With three rounds to go, Dennis Hauger has almost a whole weekend’s worth of points in hand over some very strong FIA F3 rivals. How has he managed this?
With a year of experience under his belt, Red Bull backing and a seat in the dominant team in the category, many tipped the FIA Formula 3 championship to go the way of Dennis Hauger in 2021.
It would be far too simplistic to discredit his performances because he’s driving for the outstanding Prema Racing outfit and has a clear upper hand over his team-mates. What is evident is that this combination has been by far and away the class of the FIA F3 field so far and that nobody has consistently sustained a challenge to the Norwegian ace.
He has been pressed hard by several drivers, but none so regularly enough to be able to keep in touching distance in the points battle. Each one has faltered at some point, while Hauger himself has only had one real off race – the second race at Barcelona where he clashed while fighting for the lead.
Expected threats from fellow drivers in top teams haven’t quite materialised. Experienced opposition from Trident and ART Grand Prix, as well as strong rookies from MP Motorsport and Hauger’s own team-mates at Prema simply have not performed to the same standard on a regular basis.
It has largely been a matter of performing well enough at every event and clinically picking up points that has put Hauger in this position, rather than him blowing the opposition away. It’s a similar approach Oscar Piastri adopted in his title-winning campaign in 2020. Even if there is a day where Hauger is beaten, it’s always been by a different driver. Only one other driver has won more than once.
|3||Vesti||100.172%||14||Edgar||100.735%||25||van der Helm||101.048%|
In terms of qualifying, Hauger has been always towards the front. A pair of poles and a pair of second places have been important results on a Friday afternoon, not just for the eight points that came from it but also because it put him in a strong position for race three, and sometimes for race two if he struggles to progress from the sixth row in race one.
Jack Doohan (Trident) is Hauger’s closest rival on a Friday, despite not scoring a pole yet. Frederik Vesti (ART) is also right there, while Hungaroring polesitter Arthur Leclerc is outside of the top 10 on ‘supertimes’. It’s not an extreme margin that Hauger has over the opposition, but it’s crucially just enough and he gets the job done in this extremely tight field of 30.
Delving deeper into the data, the long-run pace again has Hauger at the top of the pack. Interestingly, his closest opposition in that area is a total wildcard – Charouz Racing System’s Logan Sargeant. Sargeant is relatively massively experienced in FIA F3, now in his third year, but driving with a team that has often had solid long-run speed but struggled badly in qualifying last year.
He’s not in the title mix, and the next-closest drivers in the long runs are Clement Novalak (Trident) and Prema team-mate Arthur Leclerc, whose qualifying hiccups early on really put him on the back foot. Otherwise, the expected names from ART, Trident and MP all feature in the top 10 once more.
|1||Hauger||100.381%||12||Hughes||100.929%||23||van der Helm||101.356%|
It should, however, be noted that the Red Bull Ring’s extreme amount of track limits violations has skewed the data somewhat. Regardless, the 12 races contested so far gives an interesting indication as to just how close this championship is, making Hauger’s consistency all the more impressive. The whole field is within 1.5% on average in race trim, and just under 2% in qualifying – somewhat closer than in previous years.
Barring Hauger, it’s a massively muddled picture, and the long-run pace certainly is of no reflection of the championship table. If anything, it shows that qualifying continues to be important in this championship even if the format change has shaken things up a bit. Piastri proved that qualifying isn’t the be-all and end-all in this championship, but Hauger is still getting the job done there and using that to his advantage.
It sets him up nicely for the third and final race in a weekend, which is where he has been so strong. Again, two wins and two second places are huge results compared to many of his rivals (Doohan the closest but his Red Bull Ring weekend derailed in race three) and that counts for a huge number of Hauger’s points.
Amazingly, there have been a couple of missed chances too – an unwell Hauger was bested by Doohan in the rain at Paul Ricard, while he was mugged by Vesti at the Red Bull Ring. It is a very fair statement to say he could and should have an extra 30 points or so with those results and Barcelona taken into consideration. That would put his advantage more towards a staggering hundred points, but very few title campaigns achieve such a level of near-perfection.
As for the reversed-grid races? He’s been rather effective in those too. Barcelona race two aside, he’s moved up the order in every single race, picking up healthy points (and even a win at the Red Bull Ring from 12th) along the way. His rivals, meanwhile, have tended to go backwards in those races on occasion.
The slender but crucial advantage Hauger has in outright speed and race pace is being utilised expertly by him and Prema in this championship battle, which feels more and more likely to be wrapped up before the final round of the season, provisionally scheduled for the Circuit of the Americas.
So, realistically, can he be stopped? All it would take is for a couple of bouts of bad luck (something that has hampered a few of his rivals) or a couple of big errors and suddenly that gap becomes much smaller. However, the chase would need to be headed by one driver, rather than a handful. At this point, no one driver and team combination looks the complete package capable of doing that.
At a push, perhaps Hauger’s team-mates would be the most logical bets, but Olli Caldwell hasn’t got qualifying figured out by his own admission, while Leclerc already sits over 100 points off after his early struggles. It would be a monumental ask. Caldwell’s third place in the standings despite lacking the top half-dozen pace or outright speed does stand out – showing that he’s clearly still picking up useful points regularly.
The responsibility, therefore, falls to the likes of Doohan or Vesti, or perhaps their respective team-mates Clement Novalak or Alexander Smolyar, to make a breakthrough and be able to make some serious dents into Hauger’s lead. MP’s Victor Martins also could be a contender still but has picked up just six points in the last six races (compared to 60 in the first six) and can ill-afford the miserable weekends he had in Austria and Hungary to manifest into a total form derailment.
Of those, Doohan is perhaps better-placed than Mercedes junior Vesti based on the speed shown so far this season. He certainly has the potential to be taking pole positions and to add more race wins to his Paul Ricard breakthrough. He is also the closest to Hauger in the standings, even if it is by a narrow margin to Caldwell, with Vesti slightly further back. But he needs to get a move on and quickly, starting this weekend at Spa-Francorchamps if he is to stop the seemingly unbeatable Prema driver.
For Hauger, meanwhile, if he is able to carry his momentum of great qualifying, clinical overtaking in the reversed-grid races and remarkable point-scoring consistency, as displayed through his one-lap and race pace, there is every possibility that the title will be wrapped up with a whole round to spare at Zandvoort.
Irrespective of his experience and the fact he drives for the standout operation, and regardless of who his team-mates are, achieving such dominance with a new format that requires moving forward regularly would be one very impressive feat indeed.