In 2017, the GP3 Series once again produced fierce and competitive racing which ended with Briton George Russell being crowned champion.
For the seventh time in the eight years of the GP3 it was ART Grand Prix who led the way with Jack Aitken, Nirei Fukuzumi and Anthoine Hubert completing the top four – Giuliano Alesi was the best placed non-ART in the championship.
ART unsurprisingly claimed the Teams’ Championship by ending the season with 590 points – a staggering 305 points more than their nearest rival Trident.
Despite the ever present ART dominance, the series ended with nine different race winners with a further five drivers making it onto the podium. Every driver that took part in every race scored points.
Prior to the start of the season, it was announced that Russell had been named as the newest member of the Mercedes-AMG Junior Driver Programme – with its other members being Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon.
This opportunity also gave Russell the chance to take part in Formula 1 practice sessions in Brazil and Abu Dhabi with Force India – the Briton is also in contention for the reserve driver role with for the team next year. Unlike last year’s champion – and next season’s Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 driver – Charles Leclerc, Russell did not feel that he had any issues with jumping out of an F1 car straight into his GP3 machinery.
It was a quiet opening weekend for Russell at the Circuit de Catalunya but brought a large points haul for the ART driver with fourth and fifth place finishes.
Round two at the Red Bull Ring the advantage of the ARTs was showcased clearly with the four drivers dominating the Feature Race. Russell claimed his first of four pole positions and first of four race victories – all of which came in the Feature Races. In addition to his four victories, Russell appeared on the podium a further three times.
Consistency played a key role in Russell claiming the title as the only times the Briton did not score any points was at the Hungaroring – after suffering from technical gremlins during the formation lap for the Feature Race, Russell was unable to make the race start before coming through the pack to eleventh place in the Sprint Race.
Qualifying was a strong point for Russell all season, with him gaining 16 points just from qualifying in pole position.
Russell ended the year on 220 points, 79 more than his nearest rival Aitken.
It was hard for anyone to come close to the ARTs as the team took seven of the sixteen race wins on offer. As well, the team claimed every pole position – four for Russell, two apiece for Aitken and Fukuzumi. A record in the series.
However, the season saw nine different winners: Russell, Aitken, Fukuzumi, Alesi, Arjun Maini, Raoul Hyman, Alessio Lorandi, Niko Kari and Dorian Boccolacci. A further five drivers claimed podium finishes: Hubert, Ryan Tveter, Daniel Ticktum, Kevin Jörg and Leonardo Pulcini.
Aitken ended up second in the championship, coming off the back of a positive rookie season in 2016. The Briton claimed one race win, the Feature Race at the Hungaroring to capitalise on Russell’s misfortune. The British-Korean driver featured on the podium a further five times but five races where he did not score any points hindered any hopes he had of seriously challenging his team-mate for the title.
Following a difficult final few races for Aitken, Fukuzumi nearly had the chance to take the place of vice-champion away from Aitken but was unable to do so after misfortune on his own behalf. Two victories and four further podiums was how the Japanese driver ended the series. Six races in which he did not score puts a dampener on a largely positive season for Fukuzumi.
Hubert did not have an as successful season as his team-mates, with second place at Silverstone his best result. Consistency was a major factoring in Hubert’s season as there was only two races in which he did not score any points. Throughout the season Hubert was consistently quick, and gained eight points from claiming the fastest lap in race. Hubert, claiming fourth in the championship despite not winning any races is further proof that ART are certainly the team to beat.
After a slow start to the season – although it did feature second place at the Red Bull Ring – Alesi did not really get going until he claimed his first victory in the Sprint Race at Silverstone. From there he claimed a hat trick of Sprint Race victories after winning at the Hungaroring and Spa-Francorchamps. The latter half of the season was uneventful for Alesi who added a handful of points to his tally. The Frenchman ended the season with 99 points to his name, 24 less than his countryman Hubert and 121 less than Russell.
Despite only joining the championship at Monza, Dan Ticktum was highly impressive which was backed up by two fourth places and a podium in the finale at Yas Marina. The Briton ended the season eleventh in the championship standings with 36 points, despite the fact he only took part in five races all season (the Monza Sprint Race was cancelled due to adverse weather). It was the redemption the Briton needed after misdemeanors in other formula.
Tatiana Calderon further proved herself as one of the leading figures for women in motorsport after beating her own record for the most points for a female driver in the series. After a seventh and an eighth place finish, Calderon ended the year with seven points to her name. The Columbian ended the season in eighteenth place in the final standings.
Jörg and Hyman were the only drivers to reach the chequered flag in every race, ending the season in twelfth and thirteenth respectfully – the pair separated by just one point in the standings.
What is to come in 2018?
The future of the GP3 Series is one that is very much up in the air. With falling grid numbers a merger with the European Formula 3 series – which is also being hit by depleting grid numbers – to boost its exposure has been proposed. This would also bring the GP3 under the FIA umbrella such as what happened to its sister series GP2 prior to this year. If this merger is to go ahead the series will run in GP3’s slot on the F1 support package.
Currently, Briton Callum Ilott is the only driver confirmed for next season. The 19 year old who is the first British member of the Ferrari Driver Academy will line up for reigning champions ART next year.
As reigning champion, Russell will be ineligible to return to the series with him likely to step up to Formula 2 with ART with Aitken also having tested for them following the season finale.
After joining the series in 2016, DAMS have opted to leave ahead of the 2018 season with their entry being filled by Dutch outfit MP Motorsport.
Having been absent from the calendar in 2016 and 2017 the series will return to Sochi, as well as making its debut at Le Castellet in France.
The expanded seven round calendar will feature the first ever triple header made up of a trip to France, June 22-24 with Austria and Britain the subsequent weekends.
Three pre-season tests will take place next year at: Le Castellet, Jerez and Circuit de Catalunya as teams look to finalise their line ups for the season. Racing gets underway at Circuit de Catalunya May 11-13.