The 2017 FIA European Formula 3 Championship battle may have gone down right to the final round of the season at the Hockenheimring, but by then Lando Norris had put himself almost out of reach, and it was almost a formality arriving in Germany that he would claim the title.
Just five teams fielded entries in 2017 after Mücke Motorsport and ThreeBond with T-Sport departed, with Motopark, Prema Powerteam and Hitech Grand Prix running four full-time cars, while Carlin and Van Amersfoort Racing ran three full time cars.
Four drivers stood out from the rest in 2017, with Norris, Joel Eriksson, Maximilian Günther and Callum Ilott sharing twenty-seven of the thirty race victories, with only Jehan Daruvala, Ferdinand Habsburg and Jake Hughes each taking a solitary victory.
The Ferrari Driver Academy put Guan Yu Zhou in at Prema, while Sahara Force India junior Daruvala was at Carlin, while the legendary names of Schumacher and Piquet – in the form of Mick Schumacher and Pedro Piquet – were at Prema and Van Amersfoort Racing respectively.
Norris triumph for Carlin meant an end to the domination of Prema Powerteam drivers claiming the title, although the Italian outfit still managed to take the Teams’ title, mainly thanks to having both Günther and Ilott on board.
Norris starts year with home win at Silverstone
Norris started the year with a victory in race one at Silverstone as European Formula 3 made a return to the British circuit after a one-year hiatus after Ilott spun off heading into turn one in tricky conditions, but bad starts cost Norris in races two and three, with Eriksson and Ilott taking the honours.
The same three drivers, ironically in the same order, took the victories at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza in Italy in round two, although Norris was again troubled by his starts, but once he got them sorted out he was a true force to be reckoned with.
Race one at the Italian circuit also marked the first of only three races during the year when it wasn’t one of the four front runners on pole position, with Daruvala taking his one and only pole of the year, with the other two occurrences coming at the Norisring, when Hughes and Ralf Aron both took a pole each.
Eriksson took his third win (and broke the pattern in the process) in the opening race of the round around the streets of Pau, but it was here where Günther got his season on track, with a double victory coming the German’s way including the Pau Grand Prix, a title any driver wants to win.
Günther’s winning run continued into race one at the Hungaroring, with none of his main rivals joining him on the podium, Hughes and Daruvala taking second and third respectively, but race two saw a return to the top step of the podium for Ilott, whilst race three went the way of Eriksson.
The opening race of the weekend at the Norisring went the way of Günther, while Norris saw a podium finish disappear after being penalised for a collision with Hughes into turn one, meaning Piquet took a rare podium in second ahead of Zhou.
Norris returned to winning ways in race two before Daruvala took his one and only victory of the year in race three ahead of Günther and Norris. The weekend in Germany also saw the first round where Eriksson and his Motopark squad began to struggle during Qualifying, and although he scored points in all three races, fourth, tenth and seventh were not what he would have wanted, although his weekend was still better than Ilott, who retired from race one before finishing ninth in the remaining two races.
Norris stretches his legs with Spa double
Spa-Francorchamps saw a double victory for Norris, with the Briton heading Nikita Mazepin and Günther in race one, but his race two ended early after an early crash with Zhou heading into Les Combes that earned the Briton a penalty, but despite this he still found a way to win in race three ahead of Eriksson and Zhou.
Race two honours ultimately went the way of Austrian driver Habsburg, who climbed impressively through the field from eighth on the grid to win, with Eriksson and Günther again completing the podium.
Norris’ charge continued into Zandvoort with two more wins, either side of a third place finish in race two, with Ilott taking his first win since the Hungaroring in between. Eriksson finished second in race two, but with passing difficult and Motopark again struggling in Qualifying, the Swede failed to score points in either of the other two races, while he could only muster a tenth, ninth and eighth at the Nurburgring.
Norris again took victory in the first and third races in Germany, and was only denied a clean sweep thanks to an impressive drive from Hughes, who gave Hitech Grand Prix their only win of the season. With Norris dominant, particularly in the extremely difficult wet weather conditions of race one, and with his rivals struggling, he went into the penultimate round of the season with a chance of winning the title, and he was on course to do so until the final lap, when a collision with Aron left him in the gravel trap.
Ilott won race one in Austria, and Eriksson races two and three, but Günther remained Norris’ only title rival leaving the Red Bull Ring, but the German’s chance ended in race one at the season finale at the Hockenheimring when finishing tenth, while Norris took second behind Eriksson.
Ilott won his sixth victory of the year in race two, while Günther closed the year out with his fifth, but it was Eriksson who ultimately finished the year second in the championship by five points, although Norris was fifty-three points better off.
The future is bright for Top Four
There is no doubt that the top four drivers were the class of the field in 2017, and all four will be looking to move up the motorsport ladder next season, with the champion already set to race in the FIA Formula 2 Championship or Super Formula, as well as being the reserve driver for the McLaren F1 Team!
Günther has long been linked with Mercedes-Benz and is set for a move to the DTM Series, while Eriksson could also find his way there thanks to his links with BMW.
Ilott has also joined a manufacturer programme, becoming the first Briton in the Ferrari Driver Academy, two years after leaving the Red Bull Junior Team!
Other drivers obviously played their part, with wins for Daruvala, Habsburg and Hughes, and podiums for Jake Dennis, Zhou, Aron, Mazepin, Schumacher, Joey Mawson, Piquet and Tadasuke Makino.
But Lando Norris was undoubtedly a deserving champion, meaning in just four seasons of racing, he has five titles to his name. He has long been on the radar as one of the best young prospects in British motorsport, but the whole world needs to keep an eye on the teenager in 2018 and beyond.