While the first FIA F3 season in 2019 was effectively an all-Prema affair, 2020 featured ART’s Theo Pourchaire pushing Oscar Piastri to the very end. Will it be even closer in 2021?
Interestingly, the driver with the most Saturday wins in the 2020 FIA Formula 3 Championship season returns for a second year in the series this season, but is swapping a place at Prema for an ART Grand Prix drive.
While the likes of Hitech GP and Trident have had a look in at title challenges on occasion, a fifth team – MP Motorsport – could be firmly in the mix with two exciting recruits from the same Formula 1 young driver development programme. On top of that, there is a new format too – one that should be able to bring more teams into the mix for podiums, wins and maybe even a bit more.
That is the biggest and most significant change coming into 2021. Weekends now feature three races, there are seven rounds and more points being distributed in reversed-grid races than in ones starting with an order set by qualifying. The points system hasn’t changed (the reversed-grid races award points down to the top 10 as of 2020), but it’s now the top 12 that get reversed from qualifying to set race one’s grid, and then the top 12 from race one that get flipped for race two on Saturday.
Sunday’s ‘main race’ grid is formed from Friday’s qualifying session and will likely be observed more closely by the F1 paddock now that Formula 2 isn’t around on the same weekends. To compensate for the extra running, each car will have an extra set of Pirelli tyres at each round compared to last year.
As ever, 30 drivers from 10 teams will make up the grid, with high-profile returnees lining up alongside graduates from the Formula Regional European Championship, Formula Renault Eurocup, Euroformula, BRDC British F3 and those making the rather substantial leap from Formula 4 too. There is one driver making a heroic return after a horror accident in F2 in 2019, and some fascinating team-mate dynamics across the board.
Below, as well as considering the prospects of all 30 drivers, Formula Scout shows which teams and drivers recorded the most laps in pre-season testing and who the long-run pacesetters were at both the Red Bull Ring and at Barcelona.
The outfit with the target on its back. It is up to the other teams to try and overhaul this dominant force in 2021. The format change will likely assist that, but there is evidence to suggest that even in outright pace Prema might not have its own way. Its line-up is made up of a Red Bull junior, a Ferrari junior and a sophomore who might just spring a surprise.
1. Dennis Hauger
2020: 7th in FREC, 17th in FIA F3
A podium aside, Hauger’s maiden FIA F3 campaign was not what the Red Bull-backed driver needed or wanted. He proved that he is very much still a driver to keep an eye on though with a brilliant part-season in FREC culminating in a win, but he needs a big second year in FIA F3. With Prema, there is little room for excuses if there are not wins and a title challenge.
2. Arthur Leclerc
2020: 2nd in FREC
Charles Leclerc’s younger brother narrowly missed out on the 2020 FREC crown and will be looking to go better this year and take his first single-seater title. The Ferrari junior will be pre-season favourite for many, likely based on his name more than anything, but despite being a rookie he is likely to be seen as the one to spearhead Prema’s charge. He has the continuity of remaining with the team he was successful with last year and his brother before that.
3. Olli Caldwell
United Kingdom, 18
2020: 16th in FIA F3
On paper, not much should be expected from Caldwell in 2021. He scored 18 points in his rookie season with Trident, a team that performs well at this level. However, we have seen drivers blossom at Prema after a challenging first year in FIA F3, so there’s every chance that history could repeat. Even if he does lack outright speed, the new format could help him to capitalise on the strong package underneath him.
The Italian outfit has often lacked that edge needed for a title fight, but its canniness and ability to pounce in reversed-grid races in particular should benefit it in 2021. Its line-up consists of three returnees who showed glimpses of potential in 2020, but only one arguably got the results to speak for it. Therefore, how the trio shapes up against each other is an unknown.
4. Jack Doohan
2020: 26th in FIA F3
Doohan’s rookie FIA F3 season was a total disaster. He scored zero points, and any scenario where he looked on course for a decent result, something went totally awry for him. With a team more consistently at the front, having raced for HWA Racelab last year, much more should be expected and he’s looked quick over the winter. There should be some very strong podium opportunities too with the new format.
5. Clement Novalak
2020: 12th in FIA F3
Novalak enters 2021 off the back of a solid maiden campaign with Carlin. This is expected to be a move up the grid where he can better demonstrate the credentials that won him the 2019 BRDC British F3 title. In such a tight field and, as a more consistent driver than an out-and-out prolific race winner, Novalak might be in the running to take podiums more than wins. However, that is the sort of form that could culminate in a surprise title bid.
6. David Schumacher
2020: 28th in FIA F3
It is a little bit unclear where Schumacher is likely to end up this year in terms of performance. He performed very well in FREC in 2019, but his FIA F3 career to date has been very much on the underwhelming side, although running with Charouz Racing System for a large chunk of last season was unsurprisingly without success. A mid-season switch to Carlin did seem to improve performances slightly, and the move to Trident for 2021 makes this his fourth different team in the series.
ART Grand Prix
Once the king of the third tier of single-seaters, ART has lagged a little bit behind Prema when it has come to a title push in FIA F3. That is, of course, save for some Theo Pourchaire brilliance in 2020. The obvious title favourite based on last year moves to ART, and he lines up alongside a driver overdue a win and the aforementioned feel-good story of this year.
7. Frederik Vesti
2020: 4th in FIA F3
The apparent title favourite based on a 2020 when he won three races, Vesti is now also a Mercedes-AMG F1 junior. Changing team hasn’t necessarily put him in a better car than his former Prema seat, but ART has shown obvious signs of progress since the series began in 2019. Vesti can ill-afford a season where he is outclassed by less experienced drivers, but with a lot of talent on the grid, the title is not a slam dunk. He was fastest on long-run pace in the Barcelona pre-season test [above].
8. Alexander Smolyar
2020: 11th in FIA F3
Slightly underrated in 2020, Smolyar is overdue a win having come close on more than one occasion last year. He sticks with ART for his second season and is a title dark horse. With some minor improvements in his racecraft, a little bit of luck and a bit more consistency he may cause a bit of an upset in the title race.
9. Juan Manuel Correa
2020: no racing
There’s a lot of anticipation about Correa’s incredible return to racing less than two years after the horrendous injuries he suffered at Spa-Francorchamps in an F2 crash. It is perhaps a sensible choice to return at this level to be able to build himself back up while he continues to recover. It would be such a feel-good story if he is able to have some success – be it taking a race win or two, as he showcased in his GP3 days. The pace in testing looks somewhat promising.
Hitech pushed Prema in 2019 with Red Bull junior Juri Vips, and again last year with stablemate Liam Lawson. In 2021, it has two juniors on its books jumping up from F4, and a driver whose potential remains unclear after a challenging 2020. It could well be an outfit capable of springing a surprise with at least one of its drivers this year – all of whom are very young.
10. Jak Crawford
United States, 16
2021: currently 8th in Euroformula 2020: 2nd in ADAC F4, 6th in Italian F4
A star of ADAC F4 in 2020, Crawford is a Red Bull junior for good reason. He will dovetail FIA F3 with Euroformula, where he has already impressed on his debut. While this is a huge step up from F4, Crawford will look to emulate Pourchaire who made the same jump rather than those who struggled after impressing in F4, and he set the most laps in pre-season testing.
11. Ayumu Iwasa
2021: 8th in Asian F3 2020: French F4 champion
A Red Bull and Honda protege, sounds familiar? Iwasa’s route has been slightly different to Yuki Tsunoda’s, with less experience before moving to Europe last year and taking a brilliant title in French F4. The strength of that field usually isn’t as well regarded as other F4 series, but has evidently impressed Helmut Marko. He has a highly-rated Red Bull stablemate alongside him now and the pair’s dynamic will be interesting.
12. Roman Stanek
2021: 10th in Asian F3 2020: 18th in FR Eurocup, 21st in FIA F3
A very late addition to the 2020 grid, Stanek often showed flashes of potential by putting in some strong times in free practice, but it was clear that Charouz was not the team to be with last year. While still very young, Stanek is the experienced head among the three Hitech drivers. He is certainly one of the big enigmas going into his second year.
There’s a nice mix of drivers at HWA Racelab this year, as the team looks to have a more consistent spread compared to 2020 (where F3 journeyman Jake Hughes was regularly its quickest driver). It has one driver running a dual F2/FIA F3 campaign, FREC’s surprise title challenger and a driver running in three different kinds of F3-level machinery in 2021. Improving on fifth in the teams’ standings would be a decent effort.
14. Matteo Nannini
2021: currently 15th in Formula 2 2020: 15th in FREC, 18th in FIA F3
Nannini was often the standout driver with Jenzer Motorsport last year – a team that was certainly no frontrunner. Oddly, he is also now simultaneously racing in F2. How that will affect his campaigns going forward is something that won’t necessarily be evident until later in the year, but it will be interesting to see. As HWA’s sole experienced head, he will be looking to lead where Hughes left off last year and was fastest on long-run pace at the Red Bull Ring pre-season test [above].
15. Oliver Rasmussen
2020: 3rd in FREC
A surprise title threat in FREC, Rasmussen faces an uphill climb moving into FIA F3 with HWA. Rookies struggled there last season, so to score points regularly and challenge for podiums would be a very good effort from the Dane. His progress compared to his former title rivals (who are in very different scenarios themselves) will be interesting to see.
16. Rafael Villagomez
2021: currently 6th in Euroformula, 17th in Asian F3 2020: 6th in French F4, 11th in British F4
Villagomez has been a busy kid since his car racing debut last year. A British and French F4 podium finisher, he started 2021 in Regional F3 with little success in the Asian championship, and now juggles FIA F3 with racing in Euroformula’s Dallara 320, where he’s already made the podium.
The team that finished sixth last season is the one with the most intrigue about it coming into this year after Alpine placed two drivers who squabbled over the final Formula Renault championship together at a team that has won just once since 2019. Between them, those two drivers topped the two pre-season tests, so it would be a real surprise if there is not a better year in 2021. The dynamic between the Alpine duo is one of the highlighted talking points coming into the year.
17. Victor Martins
2020: FR Eurocup champion
Martins’ promotion to FIA F3 is certainly overdue, and comes off the back of him becoming the final Formula Renault Eurocup champion and returning to the Alpine/Renault fold. While his former championship rival Oscar Piastri took the F3 crown at the first attempt, the task for Martins is more challenging with MP – a team that has yet to sustain a championship challenge at this level. However, that is not to rule him out entirely. The format shake-up puts a team like MP in the frame even if it is missing a tenth of two.
18. Caio Collet
2020: 2nd in FR Eurocup
Collet really took it to Martins in Eurocup last year and finds himself as team-mate to him in FIA F3. It’s evident that the Alpine junior is a real talent, and the intra-team battle between the two will be fascinating to see, and the dynamic between them as they look to move the team forward too will be very intriguing. Like team-mate Martins, do not totally rule out a title challenge.
19. Tijmen van der Helm
2020: 12th in FR Eurocup
Dutch driver van der Helm is one of the youngest drivers on the grid, but his results to date have not been overly spectacular. However, this is expected to be a growing year for him, so the occasional points finish and keeping relatively close to his more experienced team-mates would constitute a decent year.
While Campos has not had a stellar time to date in FIA F3, Alex Peroni pulled out some magnificent performances last year to elevate it up the order. Now without founder Adrian Campos, it has three rookies on its books who it will hope can pull off some similar giantkilling acts against the big teams.
20. Laszlo Toth
2020: 16th in FR Eurocup
Toth has yet to set the world alight in his single-seater career so far, but having been regularly towards the back in some of the most competitive F4 championships between 2018 and 2019, he was occasionally able to trouble the midfield in Eurocup last year. But with just that one year at Regional F3 level under his belt, it would be fair to not expect too much from Toth in his rookie season.
21. Lorenzo Colombo
2020: 5th in FR Eurocup
Like Martins, Colombo deserves this move up after three seasons in Eurocup. He’s a proven race winner in that series, and even though success took a long time to come in 2020, he’d already been a frequent frontrunner the season before. While he can be a little bit inconsistent, he certainly stands out as the driver most likely to spearhead the Campos challenge in 2021.
22. Amaury Cordeel
2020: 15th in FR Eurocup
It seems like a while since Cordeel followed up Christian Lundgaard as Spanish F4 champion, but the 2018 victor has struggled to make a huge amount of progress since then. Like his team-mates, he too has come from a Eurocup background in recent years but didn’t make a huge amount of progress from one year to the next. As with Toth, expect this to be a learning year.
The legendary Carlin outfit will be looking to move up the grid in 2021, and it is easy to argue that it will do so when looking at its driver line-up. It runs the reigning British F3 champion for the second year in succession, alongside the ADAC F4 champ and a Euroformula graduate who sticks with the team for a second year. Do not be at all surprised to see the team return to the top step of the podium at this level for the first time since 2014.
23. Ido Cohen
2020: 7th in Euroformula
Cohen sticks with Carlin after running with the British outfit in Euroformula last year, where he was a midfielder with the capability of fighting for the podium. Having that continuity will help going forward, but it will likely be a tricky season overall. Being able to fight for occasional points would represent a good season.
24. Kaylen Frederick
United States, 18
2020: BRDC British F3 champion
Frederick showed brilliant speed regularly last year on his way to the British F3 title but had a tendency to make things harder for himself than they really needed to be. His predecessor Novalak scored all bar one of Carlin’s points in 2020 and capitalised on reversed-grid races to nab a couple of podium finishes, but things may be a bit different this year.
25. Jonny Edgar
2020: ADAC F4 champion, 4th in Italian F4
The reigning ADAC F4 champion makes the big jump up to FIA F3 and joins up with Carlin: his first British team in single-seaters. Edgar has been on Red Bull’s books for a little while and is starting to look like a real prospect, having also impressed in Italian F4. It will be a tough ask, as some previous F4 to FIA F3 drivers have proven, but do not be surprised to see Edgar fighting for some decent results, especially in the reversed-grid races where his proven racecraft could shine again.
The Swiss outfit that ran Yuki Tsunoda to a sole victory in 2019 certainly struggled in 2020. This time it has a nice mix of drivers, with a sophomore sticking with the outfit, an F4 graduate who raced with the team at that level and a driver who almost nabbed an F3 title earlier this year after making a fine cameo appearance in the middle of last season.
26. Calan Williams
2020: 31st in FIA F3
Williams stays on with Jenzer for a second season. Team and driver both largely struggled in 2020, and both will be looking to move up the grid somewhat this year. It’s safe to say that miracles should not be expected though, despite some headline times in testing. Nabbing some points here and there and mixing it with the midfield a bit more should be considered good progress.
27. Pierre-Louis Chovet
2021: 2nd in Asian F3 2020: 5th in FREC, 19th in FIA F3
2020 was a year where Chovet really started to show some progress, regularly taking it to at least one of the dominant Prema cars in FREC, before making a surprise appearance in FIA F3 with frontrunners Hitech, where he quickly got up to speed. Then he starred in the Asian F3 championship earlier this year, nearly nabbing the title from the much more experienced Guanyu Zhou. He faces a tough job with Jenzer, but is expected to show promise again.
28. Filip Ugran
2020: 8th in Italian F4, 10th in Spanish F4
Ugran makes the step up to FIA F3 after two years across various F4 championships and has experience with Jenzer in the Italian and Spanish championships. He starred on his one run-out in the Spanish championship last year, almost having a perfect weekend at Paul Ricard. Otherwise, he has regularly been a midfielder in the ultra-competitive Italian series, so this transition could be a big uphill climb.
Charouz Racing System
Charouz certainly had a curious year in 2020 to say the least. A driver change on the eve of the season, coupled with more as the year progressed, topped with a baffling array of performances that often left the drivers quicker in practice than in qualifying. Like last year, its line-up was not finalised until the eve of the season. In a surprising twist, it runs a championship contender from last year in addition to a dual-campaigning sophomore and a rookie who arguably requires a bit more time to develop before reaching this level.
29. Logan Sargeant
United States, 20
2020: 3rd in FIA F3
Despite testing with the team in the off-season, it is still a surprise to see Sargeant switch from the team that finished first in the championship last year to the team that finished dead last. However, budgetary reasons have prevented a step up to F2 and it’s just good to see one of America’s best prospects remain in the F1 support paddock. He could move the team forward, which would be impressive in its own right, but the results almost certainly will not be the same as last year.
30. Enzo Fittipaldi
2021: currently 17th in Indy Pro 2000 2020: 15th in FIA F3
The younger of the Fittipaldi brothers is at present running a dual programme this year, returning to FIA F3 having split with the Ferrari Driver Academy over the winter and turned his attentions to Indy Pro 2000. Like his former team-mate Doohan, his results perhaps did not reflect the performances last year, and showed good progress towards the end of the season. It will be interesting to see if he can keep that up after his late signing, having missed all of pre-season testing.
31. Reshad de Gerus
2020: 17th in FR Eurocup
Flying the flag for the island of Reunion, the 2019 French F4 runner-up often struggled to break into the top 10 in his sole season in Eurocup last year, and perhaps makes the step up to FIA F3 a year early. He is certainly a capable driver based on his past success, but this will be a learning season. The experience of his team-mates should be a big help in getting him up to speed.