Formula 3

SEASON REVIEW: FIA Formula 3 – Oscar-worthy

6 Mins read
Credit: PREMA Racing

Nine rounds, eleven weeks, eighteen races. FIA Formula 3 in 2020 was unlike any season we’ve ever seen before but that didn’t stop the stars of tomorrow producing world-class racing at every turn and an enthralling title battle that went down to the very last race.

A top field consisting of nineteen rookies took to the grid for the opening round in Austria, all with dreams of being crowned champion when the season came to a close in the Tuscan hills of Mugello, but the contenders emerged early as the cream of the crop quickly rose to the top.

The Title Fight – Piastri, Pourchaire, Sargeant and more

In a season which saw nine different winners, consistency was going to be key and it was the reigning Formula Renault Eurocup champion Oscar Piastri who maximised his results most often to take the crown.

The PREMA driver would always come back swinging any time he was knocked down by a poor qualifying or unfortunate race here and there. Expressing all the qualities needed in a champion driver.

FLYING HIGH: Piastri will be on cloud nine for quite some time yet as he basks in his F3 glory. Credit: FIA Formula 3

The Renault Academy driver took the opening win of the year in Austria and won a second time in Catalunya to go with his four further podiums on his way to the title.

As defending teams’ champions, PREMA were the team to beat and it turned out that no one could. The Italian squad had wrapped up the teams’ title before the final round at Mugello with Logan Sargeant and Frederik Vesti both taking multiple wins.

Sargeant was in the hunt for the title and level on points with Piastri going into the final race of the season but early contact ended his title hopes. The American however showed great attitude and resolve throughout and will undoubtedly have Formula 2 teams interested in his services.

Vesti won more races than both of his teammates but failed to make the most of his bad days which meant he was only fourth in the championship. Half points for his first win at Styria didn’t help his cause either.

Taking on the PREMA’s almost single-handedly was young Frenchman Théo Pourchaire of ART. Just sixteen years old when the season started, Pourchaire secured two early wins even when his speed wasn’t immediately apparent before a long streak of consistent points and podium finishes saw him make a late charge for the title.

In the end, Pourchaire fell just short of a miraculous title as he lost out to Piastri by three points but he will be very proud to have the vice-champion tag, especially as an unfancied driver before a wheel was turned.

Liam Lawson was many people’s pre-season favourites having had experience of racing at the front in 2019 but the New Zealander didn’t have the consistency of those ahead of him to challenge.

Bursting onto the F3 scene, Théo Pourchaire is a name we will be seeing a lot of in the coming years as F3 vice-champion. Credit: FIA Formula 3

The same can be said of David Beckmann although the German led Trident to a fantastic second in the teams’ standings.

Standout Moments – THAT last lap at Silverstone; Monza madness

Where do you start here? Perhaps you have to think back to the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix at Silverstone and THAT final lap between Bent Viscaal and Lirim Zendeli.

Both drivers were searching for their first win in the series and neither were about to settle for second as Viscaal, who had shadowed Zendeli all race, made a move for the lead into Copse to have surely secured the win.

But Zendeli used the DRS on the Hangar Straight to great effect to run side-by-side into Vale. Zendeli braked later, but too late and he ran wide. As he came back onto track, Viscaal kept his foot floored to swoop round the outside at Club to earn his first F3 win by less than two tenths of a second. A truly memorable last lap that you could watch all day.

More recent madness came at Monza as it always does in F3. You could argue there’s not been a better pair of races in the history of the series.

It was the weekend that Sargeant’s title hopes were effectively thrown out the window as he suffered a double retirement and lost the championship lead as a result.

As Always, Monza in Italy produced the best races of the entire year in any series with three-wide moments like this almost customary. Credit: FIA Formula 3

The second retirement will sting even more for the American as he came into contact with teammate Vesti causing both to park their cars. And that was after Piastri had been involved in a four-car incident and was already on the side-lines.

It’s easy to forget the battle for the lead which saw Zendeli, Lawson, Enzo Fittipaldi and eventual winner Jake Hughes all lead at various points as the slipstream-fest kept the viewers’ eyes firmly glued to the action.

Driver of the Season – Piastri, Pourchaire, Beckmann

It’s always tricky to pick just one driver for this with so many drivers who could make a case for themselves.

You have to put the champion Piastri in the conversation. To win a Formula 3 championship in any year is a massive achievement but this year’s championship was so competitive across the entire grid that you had to make the most of every race to have a chance.

And Piastri did just that; two wins, four other podiums and only three non-points scoring finishes the key to his championship victory.

Pourchaire is another you can’t dismiss. Considering he scored zero points in the opening two races at Austria, he has done remarkably to finish only three points off the title.

Both of his wins came early in the year but he also racked up a further six podiums to make up for his poor opening round and he was probably the most surprising driver this season.

I’ve chosen Beckmann as the third candidate for this as I believe he has bounced back tremendously after a difficult 2019 with ART.

You could tell he wasn’t happy last year and his results showed that but a return to Trident, where he won races in GP3 in 2018, saw him rejuvenated and he looked all the better for it both on and off track.

The final verdict though is that Théo Pourchaire is our Formula 3 Driver of the Season.

Where next for the top drivers?

The short answer here is Formula 2, but what teams will have seats available and will they fancy an F3 driver to fill that void?

It’s looking increasingly likely that PREMA will have at least one seat available with Alfa Romeo F1 seats becoming vacant for the current Ferrari Academy drivers who hold those seats so it would be logical to assume Piastri will remain with the Italian team as he makes the step up.

It seems lifetimes ago since Hungarian Grand Prix was delayed for hours after torrential rain. Credit: FIA Formula 3

Pourchaire will have to graduate to F2 as well but with whom? ART may have a seat available if they decide Marcus Armstrong hasn’t performed to expectation so a partnership of Pourchaire and Christian Lundgaard would be title contending without a doubt.

Lawson could see Red Bull get involved and find him a drive somewhere. DAMS may well be searching for a new driver with Sean Gelael’s condition and ability still in question but he would be in direct competition with Jüri Vips who has impressed since deputising for the Indonesian.

Sargeant is a tricky one; while he showed fantastic speed all season, he is currently unaffiliated to any F1 team which could make his path into the big time harder but there will be teams willing to take him on.

The other option is for him to head back to his homeland and try to make a career in Indycar just like Santino Ferrucci has done over the last two years. He may need a year in Indy Lights first but I’m convinced that every team boss will be keen to have Sargeant in their ranks if he became available.

For the rest, I think they should stay in F3 for 2021. Especially someone like Vesti who will be a heavy-favourite if he stays at PREMA again and the same can be said for Lawson. They will also have the relief of no Hughes to challenge them after he announced this season would be his last in F3.

He could well end up gradating to HWA Racelab’s F2 team with neither Artem Markelov or Guiliano Alesi doing particularly well so far this year.

It’s now a long wait through the rest of the 2020 season for F1 and F2 before we see Formula 3 back on track again; made even longer by the announcement that they will not be racing at Macau with Formula 4 in its place. 2021 can’t come soon enough… Thank You FIA Formula 3.

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