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.
Beyoncé may have said “if you like it, then you should’ve put a ring on it”, but in motorsport we race the rings instead. Yes, it’s race weekend once again, as F1 is welcomed by the circuit previously known as the Österreichring!
It was known as such between 1969 and 1995, and then became known as the A1 Ring from 1996 to 2003. Finally, Dietrich Mateschitz bought the circuit and in 2008 started a reconstruction. From 2014, the newly-branded Red Bull Ring became host once again to a European round of the Formula One Championship.
The Red Bull Ring was originally 5.911km in length, with its weakness being its safety record and high speeds (second only to Silverstone during its Österreichring period). Something had to be done, and as such it was shortened to 4.326km in its guise as the A1 Ring, and again in 2016 to 4.318km.
Red Bull Ring sectors. Image courtesy of Pirelli.This weekend we head back to the Red Bull Rin after last week’s French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard, which was dominated by Mercedes with Hamilton and Bottas finishing 1-2.
Can I mention hot air? No, not the untruths one may hear, but instead air streams from the African continent. Tyres could again play a massive part in the race this weekend, with it predicted to be one of the hottest days in Europe so far, courtesy of very warm air streams. Last weekend in France saw temperatures hit 56°C, but this weekend could hit 60°C. That alone will shift the working windows of the tyres and also will vary between teams . With higher air temps we could also see the 2019 aero regulations cause some teams issues with heat distribution.
The Red Bull Ring, following its 2014 redesign, is one of the shortest tracks on the F1 calendar, with the current configuration’s lap record being a 1:06.957, set by Kimi Raikkonen in 2018. With four sharp turns (T1, T3, T7 and T8) and three DRS zones allowing overtaking, the race is not a foregone conclusion.
2019 has been a year of Mercedes dominance, with them having won all eight races so far – two for Valtteri Bottas and six for Lewis Hamilton.
Ferrari has had correlation issues in their fluid dynamics simulation to wind tunnel analysis, hence the testing of new front wing and floor assemblies at Paul Ricard. With that issue presumably sorted, can their car finally show its promise?
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen won here in 2018, and he will be hoping for that to happen again this year to finally break the Mercedes strong-hold on the championship.
And if Verstappen, Vettel and Leclerc can’t mount a challenge? It will, yet again, be between the Mercedes boys of Hamilton and Bottas.
[Featured Image courtesy of Colombo Images/Scuderia Ferrari]
In Formula 1 anything can happen, and it usually does! That was what Murray Walker always said, and it did indeed happen at the Red Bull Ring this weekend. A very hot Sunday played havoc with the field, though someacclimatised better than others.
Max Verstappen: 9.5
This was a great weekend for Verstappen, as he continued his podium form and this time to the top step. Fortune favoured the brave on the first lap with a great move on Raikkonen. One of the first to pit under the Virtual Safety Car, Verstappen made his tyres last in the heat while others struggled with blistering. He is a driver known for his speed, but this weekend Verstappen proved he can drive calmly.
Kimi Raikkonen: 8
Austria was one of Raikkonen’s better races of the year. After a great start (marred slightly by running wide on the first lap) Raikkonen put in a tyre management drive reminiscent of his Lotus days to take a superb second place. With reports saying Leclerc is all set to join Ferrari next year, could this be the beginning of Raikkonen’s swan song?
Sebastian Vettel: 7
After this weekend sees Vettel leave Austria as the Championship leader, he won’t mind too much about the grid penalty he was given for impeding Carlos Sainz in qualifying. Vettel’s race started poorly on Sunday as he fell to 8th, but a good recovery drive put him on the podium.
Romain Grosjean: 8
The Frenchman finally sees the flag in the top ten! Grosjean was very impressive on Saturday when he outqualified a Red Bull, and was one of the better drivers on Sunday at keeping the tyres in good condition. A great result for him and especially Haas, as teammate Magnussen finished behind him in P5.
Kevin Magnussen: 8
Magnussen continued his impressive 2018 in Austria with a great haul of points in P5. Together with Grosjean, Magnussen’s points this weekend helped Haas back up their statement about being the fourth-best team. A great drive from Magnussen all weekend, evening if Grosjean had shaded him on race day.
Esteban Ocon: 8
Ocon is a name being frequently mentioned in the drivers’ market as a hot talent, and he proved why in Austria. Starting in P11 he had the free choice of tyres, and used that well to finish P6. He had a fresher set of tyres later on than most which helped him too.
Sergio Perez: 7
After dropping out of qualifying in Q1 it looked like Perez would struggle. But with grid penalties ahead of him, Perez started P15 and made up the most places of who took the grid to finish P7—his first points finish since Spain.
Fernando Alonso: 8
Alonso started from the pitlane on Sunday because his car was taken out of parc fermé for a change of front wing and MGU-K. He was on the radio early on calling for a new strategy to get out from behind Hartley’s Toro Rosso, and and an early pit stop allowed Alonso to come back through the field as he kept his tyres from blistering. A much better race for the 2018 Le Mans winner.
Charles Leclerc: 8
Through to Q2 again for the sixth weekend in a row, Leclerc’s Sauber showed great pace on Saturday. A gearbox penalty meant he dropped back to P17 on the grid, but a strong recovery brought him up into the points—and all on the weekend that his move to Ferrari for next year has reportedly been decided.
Marcus Ericsson: 7
Ericsson had a pretty poor Saturday as he said couldn’t find a gap on track in qualifying, but put that behind him to help Sauber to its first double points finish since China 2015. To sweeten the deal, Ericsson only had to wait seven races between his last points finish and this, as opposed to the two whole seasons before. The Sauber is being developed well.
Pierre Gasly: 7
Gasly’s tyres just gave up on him at the end of the race as he suffered from the blistering that affected most of the field. He was running a strong P8 with a few laps remaining but his tyres were past it. For a very power hungry track, Gasly qualified a fine P12 with the Honda power unit. His raw pace is noticeable.
Carlos Sainz: 6
Sainz was only one of two drivers to finish further back from his grid place in Austria. He started P9 and actually got by Vettel for half a lap, but his two-stop strategy didn’t pan out and he dropped to P12 by the end of the race.
Sergey Sirotkin: 6
Out in Q1, Sirotkin struggled to get to grips with his car in the early part of the weekend. However it was a better Sunday from the Russian, as he finished P13 and ahead of his teammate.
Lance Stroll: 6
A great Saturday performance saw Stroll get into Q2 for the first time since Azerbaijan. On the first lap he was running as high as P12 and points were possible, but a ten-second penalty for ignoring blue flags resulted in him finishing P14.
Stoffel Vandoorne: 4
Austria was another poor weekend by Vandoorne, with a Q1 exit on Saturday and a collision with Gasly on the first lap on Sunday. After pitting for a new front wing the Belgian was way down the order and off the pace. He retired lap 66 due to damage, and the pressure to defend his seat for next year is building.
Lewis Hamilton: 7.5
With upgrades on his car Hamilton was the one to beat in the early part of the race. But when the VSC came out on lap 14 he didn’t pit like everyone else, and as a result lost the race lead. Hamilton then retired on lap 64 with a loss of fuel pressure—his first retirement since Malaysia 2016—and lost the lead of the championship to Vettel.
Brendon Hartley: 5
Hartley’s Sunday began with a 35-place grid penalty for changing his power unit, and ended when his gearbox failed on lap 57 and put him into retirement.
Daniel Ricciardo: 6
The Austrian Grand Prix may have been on Ricciardo’s 29th birthday, but sadly it ended in retirement. It was a sour start to the weekend with him being outqualified by Grosjean and an argument with his teammate over slipstreaming tactics. Ricciardo put a trademark late-braking move on Raikkonen early in the race but struggled with tyre blisters later, then retired due to a broken exhaust. He’ll be hoping for a stronger weekend in Silverstone.
Valtteri Bottas: 9
Bottas seems to love the Red Bull Ring, and pole and the win last year gave him huge confidence into this year’s event. He managed to get pole again this year but didn’t get as good a start as he got in 2017 and lost the lead to Hamilton in Turn 1. A great double overtake on the first lap saw Bottas recover to P2, although luck wasn’t on his side as the seemingly ever-reliable Mercedes broke again with a hydraulics failure. Two mechanical DNF’s for the Silver Arrows.
Nico Hulkenburg: 6
The first failure of the race came to Hulkenberg, a massive engine failure with smoke and lots of fire. Hulkenberg was in place for reasonable points but lost power on the straight. He had great pace in qualifying and got through to Q3 but reliability caught him this weekend.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has praised Max Verstappen’s approach to the Austrian Grand Prix, in light of the Dutchman’s win this afternoon.
It was Verstappen’s first victory of 2018 after a series of incidents in the early stages of the year, and is Red Bull’s first win at their home race since it returned to the F1 calendar, re-branded in their image, in 2014.
“To win in a Red Bull Car at the Red Bull Ring is something I never imagined would happen this morning,” said Horner. “All credit to Max today, he drove a very, very mature race, managing a very tricky situation with the tyres and he completed a very controlled drive to win our first Austrian Grand Prix.”
Verstappen started the race in P4 and gained a position on the opening lap when Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen overcooked an attempt to overtake Lewis Hamilton.
When Valtteri Bottas retired on lap fourteen and brought out the Virtual Safety Car, Verstappen emerged from the round of pit-stops in P2, now on the soft tyres and thirteen seconds behind the other Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton, who had stayed out.
He then inherited the lead of the race when Hamilton finally did pit, and calmly waved off his team’s concerns about his tyres blistering, an issue that befell a number of other drivers on the grid. Kimi Raikkonen may have been closing in the final stages of the race, but Verstappen had built up enough of an advantage to hold on to victory.
His team-mate Daniel Ricciardo – whose 29th birthday it was today – retired from the race on lap fifty four. “It was a great shame not to have Daniel up on the podium as well,” Christian Horner said, “after running for so many laps in P2, but then his rear tyre started to overheat which caused a second pit stop. Shortly after that we began to see an exhaust crack that was causing gearbox damage, forcing his retirement.
“A special word to our pit-crew, again executing a faultless stacked pit stop on our route to victory, as they had done previously this year in China. I have to also applaud out entire staff back at the factory and their commitment to produce a competitive race car. The day belongs to them, to Max, to the team, to Red Bull and particularly to Mr Mateschitz who has given so much to modern Formula One. We are all delighted for him.”
From the newest track on the calendar, Formula 2 travels to the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg – one of the more classic motorsport circuits. The Austrian track is used by a multitude of categories, so even those drivers who are new to the championship will likely have raced there earlier in their career. The 4.3km circuit has delivered some classic races in the past, though last year in GP2 it was characterised by the bizarre set of results owing to the two wet races.
2016 saw Mitch Evans—now racing for Jaguar in Formula E—and Jordan King take the two victories of the weekend, but the running was by no means predictable. The feature race was run in the kind of changeable conditions that are often seen at the Red Bull Ring, and saw many of the championship frontrunners crashing out, including 2017 contender Artem Markelov. And with a sprint race featuring torrential downpours, they were an unpredictable set of races. There is every chance that either Saturday or Sunday will be struck by adverse weather conditions, but as the first race weekend in a double header, getting good results will be crucial in gaining momentum to carry drivers over into Silverstone.
Charles Leclerc still leads the driver’s standings by a comfortable margin of 42 points, and it would take a lot of bad luck for the Prema driver—and a perfect weekend from second place Oliver Rowland—to threaten his first place position this weekend at least. The more interesting battle is between second and third place, between DAMS’ Rowland and the much improved Artem Markelov of Russian Time.
But Markelov’s teammate Luca Ghiotto is in hot pursuit, only twenty points behind, and vocal about his intentions to challenge for the title in 2017. While he may be some way off the leader, it is a long season that is yet to reach its halfway mark. If Ghiotto can keep up his consistent points scoring performances (Ghiotto has scored in all but one of his races this season) then he is well placed to bide his time and hope to capitalise on the mistakes of his rivals.
Russian Time still lead the teams’ standings, as they have done for much of the 2017 season so far. But after a string of promising performances from Canadian Nicholas Latifi, DAMS now trail them by only three points. Ghiotto had an unfortunate outing in Baku, his weekend very much hampered by his shunt in qualifying, but the team still managed to score eighteen points thanks to Markelov. The Russian seems to have lost his all-or-nothing attitude of previous seasons, and will be hoping to do better than the no-points weekend he suffered in Austria last year.
DAMS on the other hand will be aiming for more consistency within their driver pairing to ease the threat from their rivals Russian Time. While both teams have a strong set of drivers, all of whom seem to be having their best seasons to date in 2017, Rowland and Latifi of DAMS seem to be taking it in turns to have winning weekends. While Rowland left Baku with a disappointing haul of points, Latifi probably left feeling rather satisfied after his double podium weekend.What DAMS really need from Austria and Silverstone is for both of their drivers to deliver in one weekend to consolidate their position on the top of the team standings.
Baku finally saw Campos Racing lift themselves from the bottom of the team standings, after circumstances played into Ralph Boschung’s hands and he succeeded in scoring five points over the two races; that relegates Trident to tenth. While none of the veteran Campos or Trident drivers performed well in Austria last year, Boschung, who was driving in GP3 in 2016, won the sprint race at the Red Bull Ring, also managing to secure the fastest lap of that race as well.
It was Racing Engineering who came away from Baku without scoring a single point, a continuation of what has been a very mixed season for the Spanish team. Rookie Louis Deletraz has seemingly struggled to settle into the series, something which has been a problem for many drivers in the past. Even Malja, who has scored a podium this year along with three other points finishes, seems to have trouble getting a handle on his machinery. It is difficult to say whether it is a problem stemming mostly from the car as neither driver has the consistency to suggest otherwise. Deletraz has performed well at Spielberg in the past, earning a second place there in 2016 while he was competing in Formula Renault V8 3.5 and winning at the track in 2015. But it would take his best weekend in 2017 so far to replicate that kind of form.
MP Motorsport driver Jordan King scored his first GP2 win at the Red Bull Ring last year, which he managed to follow up with a win in the Silverstone sprint race as well. With those two rounds coming back to back in 2017, a repeat of those feats would help him rise above his current ninth place in the drivers’ standings. It would also go some way to alleviate the disappointment of his disqualification from the sprint race in Baku, which brought his tally of consecutive points scoring finishes to an end.
Both Rapax and Arden made positive steps forward in Baku. Rapax, through their ever-improving rookie Nyck de Vries, finally managed to convert their impressive one lap pace into a feature race podium. If Rapax can continue to deliver the qualifying performances of recent rounds, then Austria presents an opportunity to prove they can reproduce the feature race result from Azerbaijan.
It was Arden who made the real breakthrough however, scoring that all important race win for Norman Nato in the sprint race. The victory was an important step for both the team and the Frenchman, who has been chasing results reflective of his ability since Bahrain. Like 2016 GP2 champion, Pierre Gasly, who only started really performing after his victory in Silverstone, the win could prove to be boost he needs to start challenging the likes of Leclerc, Rowland and Markelov.
Charles Leclerc’s near perfect weekend in Azerbaijan won Prema a massive 43 points, helping their battle in the team standings, where they sit in third place. But it will not have escaped their notice that once again, none of their points were scored by Antonio Fuoco. Though the Italian did perform well in qualifying, his chances of a decent result were dashed when he crashed out in the feature race, making it a struggle to recover on Sunday. Approaching the halfway point in the season, pressure will be mounting on Fuoco to perform.
While some consideration should be put towards the fact that he is only in his first season of Formula 2, the remarkable performance of his teammate—also in his rookie season—puts the two drivers in stark contrast.
While Leclerc can afford to relax considering the size of his lead, if he can continue his streak of pole positions in Austria then he will overtake Stoffel Vandoorne’s record of consecutive pole positions in one season. But it is the results that all too often come with those stellar qualifying performances that Leclerc will wish to carry with him. If he can maintain his momentum, then it won’t be long until he becomes uncatchable.
The Red Bull Ring is a track that Leclerc himself cites as one of his favourites, and if he hasn’t lost any form since Baku then most would agree that he is favourite to win at least one of the races this weekend. But riding on the back of his first win, Nato will also be dangerous, and those who have been strong all season—Rowland, Markelov and Ghiotto—will almost definitely be quick.