It’s been a long wait for FIA Formula 3’s return after the 2020 season finale at Mugello which saw Oscar Piastri hold off both Théo Pourchaire and Logan Sargeant for the title, but the F3 circus is finally back with the opening round of the 2021 season from Barcelona this weekend (7-9th May).
With eight of the 2020 field graduating to FIA Formula 2 – plus one who is on double duty in both series – the door is open for any of the 30 drivers to take initiative and claim the championship crown this year.
The new Calendar and Schedule:
Much like in Formula 2, 2021 sees a new, three race format for Formula 3 with the top 12 from qualifying on Friday reversed for Saturday’s morning race. The afternoon race on Saturday will see the top 12 from race one reversed before Sunday morning’s race which will go off qualifying.
The new format provided outstanding racing and entertainment when Formula 2’s season started at Bahrain and with even more cars on the grid, the likelihood is that Formula 3’s new format will be even more exciting.
Cost-cutting measures mean the two series run on different weekends with the first for F3 being this weekend at Barcelona before they head to Paul Ricard in France for the first time. Common visits to Austria, Hungary and Spa make up rounds three to five before two more new venues for the series.
After the race was cancelled last year due to the pandemic, Zandvoort will make its long awaited return to the calendar as the penultimate round before everyone heads stateside for the final round at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.
The reigning drivers’ and teams’ champions will hope that come that final round, they’re right in the mix again for another double but this year’s drivers have their work cut out.
Dennis Hauger inherits the number one car that took Piastri to the title last year and in his second season of F3 racing, the Norwegian should be a contender, especially in the benchmark team.
Another second year driver in the Italian squad is Britain’s Olli Caldwell. He struggled in comparison to his Trident teammates last term but reuniting with PREMA could see him return to his best and challenge at the front.
The only rookie in the PREMA stable is Formula Regional European Championship runner-up Arthur Leclerc. Brother of F1 race winner Charles, Leclerc is expected to impress although he, and the whole PREMA team, have been very underwhelming in the pre-season tests.
On paper, this looks to be the strongest driver lineup on the grid with all three drivers returning for their second season in the category.
Jack Doohan leads the team in the number four car and even though he ended 2020 without a point for HWA, he knows he has the speed to be right at the front and he will be a contender for wins all year long.
As will Clément Novalak who joins the team from Carlin where he dragged the team to eighth in the teams’ championship last year. The Frenchman should be aiming for race wins and that can only lead to a title challenge.
David Schumacher completes the Trident trio and despite expectations having his teammates ahead of him, he should impress at times with such an experienced team around him.
ART Grand Prix
You can never count out ART in junior formula racing and this is no different. The undoubted lead driver will be Frederik Vesti who joins the team having won more races than anyone in F3 last year with PREMA. The Dane is a definite title favourite heading into the first races this weekend.
He’s joined by Aleksandr Smolyar who returns with ART for a second year. The Russian was quick in patches last season and will be hoping for a more consistent 2021.
But the feel good story of F3 this year will be Juan Manuel Correa’s racing return. The American was injured in the big F2 crash at Spa in 2019 that killed Anthoine Hubert and after a year of intensive rehabilitation, Correa is ready to return.
Hitech Grand Prix
It’s difficult to judge where Hitech might be this year with two rookies and an underwhelming second year driver on their roster. Roman Stanek is the returning driver after scoring just three points for Charouz in 2020 but Hitech are race winners in F3 so expect Stanek to improve on that tally this season.
His rookie teammates both come from the Red Bull Junior program with young American Jak Crawford and Japanese racer Ayumu Iwasa completing the trio. Crawford was a narrow runner-up in ADAC Formula 4 last year and has been highly impressive in testing so far while Iwasa has been more reserved since his move up.
While they may challenge for the odd win, I would expect Hitech to be the outsiders again in 2021.
As mentioned earlier, one driver is doing both F2 and F3 this year and that man is Matteo Nannini of HWA.
The Italian has already scored his first F2 points despite the car’s struggles so far but in F3, he should be a regular points scorer and could even challenge for trophies when things go his way.
His rookie teammates may find it tough with Oliver Rasmussen and Rafael Villagomez completing the team. Both drivers have gone about testing quietly and they could have a surprise performance in them this year, but decent points is the initial aim for the German team.
2021 could be a very exciting year for MP in Formula 3 with the top two from last year’s Formula Renault Eurocup both in the team.
Victor Martins won the title last year and he has been the standout driver in testing which saw him top the pre-season Barcelona test after Caio Collet had set an F3 lap record in Austria.
The pair should go very well and are likely to win races, maybe even push for a title challenge if things go their way.
The same can’t be said of the third MP driver Tijmen van der Helm who hasn’t found the same speed as his teammates in testing and is expected to struggle.
The Spanish team were dragged to seventh by Alex Peroni – now in Indy Lights – last year and their new lineup looks weak in comparison to the previous six teams.
Lorenzo Colombo has fought near the front in Formula Renault Eurocup and should do fine as should Amaury Cordeel who has matched the Italian in testing but neither have set the world alight.
László Tóth is the third Campos driver but the Hungarian has been well off the pace in every day of testing which will be a worry to the team without a superstar driver to lead them.
Carlin boast two current champions of lower formula racing with ADAC Formula 4 champion Jonny Edgar the first to sign thanks to the Brit’s Red Bull backing. Edgar has gone well in testing and should be the lead Carlin this year.
British Formula 3 champion Kaylen Frederick also moves up having dominated on British shores in 2020 but the American has found it tough at times as he gets to grips with his new machinery.
Not as tough however as the team’s third driver Ido Cohen who moves over from Euroformula Open and the Israeli has struggled so far.
Only ninth in 2020 but Jenzer look set for an improved 2021 as Calan Williams opts to stay for a second consecutive year with the Swiss team.
The Australian should score good points as should new teammate and reigning F3 Asian Champion Pierre-Louis Chovet. Having raced part-time for Hitech last season after Max Fewtrell’s departure, the Frenchman should be able to push for podiums despite his team’s poor finish last season.
Romanian Filip Ugran completes the team and has looked some way off his teammates in what will be his first year in the series.
Charouz were the final team to complete their lineup for the 2021 season with the final two drivers only just announced earlier today. Reshad De Gerus was the first announced months back and joins the team for his F3 debut but hasn’t pulled up any trees in testing.
Sargeant joins the team having raced for PREMA and challenged for the title last season and should lead the team to better things this year. And Enzo Fittipaldi completes the 30-car grid as he also enters his second year in the series having raced for HWA in 2020.
Any one of about ten names could be thrown in here and even then you’d be discounting others too, for me though, I still believe PREMA has an edge on the field despite the poor testing so I am backing Norway’s DENNIS HAUGER to just about win the title by a slender margin.
Frederik Vesti, Jack Doohan and Clément Novalak should be the main challengers while I can see Victor Martins, Caio Collet and Jak Crawford all shining as rookies in the series.
The 2021 Formula 3 season is just around the corner and we know it’s going to be wild.