Season Review: 2018 FIA European Formula 3 Championship – Schumacher’s Title

by Paul Hensby

It is never easy to follow in the footsteps of your father, especially if he happens to be a seven-time Formula 1 World Champion, with all of the expectations that are placed automatically onto young shoulders.  Mick Schumacher has had it harder than most with what happened to his father Michael whilst skiing a few years ago, but the youngster has kept his head held high and most importantly in focus, and his 2018 campaign saw his driving standard hit the next level.

The year started relatively quietly for Schumacher, his first visit to the podium came in the sixth round of the season at the Hungaroring, but that first win at Spa-Francorchamps, a venue that will forever be locked in folklore with regards to his father who made the track his own throughout the years, started his championship charge that culminated in eight victories including a run of five in a row.

Prema Theodore Racing has long been the standard bearers in the FIA European Formula 3 Championship – they’ve won every Teams’ championship since the series’ reinvention back in 2013 and only once have they not provided the machinery for the Drivers’ crown – and 2018 showed once more why they are one of the biggest names in the junior categories of single seater motorsport.

2018 saw them line up with a strong line-up of Schumacher, Ralf Aron, Guanyu Zhou, Marcus Armstrong and Robert Shwartzman, and each of them tasted the success of victory throughout the season, and each placed inside the top eight in the final standings.

It wasn’t all about Prema. Carlin and Hitech Bullfrog GP both took victories throughout the season, but it was Motopark who provided the toughest opposition to the Italian outfit, with the Red Bull-backed Daniel Ticktum and Jüri Vips both showing themselves to be superstars in the making.

Daniel Ticktum won four times on his way to the runners-up spot – Credit: FIA Formula 3 European Championship

Ferrari, Renault and Red Bull Drivers Start Strongly

The season began around the legendary streets of Pau, and the first pole position went the way of Ticktum and Motopark, but the victory was taken by Ferrari Driver Academy star Zhou, who jumped the British racer at the start.  It was a historic moment for Zhou, who became the first Chinese driver to win a race in the FIA European Formula 3 Championship, while Aron made it a Prema one-two after dispatching Ticktum following a safety car intervention.

Sacha Fenestraz, the 2017 Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 series champion and a member of the Renault Sport Academy, started and finished race two at Pau at the front of the field to give Carlin their first victory of the season, while Aron took his first win of the season in race three, denying polesitter Enaam Ahmed of Hitech Bullfrog GP to take the prestigious Grand Prix de Pau crown.

British drivers took a hat-trick of victories next time out at the Hungaroring, with Ticktum converting his second pole position of the season into a maiden win in race one while Ahmed stole the show to win races two and three.  Unfortunately, those victories would be the only ones of the season for Ahmed, who left the Hungaroring as the championship leader only to secure only one further top three result, which came at Silverstone in August.

Armstrong, another member of the fabled Ferrari Driver Academy, was the next to stand on the top step of the podium as the championship made its annual trip to the Norisring in Germany, while Jüri Vips and Tickum gave Motopark victories in races two and three.

Race two saw perhaps the biggest crash of the season when Ticktum, who had stalled on the grid, was hit from behind in violent fashion by Ameya Vaidyanathan of Carlin, who bizarrely failed to spot the unmoving Motopark driver despite others giving him a clear view, with the damage to both cars causing an immediate red flag.  Luckily both drivers escaped unharmed and Ticktum’s mechanics worked wonders to repair the car in time for his race three charge to victory.

Aron returned to winning ways with a double victory in between the sand dunes at Zandvoort, while Carlin’s Nikita Troitskiy surprised many to win race three.  It would be the SMP Racing-backed Russian’s only visit to the podium all season long, and at no other point did he look like a race-winning contender, so it was baffling to see him so competitive in the Netherlands.

2017 ADAC F4 champion Jüri Vips finished fourth in the championship with Motopark – Credit: FIA Formula 3 European Championship

Schumacher Starts to Shine at Spa

Jehan Daruvala started the Spa-Francorchamps weekend with pole position and victory, but it was Schumacher’s maiden pole position in race two that opened eyes, even if he could not convert that into a finish as Ticktum took his third win of the season.  However, Schumacher was to rebound in race three as he took his maiden victory from sixth on the grid in drying conditions.

More success was to come for Schumacher at Silverstone with his second win, with Ticktum and Vips taking the other victories in Great Britain, while a third win was to come the German’s way at the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli in Italy, with Vips and Aron the other victors this time around, with their one-two in the final race ensuring a first-ever Estonian driver one-two finish in the series.

Those single victories in Belgium, Great Britain and Italy were just the start for Schumacher as the series moved to the Nurburgring in Germany, with the German starting a run of five consecutive race victories in race one.  He followed that up with wins in races two and three there and in the first two races at the Red Bull Ring to put himself to the top of the championship standings.

He was only denied a perfect six by team-mate Shwartzman, who claimed his first victory of the season in race three in Austria, but the victories for Schumacher gave him the advantage that he was not to lose heading into the final round of the season at the Hockenheimring in Germany.

Despite a lowly twelfth place result in race one as Zhou took his second win of the year, Schumacher clinched the title with a second-place finish in race two behind Vips, and then further extended his advantage by finishing second to Shwartzman in race three.

Robert Shwartzman took third in the main championship and was also rookie champion – Credit: FIA Formula 3 European Championship

Schumacher and Prema Champions

Eight victories for Schumacher was double anyone else could manage, and despite the slow start, by the end of the year it was a surprise not to see his name at or near the top of the timesheets.  He became the series’ seventh and final champion, at least in its current guise, and moves on to the FIA Formula 2 Championship in 2019 with Prema Racing.

Ticktum finished fifty-seven points shy in second place but the Red Bull Junior showed himself to be a star in the making and potentially the next in line for a seat at Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda in Formula 1, while Shwartzman’s late run of podium results – he took eight top three finishes in the final nine races that also included his first two victories.  He also remains with Prema for 2019 but in the FIA Formula 3 Championship.

Vips, who post-season became the latest member of the Red Bull Junior Team, showed strong performances throughout his rookie campaign to claim fourth in the standings, while Armstrong’s early season form faded as he finished more than one hundred points down on team-mate Schumacher in fifth place.

In the end, it was clear that the two teams to beat were Prema and Motopark, and the FIA’s decision to omit the German team from their entry list for the 2019 FIA Formula 3 Championship remains baffling to this day.  Prema will be there as will Carlin and Hitech, but Motopark SHOULD be there too.

Outside of Ticktum and Vips within Motopark, Jonathan Aberdein took a trio of podium finishes, two at Silverstone and one more at the Red Bull Ring, while Fabio Scherer took his maiden podium at Spa in what was a frustrating season for the Swiss racer who showed flashes of potential across the year.

Fenestraz’s Pau success, Troitskiy’s victory at Zandvoort and Daruvala’s triumph at Spa showed Carlin could threaten on occasion, but they were far too inconsistent to be genuine championship challengers.  Fenestraz finished on the podium only twice more at Silverstone, Daruvala took four third place results, Ferdinand Habsburg’s second season gave him only one top three finish at Misano, while Vaidyanathan’s was the only full-time driver not to score a point.

Hitech should also have taken more than the two victories they did in Hungary with Ahmed, particularly with the talent within the team of the 2017 BRDC British Formula 3 Champion as well as Spaniard Alex Palou, who was the only driver to finish inside the top ten without winning a race.  If the team had got on top of set-up issues that affected Ahmed, Palou and Ben Hingeley, there should have been more success heading the way of the Silverstone-based outfit.

Van Amersfoort Racing, who had taken 2019 Scuderia Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc to victories just a handful of seasons ago, had a poor year by their standards, with only one podium finish coming their way for Keyvan Andres at the Norisring, while Artem Petrov, Sophia Flörsch and Frederik Vesti all finished inside the points.

Ma-con and Fortec Motorsports both made their return to the championship after hiatus’, but neither saw out the year, with the former dropping of the grid ahead of the Silverstone round after just one points finish for Julian Hanses at Pau, while the latter lasted just one more round before Petru Florescu’s pointless run came to an end.

But ultimately, Prema and Schumacher were triumphant, claiming the final FIA European Formula 3 Championship titles and locking their names into the history books.

Prema took the Drivers’, Teams’ and Rookie titles in 2018 – Credit: FIA Formula 3 European Championship

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