After years in the works, 2019 marked the inaugural FIA Formula 3 Championship.
PREMA Racing‘s Robert Shwartzman ended the season with the bragging rights of being the series’ first champion – ending the season with a 54 point advantage over team-mate Marcus Armstrong.
It was the clean sweep for the Italian team as their Indian driver Jehan Daruvala claimed third in the standings.
As well they claimed the Teams’ Championship at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, with four races still remaining.
Start of a new era
Following the completion of the 2018 GP3 Series and FIA Formula 3 European Championship, the two championships merged to help simplify the third tier of single-seater racing.
It forms part of the FIA Global Pathway which intends to help prospective drivers progress from karting to Formula One.
With various teams across the two series’ team entries were opened to them all with ten ultimately making up the entry list.
ART Grand Prix, Campos Racing, Jenzer Motorsport, MP Motorsport and Trident were selected from the GP3 entrants whilst Carlin, Hitech and Prema were chose from the Formula 3 European series.
Carlin and Prema both already had teams in F3’s sister series FIA Formula 2 Championship.
Sauber Junior Team by Charouz who also compete in F2 were awarded an entry. The final slot went to HWA Racelab who joined the series after Mercedes withdrew from the DTM Series.
A key focus point heading into the championship was how GP3 frontrunner ART and European Formula 3 dominate force Prema would fair against each other and who would come out on top in the battle of the junior category powerhouses.
The cars were derived from those used in the GP3 Series, and also saw the introduction of the halo cockpit protection device being used in sister series’ F1 and F2.
As well, they evolved the Drag Reduction System used previously in the GP3 which allowed unrestricted usage, when within the one second required rather than the six uses in the Feature Race and four in the Sprint Race as before.
PREMA powers to the top
After six consecutive Teams’ Championship titles in the European Formula 3, there was high expectations for them ahead of the season and what they would do.
The Italian outfit did not disappoint, claiming eight wins from sixteen races and four out of eight possible pole positions.
Shwartzman won the championship at his home round at the Sochi Autodrom with one race to spare after claiming three race wins and six other podium finishes – which he followed up with another podium finish the next day.
The Russian controlled the standings from the offset, only briefly losing the lead to team-mate Daruvala but quickly reclaimed his advantage.
After having a slower start to the season than his team-mates, a strong second half of the season meant Armstrong claimed second in the standings, 54 points behind Shwartzman but just one point ahead of the third Prema of Daruvala.
Kiwi, Armstrong claimed his second victory in an emotionally charged race at Spa following the death of F2 driver Anthoine Hubert the day before in a great show of strength on young shoulders.
In that same race Prema claimed the Teams’ Championship, they ended the season with a 304 point advantage over closest rivals Hitech.
The remaining Prema of Daruvala started the season strongly, closely challenging Shwartzman as the duo claimed the first four victories of the season. The two victories he claimed then were his only victories of the season.
With drivers fighting so fiercely for the championship, it would come as no surprise to see it come to blows like it did at the Red Bull Ring between Ferrari Driver Academy members Shwartzman and Armstrong.
On the final lap of the Sprint Race, Armstrong seized an opportunity to take the lead of the race but the Russian swerved too close and clipped the wheel of his team-mate forcing the New Zealander into the gravel.
Shwartzman maintained the lead, whilst Armstrong limped home in nineteenth, but the Russian was penalised for the incident and was classified third.
With all their success, Prema will be the ones to beat once again in 2020.
Despite Prema being the dominate force in the series, they did not have it all their own way.
Estonian Jüri Vips posed the biggest threat to the Prema trio, claiming three victories during the season.
At one stage he was sitting second in the standings, before a resurgence from Armstrong and Daruvala saw him end up fourth in the standings 43 points ahead of Pedro Piquet in fifth and just sixteen points behind the third placed Prema.
Thanks to the three race wins by Vips and another by Leonardo Pulcini, Hitech secured best of the rest – whether that is anything to brag about is to be seen give the 304 deficit to the Italian squad.
Former GP3 frontrunners, ART ended third in the standings 49 points behind Hitech with Renault Sport Academy driver Christian Lundgaard taking their only victory in the Feature Race at the Hungaroring.
Heading into the second year of the new series, the teams and drivers will be wanting to close the gap on Prema.
What’s in store for 2020?
In 2020 the championship has been extended to nine races, with Bahrain International Circuit opening the season and Circuit Paul Ricard being replaced by new circuit Zandvoort.
Shwartzman as champion has to graduate from the series, and will move up to F2 with team-mate Armstrong. The Russian will remain with Prema in the series whilst Armstrong joins ART.
Logan Sargeant and Frederik Vesti have been confirmed with Prema, with the third seat currently still up for grabs.
Jake Hughes remains with HWA and will be joined by Jack Doohan, son of five time MotoGP champion Mick Doohan, and Enzo Fittipaldi – grandson of two time F1 champion Emerson Fittipaldi.
Sebastian Fernandez has switched from Campos to ART and will be joined by rookies Theo Pourchaire and Aleksandr Smolyar.
Calan Williams is the only other driver currently confirmed to the series and will race for Jenzer.