. They have become a customer team to HWA, Mercedes’ early entry into FE. Retaining Mortara will have its advantages as he wasn’t able to fulfil his full potential within his debut season and he can commit fully to the programme as Mercedes have ceased their DTM programme. The biggest change to the team, however, comes in the form of ex F1 star Felipe Massa and Susie Wolff coming into the team as driver and team principal respectively. Massa will surely lend a hand in ensuring that interest in the sport remains high whilst showcasing that retirement is the last thing on his mind, whilst Wolff certainly props up the Mercedes link but will enter into the team to provide new and innovative ideas to ensure their success. Venturi will be one to watch.

HWA Racelab

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As a new team and Mercedes’ precursor into Formula E, it’s unsure as to how the German outfit will fare in their maiden season. Will they do as Jaguar did in their first season? It certainly would not be a surprise if this were the case – the team enter the series just as the car has developed past the initial spec. However, having Venturi powertrains ensures that they don’t walk into Formula E completely blind. They also possess an excellent line-up in ex-McLaren man Stoffel Vandoorne, who could use a boost of self-esteem and an opportunity to get out of Fernando Alonso’s shadow, and seasoned DTM driver Gary Paffett who came close to claiming the title last year.

NIO

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Once again, a season to forget for the British based outfit. Retaining the reliable Oliver Turvey was their bright light in season 4, with the British born driver consistently finishing in the points. However, Luca Filippi wasn’t as strong and lagged behind Turvey for the entire season. It’s no surprise that Filippi has been quietly released by the team as they fight to find a replacement to the Piquet shaped hole from two seasons ago.

Retaining their key asset Turvey was a must for the British team, and he will be expected to continue his reliability into the new season. He is joined this season by season regular Tom Dillmann, previously a driver of Venturi. He has also has a solid record of points scoring within his sporadic involvement in Formula E, with a personal best of P4 in New York last year. If NIO can deliver an excellent and reliable car, NIO could potentially have a solid season, particularly with two drivers who are able to score points consistently.

GEOX Dragon

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Dragon are a team in trouble. After looking bright for the first two seasons, the shine wore off and even a few podiums from the talented Jerome D’Ambrosio couldn’t stop the decline. The loss of Porsche WEC driver Neel Jani early in the season was a major blow as he certainly could have delivered within the car, given the chance. Their misfortune seemed to continue as they lost their star asset D’Ambrosio to Mahindra after lack of success. It is certainly a shame for the American outfit as the experienced Belgian driver was always able to extract more out of the machinery than most could, but on the other hand, it would be excellent to see D’Ambrosio in a competitive car once more.

Lopez on the other hand, is to be retained and this is a good choice. Despite some of his inexperience, he was given a second chance by the American team after a torrid team in his maiden season at Virgin and managed to deliver some decent results. If reliability was improved, it’s certain that Lopez could achieve more. Partnering the Argentinian is rookie driver, Maximilian Gunther. Before participating in the rookie test in Marrakesh, he had previous experience in junior categories, finishing in third place in Formula 3 last year, and also contested Macau, which will be good practise for the street circuits. It still remains to be seen what will happen at Dragon this year, but if they can be competitive, it’s certain that they could cause an upset like they have in the past.

BMW i Andretti

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If there were an award for the team with the worst luck last year, Andretti would take top honours. A revolving door policy on their second driver and lack of development from BMW hurt the team last season, resulting in them picking up the unfortunate honour of being the only outfit not to achieve a podium. Tom Blomqvist never seemed to have a chance to prove himself, forced out in the first round to satisfy sponsors, and eventually left quietly after six rounds. However, even seasoned Formula E driver Stephane Sarrazin failed to get results.

This season, now fully under BMW control, they retain Antonio Felix Da Costa for the third season, an excellent choice who knows the car and how the team operate. The Portuguese driver certainly could be seen as one of the German teams assets, having been in the electric series since its inception. They also welcome Alexander Sims, who lost out to the seat last year. Having being the development driver in season 3 and having an avid interest in electric cars, he has some knowledge of the series and of the car. He also performed well at last year’s testing in the season 4 car. BMW’s involvement and retaining the driver lineup throughout the season will be crucial for BMW Andretti’s success going into season 5.

The first round of season 5 of Formula E begins on December 15th in Riyadh.

HWA ‘convinced me straight away’ – Stoffel Vandoorne

Last week, it was announced that McLaren man Stoffel Vandoorne would be joining Formula E next season with the HWA outfit, Mercedes’ precursory entry into the electric series. Today, he said that he was ‘convinced straight away’ to join up the developing sport after losing his Formula One drive.

“I had my initial contact with Toto, which was before McLaren decided what they were going to do. Toto explained the project and as soon as I thought about it, there was no real hesitation”

Vandoorne was plagued by battery issues in the first day of testing which significantly reduced his running time in the car but on the second day of testing, he was able to utilise more time on track. ”We had a better day than yesterday.” The Belgian stated. “We had more laps this morning which was quite productive for me. The focus for us is to push through all the difficulties we’ve been having and learn from those.”

He admitted that the issues did not reveal themselves during the private testing that Venturi had been afforded to both himself and new teammate Gary Paffett.

“For us, it’s a new challenge, there’s a lot of processes we have to go through and from my side, I’ve also been combining this with Formula One. It’s like jumping from one ship to another for the past few months but the team is now focused on Formula E.”

Stoffel Vandoorne (HWA RACELAB), Valencia pre-season testing – Credit: LAT/Formula E

In reference to the additional Venturi testing that he had received, he said that it put him in a much better position. 

“You always want to do more testing and I would have liked for [this test] to have gone a lot smoother. But the two days I had before definitely helped to come here and have an idea of what everything feels like.”

When asked how Formula E compares to Formula One, the Belgian was very open that there was a difference and also spoke of his inexperience within the series.

“It’s very different to what I am used to, and compared to any other series, it’s quite different the way you drive the car and how the car handles. It’s all different challenges. I have no reference of the Gen 1 car but the car seems a big step forward in terms of the previous generation. You can set up the car in a number of ways and make a big difference with those. I had no expectations. I went into it very open minded and tried to maximise what we have.”

Stoffel Vandoorne (HWA RACELAB), Valencia pre-season testing – Credit: LAT/Formula E


Vandoorne did not think that despite having a new Gen 2 to contend with and new regulations in the fifth season that he would have an advantage against those much more acquainted with the previous generation car.

“I don’t think there is a big difference. A lot of the drivers have been here a while working with their teams so they’ll have a bit of a head start. It’s not easy as a new driver to step in and perform straight away. From our team perspective, we need to manage our expectations and be competitive as I want to be successful.”

Speaking of his opinions of the sport before he joined, Vandoorne always had a open outlook on the series. 

“It’s an up and coming series and I think if you look, they have only existed for four seasons. In that timespan, many manufacturers have joined and I think it shows that they see a future in this sport. It has huge potential and the electric development is still in such an early stage so I think that cars will keep progressing. There’s already been a huge step between the two generations of cars and I am sure they’ll be another step forward.