Preview: 2019 FIA Formula 3 Championship – Spa-Francorchamps

by Tom Cairns
2018 GP3 Series at Spa-Francorchamps - Eau Rouge

The FIA Formula 3 Championship returns to action this weekend at the legendary Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium. The sixth round of the 2019 season.

Going into this stage, Robert Shwartzman is in command in the title race. The Russian has a twelve-point lead over Jüri Vips, with Jehan Daruvala a further eight points back in third.

PREMA Racing are close to clinching the teams championship. 161 points is the gap and it is surely a matter of time before the Italian fold seal the deal in what has been a memorable season for them.

Spa-Francorchamps is a driver’s and fan’s favourite, consisting of nineteen corners with plenty of areas to overtake including the run-up to Les Combes and the fast climb down to the Bus Stop Chicane before the pit straight.

What happened last time out in Budapest?

Hungary was by far the best showing from ART Grand Prix all season. Christian Lundgaard qualified on pole position for the French team ahead of Vips and his team-mate Max Fewtrell. Shwartzman was fourth on the grid with his PREMA team-mates and title rivals Marcus Armstrong and Daruvala way back in thirteenth and seventeenth.

Fewtrell sneaked ahead of Vips at the start though and ART were running one and two. Pedro Piquet who was running fifth for Trident on Lap Four of the first race, encountered mechanical issues and was forced to retire in the pits.

His team-mate Niko Kari, who had also got by Vips in the opening stages of the race was running third and dropping well back from Lundgaard and Fewtrell. The Finn was under pressure from the Estonian driver for numerous laps and multiple lock-ups meant that he would continuously lose grip and the place to Vips and drop down the order to fourteenth by the finish.

Jake Hughes was also on a charge and lined up third place Vips with three laps to go and sneaked past to put his HWA Racelab up into the podium places.

Meanwhile, Lundgaard cruised home on his worn tyres to take his maiden Formula 3 victory, ahead of team-mate Fewtrell in second and Hughes in third. Shwartzman was fifth, Armstrong in eighth and on reverse grid pole but Daruvala missed out on the points in eleventh.

The Sprint Race pole played into Armstrong’s hands, as he pulled away from the lights ahead of the rest of the field. A lead that the Kiwi would keep for the rest of the race despite nearly coming together with Leonardo Pulcini coming out of Turn Two.

The pack remained virtually static in their race positions for the first half of the second race before fourth place Shwartzman made a move on Felipe Drugovich on Lap Fourteen. Side by side through Turn Two and contact was made at the very next corner. The Russian’s front wing was damaged, as he touched the Brazilian’s right-rear tyre, causing Drugovich to limp back to the pits with a puncture and retire.

Shwartzman’s broken wing had sent him tumbling down the order lap by lap and whilst he was suffering, fourth place Fewtrell came to a temporary stop with seven laps remaining. The Brit would get going again but his chances of points were long gone.

Shwartzman eventually came into the pits as he fell out of the scoring positions and was out for the first time this campaign. Four laps left and Hughes pulled off a similar move on Vips for third position and the Brit was to leave Budapest with two podium finishes from the race weekend.

Further ahead, Armstrong was in total command. He had won the race ahead of Pulcini by over twelve seconds, with Hughes a further six seconds adrift. That win was not only Armstrong’s first in the new era of FIA Formula 3 but that also had thrown him right back into contention for the championship, especially with Daruvala and Shwartzman scoring little from that race.

What happened last year at Spa-Francorchamps?

In only his second round for his Trident team, David Beckmann was the star of the show at Spa. He converted his pole position into a dominant race win ahead of team-mate Ryan Tveter and eventual-title winner Anthoine Hubert.

Joey Mawson, who had finished eighth for Arden in that first race, started on reverse-grid pole for the Sprint Race. Unfortunately, a mechanical issue forced Beckmann to stall at the beginning of the formation lap and was not able to start.

A poor start from Mawson saw him behind the ART drivers and would struggle to maintain grip throughout the race, as the Australian defended so much to eventually fall out of the points and exit the race late on.

Callum Ilott‘s efforts of getting past the Arden on the second lap saw the Brit lose momentum and losing out to Nikita Mazepin and Jake Hughes.

The end of the race saw Mazepin take his third win of the 2018 campaign, ahead of Hubert, Ilott and Hughes, completing an ART one-two-three-four.

What is the schedule for the weekend?

Friday 30th August

Practice (45 mins): 9:35 (GMT+2)

Qualifying (30 mins): 17:50

Saturday 31st August

Race 1 (17 laps): 10:35

Sunday 1st September

Race 2 (17 laps): 9:45

Where can I watch the FIA Formula 3 Championship this weekend?

UK and Ireland viewers can watch the sessions live on Sky Sports F1 throughout the weekend. Re-runs of the races will be shown throughout the week.

How can I keep up with all the F3 News this weekend?

The Checkered Flag will provide the latest news of the FIA Formula 3 Championship throughout the weekend and the season.

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