The expected effect of the increased number of Formula 3 championships this year was a selection of weakly-contested grids. Instead it appears F3 is more competitive than ever, and Euroformula Open looks to be one of the biggest gainers.
What used to be a Spanish-based championship now has a singular round in the country, but still awards the Spanish F3 title, and this year has the prestigious Pau Grand Prix to boot too. Not only that, but it’s opened up its regulations to allow multiple engine suppliers, just like old adversary FIA European F3.
There are 21 drivers currently signed for the season opener, which is less than expected but does include junior drivers from Red Bull and Honda, last year’s BRDC British F3 title contenders and inspirational double amputee Billy Monger.
The British team didn’t win last year, but it now brings its expertise of the Spiess-tuned Volkswagen engine from European F3 and an exciting line-up.
Leading the quartet will likely be Teppei Natori, the Honda-backed Japanese Formula 4 graduate who took two podiums on his F3 debut in the EF Open Winter Series and topped a day of pre-season testing.
The 18-year-old won’t enter the full season though, as his EF Open drive exists to smoothen his transition to the clashing FIA F3, where he will also be driving for Carlin.
Surprise British F3 runner-up Nicolai Kjaergaard remains with Carlin for his international debut, and his 2018 team-mate?Billy Monger joins him. Testing was inconclusive as to where these two lie in the competitive order, and Monger’s pre-season was hampered by technical issues linked to the hand-operated clutch system he uses.?Although it looks unlikely straight away, there’s nothing to say Monger won’t be repeating his podiums and pole positions of last year by season end.
The fourth man at Carlin is Christian Hahn, whose car racing experience primarily lies in EF Open and was 10th in the standings last year. The Brazilian looked his most impressive in the Winter Series, and could be a dark horse for wins or even the title.
Double R Racing
Having delayed its entry by a year to coincide with the opening of the engine regulations, Double R has arrived with HWA power and a top driver line-up.
Reigning British F3 champion Linus Lundqvist won a Winter Series race with Campos at Paul Ricard, and although missed the Barcelona test has been racking up private mileage as well as staying race sharp in the MRF Challenge.
Possibly Lundqvist’s greatest advantage is that this is his third straight year with Double R after British F4 and F3. He knows the team well, which will speed up the learning process of both sides.
His team-mate is Red Bull junior and British F4 graduate Jack Doohan, son of five-time MotoGP champion Mick. He won three times during his first season in car racing, and immediately translated that learning year into frontrunning pace in the Asian F3 Winter Series.
The fact he’s already a winner in F3, and will be doing a Asian F3 campaign alongside EF Open, means he’ll undoubtedly get stronger as the year progresses and could pose as much of a victory threat as Lundqvist.
The remarkable testing pace of Franco Colapinto has been lost to Drivex’s Spanish F4 squad and Fernando Alonso, and Marta Garcia has picked W Series for her racing return, leaving Drivex with a line-up that doesn’t excite, but could deliver.
Late to sign up was Petru Florescu, who has intermittently participated in the championship since 2017. He certainly has the talent to be one of the best in the championship, but doesn’t show it enough. The former British F4 title contender is prone to abrupt departure when things are not working out, and if he doesn’t commit to a full programme this time, it could leave the Spanish team with the inexperienced Rui Andrade?as team leader.
The Angolan racer made an unremarkable single-seater debut last year in Spanish F4, and EF Open is a big step up from there.
While aiming for W Series title success, Garcia has not ruled out reappearing in the EF Open paddock after shining in testing, but that could mean free practice outings rather than fully committed race weekends.
Having signed two drivers for Formula European Masters, and none for EF Open, the cancellation of the former meant Fortec actually ended up with a solid driver line-up for the latter.
Cameron Das won the United States F4 title before moving to Britain to race for Carlin in British F3 and then EF Open. He picked up four podiums last year, and will be in contention for wins in 2019 despite Fortec’s bit-part EF Open presence of late.
Although he’s an F3 champion in his home country of Australia,?Calan Williams?never looked like a race-winning threat during his 12-race spell with Fortec in 2018. A second year, and hopefully a full one this time, should bring better results after showing good form during the Toyota Racing Series.
Like Carlin, Fortec has stuck with the engines it would’ve used for FEM, which in this case means HWA.
For every driver and team with title ambitions, they should have an eye over their shoulder for what Motopark is bringing this year.
The German team is the sole refugee of FEM, with rivals Prema and Hitech GP moving to FIA F3 and Van Amersfoort Racing to the Formula Regional European Championship.
It beat all but Prema last year in Europe, then dominated the Macau Grand Prix in a way rarely seen. As rivals noted, it was the slickest the team has ever looked in F3 – and it will want to continue that momentum into its new surroundings.
The stronger half of the Motopark garage is occupied by Red Bull juniors Liam Lawson and Yuki Tsunoda, both of whom will be a continuous threat at the front.
Reigning Toyota Racing Series champion Lawson is the undoubted title favourite, except like Tsunoda and Carlin’s Natori he will miss two rounds to clashing FIA F3 commitments. That shouldn’t rule the Kiwi out of title contention – especially if the two Japanese drivers take points off his opponents – as the EF Open title has been decided with four or more races to run in the last two seasons. The enforced absence could realistically set up a tasty final race title decider.
Motopark’s other two drivers are FEM exiles Marino Sato and Julian Hanses. Neither have shown themselves to be of star quality in the past, but Sato’s long working relationship with Motopark and the arrival of another Japanese driver as his team-mate could make this a breakout year for him, while Hanses will be pleased to have some good team-mates after stepping up to F3 as a solo entry with Ma-con.
The new engine regulations could be a blessing in disguise for RP Motorsport?s opposition, as the Italian team has been unbeatable since 2017, and dominant for many of the years before that too.
Each time it’s brought a driver with enough F3 races under their belt to start the season on the front foot, and by the time the opposition is close enough to compete they’ve already distanced themselves in the standings.
Javier Gonzalez is the obvious candidate for that role this year, having previously won in French and Spanish F4 and turned heads with a top five finish during a EF Open cameo at the end of last season.
RP’s choice to continue with the Piedrafita-tuned Toyota engine it knows so well should aid Gonzalez, but in testing it was outpaced by Carlin and Teo Martin Motorsport, using the Spiess and HWA units respectively.
Absent from testing were his team-mates?Pierre-Louis Chovet?and?Artem Petrov. A French F4 winner and a Venturi Formula E junior, Chovet clearly has talent but also lacks the racing experience that the top drivers possess.
Petrov was a star in F4, but struggled in his rookie European F3 season. Being with a top team could allow him to demonstrate his talent again.
Teo Martin Motorsport
Teo Martin put a couple of underwhelming years behind itself in 2018, and is a team that does perform if it has the talent on its books.
Although they don’t look as exciting as the team’s 2018 runner-up Bent Viscaal, the trio of Lukas Dunner, Aldo Festante and Guilherme Samaia have been on fine form in testing with HWA power.
Dunner wasn’t able to follow in the footsteps of Austrian compatriot Ferdinand Habsburg in using a stunning rookie EF Open season at Drivex to launch his career, but was the top Teo Martin driver in the 2019 Winter Series and looked as strong as all bar cameoing Formula 2 racer Nobuharu Matsushita on one lap pace.
He was outscored last season by new team-mate Samaia, who shadowed Dunner until the final day of pre-season testing, which he topped by 0.029 seconds from his team-mate. The general consensus is that pace will translate into the season, meaning Samaia could take his second F3 title after his 2017 Brazilian success.
The flamboyant Festante completes Teo Martin’s line-up, and looks to have vastly improved from his podiumless 2018 season. Having said that, he’s not at the level of his team-mates, and will be lucky to grab a podium now considering the depth of talent up front.
Campos Racing and CF Racing
Adrian Campos?s team brought its inexperienced FIA F3 Championship signing?Alessio Deledda?to pre-season testing, and has been otherwise struggling to get drivers to sign up. There are still plans to enter the championship, having won the title as recently as 2016, and it may appear later in the season.
Welsh team CF Racing is also a title-winner, albeit in the MSV F3 Cup, but has competed in British F3 and the Macau Grand Prix.?This year perhaps poses its greatest challenge as it brings three cars, two different engine suppliers and a line-up with big question marks to EF Open.
Stefano Leaney is the team?s lead driver and was the 750MC Bikesports champion in 2017.?Joining him are F3 Cup drivers Stuart Wiltshire and Anthony Bishop. Wiltshire and Leaney will use HWA-tuned Mercedes-Benz powerplants, while Bishop has a Piedrafita unit in his car.
This caused some headaches at the Barcelona test, one of the reasons they were far off the pace, and success in the club championships is by no means likely to translate to international competitiveness. It could be a character-building season for the trio, but no doubt a thoroughly enjoyable one and a good advert for fellow F3 Cup competitors looking for an international challenge. Sadly they’ll be missing the season opener.