The 2020 FIA Formula 3 season ended with a bang last weekend at Mugello. ART’s Theo Pourchaire came within touching distance of flipping the championship on its head after title contender Logan Sargeant crashed out on the opening lap, but ultimately it was Prema’s Oscar Piastri who came through to be crowned the 2020 drivers’ champion.
With all the prizes now handed out, it’s time to look back on what will go down as a memorable season—not just for the circumstances surrounding it, but for the brilliant racing seen all year long.
The fight at the top
Obviously, any review of this year’s F3 season has to start with its champion Oscar Piastri and his rivals for the crown.
From his win in the first race of the season, there was little doubt that Piastri would be one of the major players in the title battle right through to the end. Although it took him until the Barcelona sprint race to win again, Piastri’s podiums and strong points finishes kept him in the championship lead right up until round five at Silverstone, when Logan Sargeant’s first F3 win set up a close title fight between the two Premas.
His season wasn’t perfect. Considering he won the title, it’s surprising that Piastri did so with fewer wins than Frederik Vesti or Liam Lawson, and fewer podiums than Theo Pourchaire. More surprisingly, Piastri scored no pole positions at all this year—by comparison, Sargeant took three and qualified ahead of Piastri in almost every round.
All of which must make the final result of the 2020 season tough to swallow for the four drivers above. Despite all outperforming Piastri by one metric or another, the Australian’s consistency meant he was still able to come out on top.
But hopefully, they’ll all come away from the season emboldened by their performances, and the knowledge that the championship could have so easily swung in any of their directions. Pourchaire, Sargeant, Vesti and Lawson would all have been just as deserving a champion as Piastri, and will surely be contenders once again if they stay in F3 next year.
Who else impressed?
While much of the focus this year was on the battle for the championship, there were still plenty more standout performances from drivers up and down the grid.
Alex Peroni was one such. His 2019 F3 debut didn’t start particularly strongly with only two lower points finishes, but it was his vertebrae fractures sustained at Monza that defined it. But Peroni came back a different driver in 2020, taking his maiden podium in the first round with two more to follow at Silverstone and Barcelona, and scoring all of Campos’ 64 points.
Another impressive podium challenger was ART’s Aleksandr Smolyar. While the Russian was a long way off teammate Pourchaire’s results, he showed serious pace all season with a pole position at the Hungaroring and a win at Silverstone, although the latter was taken away by a post-race penalty.
Smolyar’s results wobbled a little after his lost win, but two fourth places at Spa and a podium he could keep at Monza put him back on track and will hopefully set up an even stronger sophomore year in 2021.
Mention should also be made of Ben Barnicoat, Michael Belov and Pierre-Louis Chovet, who all managed to score points acting as last-minute stand-ins for Carlin, Charouz and Hitech respectively. No easy feat by any means, given the steep learning curve of Formula 3.
Who needs to improve?
As for drivers who’ll need to step up their game if they return to F3 next year, the easy answer is the likes of Cameron Das, Sophia Floersch, Lukas Dunner and Alessio Deledda. Each of these stood out for the unfortunate reason that they scored no points all season, while their respective teammates were able to take frequent points and occasional podiums.
Another driver with the same distinction is Jack Doohan, who finished 26th in the championship while his HWA teammate Jake Hughes took two wins and two further podiums to finish 7th. Doohan is one of a trio of Red Bull juniors along with Dennis Hauger and Igor Fraga who will need to find new form next year after being significantly overshadowed by Lawson this year.
And speaking of F1 junior drivers, there’s also Ferrari’s Enzo Fittipaldi. The Brazilian showed some good speed at certain races this year, and particularly found his form at Mugello where he finished fifth and fourth in the two races. But over the whole season Fittipaldi only finished in the points six times in 18 races.
With highly-rated Ferrari juniors like Gianluca Petecof and Arthur Leclerc potentially targeting F3 next year, Fittipaldi will need to flip this ratio around to avoid falling behind them in the FDA pecking order.
While we won’t know for a while who’ll make up Formula 3’s 2021 grid, the talent and potential seen throughout 2020 gives us a lot to look forward to. In the meantime, F3 will be back on track next month for two post-season tests, at Barcelona on October 5th–6th and Jerez on October 27th–28th.
Frederik Vesti took his second feature race win of the season at Monza, as his teammate Oscar Piastri recovered to the podium from 15th on the grid to take back the championship lead.
The race started with a mixed-up grid as nine drivers including pole winner Theo Pourchaire were penalised for driving unnecessarily slowly to set up their final flying laps. Hitech’s Liam Lawson inherited pole ahead of Matteo Nannini and Jake Hughes, while Pourchaire dropped to sixth behind Logan Sargeant.
But despite losing pole, Pourchaire leapt back into contention for the win at the start. After passing Sargeant and Calan Williams for fourth off the line, the Frenchman then took third from Hughes in the opening corners. Second place followed on lap two with a pass on Nannini, as Pourchaire set the fastest lap to keep close to the leading Lawson.
Pourchaire caught Lawson on lap 4 and took the lead from the Red Bull junior. Setting another fastest lap in the process, Pourchaire began pulling away from the field with what looked set to be a dominant early lead.
While Pourchaire was lighting up the timing screen in front, Vesti was taking advantage of mistakes from the drivers around him to make steady progress through the field.
Starting from ninth on the grid, Vesti passed his teammate Sargeant for eighth on lap 4 after the American ran wide battling with Alex Peroni. He gained seventh place shortly after when Igor Fraga went off at the Rettifilo, then moved up to fifth when Peroni spun round Williams on lap 7.
On lap 9, Nannini collided with Lawson trying to take away third and retired with front suspension damage. The incident allowed Vesti to close up on Lawson, and on lap 12 he forced his way into third into the second Lesmo.
Vesti’s progress was briefly halted when Sebastian Fernandez spun off and brought out the safety car. But at the restart Vesti immediately pounced on Hughes to take second place, with just a second splitting him from Pourchaire.
After cutting the gap down to five tenths, Vesti took the lead from Pourchaire at Rettifilo with three laps to go, and led the ART home until the chequered flag.
Vesti’s teammate Piastri took third place in a race of contrasting fortunes for him and title rival Sargeant.
After the qualifying penalties played out, Sargeant emerged as the luckier of the two as he was elevated to fifth while Piastri remained in 15th place. But when the race began Sargeant seemed to lack pace compared to the cars around him. After losing out to Pourchaire and running wide battling with Fraga in the opening laps, Sargeant then went off at Rettifilo on lap 5 and dropped to 11th, just in front of Piastri.
The two Premas jostled each other for position as they both inched their way up into the lower top ten. After Sargeant fought back to keep ahead of Piastri just after his mistake, Piastri got definitively ahead of the American on lap 10 while they fought over eighth place. Piastri then managed to put a car between him and Sargeant as he passed Lirim Zendelli for seventh.
At the safety car restart on lap 14 Piastri gained sixth place from David Beckmann. But more importantly for the championship battle, behind him Sargeant was tapped into a spin by Clement Novalak at the Della Roggia chicane and dropped right to the back of the field.
With Sargeant’s chances of scoring points effectively gone, Piastri’s sixth was already enough to return him to the top of the standings. But instead of holding steady, Piastri continued pushing forward. After taking fifth from Peroni on lap 18, Piastri then breezed past Lawson for fourth at the same time as Vesti took the lead from Pourchaire. Finally, Piastri caught and passed Hughes on the penultimate lap to move himself up onto the podium.
Hughes lost a further place on the final lap, with Beckmann beating him to the line in fourth. Lawson finished sixth ahead of Zendelli, Bent Viscaal and Enzo Fittipaldi. Michael Belov finished tenth for Charouz for his first point in F3.
With Sargeant eventually finishing the race in 26th, Piastri now has an eight-point lead in the standings, which is likely to increase tomorrow as Sargeant will be starting the sprint race well outside the points.
But despite Sargeant’s non-score, Vesti’s win and Piastri’s podium was enough for Prema to wrap up the teams’ championship with three races still to go.
Bent Viscaal took victory for MP Motorsport in the Silverstone sprint race, passing long-time leader Lirim Zendelli on the final lap.
Zendelli and Viscaal started second and third on the reverse grid and got a much better start than polesitter Ben Barnicoat to jump into the lead into Turn 1. While Zendelli and Viscaal pulled away in front, Barnicoat found himself under pressure to hold third from David Beckmann, Theo Pourchaire and Liam Lawson, who had all leapt past Oscar Piastri off the line.
The battles for first and third were halted on lap 2 when Lukas Dunner and Calan Williams came together to bring out the safety car. When the race resumed on lap 6, Zendelli and Viscaal once again moved clear of the pack with several seconds back to Barnicoat.
Despite being separated by just half a second for most of the remaining 15 laps, Zendelli held the lead from Viscaal without challenge until the final lap. After setting successive fastest laps and bringing the gap down to just a few tenths, Viscaal made a late dive to the inside of Copse on the final lap, catching Zendelli by surprise and taking the lead.
Zendelli fought back and the two ran side by side through the final corners. But although Zendelli briefly managed to get ahead, Viscaal hung on around the outside of the final corner and came across the line to win by just one tenth over the Trident.
As Viscaal and Zendelli fought over the lead, a fierce battle raged behind them for third place. Barnicoat put in an impressive performance to hold the position early on from the more experienced drivers behind him. But on lap 11, the British driver pulled off the track with a mechanical problem with his Carlin, elevating Pourchaire into third.
Pourchaire was immediately forced into defending from Beckmann. On lap 16 Beckmann made a move for third but ran wide and dropped back to fifth behind Lawson, while Pourchaire was shown the black and white flag for weaving in his defence.
Lawson then took up the pursuit of third place but was also unable to find a way past Pourchaire in the closing stages. On the final lap, after losing time attacking Pourchaire and running wide out of the last corner, Lawson was then repassed for fourth by Beckmann in a drag race to the line.
Pourchaire took third for his third podium of the season, ahead of Beckmann and Lawson. Piastri took sixth place after a tight battle late in the race with Jake Hughes and Frederik Vesti, who finished seventh and eighth respectively. Clement Novalak finished ninth, and Enzo Fittipaldi took the final point in tenth.
New championship leader Logan Sargeant retired with damage after contact with Cameron Das on lap 10, meaning he now has only a single point in hand over Piastri with four rounds remaining in the championship. Viscaal’s victory elevates him from 14th in the standings to 10th.
In the teams’ standings Prema has 281.5 points, while second-placed Trident has extended its gap over ART to 18.5 points. Find the full F3 drivers’ and teams’ standings here.
Update: Fittipaldi was given a post-race penalty of five seconds for leaving the track and gaining an advantage when passing Das. The Brazilian drops from 10th to 17th, and Igor Fraga is promoted up to the points.
Aleksandr Smolyar took his first Formula 3 win in the Silverstone sprint race, fighting off a rapid David Beckmann in the closing laps.
Smolyar got a good start from his reverse grid pole to hold the lead from Beckmann on the first lap. By lap 4 the Russian was able to just break out of DRS range of Beckmann, but this gap was lost on the following lap when Igor Fraga stopped on track and brought out the safety car.
At the restart Smolyar and Beckmann again held position, but Beckmann was able to stick with the ART and prevent Smolyar breaking more than a second away. After setting the fastest lap, Beckmann made his first move for the lead on lap 14, diving to the inside at Stowe. Beckmann momentarily took first, but Smolyar was able to repass him immediately.
Beckmann tried the same move on the following lap, but was again unsuccessful and fell back from Smolyar into the clutches of third-placed Clement Novalak. Beckmann managed to recover and get within two tenths of Smolyar in the final laps, but ultimately was unable to find a way around the ART. Smolyar eventually crossed the line with just half a second in hand over Beckmann, with Novalak close behind in third.
Alex Peroni finished fourth, capping off a strong weekend at Silverstone. Frederik Vesti and Logan Sargeant took fifth and sixth for Prema, with Sargeant also taking the points for fastest lap. Vesti and Sargeant were able to take advantage of technical woes for their championship rival and teammate Oscar Piastri, who was forced to retire on lap 11 when his DRS flap stuck open.
Saturday’s feature race winner Liam Lawson finished seventh after a fierce battle with the Premas ahead. Theo Pourchaire, Richard Verschoor and Jake Hughes rounded out the top ten.
Despite logging his first retirement of the year, Piastri still leads the championship after round four with 94 points over Sargeant’s 76. Beckmann’s podium keeps him in third place ahead of Lawson. Smolyar’s sprint race win moves him up to ninth.
In the teams’ standings, Prema have extended their lead over ART to 117.5 points. Trident remain in third with only 8.5 points between them and ART, while Hitech move up to fourth following Lawson’s win this weekend. Find the full Formula 3 drivers’ and teams’ standings here.
Formula 3 returns to Silverstone next weekend in support of the Formula 1 70th Anniversary Grand Prix.
Trident’s David Beckmann took his first Formula 3 victory in the Hungaroring sprint race, having fought back to first after losing the lead at the start.
Beckmann started from reverse grid pole but had a slow getaway compared to Dennis Hauger starting from third. Hauger took the lead into the first corner and showed great pace in the wet conditions to move two seconds clear of Beckmann by the end of lap 2.
Beckmann responded in the following laps, reducing the gap to under a second by lap 7, before the safety car was deployed when Liam Lawson pulled off with an engine failure.
When the race resumed on lap 10 Hauger jumped clear of Beckmann again. Meanwhile, Bent Viscaal had a great restart and passed his teammate Richard Verschoor for fifth, before then overtaking Logan Sargeant and Clement Novalak for third place by the end of the lap.
Viscaal continued charging, and on lap 13 the Dutchman moved into the lead after passing both Beckmann and then Hauger on the same lap. However, Viscaal was then handed a five-second penalty for causing a race-ending collision with Igor Fraga in the early laps, and was also placed under investigation for overtaking Sargeant off the track when taking fourth place.
As Viscaal set about trying to build a ten second gap to protect against a second penalty, Beckmann began pressuring Hauger for second place. The Danish driver was already six seconds adrift of Viscaal on lap 17 as his wet tyres struggled on the drying track, and he had little resistance to offer as Beckmann passed him on the inside of Turn 1.
Later on in the lap, Hauger then lost third place to Oscar Piastri, who had battled his way up the field from ninth on the grid.
With five laps to go Beckmann struggled to bring the gap to Viscaal down beneath six seconds. But this wasn’t needed in the end, as the stewards awarded Viscaal another five-second penalty for his pass on Sargeant, which would drop Viscaal to third and hand Beckmann the victory.
However, Viscaal’s penalties were to become even more painful on lap 20, when Federico Malvestiti crashed out and caused the race to end under the safety car. Viscaal’s gap at the front was wiped out, and when he crossed the line his ten-second penalty dropped him from first all the way down to P17.
Hauger was promoted back into third for his maiden podium, with Piastri scoring valuable championship points with second place and the fastest lap.
Sargeant finished fourth ahead of Verschoor, with yesterday’s winner Theo Pourchaire in sixth and leading his ART teammates Aleksandr Smolyar and Sebastian Fernandez. Enzo Fittipaldi and Alex Peroni rounded out the top ten.
After round 3, Piastri’s double podium has extended his lead in the drivers’ standings, and he now has 26 points in hand over second-placed Sargeant. Pourchaire has dropped to third, and is now only half a point ahead of Beckmann following the German’s win. In the team’s standings Prema has 171 points, more than double the total of nearest rivals Trident and ART.
Formula 3 will be back in two weeks’ time, supporting the Formula 1 British Grand Prix at Silverstone.
FIA Formula 3 returns this weekend with a bumper double-header in Spielberg, Austria.
As the 2020 season gets underway all eyes will be on Prema, who dominated last year’s championship to win both the drivers’ and teams’ titles. With Robert Shwartzman, Jehan Daruvala and Marcus Armstrong graduating to Formula 2, Prema has an all-new lineup for this year led by Renault academy driver and 2019 Formula Renault Eurocup champion Oscar Piastri.
Piastri is joined by Frederik Vesti, who won the 2019 Formula Regional European title with Prema, and Logan Sargeant, who has plenty of F3 experience having raced with Carlin last year.
Whether this new lineup will be able to recreate the eight wins and sixteen further podiums Prema swept to last year remains to be seen, and they won’t be without their competition.
Hitech were Prema’s closest rivals last year and has a trio of drivers for 2020 that combines talent and F3 experience. Max Fewtrell and Liam Lawson, Renault and Red Bull juniors respectively, both took podiums in their debut seasons last year, and are joined by Red Bull junior and reigning Italian F4 champion Dennis Hauger.
ART struggled last year to get to grips with the new F3 car and will be expected to improve after this learning experience. Their new lineup is headed by Sauber junior and reigning ADAC F4 champion Theo Pourchaire, who is joined by Alexsandr Smolyar and Sebastian Fernandez.
Another headache for Prema this weekend may also come from Jake Hughes, the only returning race winner from 2019. Hughes is staying with HWA Racelab for a second season, and this consistency should help him to hit the ground running in the first feature race of the year.
But there are plenty more drivers to watch throughout F3’s packed 30-car grid. Among them are 2019 Macau Grand Prix winner Richard Verschoor (MP Motorsport), rising Red Bull proteges Jack Doohan (HWA) and Igor Fraga (Charouz), 2019 British F3 champion Clement Novalak (Carlin), and the highly-rated Sophia Floersch (Campos).
With so many exceptional drivers and a true old-school circuit, this weekend at the Red Bull Ring will prove an exciting start to the 2020 Formula 3 championship.
For 2019, Igor Fraga competed in the inaugural Formula Regional European Championship, an F3-level series which competed in Italy for the most part with rounds also in France, Spain, Hungary and Austria.
The season was dominated for the most part by Prema with their trio of drivers consisting of Frederik Vesti, Enzo Fittipaldi and Olli Caldwell.
Fraga was undeterred, and with his team of DR Formula by RP Motorsport, he took four wins, four poles, three fastest laps and eleven podiums in 23 races, ending the season an incredibly impressive third behind Fittipaldi and champion Vesti.
Back in the virtual world, things went a little sour. The new format of the Gran Turismo championships meant that if you won overall in one particular event, you wouldn’t have to go qualify to participate in the World Finals at Monaco. After messing up his chances in the first round in Paris, he won the second event which took place at the Nürburgring supporting the 24-hour race. However it was the following event that really put a major downer on things.
The third event took place in New York and Fraga, having already guaranteed himself a place in the World Final, was racing in the event final against Mikail Hizal. They were driving at Spa and Hizal had better tyres. With the long drag from La Source all the way to the Kemmel Straight, it looked like a foregone conclusion that Hizal would pass Fraga.
However, Fraga first employed a tactic of getting off the throttle and letting Hizal through after La Source, only to immediately use the slipstream and get back past, which is tad sketchy but not inherently illegal.
Then he did something which really was wrong. He lifted off the throttle going up Eau Rouge and Hizal couldn’t avoid hitting him. After that, Hizal had to preserve fuel and dropped back by over five seconds. That last part is important.
Fraga was penalised. Although he didn’t actually lose anything, he was given a five-second penalty and kept his victory.
Three weeks later, and round four of the Grand Turismo championship took place at the Red Bull Hangar-7 in Austria. The debate was still centred on Fraga’s move in Italy, but to their credit, both Fraga and Hizal had taken to social media to address it. Fraga apologised, and Hizal encouraged people not to attack him, insisting he had learned from his mistake.
I had gotten into a bit of a war of words over Twitter regarding the incident with both Gran Turismo championships regular Fabian Portilla and also David Perel, a real-world driver who frequently plays Gran Turismo. Perel insisted that because it was not real-world racing and that there was no inherent danger, it meant doing such a thing was okay.
Nonetheless, Fraga participated in the GT World Finals, and to everyone’s shock, he spun out of contention in his semi-final and didn’t even make it into contention for a repechage race, unable to retain his crown. However, there was still the Manufacturers Series, a secondary competition where three drivers sign in-game with a manufacturer prior to each live event and the ones who qualify represent that manufacturer.
Fraga, alongside Tomoaki Yamanaka and Rayan Derrouiche, represented Toyota, and they became Manufacturer Series champions. This probably didn’t soften the blow of not being able to have the chance to defend his Nations Cup crown, which was won in the end quite fittingly by Mikail Hizal.
For 2020, Fraga was announced to be competing in the F1 Grand Prix-supporting FIA Formula 3 championship with Charouz Racing System, alongside F3 regular Niko Kari and fellow Formula Regional graduate David Schumacher. This was immediately generating headlines with the official F1 website crediting Fraga as ‘F1 Esports finalist joins F3’, but there was also what would come even before turning a wheel at an F1 Grand Prix.
It was announced that in preparation for the upcoming season, Fraga would participate in the New Zealand-based Toyota Racing Series, which is designed to keep drivers who usually compete in Europe sharp over the winter when there is no racing. The series has been won in the past by drivers such as current Jaguar Formula E driver Mitch Evans, and also current F1 drivers Lance Stroll and Lando Norris. Igor was placed into the M2 Competition team with the previous season’s champion Liam Lawson, and he really surprised everyone.
He really held his own against Lawson, going toe-to-toe with him when everyone was expecting the New Zealander to dominate. Lawson ended up winning five times to Fraga’s four, but due to Lawson’s one DNF and Fraga scoring in every round, Fraga ended the season as champion.
Not only that, Fraga won the New Zealand Grand Prix, an illustrious race that is one of only two races outside F1 to hold the title of a national Grand Prix along with the Macau Grand Prix. He did so whilst the first event of the 2020 FIA Gran Turismo championships was about to start just across the Tasman Sea in Sydney, Australia.
In spite of everything that may be thrown in the direction of Esports by racing ‘purists’, we have a fine example of how virtual racing can really open up doors of opportunity.
It all began for Fraga when his dad bought him Gran Turismo 4 on PlayStation 2 with a cheap wheel and pedals for him to practice on between sessions in his go-kart.
Yes, Fraga is not the prime example of what you think of when you hear ‘gamer turned racer’. He has a background in motorsport before getting involved in sim racing so he isn’t like GT Academy graduate Jann Mardenborough.
But before F1 Esports, the Gran Turismo Championships and McLaren Shadow Project final, Fraga did not have much chance of racing in Europe and thus pursuing his F1 dream. Now, however, he is a step closer to that. Especially now it has been confirmed he will be joining Red Bull’s junior program!
Fraga is an exciting driver who has proven that he isn’t just a PlayStation gamer looking to mix it with the big boys. He’s a racing driver first, and has proven that gaming and sim racing are not just a gimmick.
Just after he won the 2018 Gran Turismo World Championship, a video was released on Fraga’s YouTube channel which really does encapsulate the brilliance of everything:
Driving is for everyone. Whether you race karts at the weekends, or you’re a professional who is paid to race, or even if you drive digital versions of them, the beauty of racing is that it is well and truly a universal language. More than ever, we are seeing more people picking up online racing to fuel their desire to compete. It’s creating more opportunities than ever before, and that shouldn’t be dismissed.
I see so much in the way of gate-keeping in regard to Esports. Whether you like it or not, it’s an inexpensive alternative to real racing and it is here to stay. It’s up to you whether to embrace it or not, but you can’t deny it isn’t already proving its worth.
We have had Formula E doing a one-off sim race in Las Vegas with both sim drivers and regular-series drivers going head to head for a cash prize of $1,000,000. This was won by now-McLaren Shadow driver Bono Huis ahead of Felix Rosenqvist, who raced at the time for Mahindra in Formula E.
McLaren also partnered up with a competition called World’s Fastest Gamer in which kitchen sales-manager and former Dutch karting driver Rudy van Buren became McLaren simulator and development driver, he has since become Mahindra’s Formula E simulator driver now he’s looking to compete this year in Porsche SuperCup or Carrera Cup Germany.
The Race of Champions opened up an event for sim racers to participate in in 2018, in which also now-McLaren Shadow driver Enzo Bonito won. He made headlines a year later when he raced and defeated former Formula E champion Lucas di Grassi and former IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay in their heat races.
Red Bull F1 driver Max Verstappen and McLaren’s Lando Norris both like to participate in big iRacing endurance races too, having taken the win at last year’s iRacing Spa 24 hours even if Max’s broken brake pedal tried to sabotage that! Many other top-line drivers are also starting their own Esports teams, including Fernando Alonso, Jean Alesi, and even Jean-Éric Vergne who along with his old Carlin F3 teammate Rupert Svendson-Cook are the founders of Veloce Esports, who run the Esports teams of both Alonso and Alfa Romeo F1.
Jann Mardenborough is also worth a mention. He entered GT Academy when taking a gap year before university, and ended up winning it. As a result, he has driven cars including Nissan GT3s and various single-seaters, won a GP3 race in 2014, took a class podium finish at the 24 hours of Le Mans, and he nearly won championships in the Toyota Racing Series and Japanese F3. He’s now racing in Japan having competed in Super Formula and now mainly Super GT.
Finally, the FIA recognised the potential of virtual racing by giving certified status to the Gran Turismo championships and also by including it in the Olympic-style inaugural FIA Motorsport Games.
I’m British, so I was following Team UK’s entry into the Digital Cup. James Baldwin was our representative, but that’s an article for another day.
I hope you all feel compelled to seek out some virtual racing, whether it be to watch or to compete yourself. I hope I’ve convinced at least one person who wasn’t already convinced by Esports to check it out, and if so then that would be mission accomplished as far as I am concerned.
Especially with the cancelled motorsport events, it has been Esports that has come to the rescue! Veloce Esports and The Race have organised events that took place last Sunday which featured big names from the world of motorsport, and no doubt will there be more over the next few months.
I am certain that in the next couple of years, we will find an F1 champion or a 24 hours of Le Mans winner who started out in gaming. Whether that’ll be Igor or someone else entirely, they are bound by nothing.
This weekend was supposed to be the first round of the FIA Formula 3 championship, supporting the F1 and F2 rounds at the Bahrain Grand Prix. However, due to obvious health concerns, there has been a delay to proceedings.
We here at The Pit Crew Online wish everyone well during this time, and we respect that the health of everyone should be the foremost concern above anything else, including motorsport.
Anyway, today I want to talk about a certain driver who is going to be participating in the F3 championship this year, which was previously known as GP3.
The FIA’s rebranding of GP3 and the subsequent disagreements among the motorsport community as to what is rightfully an F3 championship have all been major talking points. This is especially so because it led to the demise of the beloved former F3 European Championship that raced alongside DTM, from where the likes of Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc and Lando Norris all came from.
Irrespective of how you feel about F3, I’m of the opinion that having the F3 name alongside F2 and F1 during Grand Prix weekends is a great thing, and I think we can all agree that the 3.4-litre naturally aspirated V6 is a sound to behold. Not only that, but the grid quality this year is extremely high!
The dominant Prema team have signed Oscar Piastri, Frederik Vesti and Logan Sargeant, the first two being the reigning champions in Formula Renault and the European F3 Regional series, whilst the latter took an amazing podium finish at Macau last year. Beyond Prema, we have the team that nobody expected to hold a slight candle to them, Hitech Grand Prix.
After Red Bull junior Jüri Vips gave the Prema trio of Robert Shwartzman, Marcus Armstrong and Jehan Daruvala some competition whilst racing for Hitech last year in F3, Red Bull seemed to conclude that Hitech was the best place to have two of their juniors. They’ve moved Liam Lawson over from MP, and promoted Norway’s Dennis Hauger from F4. They’ll be joined by Renault junior Max Fewtrell, who raced last year for ART Grand Prix.
Speaking of ART, they are housing another exciting talent jumping up from F4: 16-year old Théo Pourchaire, who denied Hauger the chance at being the first driver to win both the German and Italian F4 championships in the same year. Then there’s Enaam Ahmed, David Schumacher, Sophia Flörsch, Enzo Fittipaldi and Jack Doohan, so there are many drivers to get excited about for this season of F3.
However, none of them may generate more headlines than Igor Fraga.
Fraga was born in Japan back in 1998, to his Brazilian father and his Brazilian-Japanese mother. By the age of three he was already driving karts and did his first championship race aged five. It didn’t take him long to begin racking up championships – he won seven karting championships in Japan and also the Asian Karting Open Championship in 2008, but it was after returning to his native Brazil when it became clear that things would not be plain sailing.
When he was 15, he began competing in entry level formulae. He competed part time in Formula 1600, in which he took a victory, pole and fastest lap, as well as two races in Formula Vee which netted two podium finishes.
That got the attention of Prop Car Racing, who entered him into the Brazilian F3 championship’s secondary class, in which he won four out of 16 races and finished third in the standings.
Fraga then attempted to move to the primary class of F3 Brazil for the following season, but due to factors outside of their control and despite Fraga’s best efforts – which heralded a podium finish – they couldn’t continue in the category and pulled out after just four races.
After sitting out the rest of 2016, Fraga returned to Brazilian F3’s secondary class for 2017 and it was well worth the wait. Fraga took 10 wins, 13 podiums and seven poles in 16 races on his way to the secondary class championship. Prop Car knew Fraga had potential, so they decided to put in the effort to ensure Fraga could compete in the Mexican-based NACAM F4 Championship between September 2017 and June 2018.
Being outside his native Brazil, Fraga did all that he could to learn the tracks, including the Mexican Grand Prix circuit. How did he go about doing that? By buying the most recent F1 game installment by Codemasters of course!
It was around this time that I first heard about him, as he entered the inaugural F1 Esports Series and qualified for the semi-finals in London, which took place in early October.
Fraga was up against now two-time F1 Esports champion Brendon Leigh as well as a lot of other highly-rated racers. He finished fourth in the first race at Silverstone and second at Interlagos, and as a result he had qualified for the final, which took place alongside the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
By participating in this, Fraga missed one of the NACAM F4 rounds – would it be worth it? Unfortunately, he did not do too brilliantly. He finished 18th out of 20, failing to score in the first two races and then only picking up points in the final race when the points were changed to allow every classified driver to score.
Back in the world of physical racing, Fraga completed his NACAM F4 campaign as runner-up, over 100 points behind champion Moisés de la Vara. Fraga, however, was already concentrating on primary 2018 campaign.
He attracted the attention of former F1 and IndyCar driver Roberto Moreno, who invited Fraga to stay at his place in America and personally invested his own money to help him get a drive in the USF2000 Championship, the first step on the Road To Indy program. Racing for the Exclusive Autosport team, Fraga took home three podiums on his way to fourth in the final standings. His big moment, however, was yet to come.
He once again saw an Esports opportunity when he entered into the inaugural FIA-certified Gran Turismo Championships Americas regional final. He got a top two finish in his split, guaranteeing him a place in the World Final before going on to become the Americas regional champion with a crushing dominance in the last race on the Interlagos circuit. This set him up as one of the favourites heading into the World Final in Monaco.
He won his split in the semi-finals and qualified for the Final’s four races. He won the first race, held in road-going sports cars, and was leading the second race at Interlagos in GT3-style cars when a late charge by a rival forced Fraga into a mistake on the last lap. He tumbled down from first to fourth at the line.
Race three was even more of a nightmare. Held at Monza in Le Mans prototype cars, Fraga tumbled from fourth to tenth which meant he was to start tenth for the final race, which was worth double the points of previous races. It was not going to be easy.
The last race’s car of choice was the fictional Red Bull X2014, and they would do battle on the Circuit de la Sarthe. I remember watching this race live and being convinced that Fraga would find a way to win, and what happened next just beggars belief.
In the Nations Cup races, drivers have to use every compound of dry-weather tyre. Fraga had tactically put the slowest tyre type on first and due to the high-speed nature of the circuit, he remained in the slipstream of the cars ahead and was lapping as quick if not quicker than the frontrunners on the best tyres. By the time they all made their stops and used every type of tyre, Fraga was now on the best compound and amongst the leaders, who were now on the worst compound.
He got up to second and already had enough points to seal the world championship, but that didn’t deter him. He went for the lead and he won the race and with it, became FIA Gran Turismo Nations Cup world champion. Fraga was on top of the world, and he wasn’t done yet.
Only two months later, Fraga once again competed in an Esports competition. McLaren held a unique event where seven drivers who had qualified through a variety of different platforms would go head to head in a cross-discipline set of races consisting of sim racing, console driving, virtual reality and mobile gaming. All of this would determine which one of them would become a member of the McLaren Shadow Esports team.
Not only would Fraga and his fellow Shadow finalists be racing on a variety of racing games, they’d also be put to the test in a real-world McLaren GT4 car, the top-secret McLaren simulator, and human performance analysis to test physical and mental strength.
In this unprecedented format, the finalists competed on various virtual platforms, racing different spec cars at various circuits on iRacing, Forza Motorsport 7, Real Racing 3, Project CARS 2 and rFactor 2.
Unbelievably consistent, Fraga racked up points and eased into contention. He was easily in the top three, and competed in the race that would decide who would earn the place in the Esports team. The final decider was held on rFactor 2 and Fraga won with ease.
Fraga began 2019 on the back of becoming the first FIA Gran Turismo World Champion and earning a place on McLaren’s Esports team. As a result of this, both Gran Turismo and McLaren Shadow agreed to back his real-world racing campaign that year. So as a direct result of Esports, Fraga had become a very well-known name in the motorsport world and was now able to fulfil his dream of racing in Europe.
Igor Fraga has been at the sharp end of the USF2000 class all season, sitting in third in the championship with the two races at Portland remaining. Fraga races under the Brazilian flag and, despite growing up in Japan, made the switch to the Mazda Road to Indy programme for this season, having dominated Formula 3 Brazil Light last year.
Emily Inganni – How has this season of USF2000 been for you so far?
Igor Fraga – I believe that overall, it’s being really good season for me. I am a no budget driver, and to cut some costs, my dad it’s my mechanic, sometimes we slept on the rental car, I don’t have any coach and even with all the difficulties, I’m still running in the 3rd place on championship.
EI – How hard has it been to be a rookie in the series? Do you feel you’ve adapted well?
IF – I’m definitely learning each day in this series. It’s being a tough year, but I think I adapted well in the series. I’m enjoying each moment that the series is providing, on track and off track.
EI – Do you have any plans for next year yet? Do you want to stay in USF2000, move up to Pro Mazda or something else?
IF – Until now, I don’t have any plans yet. How I said on top, I’m a no budget driver, so I depend on many circumstances. But if I have the opportunity, I really want to move up to the next category.
EI – How have you found the Mazda Road to Indy programme in your first year, do you think that it’s a good way for young drivers to progress?
IF – I believe that the Mazda Road to Indy is one of the best ways to become a professional racing driver. Not only on track but I’m having some off-track activities where I’m learning to deal better with the medias and etc.
EI – How does racing in America compare to racing back in Brazil? Is it what you expected it to be?
IF – I was expecting that the team and driver level was going to be really high. The engineers have a lot of knowledge and I’m enjoying competing here in the Mazda Road to Indy. I was just surprise about the off-track activities that prepare the driver professionally.
EI – Where did you start racing, was it in Japan or Brazil? Also, what inspired you to race in the first place?
IF – I started in the go karting when I was living in Japan (3 years old). I was really small when I started, so I don’t remember to be honest. I just know that since I was young, I already liked to play with toy cars, racing games and I wanted to do the same in real life.
EI – Does racing in Europe appeal to you or would you rather stay in America?
IF – The racing in general interests me. I really like to drive something fast! I think that have some really good categories on both continents, and I’m really glad to have this opportunity to be here on US chasing my dream.
EI – To finish, what advice would you give to young drivers starting racing? Are there any things you wish you knew when you started?
IF – Karting it’s always a good category to start. Also, with all the technology going on, the simulators it’s being really precise. My main advice is practice and prepare yourself the best way you can and don’t give up. It can be really difficult, but don’t give up and keep trying.
A big thanks to Igor for answering my questions. The next interview of the series is coming up tomorrow so stay tuned…