F3 2020 season review

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.

Oscar Piastri, Prema (Courtesy of FIA Formula 3 media)

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.

Alex Peroni, Campos (Joe Portlock / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

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.

Jack Doohan, HWA (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

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.

Igor Fraga, Charouz (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

F3 Monza: Hughes takes sprint race win as all three Premas retire

Jake Hughes took victory in another Formula 3 thriller at Monza, while teams’ champions Prema endured a nightmare race with Oscar Piastri, Logan Sargeant and Frederik Vesti all retiring after incidents.

The race started with Lirim Zendelli jumping from fourth to first off the line, while reverse polesitter Michael Belov slipped back to fifth and Hughes went from sixth up to third ahead of Liam Lawson. At the back of the grid, title contender Sargeant started his recovery from 26th by climbing five places off the grid.

The opening laps saw Zendelli and Enzo Fittipaldi scrapping over the lead. Fittipaldi took the position on lap 5, but the two continued exchanging first and second until the run down to Rettifilo at the start of lap 8. Fittipaldi started the lap ahead, but as he defended the corner from Zendelli the two made contact and Fittipaldi dropped out of the fight with a punctured rear tyre.

Lawson then assumed the lead from Hughes as Zendelli dropped down the order as well. The Premas of Vesti and Piastri moved up into third and fourth respectively, having made steady progress from the bottom of the top ten, while Sargeant found himself in the points in tenth.

Enzo Fittipaldi, HWA (Sebastiaan Rozendaal, Dutch Photo Agency / Scuderia Ferrari Press Office)

Sargeant’s luck then seemed to improve dramatically on lap 10 as Piastri was spun around at Turn 1 by the attacking Clement Novalak, who spun Sargeant himself out of the points in yesterday’s feature race. David Schumacher and David Beckmann were both caught up in the incident as well, while Sargeant profited from the chaos to leap up to fifth place behind previous race leader Zendelli.

The debris at Rettifilo brought out a brief virtual safety car, but not before Hughes pulled off a well-timed move on Lawson to take the lead of the race. When the race restarted on lap 11, Sargeant continued making progress as Zendelli ran wide through the first Lesmo, gifting Sargeant fourth place and enough points to level the championship battle with Piastri.

Sargeant continued pushing to take third away from teammate Vesti. After narrowly avoiding contact on lap 17 when Vesti locked up into Turn 1, and with the likes of Zendelli and Theo Pourchaire closing in on the battling Premas, Sargeant dove to the inside into Ascari on lap 19 and squeezed Vesti out to guarantee the position.

However, the move ended horribly for both drivers as they made contact on the first apex of the chicane, leaving Sargeant with a puncture and Vesti with front wing damage, which proved terminal for both drivers.

Aleksandr Smolyar, ART (Rudy Carezzevoli / Getty Images)

With three laps left on the board, Pourchaire inherited third behind Lawson and race leader Hughes, and the podium remained this way until the chequered flag. Zendelli looked to have the pace to pass Pourchaire before the end, but was instead passed by the second ART of Aleksandr Smolyar on the last lap, and finished fifth behind the Russian.

Alex Peroni took sixth ahead of Pierre-Louis Chovet, earning his first points since debuting with Hitech at the last round in Belgium. Roman Stanek was eighth for Charouz ahead of Trident’s Olli Caldwell, and Richard Verschoor took the final point in tenth.

Heading now into the final round of the season at Mugello, Piastri maintains the eight-point lead he gained over Sargeant at the start of the weekend. Lawson returns to third in the standings over Pourchaire, with both still mathematically able to challenge for the title at 25 and 26 points adrift of Piastri.

Full race result:

Pos. Driver Team Points
1 Jake Hughes HWA Racelab 15
2 Liam Lawson Hitech Grand Prix 12
3 Theo Pourchaire ART Grand Prix 10
4 Aleksandr Smolyar ART Grand Prix 8
5 Lirim Zendelli Trident 6
6 Alex Peroni Campos Racing 5
7 Pierre-Louis Chovet Hitech Grand Prix 4
8 Roman Stanek Charouz Racing System 3
9 Olli Caldwell Trident 2
10 Richard Verschoor MP Motorsport 1
11 Bent Viscaal MP Motorsport
12 Sebastian Fernandez ART Grand Prix
13 Sophia Floersch Campos Racing
14 Michael Belov Charouz Racing System
15 Federico Malvestiti Jenzer Motorsport
16 Dennis Hauger Hitech Grand Prix
17 Cameron Das Carlin Buzz Racing
18 Igor Fraga Charouz Racing System
19 Calan Williams Jenzer Motorsport
20 Enzo Fittipaldi HWA Racelab
21 Matteo Nannini Jenzer Motorsport
22 Jack Doohan HWA Racelab
23 Alessio Deledda Campos Racing
Ret. Frederik Vesti Prema Racing
Ret. Logan Sargeant Prema Racing
Ret. Clement Novalak Carlin Buzz Racing
Ret. Oscar Piastri Prema Racing
Ret. David Schumacher Carlin Buzz Racing
Ret. David Beckmann Trident
Ret. Lukas Dunner MP Motorsport

F3 Spa: Sargeant bounces back with sprint race win

Title contender Logan Sargeant bounced back after engine problems in yesterday’s feature race to take victory in the Formula 3 sprint race at Spa.

Reverse grid polesitter Richard Verschoor held the lead into the first corner, while Sargeant rose to second ahead of Olli Caldwell due to Liam Lawson having a slow start and dropping back to fifth.

But despite getting off the line well, Verschoor was unable to drop Sargeant in the opening laps as he struggled again with straight line speed for his MP Motorsport car. Sargeant stayed within a few tenths of Verschoor until lap 3, when he made the move for first and took the lead of the race.

Meanwhile, Sargeant’s teammate Frederik Vesti was moving up through the order from fifth on the grid. After taking third from Caldwell while Sargeant was passing Verschoor, Vesti then overtook Verschoor himself for second on lap 4.

Clive Mason / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

The race was neutralised shortly after when Hitech’s Pierre-Louis Chovet went into the barriers and brought out the virtual safety car for two laps. When the caution was withdrawn on lap 6, Verschoor continued to fall down the order. The Dutchman lost third to Theo Pourchaire on lap 9, then dropped behind Lawson, Aleksandr Smolyar and Oscar Piastri in quick succession.

Meanwhile, Vesti was making strong progress to catch Sargeant. After being 2.1 seconds behind his teammate after the virtual safety car restart, Vesti cut the gap down to four tenths by lap 14 as Sargeant complained of fading tyres on the radio.

However, Sargeant was able to regroup in the final few laps and opened the gap back up to a second. Vesti made one final charge on the final lap, but couldn’t close up enough to make a move for the lead and finished runner-up across the line.

Lawson recovered from his poor start to finish third behind the Premas. After passing Verschoor for fourth, the Hitech driver put significant pressure on Pourchaire who was struggling with his tyres, and took third away on lap 12.

Theo Pourchaire, ART (Dan Istitene / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Pourchaire lost another place to his ART teammate Aleksandr Smolyar, who finished fourth for the second race in succession. On lap 15 Pourchaire was also passed for fifth by Oscar Piastri, who was charging forward from his own slow start to minimise the damage done by Sargeant’s win.

But just after moving into fifth, Piastri was given a five second time penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage when passing Pourchaire, dropping him to sixth behind the Frenchman in the final order.

Verschoor stabilised in seventh place by the chequered flag, finishing ahead of yesterday’s race winner Lirim Zendelli. His Trident teammate Caldwell had been running eighth, but fell out of the points after colliding with Alex Peroni. David Beckmann took ninth, and Sebastian Fernandez benefitted from the collision ahead to finish tenth.

After taking 17 points for victory and the fastest lap, Sargeant returns to the top of the drivers’ standings by seven points from Piastri, while Beckmann stays third ahead of Lawson by just half a point. Find the full F3 drivers’ and teams’ standings here.

FIA Formula 3 returns next week at Monza for the penultimate round of the season.

Full race result:

Pos. Driver Team Points
1 Logan Sargeant (FL) Prema Racing 17
2 Frederik Vesti Prema Racing 12
3 Liam Lawson Hitech Grand Prix 10
4 Aleksandr Smolyar ART Grand Prix 8
5 Theo Pourchaire ART Grand Prix 6
6 Oscar Piastri Prema Racing 5
7 Richard Verschoor MP Motorsport 4
8 Lirim Zendelli Trident 3
9 David Beckmann Trident 2
10 Sebastian Fernandez ART Grand Prix 1
11 Olli Caldwell Trident
12 Enzo Fittipaldi HWA Racelab
13 Lukas Dunner MP Motorsport
14 David Schumacher Carlin Buzz Racing
15 Clement Novalak Carlin Buzz Racing
16 Bent Viscaal MP Motorsport
17 Jake Hughes HWA Racelab
18 Dennis Hauger Hitech Grand Prix
19 Roman Stanek Charouz Racing System
20 Federico Malvestiti Jenzer Motorsport
21 Andreas Estner Campos Racing
22 Alex Peroni Campos Racing
23 Cameron Das Carlin Buzz Racing
24 Alessio Deledda Campos Racing
25 Calan Williams Jenzer Motorsport
26 Matteo Nannini Jenzer Motorsport
27 Igor Fraga Charouz Racing System
Ret. Michael Belov Charouz Racing System
Ret. Pierre-Louis Chovet Hitech Grand Prix
Ret. Jack Doohan HWA Racelab

F3 Spa: maiden win for Zendelli as Piastri retakes title lead

Trident’s Lirim Zendelli controlled the F3 feature race at Spa for his first win in the series, as Oscar Piastri capitalised on problems for title rival Logan Sargeant to retake the championship lead.

Zendelli got a clean start from pole to keep the lead at the start ahead of ART’s Theo Pourchaire and Aleksandr Smolyar. Two rows back, Zendelli’s teammate David Beckmann passed Sargeant to move up from fifth to fourth, and started targeting Smolyar’s podium position.

The early battles were neutralised by a virtual safety car on lap 3, following a series of punctures for Clement Novalak, Andreas Estner and Enzo Fittipaldi that left debris on track, and Alessio Deledda spinning into the gravel.

When the VSC was withdrawn on lap 5, Beckmann pounced on Smolyar to take third. Smolyar briefly retook the position, but Beckmann repassed the ART definitively on lap 7 and pulled out a gap to hold his place on the podium.

At the same time, Zendelli broke out of DRS range from Pourchaire and proceeded to pull away more with each lap. After adding another second over Pourchaire by lap 10, Zendelli continued pushing until the chequered flag, crossing the line almost five seconds clear of the ART in second and Beckmann in third.

Oscar Piastri, Prema (Bryn Lennon / Getty Images)

Behind the leading trio, Piastri finished fifth behind Smolyar in a potentially crucial result for his championship campaign.

Sargeant had stayed in fifth early on after being passed by Beckmann, and was gaining on Smolyar to move up to fourth. Meanwhile, Piastri was making his way up from the lower half of the top 10, passing Richard Verschoor and Liam Lawson to get up to sixth by lap 10.

With four seconds separating the two Premas, Sargeant then suddenly slowed on lap 13, losing two seconds with a suspected engine problem. Piastri closed up to within a second two laps later, before he breezed past Sargeant for fifth on the run to Eau Rouge.

Sargeant continued to nurse his car through the final laps despite saying on team radio that he didn’t think he could make it to the end. However, he lost another two positions to teammate Frederik Vesti and Trident’s Olli Caldwell before the chequered flag, and eventually finished in eighth. The result has given Piastri the lead of the championship again with five points in hand over Sargeant.

Lawson finished in ninth place after struggling with his tyres for much of the race, and Verschoor will start from reverse grid pole tomorrow after taking tenth place. Finally, Pourchaire gained the extra two points for setting the fastest lap within the top ten.

The two rookies making their debuts this weekend, Michael Belov and Pierre-Louis Chovet, finished 20th and 22nd respectively, while Estner finished 27th after his puncture on his return to F3.

Theo Pourchaire, ART (Dan Istitene / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Full race result:

Pos. Driver Team Points
1 Lirim Zendelli Trident 25
2 Theo Pourchaire (FL) ART Grand Prix 20
3 David Beckmann Trident 15
4 Aleksandr Smolyar ART Grand Prix 12
5 Oscar Piastri Prema Racing 10
6 Frederik Vesti Prema Racing 8
7 Olli Caldwell Trident 6
8 Logan Sargeant Prema Racing 4
9 Liam Lawson Hitech Grand Prix 2
10 Richard Verschoor MP Motorsport 1
11 Sebastian Fernandez ART Grand Prix
12 Jack Doohan HWA Racelab
13 Matteo Nannini Jenzer Motorsport
14 Alex Peroni Campos Racing
15 Dennis Hauger Hitech Grand Prix
16 Calan Williams Jenzer Motorsport
17 David Schumacher Carlin Buzz Racing
18 Federico Malvestiti Jenzer Motorsport
19 Igor Fraga Charouz Racing System
20 Michael Belov Charouz Racing System
21 Lukas Dunner MP Motorsport
22 Pierre-Louis Chovet Hitech Grand Prix
23 Bent Viscaal MP Motorsport
24 Roman Stanek Charouz Racing System
25 Cameron Das Carlin Buzz Racing
26 Enzo Fittipaldi HWA Racelab
27 Andreas Estner Campos Racing
Ret. Jake Hughes HWA Racelab
Ret. Clement Novalak Carlin Buzz Racing
Ret. Alessio Deledda Campos Racing

F3 Spa preview: title fight resumes for final triple header

Formula 3 returns this weekend at Belgium’s legendary Spa-Francorchamps circuit, kicking off the final leg of the 2020 championship.

In three weeks’ time, F3 will conclude its season at Mugello and crown a new champion. At the moment that champion looks set to be either Logan Sargeant or Oscar Piastri, who are separated by only a single point at the top of the standings and 31 points clear of the next-best driver.

Predicting who will come out on top of the standings this weekend is almost impossible, as Sargeant and Piastri have mostly matched up well against each other’s weaknesses this year. Piastri has had the more “higher” results of the pair, with two wins and three second places, and has been in the points in all but one race.

But on the other hand, Sargeant has had the upper hand in qualifying, taking the last three pole positions in a row while Piastri is yet to take one at all. And while incidents have dropped Sargeant out of the points on two occasions this year, when he has scored it’s always been inside the top six.

Liam Lawson, Hitech (Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool)

The trouble for Sargeant and Piastri is that while they’re largely on their own in the title battle, they can’t afford to just focus on each other.

Liam Lawson is currently third in the standings with two race wins to his name—the same as Piastri, and one more than points leader Sargeant. Although the Hitech driver’s title bid was hamstrung early on with three retirements in Austria and Hungary, Lawson was actually the second-best scoring driver over the last three rounds.

With a feature race win and two podiums, Lawson scored 74 points in the Silverstone and Barcelona triple header, 20 more than Piastri and only seven fewer than Sargeant. It would take an even bigger swing for Lawson to get amongst the title battle in the final three rounds, but if he can deliver should trouble hit the Prema duo we could be looking at a surprise three-horse race by the time we reach Mugello.

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

Finally, there have been several lineup changes ahead of this weekend. Sophia Floersch will miss Spa as it clashes with the ELMS round at Paul Ricard, and she will be deputised for at Campos by Andreas Estner, who returns to F3 after racing for Jenzer last year.

Last week it was announced that David Schumacher was leaving Charouz as a result of the team’s lack of results. He’s now joined Carlin for the remainder of the season, driving the #27 car previously piloted by Enaam Ahmed, Ben Barnicoat and Leonardo Pulcini.

Schumacher’s replacement at Charouz is Formula Renault Eurocup driver Michael Belov. He will be the second F3 rookie making his debut this weekend, as Max Fewtrell left Hitech after Spain and has been replaced by Formula Regional European driver Pierre-Louis Chovet.