Only four of the drivers contesting this year’s Macau GP have done the race before, and two of them are past winners. Will circuit experience be key or will the pecking order be set from the 2023 FIA F3 season?
Until IndyCar comes along next year with its Thermal Club $1 Million Challenge, the Macau Grand Prix is the biggest winner-takes-all contest in all of open-wheel racing. This Sunday’s race awards the FIA Formula 3 World Cup, the only world cup available at any level of single-seaters, and will be the landmark 70th edition of the race.
The winners list unsurprisingly features some of the greatest racing drivers to have ever lived, and the two most recent winners of the race in its F3 form are back to see if they can master the famed Guia Circuit once again.
This year’s entry list comprises of one driver from IndyCar and one from Formula E, a rare sight for a event usually exclusively contested by junior series talents, as well as five drivers stepping down from Formula 2. Two drivers are stepping up from Formula Regional, and the two other newcomers to F3-level racing come from GB3 and Formula 4 respectively. There are two names making the sideways move across from Euroformula, which in recent years had been hoping its cars could be used for the grand prix, while the rest of the confirmed 26-car grid consists of drivers from the FIA F3 championship.
There were several other F2 drivers ruing the chance they did not get to race in Macau this weekend having already missed out on the opportunity over the last three years when the race ran for F4 cars during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here’s a guide to every driver that will be on track this weekend, and what to expect from them:
#1 Richard Verschoor THE NETHERLANDS 22y/o
2023: currently 9th in F2 Macau GP: 2019 winner
He has now been the reigning FIA F3 World Cup winner for almost four years, and this weekend is the first opportunity to defend that crown. It is also only his second visit to Macau, and first time racing an F3 car since September 2020. Verschoor will be relying on his memory of the car and circuit, and his team-mates will be relying on his memory too since neither are F3 drivers and both Macau newcomers. That’s where the pressure will lie for Verschoor, rather than to win the race again.
#2 Roman Stanek CZECH REPUBLIC 19y/o
2023: currently 18th in F2
Stanek raced in FIA F3 from 2020 to ’22, only claiming one win and one pole in that time but coming fifth in the championship last year. He tends to be a slow adaptor to every car, in that his first weekend in new series tends to be lacking and then he really picks up his game in subsequent appearances, so the one-off format of the Macau GP will not suit Stanek as he has to re-adapt to the Dallara F3 2019 and learn a very daunting track after spending this year racing in F2.
#3 Ugo Ugochukwu USA 16y/o
2023: Euro 4 champion, 2nd in Italian F4, 3rd in F4 UAE
It is a huge leap to go from F4 to F3, and to make Macau your first race above entry level formulae is not sensible in the slightest. A decision which makes even less sense given Ugochukwu will be racing in FRegional next year rather than F3. McLaren’s CEO Zak Brown may rate Ugochukwu highly as one of his junior drivers, but there’s more to go wrong than right by putting him on the Macau grid. He could benefit from Trident’s advantageous pitlane position though in qualifying.
#5 Max Esterson USA 21y/o
2023: 35th in FIA F3, 11th in GB3
Esterson is used to the unique pressure that events like these hold, having contested the Formula Ford Festival and Walter Hayes several times (and won both). But he’s in his second year of slicks-and-wings racing and only has four F3 starts to his name, so Macau is still a big step. It will be interesting to see if he thrives with the format or struggles through lack of F3 experience.
#6 Charlie Wurz AUSTRIA 17y/o
2023: 6th in Euroformula, FRegional Oceania champion, 26th in FREC
Wurz has had a roller-coaster 2023 so far. It started with winning New Zealand’s FRegional Oceania championship, although he recorded his second worst result of the campaign in the prestigious New Zealand Grand Prix, then in FRegional Europe he only lasted half of the season before quitting the series as he had only scored one point. His landing pad after that was Euroformula, a step up on the single-seater ladder, and he got a pole, a win and four other podiums from 11 races there.
#7 Matias Zagazeta PERU 20y/o
2023: 17th in FRegional Middle East, 22nd in FREC
The 2021 British F4 runner-up has spent two years in FRegional with little to show for it. He got a podium in the Middle East at the start of this year, but only two points finishes from 39 FREC races. He did all three of the official post-season FIA F3 tests with Jenzer, just like his Macau team-mates, and has been testing privately with the team since in an old GP3 car.
#8 Dino Beganovic SWEDEN 19y/o
2023: 6th in FIA F3, 11th in FRegional Middle East
The most recent of Prema’s three Macau GP wins was in 2015, but the Italian team is usually considered the one to beat in FIA F3 so the expectation would be at least one of its drivers will be contending for victory this weekend. It’s unlikely to be Beganovic since he is yet to win in F3, but he does have the advantage of continuity since he raced for Prema in F3 this year and will continue to do so in 2024. All his focus can be on Macau’s specific challenges, with no distractions.
#9 Gabriele Mini ITALY 18y/o
2023: 7th in FIA F3, 22nd in FRegional Middle East
Mini raced for Hitech GP in FIA F3 this year, and is using Macau as a warm-up for his 2024 campaign with Prema. He took pole on his F4 and F3 debuts, showing he learns cars and tracks fast, and that is a key skill for an event like this. He also won in Monaco as a F3 rookie, which is as good a sign as any for being ready for the tightest confines of Macau.
#10 Paul Aron ESTONIA 19y/o
2023: 3rd in FIA F3
The highest-placed driver from the FIA F3 season taking part, but not neccessarily a victory favourite off the back of that. His record on street circuits is hit and miss, with Monaco podiums in FREC and F3 accompanied by a retirement, a 25th place and a non-start due to failing to qualify. Aron’s older brother Ralf came from 13th on the grid to make the podium in his first Macau GP six years ago, so hopefully he has some tricks to share.
#11 Luke Browning ENGLAND 21y/o
2023: 15th in FIA F3, 26th in FRegional Middle East
Browning was 0.004s away from topping his qualifying group on his street circuit debut in Monaco this year, and early in his single-seater career was very much an on-the-limit racer. He has driven for McLaren in an FE test too, which might be useful experience. Browning will no doubt be rapid this weekend, but what that translates into in the races is hard to predict.
#12 Isack Hadjar FRANCE 19y/o
2023: currently 14th in F2
Red Bull seems to be plotting to get Hadjar into Formula 1 as soon as possible, so having him race in Macau this weekend rather than shadowing AlphaTauri at the Las Vegas Grand Prix is a slightly odd decision. Hadjar has raced in Pau, a French street circuit with similarities to Macau, has a Monaco win to his name from FREC but has been somewhat anonymous in F2 this year. It’s already known that Hadjar will be leaving Hitech for another team next year, but since he still has this year’s F2 finale to go it makes sense that he has not had the chance to join that team early in Macau.
#14 Alex Dunne IRELAND 17y/o
2023: 2nd in GB3
Although GB3 to F3 is not as big a step as coming up from F4, Dunne has made a brave decision to choose Macau as where he makes his F3 debut. However he has looked quick in the official FIA F3 post-season tests so could certainly spring a surprise.
#15 Pepe Marti SPAIN 18y/o
2023: 5th in FIA F3, 7th in FRegional Middle East
Marti is F2-bound for 2024, so this will be his F3 swansong. He has had a tremendous 2023, winning races in FRME then winning three of the first eight races in the FIA F3 season. But he was only atop the championship for one day, after winning the season opener, and sank to fifth in the standings. It was enough to convince Red Bull to sign him to its junior team, and Campos will be running a special Red Bull livery on all of its cars this weekend.
#16 Sebastian Montoya COLOMBIA 18y/o
2023: 7th in European Le Mans Series LMP2 Pro/Am class, 16th in FIA F3, 21st in FRegional Middle East
Montoya has shown flashes of pace through this year but usually not enough to contend for podiums, and that’s unlikely to change in Macau. He raced for Hitech in FIA F3, and the team had a stronger set-up for street circuits compared to Campos, so a team switch probably will not help him either.
#17 Oliver Goethe GERMANY 19y/o
2023: 8th in FIA F3
Signed to the Red Bull Junior Team at the start of this week, Goethe dominated Euroformula in 2022 and that included a win in Pau. But his FIA F3 form has been very up-and-down, to a degree where we could either get a very competitive or a very uncompetitive Goethe in Macau.
Van Amersfoort Racing
#18 Noel Leon MEXICO 18y/o
2023: Euroformula champion
Another Euroformula champion with unpredictable form. Leon was a flop in FREC last year, and his only points were a ninth and a 10th place in Monaco. He’s been driving for Euroformula’s (more than) dominant team this year and not always been its standout driver, and has got familiar with VAR and the Dallara F3 2019 in FIA F3’s post-season tests. Leon was mired down in the midfield in most of those test sessions, and although VAR is strong in Macau he probably won’t be a contender.
#19 Sophia Floersch GERMAY 22y/o
2023: 23rd in FIA F3 Macau GP: DNF in 2018 & ’19
Floersch knows Macau from all angles. That’s one way of describing the experience of her horror crash in 2018 which broke her spine. She returned to Macau a year later and did not have much fun, but now she has another chance at redemption on the circuit. That will first of all mean finishing Sunday’s race, and making it into the top 10 would be a bonus.
#20 Tommy Smith AUSTRALIA 21y/o
2023: 27th in FIA F3
The weak link in VAR’s line-up, finishing 11th in either race would mark his best result since racing in GB3 last year. A mistake-free weekend could put Smith in the top 20 even if he lacks the pace to be there.
ART Grand Prix
#21 Laurens van Hoepen THE NETHERLANDS 18y/o
2023: 10th in FREC, 11th in FRegional Oceania
Having Formula E champion Nyck de Vries as a mentor should be a good starting point for mastering a street circuit, but van Hoepen is another of the drivers using this weekend to make his F3 debut. What will make that even harder (for all of the following names in this piece) is ART GP’s pitlane position. The drivers towards the end of the pitlane are less likely to have laps disrupted by yellow flags, and also more likely to finish them before red flags wave following crashes. That can make learning the circuit really difficult in stop-start sessions for those further back in the queue, and also makes finding space on laps hard too.
#22 Christian Mansell AUSTRALIA 18y/o
2023: 12th in FIA F3
Mansell made the Euroformula to FIA F3 move look easier than others have, and consistency helped him to 12th in the standings with points in more than half of the races. But as in every series he has raced in, he did not get more of the headline results that he was capable of due to it being such a competitive field. It will be the same problem in Macau, so finishing in the top 12 with a clean race and quick pace could still be considered a job well done.
#23 Nikola Tsolov BULGARIA 16y/o
2023: 22nd in FIA F3, 10th in Eurocup-3, 23rd in FRegional Middle East
Tsolov is the second youngest driver on the grid, but he already has a whole season of FIA F3 experience under his belt. However it did prove a jump too big this year. The Alpine junior dominated Spanish F4 last year as a car racing rookie, and started 2023 with just one weekend in FRegional before stepping up to F3. It took until race 15 of that season to score his first points, and finishing 22nd in the standings is not a good look.
But then he stepped down to the FRegional-based Eurocup-3 series and showed what he was capable of with two poles and two podiums from four races. Will those weekends of extra experience have helped him for his return to F3?
#24 Zane Maloney BARBADOS 20y/o
2023: currently 10th in F2
Carlin has probably the most exciting line-up in terms of drivers who can fight for the win, even though its third driver is still yet to be confirmed, but the problem the team faces is a position in the pitlane which could leave it unable to utilise its pace if other drivers keep making mistakes and end up compromising their laps.
Red Bull junior Maloney won from pole in Monaco when racing in FREC, claimed three feature race wins and two poles from his season in FIA F3 and this year returned to the Monaco podium in F2. He would not have signed up to race in Macau unless he thought victory was possible, and if he does get the opportunity to have a clean qualifying then victory is possible.
#25 Dan Ticktum ENGLAND 24y/o
2023: 17th in FE Macau GP: 2017 & ’18 winner
Ticktum won the Macau GP in a very memorable way in 2017, then made the event his own a year later with a huge pole margin and victory in both races. When the race switched to using the Dallara F3 2019 he had a tricky weekend featuring several clashes and had to charge from 26th on the grid to finish a dissapointing 13th.
He has spent two years in FE so has even more street circuit knowlege now, but has been out of junior single-seaters for a while so will need to quickly adapt to a car he never truly gelled with in his previous weekend with it (which was also with Carlin). But if it all does go to plan, then Ticktum will be the driver the rest will be aiming to beat.
#27 Dennis Hauger NORWAY 20y/o
2023: currently 8th in F2
Franco Colapinto’s collarbone injury meant he had to withdraw from Macau and his 2024 F2 team-mate has taken his place. Hauger comfortably won the 2021 FIA F3 title but missed out on racing in Macau due to the pandemic, so this is an overdue chance. He will depart the Red Bull junior fold next year, so this is a chance to put himself in the shop window of other F1 teams now they know he is available. Three of his four F2 wins have been on street circuits, so he should be considered in the same vein as Ticktum and Verschoor for this weekend but with the caveat of an even worse pitlane position than either.
#28 Mari Boya SPAIN 19y/o
2023: 17th in FIA F3, 2nd in Eurocup-3, 5th in FRegional Midle East
The 2020 Spanish F4 runner-up has taken a long time to get back into podium form but the momentum is now in his sails with FRME wins, the championship runner-up spot in Eurocup-3 and a maiden podium at the end of the FIA F3 season. He has spent the majority of his single-seater career with MP so the combination should hit the ground running in Macau.
#29 Marcus Armstrong NEW ZEALAND 23y/o
2023: 20th in IndyCar Macau GP: 8th in 2018 & ’19
The second oldest driver on the grid won at the Norisring in FIA European F3, took three wins in FIA F3 and twice finished the Macau GP in eighth place. His F2 results didn’t best exhibit his abilities, but racing in IndyCar this year has reminded everyone what he is capable of again with top-eight finishes in Long Beach, Detroit and Toronto.
Whether racing in IndyCar or FE is better preparation for Macau is a tricky question to answer, and perhaps the way Armstrong and Ticktum’s weekends pan out will reveal which. Armstrong is new to MP but has been doing some simulator work with them, and obviously now has a great degree of experience that will have made him a better driver than when he last tackled Macau. Finishing in the top seven in a way has to be the minimum expectation, but he may well find things outside of his control dictate how high he can make it up the order this weekend.