Home Featured How another Prema F3 teams’ title masked individual disappointments

How another Prema F3 teams’ title masked individual disappointments

by Alejandro Alonso Lopez

Photos: Prema

Prema’s mission in the FIA F3 Championship this year was accomplished as it claimed the teams’ title. However, none of its drivers achieved their individual goal of becoming champion. So are they happy?

The Italian squad entered the 2023 season with arguably the strongest driver line-up, as it fielded Formula 1 juniors Zak O’Sullivan, Paul Aron and Dino Beganovic. O’Sullivan was coming off of a brilliant rookie season with Rodin Carlin, while Aron and Beganovic had starred in the Formula Regional European Championship with multiple race wins and Beganovic had been crowned champion. However, none of them was ever close to challenging Trident’s Gabriel Bortoleto for the FIA Formula 3 Championship title, in a car that was always quick despite not being the best at every round.

Formula Scout spoke with Prema’s trio during the FIA F3 season finale at the Monza, where they reviewed their respective campaigns and discussed what they lacked to have enjoyed a better year.

Williams junior O’Sullivan was Prema’s highest classified driver in second place, which he earned thanks to finishing second in the season-ending feature race at the Temple of Speed. He came into the weekend fourth in the standings, but just five points behind Aron who was one of Bortoleto’s two title rivals. Although O’Sullivan ended up seven points ahead of Aron to be championship runner-up, the results and mainly the sensations left along the way were far from matching the expectations raised when he joined the team a year ago today.

“Obviously the higher up you finish [in the standings], the more superlicence points you get, that’s always quite nice,” he said after claiming his fifth podium of the season. “I think it was perhaps what we deserved after [three] races of not scoring points since Budapest. I’ve had quite an unfortunate run of races as has most of the top six bar Bortoleto. One of those things, but a good way to finish.

“[It was] not the season I would have wanted results-wise, it would have been nice to be going into Monza with a shot at the title. We had strong weekends at some points; a few pointless weekends, which is not what you need in the championship challenge,” he confessed.

A season of two halfs
Races 1-9 (169 points available) Races 10-18 (182 points available)
Pos Driver Team Points Pos Driver Team Points
1 Gabriel Bortoleto Trident 93 1 O’Sullivan Prema 71
2 Pepe Marti Campos Racing 73 2 Bortoleto Trident 71
3 Gabriele Mini Hitech GP 65 3 Colapinto MP 62
4 Paul Aron Prema 65 4 Taylor Barnard Jenzer Motorsport 56
5 Dino Beganovic Prema 64 5 Caio Collet Van Amersfoort Racing 55
6 Zak O’Sullivan Prema 48 6 Christian Mansell Campos 55
7 Gregoire Saucy ART GP 49 7 Goethe Trident 52
8 Franco Colapinto MP Motorsport 48 8 Jonny Edgar MP 47
9 Luke Browning Hitech GP 38 9 Aron Prema 47
10 Leonardo Fornaroli Trident 36 10 Fornaroli Trident 33
11 Sebastian Montoya Hitech GP 25 11 Beganovic Prema 32
12 Oliver Goethe Trident 23 12 Marti Campos 32

On the one hand, O’Sullivan won more than anyone else with two sprint and two feature race victories. On the other hand, he had the most non-scores of the top seven in the standings. Failing to take home points in half of the season’s 18 races was definitely a heavy burden that was reflected in the end result.

His second half of the season, where he improved in qualifying compared to previous rounds, was a roller-coaster in terms of results. The feature race wins at the Red Bull Ring and Hungaroring and his second place in Monza were the only times he scored, yet nobody scored more points than him.

“Any year you’re racing at the front, you’re learning. So plenty of lessons learned. I’ve developed along the way and that’s the most important thing,” he said. “In some weekends in qualifying we were a bit off the pace, which obviously makes the rest of the weekend a bit harder. I feel like we got on top of that in the latter part of the season. But that’s the main thing.

“In the latter part of the season we found some more pace, which is always nice and there’s the chance to score some more wins and score some more points. But approach-wise, it’s been pretty consistent throughout the year.”

Aron was also left disappointed after the finale, not as much with the end result but with how it happened.

The Mercedes-AMG junior lined up third on the grid, with O’Sullivan in seventh. MP Motorsport’s Franco Colapinto, who had climbed up to second in the standings by winning the sprint race, was 12th on the grid and Campos Racing’s Pepe Marti was five points and one grid spot behind. Aron had the best hand, and early incidents put Colapinto and Marti out of contention, but battles with other drivers along the way resulted in an off and meeting the chequered flag in seventh.

“It’s sad to end like this,” he said after finishing third in the standings. “We were definitely the favourites for second in the championship and I think we deserved it. We have done a good year; we’ve been super consistent. So [it’s] a shame.

Photo: Formula Motorsport Ltd

“But I have to also congratulate Zak, he did a very good race, and at least we got the points to be teams’ champion so we can be very happy about that.”

“It’s always nice to finish first from the team’s [perspective] because everybody has the same equipment, but that’s not really my goal,” Aron had said the previous evening. “My goal is to finish second in the championship and I’m not really focusing on what the other guys are doing. The goal is to do the best job you can. But I think being in front of my team-mates, it has showed that I as a driver have developed a lot this year. If you look at the statistics last year [in FREC], I was by far the quickest driver, most poles, most wins, but the consistency just wasn’t there and that was something I really had to work on and that’s something I’ve done this year. If you look at the stats this year, consistency has been my strongest point. So that’s something I can be proud of.”

Aron got 10 top-five finishes, matched only by Bortoleto, and his tally of four non-scores was only bettered by Bortoleto’s three. However, despite challenging at the front each round, Aron only stepped on the podium four times, and third in Monaco was his sole feature race podium. He showed blistering pace on many occasions, and especially at the Red Bull Ring where he took his only win in the sprint race and could have doubled up in the feature race had he not been too impatient in trying to overtake ART Grand Prix’s Gregoire Saucy. On Friday, track limits had deprived Aron of his maiden pole position, which went went to the Swiss driver instead.

The Spa-Francorchamps feature race was another great display of Aron’s ability, only for a pitstop to leave him finishing a distant eighth. He started on grooved tyres while most of the field went for slicks despite the amount of water on track before the start, and opened a nine-second gap in four laps over eventual winner Jenzer Motorsport’s Taylor Barnard – who stayed on the wet compound for the whole race – before a switch to slick tyres resigned him a lowly points finish.

“Generally we can be quite happy with the season. We lost the title, which was one of the goals this year, but we have to look at it from a realistic perspective, and I think both me and the team, we weren’t there at the beginning of the year,” said Aron.

“That’s basically where Gabriel and Trident made the difference. However, I’m very happy with the job we have done the whole year. I feel that I put in a lot of work this year to get us, to get Prema back where we wanted, and you can see that ever since Monaco we have made a very big step forward and we started to fight for those pole positions and fight for those front rows and wins. We can be proud of the job we’ve done.”

There were no shocking experiences for Aron in his step-up to FIA F3, but he admitted that Prema not being the fastest team at the beginning of the season was not something he would have expected.

“If anything, I was expecting us to be super quick straight away, which wasn’t the case. So that was a bit of a surprise, and we had to do quite a lot of work to get ourselves where we wanted to be. From Monaco was where we really started to make big steps forward, and Red Bull Ring was the first weekend where we really had pace to fight for wins and poles. So that was definitely a surprise. Looking at the record of Prema in the previous years in F3, I was kind of expecting that we would have the upper hand, but it wasn’t the case.”

A lot of work in improving the car set-up had to be put in in order to fight at the front, which Aron reckoned actually suited his skillset. He aims to race in Formula 2 next year, and believes that having a completely new car might help him if he does manage to step up, compared to his rookie F3 campaign in a chassis that has been in use since 2019.

“I’m usually quite good at understanding what the car needs and what I need,” he said. “With a new car, you as a driver start to develop it together with the team, which means you can straight away set it up to your driving style. For example, I think at the beginning of the year, why we were struggling was because the car was not suiting me well, and I was able to guide the team to set up the car to my liking. Basically, with the new car you develop it from zero, so that means you as a driver have a chance to set it up to your liking straight away and there isn’t already a base done by other drivers who might have a different driving style.”

Photo: Formula Motorsport Ltd

For Beganovic, instead it was his position in the standings that left him unsatisfied with his rookie FIA F3 season, especially after a run of non-scores in the campaign’s second half shadowed his much stronger performances from earlier in the year.

In fact, he was Prema’s lead driver in the standings after 11 races having finished third, second and third in Bahrain, Monaco and Barcelona’s feature races. However he slipped from second to sixth in the standings with 21 points from the last eight races, 18 of them earned from finishing second in the Hungaroring feature race.

“I wanted more in terms of results, but also we had some great weekends looking back at the season like Monaco, Barcelona and Budapest with me and Zak in one and two. And there’s many positives to take away from the season, but just haven’t put it together this season, which I did really well last season,” said Beganovic.

“So small bits that went wrong and some zero points in some specific weekends, which is not ideal if you want to win a championship.

“We started off well in Bahrain and then had some good rounds. Then now towards the end of the season, we haven’t had the best couple races, but the pace has been always there, and it tells by the numbers because on feature races we had the most podiums, and the best qualifying of the year so far. So positives, but also I’m not very happy with how the season is going,” he confessed ahead of the last race, which he finishd ninth.

Beganovic was not the best qualifier, on average being the sixth fastest driver (behind his team-mates) and very inconsistent with his performances. He was also the only driver in the top 10 of the standings not to win.

The Ferrari junior also pointed out what has been the main challenge for him, which he had anticipated and, therefore, thoroughly prepared himself to be on the ball straightaway.

“The F3 qualifying is very special. It brings many different challenges because it’s 30 cars out on track at the same time and everybody wants to be in the best position possible. So it’s easy for someone to mess you up or that it can be wrong. And also with the weekend format with the sprint race and the reversed grid, it brings a lot of different things, starting from the back trying to go in front with drivers that you have outqualified. It brings also some challenge in that.

“I worked really hard to get the qualifying right, and I feel like we have done a good job with that as the numbers are showing. Not a pole and not a win unfortunately, but still I’m happy with that consistency there in quali and on Sunday for the feature race. That was my main point, what I worked from the pre-season test in Bahrain, and which improved after Bahrain, after Australia that when we came to Europe, it was spot on.”

So winning a race and claiming a pole remain Beganovic’s undone business. It seemed just a matter of time at the beginning of the year, but it never happened, which only added to his bitter feeling about his campaign. He will have a chance of redemption at this weekend’s Macau Grand Prix, and next year since he’s already confirmed to be staying at Prema for 2024.

“During the season, I wasn’t very stressed about it because I knew the championship is long and we were in a good place. Already after Bahrain top three in the championship for a very long time and still in the contention for P2, just made it a bit more difficult for myself. But I think it’s disappointing to not say that I have won a race this year or I have had a pole. But we have always been thereabouts to do it.”

Beganovic, Colapinto and O’Sullivan dropped out of title contention at the same time at Spa, while Aron and Marti only took to the fight to qualifying at Monza so all five were rivals of Bortoleto with three races to go and none with two to go.

Prema’s two newcomers to the F1 support paddock also had their say on what it meant for them contesting a full season in that environment.

Photo: Formula Motorsport Ltd

“In my opinion, [the impact is] just positive,” said Beganovic. “More fans, which I love the support. It gives an extra boost when it’s in good times, but also in bad times especially. But of course, also more media, which is also nice to see; more also Swedish fans joining in in F3, watching F3, not only F1, which is nice to see. And I see and I feel all the support.”

“Obviously, there’s been more exposure,” agreed Aron. “There’s many more fans around F1, and us being in the same weekend it means that also there’s more fans for us, which is nice. But I’d say trackside, it hasn’t changed much. As a driver, your goal is just to go out there and drive as quick as possible, so that remains the same, the track is the track and the car is the car and you’re the driver. But off-track, it’s been nice to have more fans, more exposure and at the circuit have more people cheering you on, and generally inviting sponsors, inviting family members and everybody to the track. There’s a better atmosphere. So it’s much more interesting for everybody and also for sponsors to come.”