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Sainz and Norris in Formula 3: Their best drives

by Peter Allen

Photo: Lando Norris

After McLaren Formula 1 drivers Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris returned to Carlin Formula 3 cars for some post-lockdown testing, we look back at their best drives in the category

McLaren duo Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris tested Formula 3 cars with Carlin at Silverstone on Thursday and Friday as they try to prepare for the delayed start to the Formula 1 season.

With McLaren unable to run older F1 machinery like many of its rivals due to a lack of Honda engine supply, their drivers turned to their former team Carlin to get back on track, with Norris driving one of its classic Dallara F3 chassis at Silverstone earlier this month before being joined by Sainz this week.

They weren’t alone, with F1 rookie Nicholas Latifi trying out the brand new Dallara 320 alongside with current Euroformula driver Zane Maloney, while F2 racer Yuki Tsunoda also stepped back to an F3 car.

Sainz and Norris both spent a season racing a Carlin F312 car on their way to F1. Sainz, then a 17-year-old Red Bull junior, didn’t have the best of years in 2012 across the British and European series, but some standout drives demonstrated his talent. Norris (who was also 17 at the time) on the other hand stormed to the European title in 2017. These were some of their most memorable performances.

Sainz at Monza

Photo: Dutch Photo Agency/Red Bull Content Pool

Sainz’s breakthrough in an F3 car came in the second round of the British series at Monza on a rain-soaked April weekend.

In the first race, the rain fell just before the start, forcing everyone into the pits for wet tyres. Carlin got Sainz back out on track in the lead and he cruised to the win by nearly 10 seconds.

In the third race, Sainz led from the front after a safety car start and was even more dominant, opening up a lead of over 16 seconds over Felix Serralles. Wet weather would prove to be Sainz’s domain in an F3 car…

Norris at Pau


Norris began his European F3 campaign with a home victory at Silverstone and another win at Monza, but it was perhaps round three on the streets of Pau that really highlighted Norris’ talent once and for all, even though he didn’t come away with a win.

On his first visit to Pau, Norris chased Joel Eriksson home in the first race, but then starred in second qualifying, where he was half a second quicker than Callum Ilott and claimed a double pole position for the two remaining races.

Slow getaways blighted the first half of Norris’ F3 campaign and forced him to chase Maximilian Gunther home in race two, but he made a good start to the Pau Grand Prix itself in race three. He seemed in control and on his way to winning one of junior single-seater racing’s most prestigious races when his front-left suspension broke in the Foch chicane, causing him to crash out.

Sainz at Hockenheim

Photo: Dutch Photo Agency/Red Bull Content Pool

Two weeks after his Monza wins, the F3 Euro Series began at Hockenheim and Sainz laid down a marker, claiming a double pole position in qualifying. He was more than a quarter of a second ahead of series veterans Daniel Juncadella and Felix Rosenqvist.

He couldn’t convert either pole position into a victory. In race one he was passed by Rosenqvist and Juncadella early on, but did re-pass Rosenqvist for second before the end. A bad start in race three dropped him to third, but Sainz again passed Rosenqvist on the road and this time chased down his fellow Spaniard in the closing stages, finishing just 0.7 seconds adrift.

Such a performance would prove to be a false dawn though, as Sainz failed to finish on a Euro Series podium again all year.

Norris at the Norisring


Norris winning on the Nuremberg street circuit was a headline-writer’s dream, and he could have truly owned the Norisring that weekend had he not collided with Jake Hughes late in the first race.

He made up for his mistake by charging from fourth to win race two, passing Gunther and Hughes before charging down the leader Ralf Aron.

With three minutes left on the clock, Norris tried to go around the outside of Aron through the chicane in the middle of the lap, and although he had to back out of it, he still got a run into the next hairpin to seal the place and the victory.

Sainz at Spa

Photo: Dutch Photo Agency/Red Bull Content Pool

British F3 took more British weather with it on another of its overseas trips in 2012, and it again played into the hands of Sainz: all four of his outright F3 wins came in the rain, where the car control he either inherited or learned from his father seemed to come to the fore.

After 32-degree heat in the first race at Spa, thunderstorms forced the cancellation of race two. Race three went ahead in the wet and Sainz was dominant once again. Even though a safety car reduced his lead, he finished five seconds clear of his fellow son-of-a-rally-champion Tom Blomqvist in a weekend that featured the majority of the Euro Series runners as part of the revived FIA European Championship.

Norris at Spa


Norris experienced a dry weekend at Spa in 2017 but it wasn’t without drama. In qualifying he claimed pole for all three races, and took a lights-to-flag win in race one in a weekend where he finally sorted his bad starts.

In race two though he still got shuffled backwards on the run to Les Combes, and a collision under braking with Guanyu Zhou copped him a grid penalty that forced him to start race three in fourth.

He recovered from that perfectly though, getting past Gunther for second on lap two and taking the lead away from Zhou on a safety car restart. It proved to be a pivotal race in the title fight, as Gunther lost most of his points lead when he crashed with Hughes.

Sainz at Snetterton

Photo: Red Bull Content Pool

Sainz’s final display of wet-weather brilliance came at a rather less iconic location than Monza or Spa, but the chance to dominate on a grim day at Snetterton was at least part of the appeal of British F3, right?

A week on from Spa, Sainz shone when a rain shower hit Norfolk just before the final race of the weekend. It had rained for race one too, but Sainz got taken out at the start, depriving him of running in those conditions.

It didn’t bother him one bit, as he got the jump on polesitter Jack Harvey at the start and tore off to a 12-second winning margin on a drying track.

Norris at the Nurburgring


Wet weather also brought perhaps the single most impressive performance of Norris’ F3 campaign at the Nurburgring.

At the time, Formula Scout remarked that his dominant qualifying showing was reminiscent of Max Verstappen’s in similar conditions at the same circuit some three years earlier.

Norris was 0.907 seconds quicker than his closest rival Hughes and was in similar form in the wet opening race, which he finished 17.562 seconds clear. Another win in a dry third race gave him his third double on the trot and one hand on the title.