Why Red Bull’s misuse of Super Formula needs to end

A typhoon warning may have left the Suzuka circuit barren, but if thoughts were the metric to go by the minds of Pierre Gasly and Helmut Marko’s were anything but. They were only half-a-point away from the ultimate prize, after all.

Pierre had his own considerations, certainly about how he was staring down a double-barrel gun of success (were he to prevail, he’d be the first overseas champion since Andre Lotterer in 2011, first rookie since Ralf Schumacher in 1996 and first overall for both since the renaming from Formula Nippon in 2013), but Marko’s were likely about just what a blinder they’d played with their decision.

Opting not to fast-track Gasly into a Toro Rosso F1 seat after his 2016 GP2 title win, the time spent putting noses out of joint in Japan’s elite open-wheel series looked every inch a masterstroke. Red Bull and Honda’s relationship began to blossom and their next hopeful’s confidence was sky-high. It offered another nugget to chew on, too: did they need to bother with the de-facto ladder to F1 at all?

Two years on, it’s almost time for the Suzuka finale once again. There’s not been a Red Bull-backed entry in the renamed F2 full-time since Gasly, and yet three of their academy hopefuls have featured in Super Formula just this season. None of them have replicated anything like the silky form of their French predecessor, nor have they been given the chance.

The #15 Team Mugen car, one of two Red Bull-backed seats in the series, began the season in the hands of the controversial Dan Ticktum. Dan had only just graduated from European F3 the season before, and toiled in the Asian Series not long after, yet Red Bull saw the risk of placing their baby cub into the lion pit of sage ex-F1, DTM and WEC drivers as a worthwhile one.

Dutch Photo Agency/Red Bull Content Pool

Three races, three struggling endeavours and a solitary point later, allegations of Ticktum’s attitude hitting rock bottom and even acts of assault on a Mugen team member had the Brit packing his bags for the first flight out of both Japan and the Red Bull Junior Programme. It spelled disaster for a man the casino chips were placed on, but as luck would have it the energy drink colossus had snagged a promising IndyCar driver struggling for funds in Patricio O’Ward.

The new poster child of the Junior Programme, the dust was brushed off the seat of the #15 car and Pato was placed firmly inside, in an attempt to acclimatise the 20 year old Mexican into more traditional open-wheel racing alongside a crack of the F2 whip in Austria as a one-off. 

Three races, three growingly impressive efforts and three points later, Pato has now disembarked from the Red Bull train after just four months and four events raced under the Junior Programme’s tutelage. Bereft of expected Super Licence points, the jig was up. The #15 Team Mugen welcomes it’s third Red-Bull backed starlet in Estonian F3 graduate Juri Vips while Pato looks set to make up for lost time back in IndyCar for 2020.

Three. Drivers. Let’s evaluate the season: an F3 graduate, short (admittedly of his own fault) on confidence and recent career racing, was deemed a worthy competitor for Super Formula’s high calibre. Once his old habits and inexperience set ablaze his title chances, Red Bull replaced him with a similarly inexperienced prospect mid-season. Pato’s North American schooling was given all of three events to be repurposed before a short-term fast-tracking broke down, and now another F3 graduate is taking the mantle for the finale.

Aside from Red Bull’s other championship effort, Lucas Auer – an ex-DTM driver deemed unlikely to ever be in their future F1 plans – who sits third in the table, the Junior Programme’s 2019 trip east has been an unmitigated disaster. One driver was thrown into the deep end too soon, and the other was submerged in the waves even sooner, and was deemed little more than a vanity project the moment the plan A for him became an impossibility.

Dutch Photo Agency/Red Bull Content Pool

Gasly, like other F1-attached junior drives such as Stoffel Vandoorne, were able to not only survive but succeed in Super Formula because they were at the tail-end of their growth. Two GP2 champions, brimmed with open-wheel experience and virtually ready for the big time, they had the necessary time to grow stronger and wiser before they were unleashed on a series filled with stalwarts in the primes of their careers. F3 and inexperienced Indy graduates aren’t at such a level and either need to be given the time to acclimatise, or not be placed there at all.

Red Bull’s usage of Super Formula as an alternative to F2 has been one marred with underestimation of what it takes to succeed in the series, and drastically short-term ambitions for the drivers they deem fit to place in it. Ticktum’s warning signs were well apparent even before he made the leap, and yet Red Bull didn’t recognise the error they were making. Pato was beginning to adjust to a jarring challenge with aplomb, yet Red Bull have no desire to see his development through, and now Vips stands to be deemed fit for a 2020 Team Mugen seat despite his own premature stage of development.

In a way, it’s a sign of just how far Red Bull’s Junior Programme has fallen; what was once an environment in which talent aplenty flowed through the mains, and World Championships were wringed out of the system, is now a barren wasteland frequently topped up with drivers they’d deemed inadequate years ago or bundled into F1 without prior funding. Current Red Bull Racing duo, Max Verstappen and Alex Albon, are signs of this.

Max never suffered rejection from the programme, but neither can it lay claim to truly nurturing him pre-F1 – he spent all of one week in it before being announced as a 2015 Toro Rosso race driver, and was already a made man by the time they inquired for his services – while Alex spent a solitary season with them in 2012 before being released. 

Toro Rosso now sees two drivers who were both ruled as unneeded at the A-team and sent to bide their time back in Faenza, with Daniil in particular even being dropped from the Red Bull lifeline for over a year in 2017 before, once again, the talent tank ran dry and an ex-employee’s services were required. Recent Toro Rosso driver Brendon Hartley is another example of such a scenario.

The Super Formula experiment is backfiring for Red Bull, and it’s of their own doing. Shunning a ready-made proving ground in F2 and treating the proud, developed Super Formula as a junior series without consideration for the culture shock it provides to drivers not yet properly developed has and will continue to be a disaster, and for every victim it creates there aren’t enough phone numbers in the exes list to realistically ring as last resorts. It had Pierre teetering on the edge of glory two years ago; it has the Junior Team on the brink of implosion now.

 

[Featured image – Sho Tamura / Red Bull Content Pool]

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 Russia preview: Down to the wire

The fight for the 2019 FIA Formula 3 title comes to an end this weekend, as the championship heads to Russia’s Sochi Autodrom for its eighth and final round.

Runaway championship leader Robert Shwartzman has about as good a chance as he can hope for of claiming the title at his home race. The Prema driver has only one challenger remaining who can snatch the title away from him—his teammate Jehan Daruvala. But with 33 points between them against only 48 on offer this weekend, Daruvala’s chances are looking slim at best.

Discounting the points for pole and fastest lap, Daruvala must finish the feature race in first or second while hoping Shwartzman fails to score to even take the title fight to the final sprint race on Sunday. Meanwhile, a top two finish for Shwartzman in the feature race will earn him the title with one race to spare, regardless of how Daruvala scores.

If Shwartzman does leave Sochi with the F3 title, it will cap off a season in which the Russian has claimed three victories, five further podiums and helped Prema to clinch the year’s teams’ championship.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

While Shwartzman and Daruvala chase the top honours, there is a fierce fight behind them for third in the standings, between Hitech’s Juri Vips and Prema’s Marcus Amstrong.

Vips was a title contender back in the summer after victories in Austria and Great Britain, but has endured a run of pointless finishes since the Spa feature race. This has left him 58 points adrift of Shwartzman and only two ahead of Armstrong, whose two sprint race wins in Hungary and Belgium have propelled him up the standings.

Both drivers have plenty to prove by taking the coveted third spot. For Armstrong, that he can lead Prema’s title charge when Shwartzman likely graduates from F3 next season. And for Vips, that he still deserves Red Bull’s focus as their next best junior progression to Formula 1.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

Two new faces will be joining the F3 grid for the Sochi finale.

The first is 2017 Asian Formula Renault and Chinese F4 champion, Hon Chio Leong of Macau. Leong will race in the third Jenzer car, which has been notable for its revolving lineup this season with Artem Petrov, Giorgio Carrara and Federico Malvestiti all contesting at least one race as teammate to regular drivers Yuki Tsunoda and Andreas Estner.

Leong will also be with Jenzer at F3’s post-season test in Valencia, with the aim of competing on home soil at the non-championship Macau Grand Prix.

The second new driver is David Schumacher, son of former F1 driver Ralf and cousin to Prema F2 driver Mick. Schumacher joins Campos in place of Alex Peroni, who is missing the Sochi finale after fracturing his vertebrae in a crash at the last round at Monza.

UPDATE: There will be one further change this weekend, as ART’s David Beckmann will skip the Sochi finale due to a family emergency. He will not be substituted, meaning ART will field only two cars for Christian Lundgaard and Max Fewtrell.

Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

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.

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

Meet the 2019 Red Bull Junior Team

While Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon have grabbed the headlines this summer, there’s more to the Red Bull driver programme than just their Formula 1 stable. We take a look at each of their upcoming young talents, from karting all the way to the F1 feeder series’.

Juri Vips

Juri Vips celebrating victory at the Red Bull Ring (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

Juri Vips is perhaps the closest Red Bull junior to Formula One right now. The 19-year-old Estonian joined the programme ahead of last year’s Macau Grand Prix, after becoming an F4 champion in 2017 and finishing fourth in the 2018 European F3 series. He is currently driving for Hitech in FIA F3, and is running second with two victories to his name.

Patricio O’Ward

Patricio OWard racing Super Formula at Motegi (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

Red Bull’s newest signing is Patricio O’Ward, winner of the 2017 WeatherTech Sportscar and 2018 Indy Lights championships. O’Ward has had a mixed 2019 so far, racing a part-time IndyCar entry with Carlin after losing his initial Harding Steinbrenner Racing drive due to sponsorship issues. With Red Bull backing he has since made appearances in F2 for MP Motorsport and Super Formula with Team Mugen.

Yuki Tsunoda

Yuki Tsunoda driving for Jenzer at the Hungaroring (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

2018 Japanese F4 champion Yuki Tsunoda joined the Red Bull programme through his links with the Honda Formula Dream Project. Red Bull currently has the 19-year-old racing on the F1 support bill in FIA F3 with Jenzer Motorsport. Tsunoda is also driving for Team Motopark in the Euroformula Open series, where he is running fourth in the standings with one win.

Lucas Auer

Lucas Auer on his way to third at SUGO (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

24-year-old Austrian Lucas Auer is another one of Red Bull’s new 2019 signings. Auer has flirted with the pinnacle of motorsport already, having challenged for titles in Formula 3 and DTM and tested Force India’s F1 car in 2017. He has joined O’Ward in Super Formula for this year, and took his first podium of the series at Sportsland SUGO.

Liam Lawson

Liam Lawson in the FIA F3 paddock (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

New Zealander Liam Lawson joined Red Bull this year just a few days after his 17th birthday—and after securing the Toyota Racing Series title over Ferrari junior Marcus Armstrong. Lawson has continued to race Armstrong in FIA F3 this year, driving for MP Motorsport. He is also placed third in Euroformula Open with two victories to his name.

Jack Doohan

Jack Doohan at the Red Bull Ring (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

Son of MotoGP legend Mick Doohan, Jack Doohan has joined fellow Red Bull juniors Lawson and Tsunoda in this year’s Euroformula Open Championship. He is currently seventh in the standings with two second places and six other points finishes. Doohan has also taken multiple victories driving for Hitech in Asian F3 this year.

Dennis Hauger

Dennis Hauger celebrating victory in ADAC F4 (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

After a successful Formula 4 debut last year, Red Bull has rewarded 16-year-old Dennis Hauger with a dual programme in Italian F4 and ADAC F4 for 2019. Driving for Van Amersfoort Racing in both series’, the Norwegian driver has taken six wins and seven pole positions altogether this year and is currently second in the Italian standings.

Jonny Edgar

Jonny Edgar driving in the Italian F4 Championship (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

15-year-old British driver Jonny Edgar has stepped up to his first season of racing cars this year, driving for Jenzer Motorsport in the Italian F4 Championship. He is currently 13th in the standings after six points finishes, the best of which so far is a fifth place at the Hungaroring. Like Hauger, he is also entered in the ADAC F4 series.

Harry Thompson

Harry Thompson in the 2018 WSK Final Cup (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

Having only turned 15 earlier this month, Harry Thompson is the youngest current member of the Red Bull Junior Team. After being named FIA Karting Rookie of the Year in 2018, Thompson is continuing his karting career this year in both European and British championships.