Home Featured FIA Formula 3 2020 season preview: Can anyone topple Prema?

FIA Formula 3 2020 season preview: Can anyone topple Prema?

by Josh Suttill

Photos: LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

The second year of the new FIA Formula 3 Championship will begin with eight rounds taking place over just 10 weeks.

The inaugural season was dominated by Prema, with its drivers occupying the first three places in the drivers’ championship, and it took the teams’ championship with almost as many points as second, third and fourth place combined.

The 2020 field features the most recent champions from Formula Renault Eurocup, Formula Regional European Championship, ADAC Formula 4, Italian F4, Toyota Racing Series and the winner of the 2019 Macau Grand Prix.

Can Prema’s rivals prevent another year of domination or will the team have a private title battle again with its new line-up?

Formula Scout looks at the prospects and background of each of the 30 drivers taking to the grid at the start of 2020 FIA F3 season next weekend at the Red Bull Ring.

You can also listen to this season preview in podcast form, on Breaker, Google Podcasts, Overcast, RadioPublic, Pocket Casts,Castbox, Apple Podcasts and Spotify. It was recorded prior to Devlin DeFrancesco’s series departure.

Prema Racing

Very few expected junior single-seater behemoth Prema to struggle upon its entry into FIA F3 last year, but nobody expected it to decimate the field in the way that they did. There’s little to suggest it won’t be fighting at the front in 2020, but it would be difficult – but not impossible – for the team to repeat the level of dominance displayed in 2019.

1. Oscar Piastri

Australia, 19
Formula Renault Eurocup champion 

Following a solid but unspectacular Eurocup season in 2018 where he finished as sixth-highest rookie in a stacked field, Piastri excelled in his sophomore season. He defeated Renault junior Victor Martins in a thrilling season-long battle to earn Renault’s backing, while Martins lost his. Piastri doesn’t have the benefit of experience on F3’s Pirelli rubber, but he’s more than aware of what it takes to put together a title-winning season. He will also benefit from the guidance of nine-time Formula 1 race-winner Mark Webber, who is now his manager.

2. Frederik Vesti

Denmark, 18
2019: FREC champion 

Vesti’s FIA F3 promotion ensures that the 2019 champions of the two competing regional F3 series will Europe will face off in the same machinery as each other in 2020. The Dane obliterated the field in the inaugural FREC season last year, winning six consecutive races early in the campaign to effectively end the title fight with his Prema team-mate Enzo Fittipaldi before it had even begun. Vesti also packed in a debut appearance in FIA F3 machinery, at Macau, and qualified an impressive seventh. He showed strong long-run pace in pre-season testing and is comfortable with Prema and engineer Pedro Matos, which surely makes him the early title favourite alongside his team-mate Piastri.

3. Logan Sargeant

United States, 19
2019: 19th in FIA F3, 3rd in Macau GP

If you were to look at the 2019 FIA F3 standings you’d immediately rule Logan Sargeant out of contention for wins this year let alone the title fight, but that would be doing a major injustice to an extremely talented American. Sargeant finished directly behind Piastri in British F4 in 2017, but was an impressive fourth (four places ahead of Piastri) in his maiden Eurocup season in 2018. He moved up to FIA F3 with Carlin last year, but the British team struggled to just six points finishes. Sargeant earned four of those and will be much stronger with Prema. His third place at Macau with Carlin was an important reminder of his talents, and if he can carry that form into 2020 he might just have enough to properly challenge his rookie team-mates.

Hitech GP

Hitech GP proved to be Prema’s nearest challengers in 2019, with Red Bull junior Juri Vips leading its assault. For 2020, it’s running two of Red Bull’s proteges, and snatched a Renault one from ART Grand Prix. The line-up alone will likely make it Prema’s main competition once again.

4. Max Fewtrell

Britain, 20
2019: 10th in FIA F3

ART was unable to replicate its dominant GP3 form in the first year of FIA F3, but it still provided the machinery for Fewtrell to make a solid debut on the F1 support bill. He was comfortably second-best in the line-up behind fellow Renault junior Christian Lundgaard, who he beat to the Eurocup title in 2018, but clear of David Beckmann who’d shone in GP3’s final season. His switch to Hitech again puts him alongside two highly-rated young drivers. Despite his Eurocup success and relatively high experience level, it’s easy to see how Fewtrell could end up third-best in the team and there would be little shame in that. He might struggle to match the highs of his team-mates but if he re-deploys the clever racecraft that earned him the 2018 Eurocup crown, he does stand a chance of beating them.

5. Liam Lawson

New Zealand, 18
2020: 2nd in TRS   2019: TRS champion, 11th in FIA F3 

Lawson was never going to be able to challenge for the title last year with Dutch outfit MP Motorsport, and he was a solid 11th in the points. There were some brilliant drives in a stacked field, but he was beaten to a maiden win by fellow Red Bull junior Yuki Tsunoda at Monza and then his team-mate Richard Verschoor upstaged him at Macau to win. At the start of 2020, his rookie Toyota Racing Series team-mate Igor Fraga then denied him a second title on home turf. Lawson will therefore have extra motivation to win the intra-team fight in FIA F3 this year, and is the best-placed to carry on Vips’ Prema-beating form. He is still the same driver who shocked Armstrong and Red Bull to win the 2019 TRS title at 16 years old, and with his full focus now on FIA F3 (having also raced in Euroformula last year) expect him to flourish again.

6. Dennis Hauger

Norway, 17
2019: Italian F4 champion, 2nd in ADAC F4 

Formula Scout rates Hauger as one of the quickest drivers in the 2020 FIA F3 field. He won the Italian F4 title last year and was arguably fastest on pace in ADAC F4, where he finished second to Theo Pourchaire in the points. Red Bull has elected to fast-track him to FIA F3, rather than place him in regional F3, highlighting the confidence it has in the Norwegian teenager. The biggest question mark over Hauger is if this promotion is too early with his lack of F3 experience, which comes to one (very impressive) weekend in Euroformula. Whatever the answer, it’s going to be exciting to find out.

ART Grand Prix

The 2019 FIA F3 season was initially expected to be a battle between F3 titans ART and Prema, especially after the French team won the season opener on-track, but ultimately it was Hitech that broke Prema’s winning streak, and ART would fail to score a point in the final four races of the year. With Christian Lundgaard promoted to its F2 team, Fewtrell moving to Hitech and David Beckmann returning to Trident, ART could be entrusting a 16-year-old F4 graduate to lead the team.

7. Theo Pourchaire

France, 16
2019: ADAC F4 champion 

Arguably the least experienced driver to race on the F1 support bill in a title-winning team for quite some time, ART has placed its faith in 16-year-old Pourchaire to lead its return to the top of F1’s third-tier support category. Pourchaire demonstrated an extremely high level of maturity during his back-to-back French F4 Junior and ADAC F4 title seasons, including weathering an intense intra-team fight and defeating Hauger in a final round showdown in Germany. There are few recent examples of entry-level tier champions jumping to FIA F3’s level and winning from the off, but if anybody can be the exception, it’s Sauber junior Pourchaire.

8. Alexander Smolyar

Russia, 18
2019: 3rd in Formula Renault Eurocup 

The Russian was an outside Eurocup title hopeful for the majority of 2019, coming third behind Piastri and Martins and showing a huge leap from finishing 12th in his rookie season. He often shone as bright as Piastri and Martins but not for as long. He faces a steep learning curve but he has a highly-rated junior alongside him to compare himself against. This may prove to be a slow-burning maiden campaign ahead of a strong second year in 2021.

9. Sebastian Fernandez

Venezuela/Spain, 19
2019: 27th in FIA F3, 9th in Formula Renault Eurocup 

Fernandez failed to score a single point in FIA F3 last year with Campos Racing, but he should enjoy a far more fruitful year with ART.  He was a strong fourth in Italian F4 in 2017 but then disappointed in FIA European F3 with Motopark. His second stab at F3 last year was just as bad, but he did show his potential in a part-time Eurocup campaign. He debuted with ART at Macau and finished 15th, but he’ll need to find an extra gear to break into the points on his FIA F3 field return.


Trident was more or less able to start in FIA F3 where it left off in GP3. It lacked star quality in its 2019 line-up but fielded three competent and solid drivers which delivered the Italian team fourth place in the championship. Historically, Trident has been far stronger in the reversed grid races held on Sundays, but its Saturday performances last year delivered most of the points. It was set to retain Devlin Defrancesco for a second season, but the Canadian has had to put health over racing during the coronavirus pandemic, and GP3 race-winning returnee David Beckmann has taken his place.

10. Lirim Zendeli

Germany, 20
2020: 8th in TRS   2019: 18th in FIA F3

The 2018 ADAC F4 champion suffered a miserable 2019, only finishing in the points at the Red Bull Ring and ending his season with Charouz Racing System early. By returning with Trident, he will be hoping for a better and more consistent season. He contested TRS this January as a warm-up, but a winless eighth in the points was not the best omen for what’s ahead.

11. David Beckmann

Germany, 20
2019: 14th in FIA F3, 9th in Macau GP 

Beckmann was a disappointing third-best at ART last year and like Zendeli, he too had an early end to his season. Fourth place in the Barcelona season opener was the best it got for the German, who looked like a different driver to the one who had ended the 2018 GP3 season with a move to Trident and three wins. A more comfortable and at-ease Beckmann will be a benefit to both driver parties on his return to the squad, especially as it faces stronger midfield competition. and team. Beckmann need to replicate his 2018 form for Trident to remain anywhere near the top four.

12. Olli Caldwell

Britain, 18
2019: 5th in FREC

As the only rookie in Trident’s line-up, Caldwell may have a difficult challenge ahead to not be Trident’s weak link. He was a outdone by Prema team-mates Vesti and Enzo Fittipaldi in FREC last year, with just one race win. He did handle his step up to FIA F3 in Macau well by outqualifying Beckmann, but crashed out of the grand prix. Caldwell may well be another solid driver who falls victim to FIA F3 only handing out points for the top 10 in each race.

HWA Racelab

One of junior single-seaters’ newest teams made quite an impression in its maiden season last year, with its F3 veteran Jake Hughes occasionally taking on Prema’s trio. Fifth place in the teams’ standings wasn’t quite representative of HWA’s performances as Hughes’ two team-mates contributed just one points finish. HWA has retained Hughes and placed two F1 juniors alongside him, forming an effective trio of drivers which will surely have aspirations of leapfrogging Trident at the very least. The team enjoyed a problem-free pre-season test in Bahrain, with some very strong underlying pace.

14. Enzo Fittipaldi

Brazil, 18
2019: 2nd in FREC 

The 2018 Italian F4 champion finished second to Vesti in FREC last year, but by quite some margin – taking two wins to Vesti’s 14. He has the mammoth task of standing out in a stacked Ferrari junior programme and his 2020 season well may decide if he has a future with the Italian giants. He completed 200 laps during the pre-season test and set one of the fastest average stint times suggesting he could be a surprise bet for a couple of reversed grid race results.

15. Jake Hughes

Britain, 26
2019: 7th in FIA F3 

The oldest and most experienced driver on the grid is back for what is essentially his fifth season at this level, and his experience and speed are vital to HWA establishing itself amongst the F3 field. Hughes probably deserved better than seventh place last year: he took pole at Paul Ricard and was in podium contention before he collided with Armstrong. In the first Spa-Francorchamps race, he was spun out of fifth at the start by Sargeant, and that’s just two examples of his bad luck. He could be among the dark horses for the title.

16. Jack Doohan

Australia, 17
2019-20: 2nd in Asian F3   2019: 2nd in Asian F3, 11th in Euroformula

Like Fittipaldi at Ferrari, Doohan is currently not among Red Bull’s brightest prospects but he’s still done enough to secure another year of association with the often unforgiving brand. The 17-year-old did a lot of learning by stepping up to Asian F3 and Euroformula in 2019 after winning races as a rookie in British F4, and twice missed out on the title in Asia. His trajectory of improvement hasn’t always been on an incline, and we clearly haven’t seen the best from Doohan yet.

MP Motorsport

The first fruits of MP’s personnel investing was ending 2019 with victory at the Macau GP, and it could be set for even bigger achievements this year. It had already lost the faith of Lawson prior to Macau, but held on to Verschoor for that race and this season, and has signed ex-HWA driver Bent Viscaal and Euroformula graduate Lukas Dunner alongside him.

17. Richard Verschoor

Netherlands, 19
2019: 13th in FIA F3, Macau GP winner 

Verschoor’s Macau Grand win was a timely reminder of the ability of the ex-Red Bull junior. He was every bit as good as Ferrari juniors Robert Shwartzman and Marcus Armstrong there, but they fought for the FIA F3 title and he was only 13th in the points. He was occasionally brilliant during the season, like when he charged from 14th to fourth in the second Paul Ricard race. The stability and familiar team environment should pay dividends again, but will he be at the front?

18. Bent Viscaal

Netherlands, 20
2019: 15th in FIA F3

One points finish wasn’t a fair reflection of Viscaal’s maiden FIA F3 season with HWA. He finished runner-up to runaway champion Felipe Drugovich in Euroformula in 2018, but like Drugovich – who he finished ahead of in 2019 – he struggled with the transition to FIA F3. The move to the growing MP will yield improved performances, and more points finishes.

19. Lukas Dunner

Austria, 18
2019: 3rd in Euroformula

Dunner is another successful Euroformula graduate who may find the transition to FIA F3 difficult. He struggled on his Macau GP debut with MP and was thoroughly outshone by his team-mates, but he kept out of trouble to finish 14th. He’ll also twin his campaign with another year in Euroformula, meaning he’ll need the stamina for 17 race weekends in 23 weeks.

Jenzer Motorsport

Whether it be GP3 or FIA F3, Jenzer has consistently punched above its weight and its 2019 season was no different. Honda junior Tsunoda proved to be one of the stars of the season with an incredible double podium at Spa and victory in mixed conditions at Monza. But it’s difficult to see any of its 2020 line-up matching those highs.

20. Calan Williams

Australia, 20
2019: 13th in Euroformula 

Williams was the first driver to be announced for the 2020 FIA F3 season, but he’s another decent racer who may find it difficult to register many points in the 30-driver field. He was Australian F3 champion in 2017 but struggled to find success in two seasons in Euroformula – his championship position was actually lower last year than his rookie campaign. While he still has no podiums in European racing, he has proven to be a superb overtaker, which will be a useful skill.

21: Federico Malvestiti

Italy, 20
2019: 14th in Formula Renault Eurocup 

Malvestiti continues Jenzer’s somewhat uninspiring line-up. He spent over three years in Italian F4 before switching to Eurocup last year where he finished 14th in the standings with a shock podium at Spa the highlight of his season. He made a one-off cameo for Jenzer at Silverstone and qualified on the back row – that marks the only race weekend of FIA F3 experience in Jenzer’s line-up.

22. Matteo Nannini

Italy, 16
2019: F4 UAE champion, 13th in FREC 

Jenzer’s brightest prospect by some way is 16-year-old Italian Matteo Nannini – nephew of ex-F1 driver Alessandro. He debuted in cars at the start of last year in style by winning the F4 UAE title, then racked up three sixth place finishes in a part-time FREC campaign with the absolute definition of a minnow team. He also entered the Eurocup season finale at Abu Dhabi, where he picked up a fifth place. He’s the least experienced driver on the grid but has already shown plenty of potential. Whether or not that potential can be realised, and if he can bring in results, could be down to Jenzer.

Charouz Racing System

For 2019, Charouz ran as the Sauber Junior Team and had a disastrous year. The team was in utter turmoil during pre-season testing, and expectations had already plummeted prior to the season even starting.  For 2020, it has assembled an exceptional all-new driver line-up with two stars from FREC alongside a veteran at this level with plenty more still to prove. If the team can provide the machinery – and its Bahrain pre-season testing pace bodes well –  these drivers should be able to propel Charouz from eighth and into the fight for a place in the top five.

23. Niko Kari

Finland, 20
2019: 12th in FIA F3

Another ex-Red Bull junior whose career (like Verschoor’s) has been littered with inconsistencies since winning the F4 North European Zone title. He’s spent the last four years in the third tier, with two race wins and seven other podiums to his name. Consistency is not his strong suit, and he picked up podiums in double points finishes in the first and final FIA F3 rounds last year with Trident. Only one other time did he score. This is the year he must break the mould, and beating his two highly-rated team-mates would be a great place to start regardless of whether Charouz can reverse its miserable fortunes. Pre-season testing is rarely reliable but it was promising in comparison to 2019 whichever way you interpret it.

24. Igor Fraga

Brazil, 20
2020: TRS champion   2019: 3rd in FREC

Gran Turismo’s 2018 Esports champion Igor Fraga started 2020 by upstaging defending champion Lawson in New Zealand to claim the TRS crown against all expectations. It followed an impressive 2019 where he made his European racing debut in FREC and was a fine third place in the points, ending with a scintillating performance in the final weekend at Monza. Fraga knows how to take on the might of Prema, and was able to take on Vesti and win on occasion last year. It would take a giant leap in performance for Charouz to be on that level in FIA F3, so Fraga may have to be content with trying to establish himself as a regular points scorer and to make the most of race one’s top 10 now being reversed to form the race two grids.

25. David Schumacher

Germany, 18
2019: 4th in FREC

Along with Fraga, Schumacher shone brightest outside of the Prema drivers in FREC last year. He also made two FIA F3 appearances, which unsurprisingly yielded little in results, but were crucial for learning the specific demands of a FIA F3 car and race weekend. Although he has no ties to any F1 teams, his surname will always bring him added attention and subsequent pressure. His two years of car racing so far suggest he will continue on an upward trajectory in 2020.

Carlin Racing

Carlin was another F3 heavyweight to suffer a woeful 2019 in the new F1 support series. Ninth place in the team’ standings and just 14 points on the board, it was its worst season in any championship since it joined GP2 in 2011 and clocked just four points. Its second season there resulted in the kind of turnaround it needs now, and its Macau podium suggests that’s more than just a pipe dream.

26. Clement Novalak

Britain, 19
2019: BRDC British F3 champion 

It’s easy to forget that Novalak only made his car racing debut just over two years ago in TRS, where fresh out of karting he won two races. His momentum was completely derailed by a woeful Eurocup season and a difficult year outside of the cockpit, but 2019 firmly put his career back on track. He began his partnership with Carlin during a part-time run in British F3 in 2018 and followed that up with a title-winning sophomore season. The manner of that success was more workmanlike than dazzling, and he was arguably outshone by a number of the rookies that he beat to the title. It’s difficult to know how Novalak will perform in the stacked FIA F3 field, but like his team-mates, he knows Carlin well and it provides the stability the team needs to get back to being regular points scorers at least.

27. Enaam Ahmed

Britain, 20
2019: 3rd in Super Formula Lights 

Ahmed was another to win the British F3 title with Carlin before joining Hitech GP for European F3 in 2018. He ended up a respectable ninth and was then placed third in Super Formula Lights last year. Ahmed was somewhat unconvincing in Japan last year while ex-Renault junior and ex-Carlin F3 driver Sacha Fenestraz dominated. Ahmed, on the other hand, has returned to Europe and with his stock arguably no higher than when he left, 2020 will be another crucial year.

28. Cameron Das

American, 20
2019: 12th in Euroformula 

American racer Das had a somewhat puzzling 2019 in Euroformula, ending up down in 12th in the points after finishing fifth the year before. He will combine his FIA F3 duties with another Euroformula attack, this time with reigning champion team Motopark. Lawson and Tsunoda demonstrated that it’s difficult to be at your best in both series in the same year, so Das may struggle to make his mark in FIA F3 even if he returns to form in Euroformula.

Campos Racing

Campos finished bottom of the pile in 2019 with a miserable five points from 16 races. Its season was marred by a violent airborne crash for the team’s only points scorer Alex Peroni at Monza, which forced him to sit out the final two rounds.

29. Alex Peroni

Australia, 20
2019: 20th in FIA F3 

For the second successive year, Peroni is Campos’s biggest asset on the driver front. He demonstrated his ability around the streets of Pau and Monaco in the Eurocup, and it’s a great shame he missed Macau last year. The back injuries from his Monza crash have mostly healed, and his ability hasn’t taken a hit as he was fastest in pre-season testing. The prolonged off-season will only be an advantage for Peroni as he continues his recovery.

30. Alessio Deledda

Italian, 25
2019: 29th in FIA F3 

Deledda finished inside the top 20 on just one occasion in 2019, but he’s back for a second season with Campos. The former motorcycle racer stepped up to FIA F3 last year after just one year in Italian F4 and his inexperience in cars was evident from the first race to the last. It would be generous to suggest that Deledda made any kind of significant improvement over the course of 2019 and he’ll be lucky to regularly trouble the top 20 this year.

31. Sophia Floersch

Germany, 19
2019: 7th in FREC

Floersch’s 2019 plans were tipped on their head with the cancellation of the DTM-supporting Formula European Masters in March. Van Amersfoort Racing scrambled to join FREC and took Floersch with them, and when they arrived they were significantly off the pace. They finished every single race in the points, but a podium eluded the German in a series that was light on cars. One year after her own back-breaking crash, she returned to Macau for her first taste of FIA F3 with HWA, but could only land a seat at Campos for this season. Her time in the car so far suggests there won’t be any headline results.

Further reading
Crunching the numbers from F2 and FIA F3 pre-season testing