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Rating the chances of FIA Formula 3’s title-contending six

by Craig Woollard

Photo: FIA F3 / Getty Images

One fifth of the 30-car FIA Formula 3 Championship grid goes into this weekend’s Mugello season finale in contention to win the title. Formula Scout rates the chances of the six potential champions

When Formula Scout made its predictions for the 2020 FIA F3 season, the safe bets were on Prema’s drivers. It made sense. The team utterly crushed the opposition in the championship’s first season in 2019, and was entering the follow-up with a trio of strong drivers too.

As in 2019, all three of its drivers are able to win entering the final round. Reigning Formula Renault Eurocup champion Oscar Piastri leads the way from second-year driver Logan Sargeant, while inaugural Formula Regional European champion Frederik Vesti, who impressed at Macau last year on his FIA F3 debut with Prema, sits back in sixth.

It’s not unsurprising that all three are in contention. The strength of the Prema team paired with the credentials of the drivers would make it baffling if it was not the case. However, Vesti is only an outside shot after two pointless weekends, and the situation is a bit complex for both Piastri and Sargeant as both enter the twisty Mugello circuit with grid penalties.

These penalties mean that the two at the top of the standings won’t be eligible for the four points for pole, which may have big title implications. Not only that, but to score the big points in the Saturday race, both will inevitably need to do some overtaking. The advantage goes towards Sargeant, not just because his qualifying has been superior, but his grid drop will only set him back three places; Piastri has to drop back five spots.

Names not in title contention who could play a critical role due to recent frontrunning form include the most recent race winner Jake Hughes (HWA Racelab), Lirim Zendeli (Trident), Alexander Smolyar and Sebastian Fernandez (both ART Grand Prix). On top of that, Campos Racing’s Alex Peroni has been super quick in his second year, and MP Motorsport duo Richard Verschoor and Bent Viscaal have also got the potential to feature towards the front. Clement Novalak has also played a role in the title fight with Carlin, albeit for the wrong reasons after contact with Piastri and Sargeant at Monza.

All six contenders – from four different teams – have a brace of wins to their name, so all of them know exactly what it takes to get the job done in what is set to be a tantalising title decider. Any one of these drivers would ultimately be a worthy champion on the basis of being so consistently quick in such a competitive field.

Key Average finishing position (RA), Average qualifying position (QA), Percentage of team’s points scored (TP)

Oscar Piastri AUSTRALIA Prema
1st in standings, 160 points (2 wins, 3 fastest laps) – RA 4.1, QA 6.8, TP 37.3%

Renault junior Piastri has had his fair share of bad luck, mostly down to his well-documented frequent lack of access to the Drag Reduction System, and means he has a small points advantage heading into the final round.

No season is perfect, and Piastri has made a few mistakes, but he has been consistently towards the front. Piastri has a five-place grid drop hanging over him after Monza, adding a little bit of intrigue and pressure on a championship leader who is certainly not the best qualifier in the field.

“We have seen various times throughout the season how quickly it can all change,” Piastri said after the first Monza race.

“It’s still very close, it’s still single digits in terms of the gap and finishing first or third is 10 points difference so I think there is still a long way to go and I’m expecting it to go down to the last race.”

Logan Sargeant USA Prema
2nd in standings, 152 points (2 wins, 3 poles, 2 fastest laps) – RA 7.1, QA 2.6, TP 35.4%

Sargeant is the best qualifier in FIA F3 in 2020, and his run of three poles in the middle of the year was very impressive. What he has fallen slightly short on in racecraft, he makes up for in outright speed. Especially if you judge a driver as only being as good as their most recent race.

He started in 26th for the second Monza race, after being taken out in race one, and worked his way past Piastri – who had started in the top 10 – up to fourth. He had a very realistic shot at a podium or a win before cutting off team-mate Vesti and ending both of their races. A three-place drop means his job isn’t particularly simple either.

Sargeant said after Monza: “What a race I was having today. From P26 to fighting for P3. Super unfortunate way to end the race but that’s the way it goes sometimes… We have a three-place grid drop into the final round but we showed we can fight through anything. Let’s do this at Mugello.”

Theo Pourchaire FRANCE ART Grand Prix
3rd in standings, 136 points (2 wins) – RA 6.8, QA 7.8, TP 63.6%

ART’s Theo Pourchaire, who has shown flashes of extreme speed alongside wheel-to-wheel aggression (and has, to his own admission, gone too far at times), is the best-placed to capitalise on the penalties at Prema.

After losing Monza pole position to his own penalty, he will be looking to take one and keep it around the Tuscan hills near Mugello. Achieving that would likely lead to a win if he keeps the lead off the line, and then the 24-point gap to Piastri may disappear very quickly. The Sauber junior recently turned 17 and is a rough diamond in just his second year in cars.

“I want to win,” Pourchaire confessed after Sunday’s Monza race. “It’s my goal. I want to win the championship. I know it will be difficult. It’s been a tough year for me, even with the good results this weekend and both victories at the beginning of the year. I think we can fight for the championship. The car is good, and I will discover the track at Mugello, and the team will do the same with the F3 car – with the Pirelli tyres and everything. There are a lot of things to manage when we arrive.”

Liam Lawson NEW ZEALAND Hitech GP
4th in standings, 127 points (2 wins, 1 pole, 1 fastest lap) – RA 5.0, QA 6.0, TP 84.1%

Liam Lawson has been the leader of Hitech GP’s FIA F3 line-up this year, and has rebounded excellently after failing to finish three races in a row earlier in the season.

His on-track actions have not always proven the most popular with his contemporaries, but the pace he has shown and the consistent scoring he has achieved – finishing in the top nine in all but the three races he retired from – has drawn him into the title battle. If everything goes his way, and it doesn’t for Prema, he could be two points off the top after the next race.

Lawson’s double engine failure in Hungary and his collision with Hughes at the Red Bull Ring seriously dented his points haul, but he inherited the spoils of Monza pole, and his qualifying pace is strong. After missing out on the Toyota Racing Series title to now-fellow Red Bull junior Igor Fraga, he will want to take this title to prove a point to Red Bull.

“I think it’s obviously possible to still win, but it’s going to be very, very tough,” was Lawson’s end-of-Monza assessment.

“Even though they [Piastri and Sargeant] didn’t score today, they’re still a lot of points ahead. It is a shame, looking back on a lot of this season, because there’s a lot of times we could have definitely pounced on a lot of the issues we had. We’d be in a really good position now, but that’s how it is. This weekend, we recovered well today and I guess we’ll do the best job we can in Mugello and see where we end up.”

David Beckmann GERMANY Trident
5th in standings, 123.5 points (2 wins) – RA 5.1, QA 8.0, TP 54.3%

The driver yet to be mentioned has had a very curious season. Zero poles to his name but a consistent frontrunner, two wins but without crossing the line first after penalties for others. Trident’s David Beckmann has returned ‘home’ after a difficult season with ART and it has paid off.

A collision with Piastri at Monza, for which Piastri earned his penalty for and ended Beckmann’s race, makes his job of winning the title far more difficult and is the one time he hasn’t scored in 2020 despite his late signing up to the season.

Beckmann can’t afford to finish off the podium in either Mugello race if he wants to be champion, and he’s claimed three third places this year alongside his inherited wins, and ideally he’ll want to win the Saturday race (a feat he last achieved in GP3 in 2018) and have a very punchy Sunday race to return to the podium while Prema’s drivers suffer.

Beckmann has already spoken of his chances of success at Mugello: “[Trident] will have a good chance to at least get in the top three [at Mugello]. Maybe if there’s some good luck in the qualifying and we score more points than Logan and Oscar maybe we will have a chance to fight for the title. But this is always very hard to say because there are so many things hanging on such an extreme field and with so many competitors.”

Frederik Vesti DENMARK Prema
6th in standings, 117.5 points (2 wins, 1 pole, 1 fastest lap) – RA 5.8, QA 6.5, TP 27.4%

More than 40 points back, can Vesti realistically be in with a shout of the title? Even if he doesn’t clinch it, his strong form at Spa and Monza means he might well be the driver to beat at Mugello. He won two out of three races there in FREC last year, and will likely be the driving claiming the points for pole there this weekend even if he is not top qualifier.

He has to outqualify Pourchaire, Lawson and Beckmann to do that, and if he doesn’t then he would be 42.5 points behind Piastri and with only 44 left to score. It would require all of his rivals non-scoring and for him to win both races and to be the driver in the top 10 with the fastest lap in each of those races to overhaul that deficit and become champion.

It’s not impossible, as Antonio Felix da Costa managed the feat in GP3 in 2012, but that was when the top eight rather than the top 10 of race one was reversed to set the race two grid. Encouragingly, da Costa did do it at the Hungaroring.

Winning the title would certainly be easier has Vesti not retired from both races at that circuit earlier this year, and if his car hadn’t failed on him in the first race at Barcelona. That put him at the back of the grid for race two, and he could only recover to 21st place.

Speaking to FIA F3 after Spa, Vesti said “I want to win. That’s the only thing I’m here for. But I’m also a rookie at a lot of new tracks with a new car and new tyres. There are many things that I need to learn, and it’s not easy. The top 15 here can win a race, and everyone is very strong, so if you’re lacking a little bit of something, you will not be able to win.”