Just five teams will compete in the 2017 FIA Formula 3 Championship in 2017, but do not let that put you off, the season promises to be one to remember with such an amazing array of talent on show behind the steering wheel.
Losing Mücke Motorsport in particular is sad for the championship, while ThreeBond with T-Sport have also withdrawn, while Fortec Motorsports’ planned return has been delayed until at least 2018, but the five teams that remain could and should all be in contention for race wins this season.
Prema Powerteam remain the ones to beat after taking yet another title in 2016 with Lance Stroll, but Hitech Grand Prix, Team Motopark, Van Amersfoort Racing and Carlin Motorsport are all itching to knock the Italian team off their perch.
Prema remain unbeaten since the FIA Formula 3 Championship was restored back in 2012, taking Daniel Juncadella, Raffaele Marciello, Esteban Ocon, Felix Rosenqvist and Stroll to consecutive championships, and once again will field a quartet of strong looking drivers.
Callum Ilott was fastest in the most recent pre-season test, and will be looking to continue his impressive learning curve since stepping up into Formula 3 straight from karting back in 2015. In two years he has become a serious contender for race wins, and now with the premiere outfit on the grid, he should also become a serious contender for the championship.
Maximilian Günther remains with the team for a second consecutive season, and after finishing second to Stroll in the standings last year, will be looking to go one better this year, and his inter-team rivalry with Ilott promises to be one of the talking points of the season.
However, Guan Yu Zhou may have something to say about that, with the Ferrari Driver Academy star moving across from Motopark to join Ilott and Günther in the Prema line-up. The Chinese racer has shown good speed during testing, but will be looking for a vast improvement in his results, and in particular better consistency, in 2017.
The final name in the line-up has a familiar name in the world of motorsport – Schumacher. The son of legendary multiple World Formula 1 Champion Michael Schumacher, Mick, has made the step up from Formula 4, where he was a multiple race winner with Prema, finishing second in both the ADAC and Italian versions of the championship last season.
The German has big boots to fill, but has handled the pressure considerably well so far, and should in no way be likened to his father – he is his own driver and has shown the talent is there more often than not. He may have not faired as well during pre-season testing as his team-mates, but do not rule out him coming good when it matters.
Hitech Grand Prix finished 2016 as runners-up in the Teams’ championship in their first full season in Formula 3, and expands to a four-car line-up themselves this season after running with just three last year.
Jake Hughes is probably the most interesting name in the team this year, with the Briton moving across from the GP3 Series, where he won twice last season, to make a championship challenge. The twenty-two-year-old has been quick in everything he’s raced, including Formula 3 machinery where he took a podium finish with Carlin at the end of 2016 in a one-off event at the Hockenheimring.
Prema refugee Ralf Aron finished 2016 seventh in the final standings, taking a maiden series win at the Hungaroring, but whereas Stroll, Günther and Nick Cassidy were all seemingly in contention for wins and podiums on a regular basis, Aron tended to drift into the midfield, and aside from his Hungaroring high, he would not return to the podium for the rest of the season. The teenager will want to have a stronger 2017 and prove that he has what it takes to be a consistent front-runner and race winner.
Nikita Mazepin is the only driver from Hitech’s 2016 line-up to stay on board in 2017, with the Russian looking to build on last year’s campaign that saw him take only four points finishes. What the eighteen-year-old can be proud of last year was his maiden Formula 1 testing opportunity with the Sahara Force India F1 Team, but in 2017 he needs to step up his game in order to show he warrants a genuine opportunity to make the move up the motorsport ladder.
The final driver in the line-up is Japanese racer Tadasuke Makino, who moves across from the All-Japan Formula Three Championship, where he finished fifth last season with Toda Racing. The nineteen-year-old was the 2015 Japanese Formula 4 champion, and will be looking to make his mark in Europe this season.
Team Motopark finished third in last season’s Teams’ Championship, and have retained the services this season of rookie champion Joel Eriksson, who will be looking to make his mark on the overall championship in 2017. The Swede had to wait a long time to take his first victory last year, finally making the breakthrough at Spa-Francorchamps, but this year he should be in with a chance of fighting for the title.
Joining Eriksson is another Japanese racer in the form of Marino Sato, who has spent the past two seasons plying his trade in Italian Formula 4 with Vincenzo Sospiri Racing. Sato took a solitary race victory in that time, winning race three at Imola in 2016, but could not better tenth in the championship, a result he managed in his rookie season the year previously.
So far, Motopark have only announced three drivers, with German Keyvan Andres Soori moving across from EuroFormula Open to compete in European Formula 3. The seventeen-year-old Cologne-born racer finished down in twelfth in last years EuroFormula Open with Carlin, with his best finish of fifth coming in the final round of the year at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. He will need to improve this year if he is to become a contender for podiums or even points.
Van Amersfoort Racing has retained two of its driver line-up from 2016, with Harrison Newey and Pedro Piquet remaining on board, where they will be joined by David Beckmann and Joey Mawson.
Eighteen-year-old Newey finished eighteenth in his rookie season of Formula 3 last season, but during the off-season raced in the MRF Challenge Formula 2000 and took the championship, and translated that achievement into good pace during pre-season testing, and he will be looking to race for podiums and possibly race wins in 2017.
Piquet will also be looking to improve on his nineteenth position of 2016 this year, and also enjoyed a strong off-season when he came second in the Toyota Racing Series. As the son of triple Formula 1 World Champion Nelson Piquet, he also has big boots to fill, but he has proved by twice winning the Brazilian Formula 3 title, he does have the talent to improve.
Beckmann is the third teenager in the team and is still only sixteen despite him now heading into his second season, although he did miss the opening two rounds of the 2016 season due to being under the minimum age. He switches over from Mücke Motorsport, with who he took two podium finishes last year at Zandvoort and Hockenheim aiming to go to the next level of taking frequent podiums and the odd race win.
Mawson is the elder statesman of the team at twenty-one, but the Australian is the only rookie this year, but comes with a good pedigree. He took race wins in French F4 and the ADAC Formula 4 championship in 2014 and 2015, before coming back in 2016 to win the latter with Van Amersfoort Racing. He also finished second to Newey in the MRF Challenge, so will be looking continue his good form into European Formula 3.
The final team on the grid – Carlin – perhaps has the most intriguing line-up on the whole grid. Lando Norris makes the full time leap into the series after a wildcard entry in the series finale last year, and has taken four championship victories in just two seasons, winning MSA Formula (now British Formula 3) in 2015 before triumphing in the Toyota Racing Series in the winter of 2016 and in both the NEC and Eurocup championships of Formula Renault 2.0.
Norris was also voted the winner of the prestigious McLaren Autosport BRDC Award at the end of 2016, and has more recently been signed to join the McLaren Junior Team. He has been quick in everything he has driven, and should be quick this year, and could be the one with the best chance of ending Prema’s domination.
Joining Norris is fellow Formula Renault 2.0 graduate Jehan Daruvala, who also comes with the backing of a Formula 1 team in the form of the Sahara Force India F1 Team. The Indian racer took a solitary race win in NEC last year but won twice in finishing fifth in the Toyota Racing Series during the off-season, and will be looking to show good form in Formula 3 machinery this year.
The final confirmed full-time driver is Austrian Ferdinand Habsburg, who ran in a trio of championships last year with good effect. The nineteen year old won races in finishing second in EuroFormula Open, while was also a podium finisher in both the Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup and NEC championships. His presence ensures royalty is on the grid this year, with Habsburg being part of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine in his homeland.
Like Motopark, Carlin have only confirmed three drivers, although Jake Dennis has been tipped to make a return to the category, at least for the opening three rounds, although nothing has yet been confirmed.
The Championship begins this weekend at Silverstone, with the British circuit returning the schedule after a year’s hiatus, with a trip to the Autodromo Nazionale Monza following at the end of April before they take their now-annual trip to the streets of Pau in France.
Visits to the Hungaroring and the Norisring follow before they race at Spa-Francorchamps at the end of July, with trips to Zandvoort, the Nurburgring and the Red Bull Ring coming before the season concludes at the Hockenheimring in October.
Yes there are only five teams, but don’t let that fool you! Let the racing commence!