Home Featured 2014 FIA F3 European Championship season review

2014 FIA F3 European Championship season review

by Peter Allen
FIA F3 European Championship

Photos: FIA F3 European Championship

The recent upturn experienced by the FIA F3 European Championship reached another high in 2014, with a highly-competitive field headed by numerous top-line drivers, including some incredibly strong rookies.

Its reputation had already grown before Max Verstappen was handed a Formula 1 seat while he was still 16. That brought yet more attention, but Verstappen’s rivals deserve their fair share – none more so than the fellow teenage newcomer that won the title, Esteban Ocon.

All the drivers in the top ten at least are capable of and deserving of going on to bigger and better things. Below, PaddockScout reviews the top 20 in the final standings in detail.

Esteban Ocon1. Esteban Ocon

France, Prema Powerteam, age 18

478 points, 9 wins, 21 podiums, 15 pole positions, 7 fastest laps

Plenty was expected of Lotus F1 junior Ocon as he stepped up to F3 from Formula Renault 2.0 with champion team Prema, but by winning the title in relatively dominant fashion, he far exceeded those expectations.

He led the standings from just the second race, and his margin grew to 82 during the first four rounds, when he won at each weekend, and took 11 podiums from 12 races. He responded perfectly to Verstappen’s trebles at Spa and the Norisring with one of his own in Moscow, opening his lead to a season-high of 116. His run-in was a little wobbly in comparison, but he still did enough to wrap things up with a round to go.

Verstappen hogged much of the limelight, but Ocon was still an F3 rookie and is only a year older. And the hype around his rival boosts his standing too, with his Gravity management, Mercedes and the FIA all pushing for him to get F1 chances of his own sooner rather than later. A GP2 move seems likely for 2015. Season rating: 9/10

Tom Blomqvist2. Tom Blomqvist

United Kingdom, Jagonya Ayam with Carlin, age 20

420 points, 6 wins, 15 podiums, 6 pole positions, 9 fastest laps

Being recruited to the Jagonya Ayam roster of drivers backed by Ricardo Gelael and KFC Indonesia allowed Blomqvist to get a seat in a Carlin machine and prove what he was really capable of, following a tough couple of seasons in under-resourced teams.

His season couldn’t have started better, beating Ocon to the win in the first of the 33 races, but his title bid took an early hit thanks to the draconian engine change rules, giving him three-ten place penalties and denying him two poles at Hockenheim. That took him from three points behind Ocon to 61, but he finished the year just 58 adrift – and nine ahead of Verstappen – with ten podiums from the last 12 races.

Of course his experience and maturity helped, and his talent isn’t as great as Ocon’s or Verstappen’s, but there’s absolutely no shame in that. Finding space for him further up the ladder will be harder for Jagonya Ayam, but he fully deserves to take the next step and get a quick package underneath him once again. Season rating: 8

Max Verstappen3. Max Verstappen

Netherlands, Van Amersfoort Racing, age 17

411 points, 10 wins, 16 podiums, 7 pole positions, 7 fastest laps

Verstappen had made a strong impression in early single-seater tests and races, but jumping straight into the ultra-competitive F3 series for his first full campaign out of karts – and with a team that scored just one podium in 2013 – meant little was expected.

He was immediately among the frontrunners on pace though, and although predictable first-lap incidents hampered him at first, it took until just six races before he won. His six wins in nine days in June across and Spa and Norisring were simply incredible. He looked like he might threaten Ocon’s title, but was hindered by technical problems, grid penalties and some general raggedness, before he lost P2 to a faster Blomqvist on the final day. But winning more races than anybody else was the most remarkable achievement.

Confident and competent in his first F1 outings so far, anything other than a positive first impression in 2015 will be a surprise. His long-term potential is huge, it will be interesting to see whether he can make the most of it. Season rating: 9

Lucas Auer4. Lucas Auer

Austria, Mucke Motorsport, age 20

365 points, 3 wins, 13 podiums, 1 pole position, 2 fastest laps

Fourth last year, Auer made the bold decision to leave Prema over the winter and move to Mucke. To not improve his championship position may have left him feeling disappointed, but understandable when faced with some almighty competition.

Most of the time, Mucke didn’t seem to be a match for Carlin or Prema. They were left behind in a terrible first weekend at Silverstone, but Auer promptly won the next race at Hockenheim. His later wins would also come on German soil, at the Nurburgring and the season finale back at Hockenheim. He comfortably outscored his more experienced team-mate Rosenqvist even if they were many times when they were inseparable. He probably should have beaten him to win in Macau, but for repeated braking errors.

The nephew of outgoing FIA single-seater chief Gerhard Berger, FR3.5 seems far more likely than GP2/3 for next year, and has already tested there. He’s also sampled Endurance, but Auer falling off the single-seater ladder would hardly be a good start to Berger’s legacy. Season rating: 8

Antonio Fuoco5. Antonio Fuoco

Italy, Prema Powerteam, age 18

255 points, 2 wins, 10 podiums, 2 fastest laps

After claiming the Formula Renault 2.0 Alps title in his rookie season out of karts, Ferrari Driver Academy member Fuoco stepped up to F3 for 2014 and made a very bright start, heading an all-rookie podium in race three at Silverstone ahead of Verstappen and Ocon.

Unfortunately, while Ocon and Verstappen went on to even headier heights, Fuoco couldn’t maintain that kind of form. There were six non-scores in the next seven races, partly caused by a tough weekend at Pau thanks to a practice crash. After another poor spell in the middle of the year, he inherited his second and final win at Spielberg. Good pace and podiums after that was matched by more incidents, culminating in a clumsy penultimate race crash, a disqualification and a broken thumb.

Ignoring Ocon and Verstappen, fifth would usually still be a decent effort for an F3 rookie in only his second car racing season, and he should start 2015 as the title favourite. But doing a sophomore campaign with Prema is surprisingly not a forgone conclusion and he’s testing GP3 next week. Season rating: 7

Antonio Giovinazzi6. Antonio Giovinazzi

Italy, Jagonya Ayam with Carlin, age 20

238 points, 2 wins, 7 podiums, 2 pole positions, 3 fastest laps

Much was expected of Giovinazzi in 2014, joining Carlin after a promising end to an otherwise tough rookie F3 season. He got a second-place in the fifth race of the season at Hockenheim, but that would be his only podium from the first 21 races.

He had cracked his chassis in a collision at the Norisring, and a replacement together with a fresh engine revitalised him immediately at Spielberg, where he was the quickest over the weekend and would have won twice, but lost the first to Fuoco for a safety car infringement. Another win followed a fortnight later at the Nurburgring when Verstappen broke down while leading. The final two weekends weren’t quite as strong, but in all he racked up six podiums from the last 12 races.

That form would easily make him a title contender for 2015, but rumour suggests his Indonesian backers are looking to move him, Blomqvist and Sean Gelael all on, perhaps up to FR3.5. Season rating: 7

Jordan King7. Jordan King

United Kingdom, Carlin, age 20

217 points, 7 podiums

British champion, top European rookie and sixth overall last year, King will be disappointed to have not made more progress in his second year in the series with Carlin. He certainly made a step forward in terms of podium finishes, with seven instead of two.

However, despite his four second-places, he lacked that last bit of speed to become a race winner, and up against some tougher competition than last year, he slipped back one place in the standings. Most of his podium finishes came from further back on the grid, only twice qualifying inside the top three, while Blomqvist and Giovinazzi did show that Carlin had a strong one-lap package.

With a decent budget behind him, King will be moving on next year, and is testing in both FR3.5 and GP2. He’s capable of doing well in either – he’s good driver, but was just a bit overshadowed in such exalted company this year. Season rating: 7

Felix Rosenqvist8. Felix Rosenqvist

Sweden, Mucke Motorsport, age 23

198 points, 1 win, 2 podiums, 1 pole position, 3 fastest laps

After running Raffaele Marciello pretty close for the title last year, Rosenqvist should have been moving on from F3, to bigger single-seaters or to a professional opportunity with a roof over his head. That chance didn’t come, and he was forced into a fourth year in Euro F3.

Only the title would have been good enough, and he was so good in 2013 that simply maintaining that form ought to have seen off the kids. But instead, he finished the season a disastrous eighth. After a difficult start, he took victory in the title race at the Pau Grand Prix, but a third in the next race would be his second and last podium of the campaign. He was regularly in the points, but too rarely in the top places and too often in some sort of trouble – his causing or not.

A convincing victory in the Macau Grand Prix has ended his year on a deserved high and repaired some of the damage done to his reputation. Hopefully, it will be enough to impress potential backers from Asia, Sweden or Germany to advance his career as he’d previously deserved. Season rating: 6

Jake Dennis9. Jake Dennis

United Kingdom, Carlin, age 19

174 points, 3 podiums

Dennis was unable to win races like his fellow Formula Renault 2.0 graduates Ocon and Fuoco, but he still enjoyed a decent rookie F3 season. Unlike the other rookies. he was way off the pace at Silverstone, but made good progress as the year went on.

At Pau he used his experience from FR2.0 to enjoy his best weekend of the year, with two fourths and a third. He maintained good form through the next rounds, and after podiums at Spa and Spielberg he was up to sixth in the standings. The final three weekends were tough, but he arguably deserved better than ninth in the final reckoning.

He will be a title contender next year, and the Racing Steps Foundation has decided to move him over to Prema. Should Fuoco return, it will tough to beat the Italian in his own team, but joining the Mercedes-supported squad is perhaps better for his career than staying at, and leading, Carlin. Season rating: 7

Nicholas Latifi10. Nicholas Latifi

Canada, Prema Powerteam, age 19

128 points, 1 podium (30/33 races)

Latifi came into the season after showing glimpses of promise in 2013 with Carlin, making a relatively late switch to Prema to replace Alex Lynn, and winning races in the Florida Winter Series at the start of the year.

Things began very promisingly at Silverstone with a second-place finish in race two, as well as a sixth and fourth. He sat fourth in the standings at that point, but things quickly went downhill. Never on the podium again, he struggled for qualifying pace relative to team-mate Ocon and was involved in a lot of incidents, with ten non-finishes. He ended his time in the series on a relative high with fourth at Imola.

He missed the final round at Hockenheim, opting to instead see out a three-round spell in FR3.5. It was the right call, as he finished second in the season finale, and was then very quick in testing, so the outlook is much better for 2015. 2014 ended with a clean and quick run to fifth in Macau. Season rating: 6

Gustavo Menezes11. Gustavo Menezes

United States, Van Amersfoort Racing, age 20

91 points, 2 podiums, 1 pole position

Menezes stuck with Van Amersfoort for his graduation up from German to European F3, but found himself heavily overshadowed by Verstappen early on, scoring just two points from the first ten races. After that though, he certainly didn’t disgrace himself.

It was one of the championship’s most challenging venues of Spa that marked a turning point for Menezes. Pole in race two might have come in wet conditions, but he still ended the weekend with two third-place finishes in races that were dry. He couldn’t repeat those kind of highs for the rest of the campaign, but scored points in ten races from the last six rounds.

With so many of the drivers ahead of him in the final standings set to move on for 2015, Menezes would do well to stay in the series for another year. Verstappen has shown that Van Amersfoort can win races, though a move to a more prestigious team like Carlin could also be a possibility. Season rating: 6

Felix Serralles12. Felix Serralles

Puerto Rico, Team West-Tec, age 22

82 points

After a nightmare end to his 2013 season with Fortec, Serralles gambled on a switch to series newcomers West-Tec – together with respected Fortec engineer Mick Kouros – for 2014. Taking on the category’s big boys wasn’t easy in those settings, but he did well.

He was a consistent points scorer from the very first round, making the top ten in 18 races overall. He only failed to score at one circuit, in a tough weekend at Spielberg as part of a six-race barren spell. His best result was a fourth at Spa – a circuit he has always gone well at – but that was the only time he could finish in the top seven.

There were still a few incidents when racing others, but overall, Serralles enjoyed a very respectable campaign and established West-Tec a fair way up the order. After a four-year spell plying his trade in Europe, he’ll return to the United States next year in Indy Lights, where his pace and experience should stand him in good stead. Season rating: 6

Ed Jones13. Ed Jones

United Arab Emirates, Carlin, age 19

70 points, 2 podiums (21/33 races)

Jones won the F3 Open title in 2013, but his full-time switch to the European Championship for 2014 would be a much tougher test. He began the year in strong fashion though, with an impressive eight podiums from 12 races in the Florida Winter Series.

That suggested he could mix it with the likes of Fuoco and Latifi in F3, and in just the second weekend at Hockenheim he scored a fine double podium. Sadly, his season was derailed soon after that when he suffered a fractured vertebrae in a crash in Pau. He missed the next four rounds, and the problem flared up again after his return. He scored in five of the last 12 races, with a best of sixth.

Jones’ original plan had been to move up to GP2 for next year, but a second season in Euro F3 would give him the chance to make the most of the promise he showed before his injury and get the higher championship result he’s capable of. Season rating: 6

Dennis van de Laar14. Dennis van de Laar

Netherlands, Prema Powerteam, age 20

38 points

Another driver with a good run in Florida under his belt at the start of the year, van de Laar was expected to make a big step forward as he traded Van Amersfoort for Prema for his second season of European F3, but it wasn’t to be.

He scored points just nine times, which is a disappointing return for somebody with the champion team, and only tallied 18 points more than last term. He enjoyed a strong weekend early on at Pau, clinching his season’s best result of fifth, but failed to kick on from then. On the positive side, he only failed to finish races on three occasions, which is a respectable record given he was so often found battling hard in the midfield.

It remains to be seen where he goes from here. He has been sampling Porsches recently and sportscars may be a tempting career move, but does also have the resources to continue in single-seaters. Season rating: 5

Tatiana Calderon15. Tatiana Calderon

Colombia, Jo Zeller Racing, age 21

29 points

Yet another to have begun the year by showing promise in FWS, Calderon had signed to race for the Signature-Renault project for 2014 but their struggles forced her into a very last minute move for the Silverstone opener into a car entered by Jo Zeller together with Mucke.

On the back foot without any testing in her new setup, the opening four rounds were tough and continued her point-less run from 2013, but she turned a corner at Spa with a superb run to fifth in race two from 11th on the grid. That started a very impressive run of picking up points in every single race weekend until the end of the season. Progressing well in races, more would have been possible with stronger qualifying.

Calderon may opt for another year of F3 next season – particularly with Mucke and Carlin likely to have openings for experienced F3 racers – but is also known to be evaluating GP3. Season rating: 6

Mitch Gilbert16. Mitch Gilbert

Australia, Fortec Motorsports, age 20

28 points (18/33 races)

After a very difficult 2013 season with Mucke, the Kuala Lumpur-born driver hoped that a switch to Fortec – with whom he finished fifth in FR2.0 UK in 2011 – would see an upturn in fortunes. Things did improve, but not enough to stop him leaving the series mid-season.

After a tough opening round at Silverstone, he enjoyed a strong run to sixth at Hockenheim and then a successful weekend at Pau, ending with a sixth and a fifth. A couple more points followed in Hungary, but engine issues were then exposed at Spa and the Norisring, and were hard to solve.

With budget tight, Gilbert opted to switch his attention to a partial GP3 programme with Trident, where he has shown promise with his pace despite a lack of on-track preparation. Hopefully he can find a return to winning ways there in 2015. Season rating: 6

Roy Nissany17. Roy Nissany

Israel, Mucke Motorsport, age 19

26 points

Nissany stuck with his long-time team Mucke for his second season in European F3 and made some progress, rising from 22nd to 17th in the standings and upping his points haul from 11 to 26. But a bit more could have been expected.

In the opening rounds, Nissany found himself having to come from towards the back of the large grid, but did well to get points in both Hockenheim and Pau. His best starting position was a sixth at the Norisring, which yielded a seventh in the race, and he got his best finish of sixth on his highest profile weekend at the Nurburgring.

Nissany recently joined his infamous father Chanoch in buying an F1 opportunity by testing an old Sauber in Valencia. He’s also sampled Auto GP, so a move to a larger car might be on the cards for next year. Season rating: 5

Sean Gelael18. Sean Gelael

Indonesia, Jagonya Ayam with Carlin, age 18

25 points

Gelael used his move to Carlin to make a step forward after his learning year in 2013. Qualifying was a serious weakness versus his team-mates, taking until the final two rounds to starts races inside the top ten, but he often raced his way into the points.

His performances were some way behind his long-time team-mate Giovinazzi, but he’s still very young – not turning 18 until after the season ended – and is relatively lacking in experience, given he didn’t start karting anywhere near as early as many of his contemporaries. He did well to balance his education with a 33-race schedule too, no doubt visiting family and sponsors back home as well.

The rumoured step up to FR3.5 for the Jagonya Ayam project might suit Blomqvist and Giovinazzi, but it will throw Gelael into the deep end once again. But he’s been showing good progress and potential, and seems to be able to team that with patience too. Season rating: 5

Santino Ferrucci19. Santino Ferrucci

United States, EuroInternational/Fortec Motorsports, age 16

24 points (21/33 races)

Having previously registered on the radar in karting and then gained his initial single-seater education in his native United States, Ferrucci had to wait until he turned 16 to make his European F3 debut after strong winter showings with EuroInternational.

When he finally got into action at Spa, his pace was strong and top results came the following weekend at the Norisring, with a stunning fifth and a fourth. His next two weekends were quiet, but then impressed in the wet qualifying at the Nurburgring with third, almost upstaging poleman and fellow teen Verstappen. He switched to Fortec for the final two rounds after winning with the team in a British series one-off, but couldn’t improve the team’s fortunes on the mainland.

Good times did come in Macau though, where he stayed out of trouble all weekend to finish a very creditable eighth. Hopefully he’ll be back next year, and in a car that can see him fight with the best in the field. Season rating: 7

Jules Szymkowiak20. Jules Szymkowiak

Netherlands, Van Amersfoort Racing, age 19

17 points

Szymkowiak made a big step up for his first proper season of single-seaters, moving from the Formula BMW Talent Cup to join Van Amersfoort. He might have been well outclassed by a fellow Dutch rookie, but had a respectable first season all the same.

The opening few rounds were tough for him, but he came good at the Hungaroring – a circuit he knew from FBMW – to finish sixth in the first race of the weekend from P14 on the grid. Two points finishes then followed at Spa. His best qualifying came at Moscow with seventh – his only top-ten start of the year – but he dropped out of the points. With just a few more points in Spielberg and the Nurburgring, he’ll be disappointed he didn’t carry on that progress from earlier in the campaign.

Nonetheless, his season was a good effort given his inexperience, and he certainly showed glimpses of promise. Hopefully he’ll be back next year to put what he’s learnt to use, and sticking with VAR would be good for continuity. Season rating: 6

The rest

John Bryant-Meisner joined management stablemate Gilbert at Fortec and picked up six points before encountering similar problems, staying on for one further round in Spielberg before also trying his hand at GP3. Alfonso Celis replaced Gilbert for Austria to make an appearance with Fortec for the second straight season, while Ferrucci was joined at Imola and then Macau by British champion Martin Cao.

Like Fortec, fellow British squad Double R also struggled with a single car for Felipe Guimaraes, who scored five points early on before a run of five straight retirements preceded his and the squad’s departure after the Norsiring.

T-Sport made it through the year with its two main drivers (though skipped Moscow) but didn’t fare much better in the scoring charts either. Spike Goddard showed some signs of progress in his second season and even led on wet tyres at the Nurburgring before being passed by Verstappen and the rest of the field, but his three points were all scored inside the first three rounds. Alex Toril mustered just one point after stepping up from F3 Open, and was involved in more than his fair share of incidents. The team gave Nick Cassidy a chance in their third car for the final two rounds, and although he didn’t get a top-ten finish in those six races, he then finished an almighty third at Macau.

West-Tec’s second car started the season in the hands of another F3 Open graduate Hector Hurst, who stayed out of trouble in Pau to net a point and took another two in Moscow before giving up his seat to Macau karting graduate Andy Chang for the final three events.

2012 Italian champion Riccardo Agostini returned to F3 for the start of the season with EuroInternational but quit after scoring just one point from three events, and enjoyed more success after switching to GP3. In the team’s second car, Michele Beretta was the only driver to do the full season and not score a point, as he found the step up from Formula Abarth to be too big, failing to finish a third of the races and usually only on camera for the wrong reasons. Once Ferrucci departed, Brazilian karter Sergio Sette Camara and GP2 veteran Stefano Coletti drove for the team in the final two rounds, Coletti using it as a qualifier/test session for Macau where he ended up a respectable sixth.

Sandro Zeller spent another year in the series – bar three rounds – with his family team but failed to score.

A significant one-off entry was that of Will Buller at Imola. By doing so he competed in F3 for a fifth straight year, but more importantly, he did so with Signature, who replaced the stillborn Renault engine with one from their former partners Volkswagen to return to F3 racing for the first time since 2011, finishing the weekend with a sixth.