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Formula Scout predicts the 2019 FIA Formula 3 season

by Formula Scout

There’s so much talent in the new-for-2019 FIA Formula 3 Championship that picking a winner isn’t easy.

Still, most of the leading contenders have been fighting at the front of various series since they came out of karts, giving us a reasonable idea of where their strengths and weaknesses are.

Before the season gets underway, six of our writers have provided their predicted championship top 10s. Here is our combined list.

Key: Initials of the writer, with where they predicted the driver to finish in brackets.?

Contributions from Peter Allen, Elliot Wood, Josh Suttill, Craig Woollard, William Brierty and Alison Finlay.??

10. Felipe Drugovich?Carlin


EW (6th):?Success in Euroformula Open is usually taken with a pinch of salt due to its waivering quality in depth of talent, but Drugovich’s domination of the championship last year was so absolute that there’s no doubts he’s proven himself as a driver at this level.

Like his Carlin team he is new to the GP3-style car being used in FIA F3, and has two inexperienced team-mates, which will be a serious disadvantage against the old GP3 juggernauts.

The intelligent Brazilian wasn’t spellbinding in testing, but to be fair to him, he was just as uninspiring in pre-season last year and went on to be unstoppable, and his Carlin team-mates have fared even worse. Drugovich could be a race-winner this year, or mired in the heavily-packed midfield.

9. Liam Lawson?MP Motorsport


EW (5th):?Combine the mercurial qualities of Red Bull’s lead junior Dan Ticktum and the maturity of Ferrari-backed compatriot Marcus Armstrong, and you’re getting close to the character of Liam Lawson. While he’s been making waves since the very start of his car career, it was only after he wrapped up the 2019 Toyota Racing Series title as a rookie did Red Bull sign him up, and he?s already been proving why he?s the Red Bull?s most exciting signing since Ticktum in Euroformula Open. FIA F3 will be a bigger test of his abilities, but Lawson has looked stronger the more time he’s spent in the car. What’s more, if he qualifies further down the field then he can rely on the spellbinding racecraft that led him to this year’s TRS title.

PA (6th):?Lawson’s move into FIA F3 was a relatively late one, coming together only after his immense run to the TRS title and subsequent Red Bull backing. That may put him on the back foot, as the level of planning and preparation together with MP Motorsport simply can’t have been on the same level as their rivals. His own inexperience will perhaps cost him at times too. But even in a field this strong, his natural talent will surely shine through at times, and testing certainly suggests he could be snapping at the heels of the leaders.

8. Jehan Daruvala?Prema Racing


WB (5th):?Daruvala produced some superb performances in European F3 against the likes of Lando Norris and Joel Eriksson in 2017. However, his second season was a moderate catastrophe, as the Indian fell to 10th in the standings having started the year as a potential title challenger. And yet, throughout a tough season for Carlin as a whole, Daruvala was consistently fastest of the frustrated quintet. For 2019, the move to FIA F3 with Prema alongside two Ferrari juniors comes with added pressure to recapture some of his 2017 promise. Wins are likely, a title assault is less so.

AF (6th):?Daruvala will be eager to show that he can keep up with his highly-rated teammates, and his experience at this level means this could be a make-or-break year for him. While there is a danger of him getting lost in the pack with such a densely-packed field, with the powerhouse of Prema behind him, I think he will have a relatively strong season with a race win or two, while falling short of being involved in the title race.

7. Max Fewtrell?ART Grand Prix


WB (2nd):?Fewtrell?s title charge in Eurocup last year was undoubtedly impressive, but the young Brit will certainly be conscious that his Renault Sport Academy stablemate Christian Lundgaard stole some of his thunder. The 19-year-old will be under renewed pressure to keep a lid on Lundgaard in 2019 as they both step up to F3 with the ART powerhouse. Anything less than the title would be a disappointment. However, versus a bumper crop of rivals in 2019, Fewtrell?s experience of a tight title fight in British F4 in 2016 could put him in fine stead.

CW (6th): F3 is the natural step for Renault junior Fewtrell following his Formula Renault Eurocup title success in 2018, when he fended off some robust opposition to secure the championship at the second time of asking. With expected frontrunners ART, Fewtrell must hit the ground running and regularly challenge for podiums and victories. He is yet to have such an impact in testing. It?s a big year for Fewtrell against stablemates such as Lundgaard and junior drivers from other Formula 1 teams but he does not stand out immediately as a title favourite.

6. David Beckmann?ART Grand Prix


CW (4th):?A mid-season switch to Trident last season vaulted David Beckmann into regular race-win contention in 2018. A switch to GP3 juggernaut ART provides an opportunity for Beckmann to really make his mark on the most important stage. His junior career ? which features only a handful of race wins and no title success ? has largely been difficult to date. But if he continues the upward trajectory shown in 2018 following the switch, and can make the most of what should be top-notch equipment from ART, then why shouldn?t Beckmann be able to challenge for his first major title?

EW (4th):?Recapturing career momentum can be a tricky task, and Beckmann could undo all his hard work in the talent-packed FIA F3 field. The more likely outcome is that he’ll a consistent threat at the front with the crack ART Grand Prix team, and will be firmly in contention for his first ever car racing title. Moving teams again to ART isn’t exactly a gamble, but with an all-new car for 2019 it does bring a greater level of uncertainty than it usually would when moving to a title-winning team. The most worrying fact is that Beckmann has barely featured in pre-season testing, lagging behind his two team-mates who are new to this level of racing. Was 2018 a flash in the pan, or is pre-season testing just too isolated to make conclusions on where he stands just yet?

JS (5th):?The breakout star of GP3?s final season. A mid-season switch showcased Beckmann?s untapped potential, and ART will only further exploit that raw speed. The conviction he showed last year in converting his speed into a dominant race win will prove vital in such a densely-competitive grid this season. He also proved a more competent wheel-to-wheel racer than fellow returnee Leonardo Pulcini in high-pressure situations.?His knowledge of the Pirelli tyres could give Beckmann an early advantage, although his rookie rivals may soon turn the tables.

5. Juri Vips?Hitech GP


AF (3rd):?After making his mark by winning ADAC F4 in 2017, Vips enjoyed four wins in Euro F3 last season and ran Shwartzman close for the rookie honours. As a new addition to the Red Bull Junior stable since the end of last season, Vips will be out to impress Helmut Marko, and seems to have the maturity required to keep his cool despite the pressure that will put on him. While he hasn?t delivered table-topping times in testing, team-mate Pulcini has shown that the Hitech car has promise, and Vips should be well-placed to deliver in races.

WB (3rd):?It was not so much Vips? results that impressed in 2018, but the manner in which he achieved them. His no-nonsense tenacity and supreme car control allowed Vips to shine in a wet qualifying session at Misano and set the fastest lap of the race at Hockenheim with a bent push-rod. As the season wore on the mistakes grew fewer and Vips started outpacing Motopark team-mate Dan Ticktum. Whilst Helmut Marko?s latest protege starts the season as the title favourite in the eyes of many, the Estonian has looked ominously sluggish in pre-season testing.

JS (4th):?He may have had a quiet pre-season testing, but we cannot forget just how impressive Vips was last year. He was blindingly quick with Motopark in European F3, and despite a slew of bad luck, he carried himself to fourth in the standings.?The last race of the season was the perfect microcosm of his season – after being hit, he stormed from 22nd to finish ninth, setting the fastest lap by 0.3s despite having a bent pushrod.?This battling spirit should help overcome his and Hitech?s inexperience with the Pirelli tyres, and take the fight to the might of the reigning F3 dominant forces of Prema and ART, although the title might just be out of reach.

4. Leonardo Pulcini?Hitech GP


EW (1st):?Pulcini kept Lance Stroll on his toes in Italian Formula 4, but he’s been most effective when paired up with Campos Racing in third tier championships, so it’s been of slight surprise to see the Italian set benchmarks immediately with the rival Hitech GP team.?The team is clearly already on the pace, and Pulcini’s two years of GP3 experience will be crucial for the debuting squad in that championship’s spiritual successor. The fact that it excelled at all three tracks pre-season testing took place at is an even greater vote of confidence for what the combination could achieve this year.

PA (2nd):?Unable to fight on a level playing field with Stroll in F4 before going through Euroformula Open into GP3, Pulcini’s reputation is dwarfed by some of his rivals. This could be a year in which he really makes a name for himself though. The GP3 field he triumphed in at the end of last year wasn’t the strongest, but in FIA F3 testing he’s looked as quick as anybody, gelling well with a Hitech squad that like Pulcini has good experience of the GP3 formula through some ex-ART engineers. He’s always been strong at Barcelona, so should hit the ground running.

JS (6th):?As the highest-placed GP3 graduate, Pulcini immediately enters the season among the favourites. In 2018, he extracted more performance with Campos than any driver ever has in the series with the Spanish outfit.?He wisely switches to Hitech for what is effectively his third year at this level. Last year the competition was questionable, but this time around, there can be little doubts over the quality of Pulcini?s opposition. He has two highly-rated F1 juniors as team-mates, and even with his experience advantage, it would be optimistic to suggest he can get the better of both of them.

3. Robert Shwartzman?Prema Racing


CW (1st):?Shwartzman was one of the in-form drivers towards the end of 2018, including taking European F3 wins and vaulting himself into the top three in the championship. The headlines were often about Mick Schumacher?s upturn of form following what was a somewhat steady start to the year, but the existing Ferrari academy driver?s turnaround was similarly impressive. How he translates the form he showed in 2018 ? which also included title success in New Zealand ? into the new FIA F3 championship will be one of the stories of the season. As a Prema driver, he?ll aim to fight for the title.

AF (1st):?Rookie champion in last year?s Euro F3, as well as 2018 TRS champion, the Ferrari Driver Academy member will be the driver to beat. Competition will be tough, particularly from teammate and fellow Ferrari junior Armstrong, but if Shwartzman can continue where he left off last season (with an almost-uninterrupted string of podiums and wins), he could be the one to emerge victorious.

JS (2nd):?Schumacher stole the headlines in Euro F3 last year, but SMP-backed Shwartzman?s similar late-season tidal surge in form was arguably just as impressive. Eight podiums in nine races, including two race wins. He also left a late warning shot by convincingly topping the final day of testing by two-tenths – the session usually used for qualifying simulations.

2. Christian Lundgaard?ART Grand Prix


WB (1st):?Lundgaard didn?t quite win the Eurocup title in 2018, but he did make the biggest impression; scoring four wins and immediately launching a title assault in his first season on the international stage. As a double F4 champion in his first year out of karts, the impressive trajectory of the 17-year-old?s career attracted the backing of the Renault Sport Academy. A tie-up with ART Grand Prix ? which was all-conquering in GP3 ? will almost certainly put the fast young Dane into the title fight and could put him on the F1 paddock?s radar.

CW (3rd):?Renault junior Lundgaard impressed immensely by almost clinching the Formula Renault Eurocup title as a rookie last year, earning a top 10 spot in our top 50 for 2018. The multiple Formula 4 champion makes his season debut on the F1 ladder with ART and should be a frontrunner. In testing, Lundgaard was a regular at the top of the timesheets. He is a rookie, albeit with little bit of experience at this level. Interestingly, one of the drivers he will have to beat is team-mate Max Fewtrell ? who beat him to the Eurocup title.

EW (3rd):?Were it not for two unfortunate retirements then Lundgaard would’ve been the Formula Renault Eurocup champion last year in his second year of racing. A double success in Formula 4 means he could still make it three titles in three years in FIA F3, and he’s in the best possible team to achieve it with. ART Grand Prix has been the dominant force in GP3, and importantly has a strong record of bringing on rookies and turning them into immediate title contenders.

JS (3rd):?Renault?s most exciting junior has thrown himself in amongst the best GP3/Euro F3 graduates, and he instantly was on the pace, topping the first pre-season test at Paul Ricard. As the second youngest driver on the grid, Lundgaard?s racecraft isn?t quite as honed as his rivals nor his consistency, but his raw speed and partnership with ART should be enough to sustain a season-long championship challenge.

1. Marcus Armstrong?Prema Racing


JS (1st):?Ferrari junior Armstrong boasted the strongest qualifying average of an extremely competitive European F3 field last year. Losing out to Prema team-mate Shwartzman (and arguably champion Mick Schumacher) in the championship was an unfair representation of a season where Armstrong was frequently Prema?s strongest driver. Regardless, immense pressure will be surrounding Armstrong heading into this year. He won just one race last year and was beaten to the TRS title by his younger compatriot Liam Lawson over the winter. With a point to prove and in his third year with Prema, Armstrong will be stronger than ever.

PA (1st):?With Ferrari patronage, Nicolas Todt now managing him and a calm maturity above his years, Armstrong is easily the junior single-seater racer most like Charles Leclerc. After a rookie European F3 season that started extremely impressively but then fell away, Armstrong really needs to ‘do a Leclerc’ and win the title as he moves on to the Formula 1 support bill. With pre-season leaving few doubts that Prema can be straight on the pace, Armstrong is the logical favourite: he was faster than team-mate Shwartzman last year (despite jumping up from F4) regardless of what the final points table said.

CW (2nd):?Armstrong is someone who must bounce back after his 2018 unravelled for him. Despite arguably having a stronger season than fellow Ferrari academy member Schumacher, the Kiwi lost out on the European F3 championship to his famously named stablemate. Armstrong has looked handy in testing, and the Prema stalwart stays with the team he?s won with before. Recent form hasn?t been strong ? two podiums in the final 15 Euro F3 races of last year and missing out on the Toyota Racing Series title to countryman Lawson ? and is a cause for concern. But the talent is there.

AF (2nd):?After narrowly losing out to Lawson in TRS earlier this year, Armstrong will be keen to demonstrate that this hasn’t dented his confidence. He also has a score to settle with Prema teammate and fellow Ferrari Driver Academy member Shwartzman, who took the Euro F3 rookie title in 2018. I expect Armstrong to be a strong contender in the title battle and, particularly if he can find the form he enjoyed early on in the 2018 Euro F3 season, he has the potential to take the fight down to the wire.