F3 Spain: Hughes takes feature race win

Jake Hughes took his first win of the 2020 Formula 3 season in the Barcelona feature race, beating polesitter Logan Sargeant.

Sargeant held first place at the start with a decent launch over Hughes, but was unable to drop the HWA over the opening laps. Following a brief safety car brought out by Bent Viscaal going off on lap 1, Hughes was able to keep within half a second of Sargeant while he waited for DRS to be enabled.

Hughes was close enough to make a move on lap 7, and he swept around the outside of Sargeant at Turn 1 to take the lead. Almost immediately, Hughes was able to break over a second away from Sargeant, while the American started to come under pressure from Liam Lawson running in third.

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

The safety car came back out on lap 9 when Frederik Vesti’s Prema ground to a halt on track. But Sargeant wasn’t able to use the restart to gain on Hughes, who broke almost a second clear before setting the fastest lap the next time around.

Sargeant then found himself with Lawson half a second behind. Lawson tried two moves to the inside of Turn 1 on laps 18 and 19 but Sargeant was able to hold him off each time. But on lap 20 Lawson tried around the outside instead, and this time took the position to finish second behind Hughes.

Sargeant remained on the podium on third, taking valuable points in the championship battle as his main rival Oscar Piastri had another tricky race. After battling in the early laps to keep fourth from Clement Novalak, Piastri ran wide at the second safety car restart and dropped behind Novalak and David Beckmann.

Piastri was unable to recover the positions and finished the race in sixth, three places down on Sargeant. Theo Pourchaire took seventh ahead of Alex Peroni and Richard Verschoor, while Matteo Nannini put his Jenzer into tenth to take his and the team’s first point of the season.

Alex Peroni, Campos (Dan Istitene / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Full race result:

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

F3 Spain preview: Sargeant goes from hunter to hunted

Formula 3 returns this weekend at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Spain, with Prema’s Logan Sargeant heading into the round as the new championship leader.

After winning the second feature race at Silverstone last weekend, Sargeant became the first driver to take the title lead away from Oscar Piastri, who had previously held it ever since his win in the first race of the season in Austria. That switch puts Sargeant in a tricky position this weekend, as his task has turned from catching Piastri to expanding the slender one-point lead over his Prema teammate.

Sargeant’s key advantage in this fight is his qualifying pace. The American has so far outqualified Piastri at all but one round this season, and took both pole positions at the last two rounds in Silverstone. However, Sargeant’s so far struggled to convert that advantage on race day, as he’s ultimately finished behind Piastri in every feature race bar his victory last weekend.

The key to Sargeant’s title campaign, then, will be a consistent weekend in which he can qualify and then keep ahead of Piastri. And with only four rounds left to go in the season, he will have to start doing so now before he runs out of time.

Oscar Piastri, Prema (Joe Portlock / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Having passed the halfway mark in the season, Sargeant and Piastri’s fight for the title isn’t the only battle getting tighter as the championship moves to its climax.

David Beckmann currently leads a close train of drivers all in the mix for third in the standings. On 82.5 points, the German has only a 13.5-point buffer separating him from Liam Lawson, Frederik Vesti and Theo Pourchaire. Each has been a race winner this year, and with one good weekend could even jump up to trouble the title protagonists—especially as Beckmann, Lawson and Pourchaire are this season’s only repeat winners so far.

Bent Viscaal became the only winner outside this group at last weekend’s sprint race. However, with 33 points between him and the top six of the championship, Viscaal is currently more in contention for seventh with the likes of Richard Verschoor, Alex Peroni and Lirim Zendelli, as well as Clement Novalak and Jake Hughes behind him.

Of these drivers, Viscaal and Hughes are the ones currently on a run of form. As well as Viscaal’s win, Hughes took his first podium of the year in the second Silverstone feature race, and both are expected to carry that momentum into Spain.

But with this cluster of drivers as close on points as the group just above them, it’s highly likely we’ll come out of Barcelona with a very different championship order to what we have going in.

Bent Viscaal, MP Motorsport (Joe Portlock / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

F2 Spain preview: Ferrari junior royale in Barcelona

Formula 2 returns this weekend for round 6 of the championship at Spain’s Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

The last two rounds at the British and 70th Anniversary Grands Prix set up a battle royale for the title between Ferrari academy drivers Callum Ilott and Robert Shwartzman. Shwartzman had looked to be building up to a dominant run at the title coming into the Silverstone double header, as the only repeat winner of the season thus far and with an 18-point lead over Ilott in the standings.

But over the four races that followed, Shwartzman’s campaign was blighted by incidents and poor qualifying performances, scoring only four points with eighth place in the second feature race, and losing victory in the second sprint race after a collision with Mick Schumacher.

Robert Shwartzman, Prema (Scuderia Ferrari Press Office)

Meanwhile, Ilott scored well in three of the four races and took his second pole and win of the season in the second feature race. As a result, he’s regained the lead of the championship with a 21-point buffer back to Shwartzman.

Coming into Spain, Shwartzman will get a boost of confidence from his previous record at the circuit, as in Formula 3 last year he took pole position and victory in Barcelona to set up his title challenge. However, with such a difference between him and Ilott he’ll need a remarkable bounce back to form, not to mention trouble for Ilott, to recover that deficit.

But Ilott has his own reasons to be confident about heading to Barcelona. The Briton took his first F2 podium in Spain last year, with third in the sprint race. On top of that, his UNI-Virtuosi team were in contention for victory in both races, with Luca Ghiotto and Guanyu Zhou both on the podium across the weekend and Ghiotto taking pole for the feature race.

Christian Lundgaard, ART (Joe Portlock / Formula 1 via Getty Images)

And it’s not just Ilott that Shwartzman needs to catch this weekend. The Russian’s disastrous run at Silverstone has also allowed Christian Lundgaard to jump him for second in the standings. There are only two points between Shwartzman and Lundgaard, but as Ilott showed last weekend a small gap can grow rapidly in F2.

What’s more, Lundgaard also has great form in Barcelona, as he actually beat Shwartzman on the road in last year’s F3 feature race but lost the win to a five-second penalty for a virtual safety car infringement. Knowing he can go well on this track, Lundgaard will be one to watch this weekend as he aims to remind Ilott and Shwartzman that the title fight isn’t a two-horse race yet.

And not far behind Shwartzman is his countryman Nikita Mazepin, who comes to Spain on a run of seven consecutive points finishes—the longest of anyone so far this year. After taking his maiden win at the first Silverstone round, Mazepin is in the ascendency, and is only another strong weekend away from closing the 14-point gap to Shwartzman.

F1 2020 Season Preview

After a winter of anticipation and expectation heading into a new season, will the new decade bring in a new era for Formula One?

2021 will certainly deliver on that premise, but the big question heading into the 2020 season is just how competitive Red Bull and Ferrari will be as they try to finally knock the dominant Mercedes off their steep perch.

Testing gave us the sensation that 2020 will be largely the same as 2019, with Mercedes dominating the time-sheets and giving their rivals little to shout about. But truthfully, the focus has been almost exclusively on the battle further down.

At the Circuit de Catalunya for testing, Williams beat their, last year’s qualifying time by a second, while the midfield, asides from Haas, all solidly made it to the 1:16s. Haas, seldom aimed for qualifying runs, instead opting for runs largely on the C4 tyre but, inauspiciously for the American outfit, they only managed 649 laps over the six days in Barcelona.

Racing Point have essentially copied the Mercedes chassis, and they looked rapid as they attempt to recover back towards the top, accumulating experience and financial resources following the team’s takeover in 2018. McLaren’s Carlos Sainz even referred to the car as a “pink Mercedes.”

But the silver Mercedes, as they so often do, have made sure the headlines do not drift far away from Brackley heading into the new year.

Their controversial DAS system –  a steering device which pulls in the front wheels and reduces toe-out, making them quicker on the straights – has been known by the FIA since the end of last year, but has only been banned from 2021 onward. Mercedes were not as quick as Ferrari in the speed traps last year, but with the exquisite downforce possessed by their wonderful chassis, this is expected to be another imperious season for the six-time champions.

Ferrari’s chassis changes do not look as though they will be throwing the gauntlet down to Mercedes, while Red Bull’s change to the front nose, the sidepods, and the rear wing mean that they will be vying to topple the Scuderia in second in the Constructors’ championship.

In order to achieve that feat, however, Red Bull needs a second driver who is able to back up Max Verstappen. These were shoes which proved too big for Pierre Gasly to fill last year, while current driver Alex Albon, after half a season of learning and experience alongside the flying Dutchman, now needs to step up and display his capabilities of being a prominent part of Red Bull’s project towards returning to the top.

And, indeed, Albon simply could not be judged based on his first season in F1, at one of the biggest teams, and moving teams midway through the year. This is now the season of truth in a fledgling career.

We have already seen Verstappen’s innate and delightful ability to maximise car performance and take a slower car to the top of the timesheets, and a few more tenths in the Austrian team’s car, despite their deficit to Mercedes, could yet see the brilliant young star competing for the world championship.

But chassis and drivers have not been the only talk of the winter – even DAS has been dethroned as the talk of the town in the F1 paddock. The endemic that appeared last year over Ferrari’s 2019 PU has resurfaced, and this time it has been discovered that the FIA actually came to their settlement with the Scuderia last year, despite acknowledging the illegalities that lay within. This revelation has sparked numerous complaints and scathing press releases from rival teams, and it is a debate, and an arduous investigation, that will very probably rage on for much of the forthcoming season.

But looking at the aforementioned midfield tussle, just how close will it be?

Well, traditionally, testing has been very little to go by in terms of performance, but Racing Point, AlphaTauri – the rebranded Toro Rosso team – Renault, Williams and Alfa Romeo all made it past the 700-lap mark, while McLaren managed 804.

There were eight tenths between Renault, who had the fastest midfield lap, and Haas, who has the slowest. However, with the alternation between the C2, C3, C4 and C5 tyre, as well as vastly different set-ups and engine settings, it is so tough to judge just how close it is.

However, from the outset, it looks as though Haas’ struggles from last year are set to continue, while Renault and Williams may stage a resurgence back up the field. Those two have Esteban Ocon and Nicholas Latifi joining them respectively, and this could be a turnaround season for two historic teams who suffered a dreadful 2019.

At the start of a new decade and of a new season, is this the start of the changing of the guard in the pinnacle of motorsport? We will find out in just over two weeks when F1 heads to Australia for the opening round of the Formula One season.

(Pictures courtesy of Pirelli)