F3 Monza: Title is Shwartzman’s to lose

The penultimate round of the 2019 FIA Formula 3 Championship takes place this weekend at Monza.

After a double podium at the last round in Belgium, championship leader Robert Shwartzman has the opportunity to wrap up the title in Italy this weekend.

There are currently seven drivers who can still mathematically deny Shwartzman the title: Jehan Daruvala, Juri Vips, Marcus Armstrong, Christian Lundgaard, Pedro Piquet, Leo Pulcini and Max Fewtrell. But such is Shwartzman’s lead that if the Ferrari junior can outscore his rivals by 26 points, the championship will be his with one round to spare.

Shwartzman’s closest challenger is his fellow Prema teammate and Ferrari junior Daruvala, who is on 129 points to Shwartzman’s 152. But Daruvala doesn’t have the luxury of just looking ahead, as Vips and Armstrong are within 10 points of him and Lundgaard is only a strong result away from joining them.

Jehan Daruvala, Prema (Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship)

With the season nearing its finale, close racing is expected throughout the field as drivers try to use what few opportunities are left to impress ahead of 2020.

Bent Viscaal, Felipe Drugovich, Simo Laaksonen, Teppei Natori and Fabio Scherer have all scored just one points finish each this season, and they will be fighting desperately at Monza to get more points on the board while they can.

Scherer’s fellow Sauber Junior Team drivers Lirim Zendelli and Raoul Hyman will also be on the hunt for any chance to end their season on a high and justify their links to the F1 team for another year. Zendelli, the runaway 2018 German F4 champion, has only six points to his name and hasn’t scored since Austria, while Hyman has no points and a best result of 13th.

And in a similar situation is Hitech driver and Renault junior Ye Yifei, who has come close to the points on several occasions but remains 24th in the championship.

Lirim Zendeli, Sauber Junior Team by Charouz (Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship)

F3 Belgium: Armstrong untouchable in Spa sprint race

Prema Racing’s Marcus Armstrong took his second Formula 3 victory of 2019 at the sprint race in Belgium, as a fierce battle for the podium positions behind allowed him to cruise away in the lead.

Armstrong made a good start from reverse grid pole to cover off a challenge from Hitech’s Leo Pulcini, who started second on the grid. Pulcini then found himself sandwiched between Red Bull juniors Yuki Tsunoda and Juri Vips going into the La Source hairpin, where he made contact with Tsunoda trying to defend second. This forced Pulcini wide, where he in turn banged wheels with Vips on the outside of the corner and sent the Estonian driver onto the run off.

With Pulcini and Vips dropping back, Tsunoda assumed second place and ART’s Christian Lundgaard took third ahead of championship leader Robert Shwartzman. Pulcini initially filtered back into fifth between Shwartzman and Jehan Daruvala, but was passed by the final Prema into Les Combes on lap 3.

Meanwhile, Vips dropped back to eighth and immediately had to defend from Max Fewtrell’s ART. Fewtrell got the move done into the bus stop chicane at the end of lap 2, demoting Vips out of the sprint race points. Behind them, Logan Sargent got involved in his second incident of the weekend by spinning around MP Motorsport’s Liam Lawson.

Gareth Harford, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

On lap 4, the safety car was deployed after Simo Laaksonen lost control of his car at Blanchimont while fighting Alex Peroni and ended up deep in the barriers. The medical car was deployed to bring him to the medical centre for treatment, although initial reports are that Laaksonen is not badly injured.

The race resumed on lap 9 of 17, and the restart brought incidents throughout the field. Vips ran into the back of Fewtrell trying to retake eighth and broke off his front wing in the process, which left the Red Bull junior vulnerable to Fewtrell’s ART teammate David Beckmann. Vips shortly dropped to the back of the field, where he was joined by Jake Hughes and Devlin DeFrancesco, who collided going into Les Combes.

At the front, Armstrong opened up a lead of 1.4 seconds over Tsunoda at the restart. Tsunoda seemed to struggle during this second phase of the race, and within a few laps was under pressure from Lundgaard. The Dane closed up to within half a second, then on lap 14 dove down the inside of Tsunoda and took second place.

Gareth Harford, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

However, Tsunoda kept with Lundgaard and on the following lap tried to retake the position around the outside of Les Combes. Although that move was unsuccessful, Tsunoda managed to beat Lundgaard on the inside there on the following lap, after Lundgaard ran into his rev limiter defending down the Kemmel Straight.

Losing second to Tsunoda dropped Lundgaard back into the clutches of Shwartzman, who was only three tenths behind the ART. On the final lap and again at Les Combes, Shwartzman moved up the inside and took his seventh podium of the year, and second of the Spa weekend.

At the end of lap 17 Armstrong crossed the line with four seconds in hand over Tsunoda and Shwartzman. Lundgaard held on to fourth ahead of Daruvala, Saturday’s feature race winner Pedro Piquet took sixth place from Pulcini, and the final point went to Carlin’s Teppei Natori after Fewtrell retired from eighth with a puncture.

After the Spa weekend, Shwartzman’s championship lead has been extended to 23 points over Daruvala, who has moved up to second at the expense of Vips. Armstrong consolidated his fourth place over Lundgaard and is now only three points behind Vips.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

F3 Belgium: Piquet denies Prema victory

Pedro Piquet and Trident took their first Formula 3 victory in the Spa feature race, enjoying a comfortable lead over his Prema challengers throughout.

Piquet got a good launch from second on the grid and passed polesitter Jehan Daruvala for the lead on the opening lap. Meanwhile, Daruvala’s teammate and championship rival Robert Shwartzman dropped back through the order from his starting spot in fourth.

While Piquet was passing Daruvala, two separate incidents further back brought out a virtual safety car: Jake Hughes was spun out of fifth place by Logan Sargent, and Alex Peroni misjudged an overtake on Devlin DeFrancesco and ended up in the barriers.

When the racing resumed, Piquet opened up his gap over Daruvala to nearly five seconds, while Shwartzman set about climbing back through the field. On lap 14 Shwartzman caught Daruvala and passed him for second place. Shwartzman then took 1.2 seconds out of Piquet’s lead, but with only three laps remaining he was unable to challenge the Trident for the lead and had to settle for second place.

Robert Shwartzman, Prema (Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship)

Hitech’s Leonardo Pulcini looked set to finish fourth having run ahead of Yuki Tsunoda, Juri Vips and Christian Lundgaard for most of the race. But in the final laps Pulcini’s pursuers closed in and they went four-wide on the Kemmel Straight. Pulcini was the big loser and dropped behind, while Lundgaard appeared to come out in front but went wide into Les Combes and allowed Vips through into fourth.

But Lundgaard kept up the pressure on the Red Bull junior, and a lock up for Vips at the Bus Stop chicane on the last lap gave Lundgaard the opening to take fourth place across the line.

Vips managed to keep fifth place ahead of Tsunoda and Pulcini. Prema’s Marcus Armstrong finished eighth to take reverse grid pole for tomorrow, and Lundgaard’s ART teammates Max Fewtrell and David Beckmann rounded out the points in ninth and tenth.

Max Fewtrell, ART (Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship)

F3 Belgium preview: All eyes on Prema

Round 6 of the 2019 Formula 3 season takes place this weekend in Belgium, where Prema will be feeling the pressure to keep up their command of the championship.

The Italian team have won half of all the races run so far this season and their drivers occupy three of the top four spots in the championship. For Robert Shwartzman, who currently tops the standings on 124 points, the goal will be to steer his car towards another podium at the very least and increase his 12-point lead over second-placed Juri Vips.

However, Shwartzman will be hard-pressed by his own teammates. Jehan Daruvala needs to regain some ground in the title battle at Spa, after a pair of non-points finishes at Silverstone and the Hungaroring undid his run of podiums and wins earlier in the season. And in fourth place in the standings, Marcus Armstrong will be looking to prove he is every bit in contention as his teammates after his first series win in the Hungary sprint race.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

But there’s no guarantee Prema will have it all their way in Spa this weekend. After dominating the first two rounds, in which Shwartzman and Daruvala took a feature and sprint race win apiece, the Italian team have faced a stern fightback from the likes of Hitech, HWA Racelab and ART.

Vips is as much a contender for victory this weekend as any of the Premas, and taking a third win of the season will go a long way to impressing his Red Bull bosses as they evaluate where to place the Estonian next year.

Nor can Christian Lundgaard be discounted. After a rocky opening to the season, including four consecutive non-points finishes across France and Austria, the Renault junior driver was imperious in Hungary as he sealed pole position, fastest lap and victory in the feature race. Provided Lundgaard and ART have made a genuine breakthrough with the 2019 F3 car, there’s every reason to expect this pairing at the front for the rest of the year.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

Lower down the order, several drivers will be hoping to reignite their campaigns after the summer reset as they look to improve their positions in the 2020 driver market.

David Beckmann is one of those. After scoring three wins with Trident in last year’s GP3 championship, Beckmann has struggled with ART this year and is currently 11th with only four points finishes. With stablemates Lundgaard and Max Fewtrell a long way ahead of him in the points, Beckmann needs a good result in Belgium to get his season back on track.

Also needing to step up his game in the final three rounds is Yuki Tsunoda. Although the Japanese driver is currently dominating his Jenzer teammates (being the team’s only point-scoring driver), he remains 12th in the championship and behind fellow Red Bull juniors Vips and Liam Lawson. Tsunoda is having a much better season in the 2019 Euroformula Open championship, where he is fourth with one win and three further podiums, so there’s no doubt he’s got more speed to come if he and Jenzer can unlock the potential of his car in practice.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship
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