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Formula Scout predicts the 2020 FIA Formula 3 season

by Formula Scout

Photos: LAT Images / FIA F3 Championship

The second season of FIA Formula 3 Championship roars into life this weekend at the Red Bull Ring, with a capacity field of 30 drivers spread across 10 teams. The Formula Scout team predicts who will emerge on top

Last year set the bar very high for not only the standard of drivers in a junior single-seater series but also on how to attract the very best to a brand new series, but the 2020 FIA Formula 3 grid could go higher as it boasts the reigning BRDC British F3, Formula Renault Eurocup, Formula Regional Europe, Toyota Racing Series, ADAC and Italian Formula 4 champions as well as the 2019 Macau Grand Prix winner.

Formula Scout attempts to predict the picture of the championship fight ahead based off the previous success of the drivers and teams as well as examining the clues from the single pre-season test which took place back in March.

You can also listen to our predictions in podcast form, on Breaker, Google Podcasts, Overcast, RadioPublic, Pocket Casts,Castbox, Apple Podcasts and Spotify. It was recorded prior to Devlin DeFrancesco’s series departure.

Key: Writer’s initials (their predicted position for driver)

Contributions from Josh Suttill, Peter Allen, Elliot Wood, Bethonie Waring, Craig Woollard, Rachel Hillman and Harry Slade.

10. Enaam Ahmed Carlin Racing
30th in Bahrain pre-season test (101.533%), 19th in Valencia post-season test (100.978%)

CW (7th): It’s a really important year for Ahmed after a difficult 2019. He returns to familiar territory with Carlin, where he has thrived in the past. It is a big ask to pull out a title challenge against some outfits expected to be stronger. But Ahmed has some really solid racecraft and will be in a good position to nab a couple of strong results in the reverse-grid races.

EW (8th): Nice guys never win, so the saying goes, but Ahmed obliterated the BRDC British F3 field in 2017, led the FIA European F3 points against top opposition in 2018 and starred in F3 last year. His greatest success came with Carlin, and returning there will no doubt be a reunion of mutual benefit. He doesn’t have the outright pace to be a title threat, but will be competitive no matter the strength of the Carlin package.

JS (13th): I rate Ahmed as a solid driver but unfortunately I can’t see Carlin turning things around enough from its woeful 2019 season for any of its drivers to place inside the top 10. He should comfortably have the measure of his team-mates, BRDC British F3 champion Clement Novalak and American Euroformula graduate Cameron Das, but his year in Japan was underwhelming and unfortunately I can’t see his fortunes changing much in 2020.

9. Theo Pourchaire ART Grand Prix
20th in Bahrain pre-season test (100.867%), 7th in Valencia post-season test (100.527%)

CW (4th): Sauber junior Pourchaire narrowly beat Hauger to the ADAC F4 title last year, and duly steps to F3 this year. If ART rights the wrongs of 2019, then it might be in a position to be a more frequent threat to Prema. Pourchaire is tipped for big things and thus is more likely to spearhead that than his team-mates Alexander Smolyar and Sebastian Fernandez.

JS (8th): Pourchaire is easily the brightest talent in the re-launched Sauber junior programme, and should win the intra-team fight at ART despite entering FIA F3 at just 16 years-old. The learning curve is very steep, but Pourchaire has the talent to overcome it. However, expect a title challenge in 2021 rather than in 2020.

PA (9th): Pourchaire looks the real deal, even though he’s still only 16, and Frederic Vasseur clearly thinks the same, which is a statement in itself. This is a huge step up from F4 – bigger than what Lundgaard did with ART a year ago – so being part of the title picture is surely out of the question. But I’m still anticipating some impressive performances, and for Pourchaire to rival talented Eurocup graduate Smolyar for team leadership.

HS (9th): Reigning ADAC F4 champion Pourchaire really is a superstar in the making. The Frenchman beat fellow F3 rookie Dennis Hauger to the crown and will be expected to be strong from the outset. Making the leap up to F3 will be huge, with a vastly more powerful car to deal with, but expect Pourchaire’s talents to shine through – sprint race wins will be achievable.

8. Max Fewtrell Hitech GP
17th in Bahrain pre-season test (100.805%), 35th in Valencia post-season test (101.958%)

CW (6th): 2020 is a big year for Fewtrell after being outshone by fellow Renault junior Christian Lundgaard last year and arguably during his championship-winning Eurocup season in 2018. Moving to Hitech is a slight step up the grid at best, and he has a couple of other highly-rated F1 juniors as team-mates. It is important for him to challenge the Prema drivers for the title if he is to remain on the books for a future seat at the top, but it seems unlikely.

JS (7th): It’s difficult to see Fewtrell not coming off third-best at Hitech, but there’s little shame in that such is the quality of his team-mates. If he can string together a more consistent campaign this year, he should comfortably place inside the top 10 but far adrift of Lawson and Hauger.

RH (10th): Fewtrell moves away from ART, who struggled to replicate its GP3-dominance in FIA F3 last year, to Prema’s closest 2019 challenger Hitech. Fewtrell drove for Hitech in last year’s Macau Grand Prix, but struggled in comparison to his two team-mates Juri Vips and Yuki Tsunoda. His inexperience of fighting upfront in F3 may be a hindrance, but points finishes will certainly be more regular. It will be interesting to see how he fares against his two new Red Bull-backed team-mates.

PA (10th): Fewtrell deserved another year of Renault’s support after a luckless end to last season, having proven at the Red Bull Ring how good he could be on his day when he raced Vips and Marcus Armstrong for the win. Now he needs to repeat his sophomore Eurocup campaign when he turned a promising rookie performance in Austria into a full season at the sharp end. But it will be harder against all the talent in this field and he wasn’t on Lawson’s level in testing.

7. Richard Verschoor MP Motorsport
6th in Bahrain pre-season test (100.393%), 32nd in Valencia post-season test (101.540%)

BW (3rd): 2019 was a learning year for Richard Verschoor. He had a few stand out performances and showed a clear improvement over the course of the season. That was highlighted in Macau, where he pulled off some impressive moves to take the victory on his first visit to the iconic street circuit. No doubt that improvement will continue into 2020 and we’ll see him at the front of the field.

EW (5th): MP Motorsport is looking stronger than ever going into 2020, and Verschoor will surely be the main beneficiary of that again after winning the Macau GP with the team. He still hasn’t shown consistent race-winning ability outside of F4, but clearly hasn’t peaked yet and that’s very encouraging for a driver who’s been at MP since 2016 and in GP3/F3 since 2018. What may stop the Dutchman being that main beneficiary is team-mate Bent Viscaal.

HS (8th): 2019 was an indifferent season for Verschoor. The Dutchman lacked the pace to put himself consistently in the upper echelons of the grid and languished just outside the top 10 in the championship. However, it was also capped off by a superb victory at the Macau Grand Prix. Which Verschoor turns up will likely determine the success of his season, and while I believe Macau could have been a breakthrough, he may still be held back by MP Motorsport.

JS (9th): Verschoor took a while to find his feet again after being on the receiving end of the ever-swinging Red Bull axe. His strong GP3 part-season in 2018 was followed by a solid FIA F3 campaign last year where he compared favourably alongside current Red Bull junior Lawson and drove brilliantly to win at Macau on debut. I expect Verschoor will continue his giant-killing performances into his second year in FIA F3, but as he’s still without a top drive, it’s difficult to see him placing high in the top 10.

6. Jake Hughes HWA Racelab
2nd in Bahrain pre-season test (100.025%), 9th in Valencia post-season test (101.704%)

RH (5th): 2020 will mark Hughes’ fifth season in GP3/F3 and he remains with HWA Racelab. Last year only yielded one win despite Hughes and HWA displaying the pace for more. HWA took a solid fifth in the teams’ championship last year but were some way off fourth-place finishers Trident. Hughes’ vast experience should make him a regular podium contender this year.

PA (5th): With its resource and expertise, HWA should take a big step forward in its second season in FIA F3. That should in turn mean the vastly-experienced (and quick) Hughes is a factor in the title fight. He’ll be a fantastic benchmark for the hungry young talent with their sights set on F1, but he might also just come up short against them in the heat of battle.

HS (5th): Hughes is relatively antique compared to his F3 contemporaries, however, it is that experience that could propel the Brit to a championship. Continuing his partnership with HWA, Hughes will need to avoid the unnecessary collisions that plagued his 2019 campaign to beat the young chargers. He has certainly shown the talent to win at this level, taking victory at the Red Bull Ring last season. His success may rely on HWA improving in relation to the indomitable Prema squad.

JS (5th): The most experienced driver in the field is a safe bet for a top-five in the championship as displayed by the consensus between our writers. A championship win would be a push considering HWA is still very much learning the ropes and some of Hughes’ inconsistencies remain, but expect a couple of race wins at the very least.

5. Dennis Hauger Hitech GP
13th in Bahrain pre-season test (100.609%), 27th in Valencia post-season test (101.270%)

EW (2nd): That Hauger didn’t win two F4 titles last year is a travesty of sorts, but even more so is how little his seamless introduction to F3 in a Euroformula cameo at Silverstone is talked about. He came very close to qualifying third on his debut, in which he finished a decent sixth, then rectified that the next day by qualifying third and finishing fifth. FIA F3 is a different ballgame, but we know he’s ready for this level.

JS (6th): Hauger may be the fastest talent on Red Bull’s books even if he has more rough edges than Vips and Lawson. He’ll lack the consistency to match Lawson this season but his raw pace should be enough to beat Fewtrell and place himself on the fringes of the top-five in the championship. Pencil him in as an early 2021 title favourite.

BW (7th): 2020 is a big step up for Hauger, going straight from a national F4 championship to the international F3 series. It wouldn’t be the first time a relatively inexperienced driver shows everyone up when he reaches F3, but it’s likely Hauger will spend 2020 getting to grips with the machinery, especially considering the season will be truncated, before bringing a championship challenge in 2021.

CW (9th): It’s a big jump for Hauger in 2020 and he is up against some experienced team-mates but with Hitech, he is in a position to quietly impress. If he is to finish in the top 10 as a rookie with a team that isn’t Prema, it would be a very solid return. He should be a consistent points scorer but a second title in two years might be a bit of a stretch.

4. Logan Sargeant Prema
5th in Bahrain pre-season test (100.329%), 29th in Valencia post-season test (101.400%)

PA (2nd): Having finished 19th in the standings last year, Sargeant is the unheralded arrival in the Prema line-up alongside lower-level champions Frederik Vesti and Oscar Piastri. But he was a close rival for Piastri in F4 and had the better rookie campaign in Formula Renault, so he’s capable of operating on the same level and has a year’s knowledge in the series. Last year was tough with Carlin, but third on his Macau debut proved what he can do.

CW (3rd): Sargeant is Prema’s only non-rookie (and first at this level) and on paper might appear more likely to be a title challenger, but he might end up slipping behind his team-mates. His rookie campaign was slightly better than the numbers suggest, though. The intra-team battle ended up being fairly close last season and could do so again. Sargeant may, however, end up on the worse end of the stick.

JS (3rd): I’m wary of underestimating the perceived third-best Prema driver Sargeant as I did with Daruvala last year. He was extremely close with Piastri in both British F4 and Eurocup, and I reckon it will be an incredibly close intra-team battle with both Piastri and Vesti. His extra year of experience won’t be enough to beat Vesti but I think he could edge Piastri although it will be decided by fine margins.

RH (4th): Sargeant leaves Carlin for Prema in 2020. His debut season in F3 may not have gone well, with only five points scored, but the American took an impressive third place in Macau to round out 2019. One of his team-mates will be his former British F4 title rival Piastri and this may create some fireworks for Prema. But with already one season of F3 under his belt, it may be key in battling for the podium, although I expect his two strong team-mates will have a narrow advantage.

3. Oscar Piastri Prema
16th in Bahrain pre-season test (100.798%), 18th in Valencia post-season test (100.977%)

CW (1st): Piastri comes in with the best pedigree of the rookies and rightly so. He won the Eurocup title narrowly in 2019, and by moving to Prema emerges as the championship favourite. This will be his toughest challenge yet, but one he should get on top of. How he adapts to the team is going to be critical, and he won’t have much time to do it once the racing goes going. But he should be able to manage it well.

BW (1st): Renault junior Oscar Piastri starts 2020 in the best position of anyone on the grid. He took the Eurocup title with an incredibly consistent performance in 2019, earned a position in the Renault junior squad, and joined arguably the best team on the F3 grid. Through his junior career, Piastri has consistently performed well in competitive fields, and that should give him the edge over his team-mate when racing gets underway this year.

RH (2nd): Piastri joins F3 as the reigning Eurocup champion and was the British F4 runner-up in 2017. He has earned a spot in the Renault Sport Academy, will take the #1 plate with Prema this year and will share the garage with tough opponents in Vesti and Sargeant. He’s in the right team and there’s bound to be lots of close racing, particularly with his team-mates and Hitech’s fiery trio.

EW (7th): If there’s one weakness in Piastri’s game that would really stop a title challenge in a series like FIA F3, it’s his qualifying pace. He’s very quick, but in Formula Renault it was clear he still needed to improve despite his tally of poles, and the demands of the new Pirelli rubber might be his shortfall. But he has a mature head and will without a doubt be able to win races.

2. Liam Lawson Hitech GP
4th in Bahrain pre-season test (100.181%)

PA (1st): Lawson struggled a little last year, but he was the youngest driver in the FIA F3 field. After switching from MP Motorsport to Hitech he’s been impressed by the level of his new team and felt confident with the car in the Bahrain test. Whether Hitech will have the pace to match Prema is another matter, but Lawson’s sheer talent – combined with that year’s experience in the series – could just make the difference in the end.

RH (1st): Lawson joins F3 with the sole focus on the championship. After winning the Toyota Racing Series last year, he combined F3 with Euroformula and appeared to suffer from balancing two series in one year. Lawson has already started the year well by just missing out on defending his TRS title, and a move from MP Motorsport to Hitech GP could prove to be an inspired decision with a more-focussed one-series approach. Expect the Red Bull junior to shine.

HS (3rd): Lawson switches to Hitech for 2020 armed with a year of experience and set to become a serious contender. The New Zealander has shown pace in every category he has raced in; with victories piling up in the Toyota Racing Series as well as the Euroformula. However, crashes with his team-mates have become too commonplace for Lawson – he must rectify this if he is to fulfil his championship aspirations.

EW (3rd): Racing in the same car for two years in a row is an unknown for Lawson, but by changing teams there’s still a new challenge. He wasn’t massively pleased with his rookie FIA F3 season, but he perhaps didn’t entirely accept the difficulties you inevitably face at one of the slower teams in a 30-car grid. His charge from 20th to seventh in that same chassis in Macau suggests that at a top team he will be a winner.

1. Frederik Vesti Prema
10th in Bahrain pre-season test (100.528%), 33rd in Valencia post-season test (101.838%)

EW (1st): The way Frederik Vesti blew away the (fairly limited) Formula Regional Europe field last year was beyond impressive, and he combined all the necessary skills to be a champion at an even higher level. More than that, he was a very incomplete driver last season. He totally dominated some weekends, and could still win races even with suspension failure. His very best performances though? His FIA F3 debut in the Macau GP and 2020 pre-season testing.

HS (1st): 2020 will be the ultimate litmus test for the reigning FREC champion. Vesti must prove that his breakout year in 2019 was not a one-off and back it up against a higher-calibre opposition. He has positioned himself well to do so – by continuing his fruitful partnership with Prema that saw him take the inaugural FREC title. The Dane also made a promising Macau debut with the Italian squad to end his 2019 – the confidence gained from this should allow him to rise above his contemporaries.

JS (1st): I kept going back and forth between all three Prema drivers and it should be just as evenly matched as its 2019 line-up. Vesti edges it for me because he has the experience on Pirelli rubber and the momentum of a superb title-winning campaign. His debut in FIA F3 machinery at Macau last year was also indicative and will give him a small advantage over Piastri which might just edge things in favour of Vesti.

BW (4th): The F3 grid is super competitive this year. Vesti comes into it off the back of victory in FREC. In any other year, he’d be favourite for the F3 title, but he’s joined by driers making the step up from strong performances in Eurocup and Euroformula. The fact he was able to dominate FREC might actually be a disadvantage for Vesti this year when he faces stronger competition and has to contend with a likely multi-driver title fight.