Home Formula 3BRDC British F3 A guide to modern-day Formula 3

A guide to modern-day Formula 3

by Ida Wood
The third tier of single-seater racing, below Formula 1 and Formula 2, has become multi-dimensional in recent years. This is a guide to what ‘Formula 3’ means today, and where you can find it across the world

During 2018, the FIA enacted a series of plans that totally reshaped what the world of junior single-seaters looked like. The rebranded GP2 series became an official FIA championship in its own right as Formula 2, and with a new halo-shod car too, and an expiry date was given on the homologation of the cars that were racing in Formula 3 series across the globe.

In their place would be a new formula and another single-make championship that would support Formula 1 and take the place of GP3. Both used the Formula 3 name, both had the halo cockpit protection device, and both were to reward drivers handsomly with FIA superlicence points while existing series were effectively punished for not adopting the new regulations.

That alone went against F3 in principle, as a continually evolving rulebook over half a century had essentially been torn up for an all-new set of technical specifications. The new cars were very different to the previous idea of F3 too, with the loss of the side-mounted air intake, the loss of the lightweight philosophy and a requirement for each series to have a spec supplier for chassis and engines. F3 had previously stood out in single-seaters for being one of few places outside of club racing where an open-chassis and open-engine formula existed.

Not all of the existing series adopted the ‘Regional F3’ regulations that the FIA had set out, and several parties worked with F3’s dominant chassis maker Dallara to design a new car that would follow the philosophy of what F3 had been but bring it up to modern F1 safety standards so they could continue racing in much the same way as they had done previously. Even better for the customers of the resulting Dallara 320 was that the old Dallara F317, which had its homologation status expire at the end of 2019 after being the chassis of choice in FIA European F3 and Japanese F3, could be upgraded into the new car.

The continuations of those two series, plus Euroformula, were to retain their open-engine rules although were now spec chassis series given Dallara was commissioned by them to design the new vehicle. Not F3 officially, but F3 in spirit.

Photo: Dutch Photo Agency/Red Bull Content Pool

FIA F3 Championship

GP3’s replacement on the F1 support bill was introduced in 2019 as a direct feeder series for Formula 2. While the governing body wanted it to also replace the FIA European F3 championship, the organiser of that series did plan to continue under the Formula European Masters name, but with too few entries it folded before racing began.

The Dallara F3 2019 car created for FIA F3 mimics the rungs above it by including the Drag Reduction System overtaking aid, and maintains Mechachrome’s 3.4-litre V6 engine that was used in GP3’s Dallara GP3/16. While it’s the same engine, it runs at a slightly lower peak power output (380bhp to 400bhp) and means it hasn’t matched the performance of its GP3 predecessor at all circuits it races at yet.

In addition to the FIA F3 series, there is a one-off World Cup held every year. It adopted the new car for 2019 when it ran on the streets of Macau, and the event is set to return this year using the same car at an unknown venue – possibly Macau again.

Yuki Tsunoda will be the first driver to have raced the F3 2019 on the way to F1 when he makes his debut with AlphaTauri this season, having been a race-winner in FIA F3 during his first year in Europe before he stepped up to F2 for 2020.

Regional F3

The Regional F3 market has been dominated by Tatuus since its creation in 2018, with the Italian marque serving the official FIA championships for Asia and Europe, as well as the Formula Renault Asiacup, Toyota Racing Series, W Series and the more club-focued Ultimate Cup Series Single-Seater Challenge.

Dome supplies its domestic market in Japan, while Onroak provides a Ligier-branded car for North America’s official FIA series. Only the Asian series still retains F3 in its name, with all other series opting for ‘Formula Regional’ branding.

This means that while each series is bound to a single chassis supplier and only one provider of engines, there are actually multiple options available across the globe. Brands such as Alfa Romeo, Honda, Renault, Toyota build engines suitable for use in Regional F3 series, and a Portuguese-based project called Junior Racing Festival is planning to bring the different chassis and engine combinations together under one banner for races this month.

However the lack of details or confirmed entries for the ‘Formula 18’ races, as they will be called, puts in doubt whether the winter series will actually take place.

While there is not a huge amount of difference between all of the halo-bearing chassis – despite some confusing remarks from drivers racing the exact same chassis/engine combination in multiple series – there is performance variation between engine marques. Honda’s 2.0L engine in Formula Regional Americas is 40kg lighter than the Alfa Romeo unit used in Asian F3, Formula Regional European Championship and W Series, and is also more powerful by approximately 32bhp.

Toyota also supplies a 2.0L unit rather than the 1.8L size favoured by the other supplies – but all of them use a turbocharged inline-four configuration and semi-automatic gearboxes.

For this year, FREC switches from Alfa Romeo to the Renault power previously used in the Formula Renault Eurocup. While 13 teams have committed to the series, which can be considered a merger given FREC’s adoption of other Eurocup features, there has been dissatisfaction at how the change in engine supply has been handled and Formula Scout understands that not all 13 of the teams that have publicly committed to the future of the series may actually be on the 2021 grid.

Regional F3 was thought up with the idea that each continent would have its own series, and that countries with an established racing scene – many of which had their own national F3 series at the turn of the 21st century – would then also buy in to the concept much in the same way as FIA F4 has spread across the globe since its 2014 introduction.

It was to sit above F4, and below FIA F3 once it arrived in 2019, with a budget point in between the two as well. In a typical year without pandemics, a top Euroformula seat would be estimated to be worth €500,000, a top FREC seat with a full testing schedule is believed to be up to €100,000 lower than that (as the series action is concentrated in Italy, despite its continental status), and seats in FIA F3 will come at a cost either side of the €1,000,000 mark depending on which team you go to.

Pietro Fittipaldi started his 2020 in Asian F3, and became the first Regional F3 graduate to reach F1 when he debuted at the Sakhir Grand Prix with Haas last month.

Jack Aitken also made his F1 debut that weekend with Williams, and was also set for some Regional F3-based experience at the start of the year. He had signed up to contest the Australian Grand Prix-supporting round of S5000, which takes the Onroak chassis of FRegional Americas and squeezed a loud 5.0L Ford V8 inside it. Free practice and qualifying took place before the COVID-19 pandemic led to the races being cancelled.

BRDC British F3

The only other ‘official’ F3 series out there is the MotorSport Vision-organised BRDC British F3 championship. A revival of the series that had briefly run in the 1970s, it is also a continuation of the BRDC British F4 series that ran from 2013 to 2015.

Its Tatuus-designed F4 cars were upgraded in 2016, and series boss Jonathan Palmer managed to secure the F3 name from the FIA at the same time. Besides an annual trip to Spa-Francorchamps, the series has raced exclusively in England.

Lando Norris and Colton Herta won races in part-time campaigns in 2016, and were stars of F1 and IndyCar respectively a few years later, Billy Monger made his single-seater return there in 2018 after forcing the FIA to change its rules on what categories disabled drivers can compete in, and several sportscar stars have emerged from the series as a result of it being in the support paddock of British GT.

Monger

Photo: Jakob Ebrey Photography

The Tatuus MSV F4-013 that the current design is built upon also formed the basis of the cars currently used in Indy Pro 2000 and USF2000 over in North America.

A 2.0L engine from Mountune that’s based on a Duratec design currently sits in the MSV F3-016 cars being raced in Britain, and is capable of 230bhp.

Last year the series updated its car to allow greater set-up variation on the front and rear wings, enabling increased levels of downforce, as well as a new engine cover and a fin in front of the driver to act as a secondary roll structure and to deflect debris away.

At some point that fin will be succeeded by the halo, most likely on an all-new car, if British F3 is to retain its name. It has also repeatedly evaluated a move to Regional F3 regulations.

Old F3

One of the most popular cars in junior single-seater history across its eight years of use and two iterations, the Dallara F312/317 was at the forefront of F3 so much after its introduction in 2012 that the category basically became a single-chassis formula as fewer marques attempted to create rival designs and the ones that did appear raced infrequently.

European F3, Japanese F3, Euroformula and British F3 were the four most notable series to use the car, with drivers often competing in the British and European championships before the former came to an end in 2014.

Euroformula ran at a lower level of performance with its Piedrafita-tuned Toyota engines, while an engine war between Mercedes-Benz tuner HWA and Volkswagen tuner Spiess (that occassionally also included tuners with Honda and Nissan-based engines) raged on in the other European series and Toyota’s domestic tuner TOM’S led the way in Japan.

The F3-level cars of today
Car Used in Spa-Francorchamps laptime
Dallara F3 2019 FIA F3 Championship 2m05.125s
Dallara 320 Euroformula 2m08.431s
Dallara F317 Austrian F3 Cup 2m10.266s
Tatuus T-318 FREC 2m15.919s
Tatuus MSV F3-016 BRDC British F3 2m16.820s

Piedrafita went up against HWA and Spiess in Euroformula in 2019, as the series took on the teams left behind by the end of European F3, but the torque curve of the engine couldn’t compete and eventually all teams switched to German power despite the series claims that its ‘Balance of Performance’ rules would allow all three brands to compete on an equal footing.

There had previously been manufacturer support from the engine designers, but for the last two seasons the tuners have been working solo – just like the customer base that now exists mostly in club-based series.

The Austrian F3 Cup and its Italian equivalent use the F312/317 and its predecessors, as does Palmer’s F3 Cup for old F3 cars. The FIA revived its Central European Zone F3 series a few years ago and that’s home to ex-European F3 cars as well, while Australian F3 is finally introducing the design for 2021 as the car becomes more affordable for the market down under.

The modern alternative

The latest F3-level design, the Dallara 320, was introduced last year in Europe and Japan and while entry lists didn’t rival previous years it was an encouraging first year for the car. Not least because it kept the side-mounted air intake.

Getting the car down to a weight equivalent to its F317 predecessor while also incorporating the halo was a must for custromers, and Dallara achieved the feat while also arguably making the best looking of the current F3-level cars.

It took some time for teams in Euroformula and Super Formula Lights (the new name for Japanese F3) to get the most from the car and get it beating the laptimes of previous years, and it was certainly noticable that car count within a team had a direct correlation to that team’s position in the competitive order, but there’s also an argument that there weren’t many standout drivers across the two series to push the car to its maximum.

The 2.0L engines deliver similar applied power to what Regional F3 cars are capable of, but its lightness and more aerodynamic shape means the 320 is several seconds faster on most circuits – and several seconds down on the F3 2019.

Photo: Drivex School

The F3-based and F3-named series of today
Series name Run since Location Reigning champion
FIA F3 Championship 2019 Europe + Middle East Oscar Piastri
Dallara 320 series
Euroformula 2009 Europe Yifei Ye
Super Formula Lights 1979 Japan Ritomo Miyata
Regional F3
Asian F3 2018 Asia Joey Alders
FRegional Americas 2018 North America Linus Lundqvist
W Series 2019 Europe + North America Jamie Chadwick
FREC 2019 Europe Gianluca Petecof
FRJC 2020 Japan Sena Sakaguchi
Toyota Racing Series 2005 New Zealand Igor Fraga
UCS Single-Seater Challenge 2019 Western Europe Konstantin Lachenauer
FRenault Asiacup 2002 Asia Joey Alders
Old F3
Australian F3 1999 Australia John Magro
MSV F3 Cup 1990 Great Britain Stefano Leaney
Austrian F3 Cup 1982 Central Europe Sandro Zeller
FIA CEZ F3 2016 Central Europe Ralph Putz
F2000 Italian Trophy 2014 Italy Dino Rasero
Tatuus MSV F3-016 series (upgraded ‘F4’ car in Britain)
BRDC British F3 2016 Great Britain Kaylen Frederick
Tulio Crespi series (upgraded ‘F4’ car in Argentina)
F3 Metropolitana 2007 Argentina Esteban Mancuso