With the Formula 3 European Championship to be phased out in its current form at the end of this season, it would not have been a surprise if the quality of the grid had taken a hit this year. Instead, that has been far from the case, demonstrating the popularity of the outgoing formula, with numbers actually increasing with the arrival of a number of exciting rookies.
They join some returning drivers who hope to take a step forward to become title contenders, and before the season gets underway, it’s difficult to predict who will come out on top out of a group of as many as 10 potential champions.
Guan Yu Zhou
China, age 18, eigth in European F3 in 2017 -?The Ferrari Academy driver is entering his third year in the series in 2018, making him the joint-most experienced driver on this year?s grid. He?s made steady progress over the last two years but a race win still eludes the 18-year-old, and that has to be achieved before any title challenge can be made.
Estonia, age 20, ninth in European F3 in 2017 -?Along with Zhou, Aron is the most experienced driver in the field with two seasons in the category under his belt. However unlike Zhou, the Estonian dropped from seventh to ninth in the drivers? championship in his second season.??He ultimately struggled for consistency in 2017, sometimes due to a lack of overall pace but mistakes also played their part, like crashing into the back of Norris and out of third place in the final race at the Red Bull Ring for example.?A return to Prema will only help Aron get his career back on track and potentially return him to the top step of an F3 podium for the first time since April 2016.
Germany, age 19, 12th in European F3 in 2017 -?Schumacher?s rookie F3 season failed to reach the dizzy heights of Lando Norris? title or match the supreme consistency of Jehan Daruvala but there were signs that he could be a serious contender this year. Strong testing pace, which included topping two of the six days of running, firmly places Schumacher as a dark horse for the 2018 title. He?ll be looking to replicate the progress he made between his first and second years in ADAC F4.
Russia, age 18, Toyota Racing Series champion in 2018, third in Formula Renault Eurocup in 2017 – Shwartzman showed plenty of speed in Formula Renault last season, although some erratic moments cost him in his title bid. Getting the backing of the Ferrari Driver Academy appears to have made an immediate difference to his mindset, as shown by a mature and consistent run to the Toyota Racing Series title over the winter. His initial F3 tests were reportedly very strong, yet he has been the quietest of the Prema drivers in pre-season. It’s hard to imagine that remaining the case for long, though.
New Zealand, age 17, Italian F4 champion, second in ADAC F4 in 2017 -?Armstrong immediately vindicated his position in Ferrari?s junior ranks by winning the Italian F4 championship and narrowly missing out on the ADAC F4 crown by just four and a half points. However success in the top F4 series is no guarantor for success in F3, as his Prema team-mates Aron and Zhou found out. Through a strong pre-season which included an impressive second Toyota Racing Series campaign Armstrong has shown the potential to overcome the jump to F3 and even be a title contender as a rookie.
India, age 19, sixth in European F3 in 2017 -?Force India junior Daruvala is the highest placed returnee from 2017, in which he was a rookie, which would normally make him championship favourite. The Indian has several drivers within Carlin who could rival him though, and there are others at Prema, Motopark and Hitech GP that could also stake a greater claim to the title. Daruvala has been light on wins throughout his career, but has always raced in competitive championships, and only lost the 2016 Toyota Racing Series to super-rookie rival Lando Norris. This year will likely be another of great improvement, but probably not a title-winning one.
Austria, age 20, seventh in European F3 in 2017 -?The almost-winner of the Macau Grand Prix needs to carry his late-2017 momentum into this year, but pre-season testing raises question marks over whether that will be possible. Although Habsburg was in the top 10 on three days, he joined the other Carlin drivers in being off the pace in the other three.
Russia, age 19, second in Euroformula Open in 2017 –Troitskiy is still chasing his first F3 win, and the 2017 Euroformula Open runner-up will likely start his first European F3 season as the fourth best driver in the six-car Carlin line-up. The Russian has been off the pace during testing but has already proven himself in F3 and isn?t expected to struggle. Surprisingly he only has knowledge of four circuits on the calendar, but his smooth driving style, which is ?exactly what you need in F3? according to driver coach Warren Hughes, shouldn?t make performing at the other six too difficult.
Canada, age 18, third in Euroformula Open in 2017 -?2017 was a year of learning for De Francesco, who was the second fastest driver in EF Open come the end of last season. He was nowhere at the beginning of the year though, and it?s been no surprise to see him down the order in European F3 testing. His late 2017 cameo, which incorporated Macau, should give him a head start, but it is important to remember that 2018 will still only be the Canadian?s third year in single-seaters. The fact that all three have been with Carlin should be beneficial, but don?t expect him to be team leader.
India, age 21, fourth in Euroformula Open in 2017 -?Vaidyanathan was strong early on in EF Open last year, showing impressive progress for a driver who came into single-seaters as a total racing rookie with no karting background. He plateaued rather as the season went on, and will need to find another step if he wants to be successful in European F3.
France/Argentina, age 18, Formula Renault Eurocup champion in 2017 – Having followed management colleague Lando Norris to the Formula Renault Eurocup title with Josef Kaufmann Racing last year, Fenestraz now follows him up to F3 with Carlin. It might be too much to expect him to take the title first time out, but don’t rule it out either. Beginning the season on his ‘home’ streets of Pau, where he has been so strong in the past, should only help him start on the front foot.
England, age 18, seventh in Formula Renault Eurocup, 11th in GP3, Macau Grand Prix winner in 2017 -?The 2017 Macau Grand Prix winner was fastest on two of the six days in pre-season testing, but no higher than 10th in the other four. Deficient qualifying speed at times prevented Motopark driver Joel Eriksson from beating Norris last year, but Ticktum is confident such issues are non-existent now. He also sees himself as the one to beat, and it is this self-centred attitude that will likely carry him to success. At the same time, he has yet to put a whole season together, so this year is a big test.
Japan, age 18, 19th in European F3 in 2017 -?Sato was eighth fastest on the first of two test days at the Red Bull Ring in March, but was nowhere on the remaining five, so he might have a similarly tough season to 2017 where he scored one point. His debut season was with Motopark, and the continuity of staying with the German team should be helpful for the 18-year-old, who previously contested two seasons in Italian F4.
Estonia, age 17, Italian F4 champion in 2017?-?Vips impressed last year by triumphing in the intensely competitive ADAC F4 championship, and the Estonian could well surpass expectations again. His victory percentage of 9.5% may sound disappointing, but it shows just how competitive ADAC F4 was, and he did a better job in his F3 cameo than the other F4 graduates. He was fastest at Misano during pre-season testing, the only F3 rookie to get that high on the timesheets, and was looking increasingly comfortable with the car. Motopark is a top team, and Vips will have the support needed to upset the bigger names.
Venezuela, age 17, fourth in Italian F4 in 2017 -?The Venezuelan is a winner in F4, but never looked like a driver who could be a threat throughout a season. He won the first three Italian F4 races last year, then only finished in the top five four times in the next 12. Inconsistency can be of greater consequence in F3, but Fernandez at least looks capable of some similar peaks at this level, having been fourth quickest in testing at the Red Bull Ring.
Switzerland, age 18, fifth in ADAC F4 in 2017 – Scherer showed an impressive turn of pace in his second season in ADAC F4 last year, and was then the fastest driver to put his name down on the 2018 F3 entry list. He’s therefore had plenty of time to prepare for this step, which should only be beneficial, but it could be a big step for him in such a competitive field.
South Africa, age 20, ninth in ADAC F4 in 2017 – Aberdein failed to kick on in his second season in F4 with Motopark last year, after an impressive first 12 months after stepping up out of South African karting. The continuity of staying with Motopark should only help though, and he has compared well to the likes of Ticktum and Vips in pre-season.
Spain, age 21, third in Japanese F3, 10th in World Series FV8 3.5 in 2017 -?Palou was almost a winner in Formula 2, is a winner in Formula V8 3.5, and was almost a champion in Japanese F3. This will be his third season in the formula, having made his single-seater debut in EF Open in 2014. The Spaniard has the pace, the experience and the feel for the harder tyres used in the championship (having tasted little success during his time on Pirellis in GP3), and if testing is anything to go by, could be one of the favourites for the title.
England, age 18, BRDC British F3 champion in 2017 -?Moving to a highly competitive European F3 field was a risky move for the reigning BRDC British F3 champion, but it seems to already be paying off for the 18-year-old. Choosing Hitech seems to have been an inspired move, with impressive testing pace and comprehensive preparations for the season ahead; Ahmed?s belief that ?no one is expecting anything? from him seems dated now. His impressive pre-season means there will be pressure to perform, but the weaker British F3 field he has competed in for the last two seasons means there are still questions on where he is on pace compared to his new rivals.
Wales, age 20, third in BRDC British F3, 11th in Euroformula Open in 2017 -?It?s Hitech?s year, but it is unlikely to be Hingeley?s. The Welshman has brilliant racecraft, which disguises his occasional lack of outright pace. His first experience of a Dallara F3 car came in EF Open last year, where Hingeley adapted well, but maybe not well enough. He?s undoubtedly good, and impressed when he tested a GP3 car, but may be playing the supporting role if his team-mates are in title contention late in the year.
Van Amersfoort Racing
Germany, age 18, 21st in European F3 in 2017 -?Andres was the only full-time driver who failed to score a point last season, despite having a year in F3 machinery in Euroformula Open under his belt. Van Amersfoort Racing has given him another shot and he?ll be keen to repay that faith.
Russia, age 18, fifth in Italian F4, 15th in ADAC F4 in 2017?-?Petrov joins the F3 field with two years of Italian F4 under his belt, and a best finish of fifth in the drivers? championship last year. He doesn?t have the high profile of his Italian F4 rival Armstrong and the lack of a strong team-mate to learn from could hurt, but he shouldn?t be counted out and ended 2017 in fine form, winning two of the last three races.
Germany, age 20, 11th in ADAC F4 in 2017 – Hanses, like Scherer, was very quick at times in ADAC F4 with US Racing last year, but failed to make use of that speed in the races on a consistent basis. Making the step up as a single-car entry for ma-con, which is returning for the first time since 2013, is likely to be very difficult.
By Elliot Wood, Josh Suttill and Peter Allen