The Checkered Flag looks at five drivers to watch during the 2016 FIA European Formula 3 Championship as they aim to emulate Felix Rosenqvist, who took thirteen race victories and the title in 2015 with Prema Powerteam.
The championship may only a smaller field in 2016 compared to last year, but the impressive talent depth still remains, and there are a whole number of drivers who could have found themselves on this list!
Anthoine Hubert – France – Van Amersfoort Racing
The Frenchman arrives in Formula 3 from Formula Renault 2.0, where he impressed during 2015 with race wins in both Eurocup and ALPS with Tech 1 Racing.
The teenager has joined the ranks of Dutch outfit Van Amersfoort Racing for 2016, and shone well during his first tests with the team at Vallelunga at the beginning of March.
As the oldest of the four Van Amersfoort drivers – Pedro Piquet, Callum Ilott and Harrison Newey are all seventeen – he will be out to prove himself in another series away from Renaults.
With his experience, he should be one of those drivers fighting towards the front right from the get-go, and race wins should be a distinct possibility for Hubert.
Niko Kari – Finland – Motopark
Finnish driver Kari made his single seater debut just twelve months ago in the SMP Formula 4 championship, and on the back of seven race victories took the inaugural title, and arrives into 2016 as a Red Bull-back driver!
It has been a whirlwind year for the sixteen-year-old, and has joined the German-based Motopark outfit in 2016 alongside Joel Eriksson, Ferrari Driver Academy racer Guanyu Zhou and fellow Red Bull-backed Sergio Sette Camara.
The youngster will be looking to make his mark in the Formula 3 ranks this season, and with Red Bull’s backing he should be able to develop as a driver and fight for prominent positions both on the grid and in the races, and is looking to follow in the footsteps of fellow Finns Kimi Raikkonen and Valtteri Bottas into Formula 1.
Pedro Piquet – Brazil – Van Amersfoort Racing
The latest Piquet to cross the Atlantic to attack European racing following in the footsteps of three-time Formula 1 World Champion father Nelson Piquet and current FIA Formula E Champion brother Nelson Piquet Jr, the younger Piquet has a lot to prove, but his results from Brazil would indicate the talent is there to hold his own.
Piquet has dominated the Formula 3 championship in his native Brazil for the past two seasons, winning eleven out of sixteen races in 2014, and then bettering it by winning fourteen from sixteen races in 2015, and was also a double race winner in the Toyota Racing Series in New Zealand over the winter.
He joins Van Amersfoort Racing that have taken the highly rated Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc to race victories in the last two years, and will be looking to prove himself in an extremely strong-looking line-up that also includes Britons Callum Ilott and Harrison Newey as well as Frenchman Anthoine Hubert.
He might be a rookie, but expect him to be up front fighting for podiums and wins early on during the season. He’ll be expecting to take the rookie title, but could he also fight for overall honours? Only time will tell!
Lance Stroll – Canada – Prema Powerteam
Had this list been made halfway through the 2015 season, Stroll would not have been on it, but his reformation from wild to consistent without losing his speed was one of the stories of last year.
The Canadian driver endured a tough opening half of the year, becoming embroiled in a number of incidents that ended up with him being banned for one race, but turned his form around to end the year being a regular visitor to the podium, which included his maiden win at Hockenheim. Had he not had this turnaround, it is doubtful Stroll would have even had a drive for 2016!
Despite no longer being a part of the Ferrari Driver Academy, Stroll returns for a crack at the championship, remaining with the front-running Prema Powerteam outfit alongside Ralf Aron, Maximilian Günther and Nick Cassidy, and also has a Development Driver role with the Williams Martini Racing team.
He should be there or thereabouts in the title hunt, and should he have a strong year, he will be talked about as possibly the first Canadian Formula 1 driver since Jacques Villeneuve.
George Russell – Great Britain – Hitech GP
2014 BRDC Formula 4 champion Russell returns to the championship for his sophomore year and a championship challenge, and has switched over from Carlin to the Hitech GP outfit, which makes its full-time debut in 2016.
The British driver took a solitary victory in his rookie season last year at Silverstone and was a consistent points scorer on his way to sixth in the championship, but will be looking to build on that this season as part of the three-car Hitech line-up that also fields fellow Briton Ben Barnicoat and Russian Nikita Mazepin.
Having had his first taste of Formula 1 machinery last year as part of his award for winning the McLaren Autosport BRDC Award at the end of his F4 winning campaign, Russell will be eager to impress to ensure he remains in with a shot of progressing and eventually making it into the Formula 1 ranks.