Home Featured BRDC British F3 season review: The four-way title fight that wasn’t

BRDC British F3 season review: The four-way title fight that wasn’t

by Steve Whitfield

Photos: Jakob Ebrey Photography

In a season with an unprecedented 13 different winners, four drivers emerged as the strongest in BRDC British Formula 3 this year, fighting over the title until the final round.

Clement Novalak led Carlin?s title campaign, after an injury-disrupted first year in British F3 and Formula Renault Eurocup in 2018, and was chased throughout the year by three British Formula 4 graduates.

Fortec Motorsports? Johnathan Hoggard emerged as a title contender after showing strong pace in pre-season testing, following on from winning six of the last 12 British F4 races in 2018 with the team.

A lot of eyes heading into the season were also on Kiern Jewiss and Ayrtons Simmons, whose F4 rivalry was explosive. A repeat of that title fight was always going to be unlikely in British F3, with both drivers choosing slightly unfancied teams.

British F4 champion Jewiss rejoined Douglas Motorsport, which he won the 2017 Ginetta Junior title with, a team with only one F3 win to its name in 2018. Simmons chose to continue with Chris Dittmann Racing – after his cameoe last year – which had one podium finish from the last three seasons heading into 2019.

Novalak started as the man to beat by winning the season opening race at Oulton Park, finishing ahead of Simmons and Hoggard. It was only one of two times where the trio shared the podium.

In the reversed-grid race two, Novalak produced the first of many strong comeback drives; coming from the back to finish sixth while team-mate Kaylen Frederick won. A podium in race three, shared once again with his title rivals, meant Novalak left the opening round with an 11-point lead over race three victor Hoggard.

At Snetterton, Novalak and Hoggard engaged in one of their only lead battles of the year in the first race. Hoggard passed Novalak – who led the early laps from pole – to beat his rival to victory. Jewiss took his first podium in third, a result he would only repeat once in the first half of the season as he and Douglas struggled for pace.

Novalak finished ahead of Hoggard in race two, claiming another sixth place the back of the grid, as team-mate Lucas Petersson took his sole win of the year.

Hoggard failed to finish race three after colliding with Double R Racing?s Neil Verhagen. As Verhagen?s team-mate Hampus Ericsson took victory, Novalak took advantage of Hoggard?s misfortune to take another podium and a 37-point lead.

A 10-place grid penalty for the Snetterton incident resulted in Hoggard starting well down the field for race one at Silverstone. He fought back to take eighth, while Novalak scored his second and last win of the season from pole.

Hoggard clawed back some valuable points with a pair of second places in the latter two races of the weekend, with Verhagen and Novalak losing first and second places respectively in race three after both were penalised for track limits abue.

Simmons benefitted from the penalties to take his first win of the year, with Douglas also topping the podium in race two with Benjamin Pedersen. Novalak left Silverstone with a 36-point lead over Hoggard, with Simmons nine points further back.

Hoggard was in strong form at Donington Park, securing pole for races one and three and converting both into victories. However, a collision with Simmons resulted in retiring from race two, meaning Novalak’s two fourth places and a sixth was good enough to retain a healthy points lead. It was a collision that Fortec boss Richard Dutton pointed to Formula Scout as being where the title was lost.

Simmons had a weekend to forget, after a separate collision with Fortec’s Kris Wright in race two resulted in him being disqualified, and a reliability issue prevented him from finishing race three. Joshua Mason meanwhile picked up the reversed-grid win for Lanan Racing.

Spa-Francorchamps, where he had made his championship debut a year before, was a far happier trip for Simmons. He took a double pole, and made amends for being beaten by Frederick to race one victory by heading Novalak in race three. Missing out on victory didn’t matter to Novalak, who came from ninth on the grid to take his first podium in eight races and extend his points lead.

Hoggard had one of his least competitive showings, seventh place being his best result in Belgium, which left him 48 points behind. VdeV Single-Seater champion Nicolas Varrone won the reversed-grid race in his second of three appearances with Hillspeed.

A return to form for Hoggard came at Brands Hatch, where he won from pole in race one and taking second in race three behind Jewiss, who finally took his first win after a strong second place in race one.

Novalak made the podium once, but still held a 40-point over Hoggard. Simmons had a difficult weekend, overcoming car issues to finish second in the reversed grid race behind team-mate Nazim Azman.

Douglas and Jewiss continued their momentum thereon, with their first poles coming on the second visit to Silverstone. But in race one Jewiss finished second behind Hillspeed’s Sasakorn Chaimongkol, who beat the poleman off the line to take his first series win.

Jewiss again missed out on victory from pole in race three as Simmons took his third win of the season to keep his title chances alive. Fortec?s Manuel Maldonado became the 13th different winner of the year in the reversed-grid race.

Poor one-lap pace from Novalak at Silverstone gave Hoggard the chance to close the points gap, which he did by finishing third in race one. But again the reverse grid race proved costly: a collision with Verhagen in wet conditions left him 14th, while Novalak finished third. Fifth behind his rival in race three left Hoggard with a mountain to climb with three races to go.

Novalak headed to the Donington Park season finale with a 52-point lead over Hoggard, with Simmons and Jewiss also still mathematically in contention for the title.

A win from pole in race one kept Hoggard?s title hopes alive, as Novalak rose from a poor start position to finish fourth behind Jewiss and Maldonado. In race two, Hoggard and Novalak collided, sending the latter airborne but neither into retirement. By finishing 12th, three places ahead of Hoggard, Novalak won the title with a race to spare.

Azman took his second win of the year ahead of Simmons up front, the latter now aiming to pass Hoggard in the championship.

Hoggard converted pole to his seventh win of the year in race three though; his form over the year enough for him to win the Sunoco Whelen Challenge champion and earn a top-class seat in the 2020 Daytona 24 Hours.

A big points haul and two second places for Jewiss wasn’t enough to overcome old F4 rival Simmons for third in the standings.

Formula Scout?s Top 5 British F3 drivers

5. Neil Verhagen

Verhagen was the leading driver for defending champion team Double R but, despite showing promising pace at times and scoring a number of podium finishes across the year, the American failed to win a race. A strong finish to the season – with three podiums in the last four races – helped the former Red Bull junior clinch fifth in the standings over Maldonado.

4. Kiern Jewiss

Jewiss spent the first half of the year mired in around 10th place as he and Douglas tried to maximise their car. But the 2018 British F4 champion came alive in the second half of the season, his win at Brands Hatch beginning a run of five podiums from the final seven races. If he continues in British F3 next year, he will undoubtedly start as one of the title favourites.

He says: ?Look where we started [the year] – we really weren’t very strong – to now being on pole and having a race win. We’ve had a lot of development to be where we are now so very happy from where we started.”

3. Ayrton Simmons

Despite limited pre-season testing, Simmons had a solid year and a strong run in the second half of the season kept him in title contention until the final round. Reliability issues proved costly in terms of the overall standings but three wins – one more than champion Novalak – underlines Simmons’ obvious talent. He’s recently been spotted with the Dallara 320 in Japan.

He says: ?We’ve been really competitive everywhere really? I’m really happy with the way the team has performed, that a small team has given all the big teams like Carlin such a run for their money this year. They’ve done such an amazing job. I’m happy with the way I’ve performed as well. We’ve been a bit unfortunate with a few DNFs.”

Photo: Jakob Ebrey Photography

2. Clement Novalak

A strong start and season-long consistency meant Novalak was never headed in the title race. Not only did he finish every race, but he only missed out on the top 10 once – ironically in the race he won the title in. He produced some important drives during the reversed-grid races – in which points were also awarded for positions gained – and his recovery to second at Spa from ninth on the grid is one he picks out as a season highlight. He triumphed in a four-way title fight by repeatedly finishing fourth.

He says: ?The last few races [of the season] we lacked a little bit of pace here and there, qualifying has definitely not been our strong point. Racecraft wise we’ve been consistent, and not had a single DNF.”

1. Johnathan Hoggard

Despite starting the season with less experience than most of the grid, Hoggard took seven wins – four more than anybody else and only one less than Novalak’s total podium tally – and also scored the most pole positions. His outright speed was unquestionable throughout, but he struggled to match Novalak in the reversed-grid races – he was outscored across the season by his title rival to the tune of 41 points in those races – which was key to his title loss, as were a few costly incidents.

He says: ?Overall it’s been really good, really positive: most wins, most pole positions, most fastest laps, all of that. It could have been a little bit better, I could have taken a bit of pressure off myself if I had finished some of the races which I didn’t earlier on in the year, but I’m still learning, I made mistakes sometimes and unfortunately they cost me quite a bit.?