F3 Styria preview: pressure on for Prema

When Formula 3 returns to the Red Bull Ring in support of the Styrian Grand Prix this weekend, all the pressure will be on Prema to maintain their dominant start to the season.

The Italian team started last weekend with Oscar Piastri and Logan Sargeant taking a 1–2 in the feature race, and Frederik Vesti scoring solid points in both races. As such, Piastri leads the championship with 30 points, with Sargeant in third and Vesti fifth.

Liam Lawson’s win in the Austria sprint race has him second in the standings behind Piastri and makes the Red Bull junior one to watch again this weekend. Alex Peroni also shone at the last round, taking third place behind the Premas in the feature race, and it will be interesting to see if he can continue this forward momentum in his second F3 season.

Trident also had a decent start to the season with Lirim Zendelli and David Beckmann scoring in both races, putting the team second in the championship. To capitalise on this start they’ll need Beckmann and Zendelli to push on towards the podium this weekend, as well as for new signing Olli Caldwell to join them in the points.

David Beckmann, Trident (Clive Mason / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

One driver who will be hoping for better fortunes in Spielberg this weekend is Sebastian Fernandez. The ART driver claimed a surprise maiden pole for last weekend’s feature race but lost his shot at victory when he was spun by Piastri at Turn 1. But if Fernandez can hook it up in qualifying again this Saturday, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be able to take the fight to Prema and challenge for his maiden win.

Jake Hughes will also be eager to move on from a disappointing season opener. He was all but out of the feature race before it even began with technical problems meaning he couldn’t start from his qualifying position inside the top 10. But in the sprint race he climbed 16 places from the back row of the grid to P12, showing he has the pace and experience needed to fight at the front, provided his car doesn’t let him down.

Finally, Charouz and Jenzer are the teams most in need of an improvement this weekend as they are the only two outfits still yet to score points with any of their drivers. Charouz came closest last time out, with a best of P15 for David Schumacher in the sprint race, but neither team really came close to worrying the top 10. In such an unusual season, both Charouz and Jenzer will have to find improvements fast if they’re to avoid being stuck to the bottom of the standings.

Sebastian
Fernandez, ART (Dan Istitene / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

F3 Austria: Lawson climbs to sprint race victory

Hitech’s Liam Lawson took victory in Sunday’s Red Bull Ring sprint race, rising from fifth on the grid to take his first win in Formula 3.

Carlin’s Clement Novalak made a good getaway from reverse grid pole to lead into Turn 1, while ART’s Aleksandr Smolyar was slow away from second, being passed by David Beckmann, Lawson and Richard Verschoor.

Beckmann kept close to Novalak through the opening laps, and on lap 4 he passed the Carlin for the lead under DRS. Novalak tried to retake the lead on the following lap but ran wide, losing second place to Lawson when he rejoined the track.

Lawson immediately closed up the gap to Beckmann, and on lap 7 he took the lead into Turn 3. Within two laps Lawson managed to pull out of DRS range of Beckmann, as the Trident came under pressure from Novalak and Verschoor.

On lap 10 Novalak demoted Beckmann back to third with a late lunge into Turn 3. Verschoor tried to do the same to take third from Beckmann a lap later but their battle was called off when Alex Peroni broke down and brought on a Virtual Safety Car.

Clement Novalak, Carlin (Carl Bingham, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship)

With the track clear again on lap 12, Verschoor resumed his assault on Beckmann and took away third place under DRS. By this time, Verschoor was 1.2s behind Novalak, but by lap 16 he brought this gap down to 0.2s and dived down the inside of the Carlin into Turn 3 to take second.

Novalak tried to retake the position several times through lap 17 but couldn’t make a move stick. While he and Verschoor battled over second, Lawson was able to open up a two-second gap over them.

On lap 19 the safety car was deployed after Roman Stanek hit a DRS board out of the last corner, wiping out Lawson’s gap over Verschoor and Novalak. But with the race resuming with just two laps remaining, there wasn’t enough time for DRS to be enabled and so Lawson managed to hold on to beat Verschoor by 0.4s. Novalak held onto third and Beckmann missed out on the podium in fourth.

Beckmann’s teammate Lirim Zendelli finished fifth ahead of Prema’s Frederik Vesti, with Smolyar coming home seventh after tumbling from the front row of the grid. Saturday’s feature race winner Oscar Piastri finished eighth and picked up an extra two points for the fastest lap. Enzo Fittipaldi finished ninth for HWA, and Hitech’s Max Fewtrell took the final point in tenth.

After the first weekend of F3 racing, Piastri leads the championship with 30 points, seven ahead of Lawson. Logan Sargeant and Peroni are third and fourth, despite neither scoring in the sprint race. Prema already hold a commanding lead in the teams’ standings with 65 points, 35 clear of next-best Trident.

Formula 3 returns next weekend at the Red Bull Ring again, supporting the Formula 1 Styrian Grand Prix.

Joe Portlock / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

F3 Austria: Piastri leads Prema 1–2 in feature race

Oscar Piastri cruised to victory at the Red Bull Ring in the first Formula 3 feature race of 2020, leading teammate Logan Sargeant in a Prema 1–2.

Piastri started from third on the grid behind ART’s polesitter Sebastian Fernandez and Trident’s Lirim Zendelli, but made a rapid launch to challenge for the lead into Turn 1. By Turn 4 he was into first place, having clipped Fernandez into a spin at the first corner and passing Zendelli shortly after.

With no further action taken on his contact with Fernandez, Piastri was free to build an early lead over the chasing pack. After setting an early fastest lap, Piastri already had several seconds in hand over second-placed Zendelli by lap 5.

Lirim Zendelli, Trident (Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship)

While Piastri ran away at the front, the rest of the top 10 ran in a tight train all within DRS range of each other. Zendelli held onto second for the first few laps, but on lap 6 he was passed at Turn 4 by both Sargeant and Alex Peroni, who had charged up from eighth on the grid.

Three laps later, Zendelli lost another place to Frederik Vesti and dropped to fifth. Behind them, Red Bull-backed Liam Lawson continued his rise from 12th on the grid by passing David Beckmann for sixth.

Further back, Aleksandr Smolyar and Clement Novalak occupied the final places in the top 10, having been gifted positions by Fernandez’s spin and Jake Hughes pulling into the pits after the formation lap.

Logan Sargeant, Prema (Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship)

On lap 14 Sargeant set the fastest lap and began to capitalise on the tyre wear Piastri had incurred in his early charge. As the race neared its closing laps Sargeant reduced the gap to his teammate from 3.5s to 1.7s, with Piastri having visibly less grip than the chasing Prema.

However, with the laps ticking down Piastri had enough in hand to stay ahead of Sargeant until the chequered flag, and take the feature race win on his F3 debut. Sargeant came home in second for a Prema 1–2, while Peroni took his first podium in third. Peroni also set the final fastest lap of the race, taking an additional two points.

Vesti made it three Premas in the top four, and Zendelli finished fifth ahead of Lawson, Beckmann and Smolyar. Novalak took tenth place, earning the reverse grid pole position for tomorrow’s sprint race.

Alex Peroni, Campos (Carl Bingham, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship)

F3 Austria preview: will Prema reign supreme?

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.

Frederik Vesti, Prema (Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship)

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.

Theo Pourchaire, ART (Joe Portlock, LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship)

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.

Sophia Floersch, Campos (Joe Portlock / LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship)