Home Featured The Top 10 FIA Formula 3 drivers of 2021

The Top 10 FIA Formula 3 drivers of 2021

by Formula Scout

Photos: Formula Motorsport Limited

35 drivers took part in FIA F3 in 2021, and despite a tough challenge Prema won again. The short-lived three-race format, which skewed the points attribution, makes picking the top 10 drivers trickier than before

Ultimately, Formula Scout has come up with its list, with a unanimous pick for the top spot after analysing all of the various data and taking into consideration the respective performances of the teams as well as the drivers’ individual highs and lows. Each writer gave their top 10 (and some went further) and the average of those forms this list.

Honourable mentions

There is a case for Olli Caldwell making this list after finishing eighth in the points, especially as his lows were not quite as low as a team-mate who made the top 10. However, despite taking a win this season, he just wasn’t quite on the same level as those who did make the cut and narrowly misses out.

Jak Crawford is a driver who had a season with potential that wasn’t quite fully realised. The youngster’s inexperience showed, as did his raw ability. David Schumacher, Lorenzo Colombo and Matteo Nannini all won reversed grid races, and deserve credit for doing so, but their overall efforts across the season weren’t quite good enough to make the list despite the latter two looking the best of their teams’ respective line-ups. Johnathan Hoggard and Jonny Edgar were occasionally bright lights for Jenzer Motorsport and Carlin respectively too in years where those teams tended to struggle.

Key Percentage of team’s points scored (TP), Average qualifying position (QA), Laps led (LL)

10. Arthur Leclerc MONACO Prema
10th in standings, 79 points (2 wins, 1 pole, 2 fastest laps, 3 podiums) – TP 21%, QA 13.1 (12th)

Craig Woollard (8th): Leclerc barely squeezes into the top 10 after what can be described as very much an up-and-down season. His qualifying was often not up to par, Hungaroring aside, but he made some mega moves to work his way into contention for the second sprint races. His recovery after his Paul Ricard mishap was sublime, but his inability to properly string a weekend together and be on top of Dennis Hauger at any event in the season makes it impossible to justify having him any further up the order. If consistency and a better overall one-lap pace can come in a second season, he will absolutely be a title threat, but this year as a whole was just not overly strong and there were more impressive rookies on the grid at lesser-fancied teams.

Roger Gascoigne (9th): Outshone by fellow rookies Victor Martins and Caio Collet; blown away by Prema team-mate Hauger – this was overall a disappointing rookie FIA F3 season for Leclerc. Yet, there were several positives to build on. He was one of only four drivers to win more than once, his Hungaroring pole and race three podium demonstrated potential, and his charges through the field showed excellent racecraft and a knack for overtaking in a crowded midfield. At Paul Ricard, he came through from 30th to 12th; a performance he bettered at the Red Bull Ring with a stunning drive from 27th to sixth. Therein lies his main weakness: qualifying. Too often he started down the field. Reversed grids provide a second chance for those qualifying at least 12th; Leclerc’s average qualifying position was below 13th. He has the raw pace but plenty to work on for his second season.

9. Ayumu Iwasa JAPAN Hitech GP
12th in standings, 52 points (1 win, 2 podiums) – TP 41%, QA 14.3 (14th)

Photo: DPPA / Red Bull Content Pool

Alejandro Alonso Lopez (9th): In only his second year in Europe, Ayumu Iwasa was capable of delivering some good results in what was a difficult season for Hitech GP. The Japanese driver was able to outpace his more experienced team-mate Roman Stanek and Crawford on different occasions throughout the season. He made the most out of the opportunities he had, especially when starting near the front of reversed grid races, picking up a win and a third place. His progress next year will be key to his future within the Red Bull Junior Team (if he is retained) as well as his European career aspirations.

Cian Brittle (10th): A dominant French F4 champion last year but, with an underwhelming pre-season in Asian F3 under his belt, I thought this was too soon for him to step up. This assumption couldn’t have been more wrong. While his qualifying pace didn’t quite match Crawford’s, his consistency in the races was outstanding, especially at the start of the season. In his first 11 races of the season, he only finished outside the points three times on-track. His sole win may have been as a result of a post-race penalty for Colombo, but he successfully held off Caldwell – who was within a second for the entirety of the race – to put himself in the position to receive it. His form did fall away in the season’s second half, but there was still time for an impressive podium at Zandvoort. Hopefully he stays in F3 in 2022 as he will certainly be one to look out for.

8. Alexander Smolyar RUSSIA ART Grand Prix
6th in standings, 107 points (2 wins, 2 fastest laps, 4 podiums) – TP 42%, QA 6.4 (5th)

Bethonie Waring (8th): Smolyar’s season was very much hit or miss. He started off so strong with two wins in the first four races, and had some strong race three results later in the season, but overall he just couldn’t get the consistency needed to do well. He worked really well with Frederik Vesti, and the pair really boosted ART Grand Prix. Smolyar also significantly improved on his 2020 performance, which will have been the most important result for him this year. With a bit better luck and his own improvements, he should have a strong 2022 should he stay on for a third season.

AA (6th): Smolyar’s second season with ART GP in F3 didn’t meet up with the expectations as it was full of ups and downs. Despite the Russian’s undeniable raw speed, incidents and other issues prevented the SMP Racing junior from being a title contender. However, he proved throughout the season that his speed was good enough to keep up the pace of his highly regarded team-mate Vesti. In fact, Smolyar was just 38 points off Vesti in the final standings after failing to score in eight out of 20 races. Race one wins at Barcelona and Paul Ricard, and race three podiums at Spa-Francorchamps and Zandvoort, are the highlights of a season that would have been much better if he had been a bit more consistent.

7. Caio Collet BRAZIL MP Motorsport
9th in standings, 93 points (2 podiums) – TP 42%, QA 8.9 (7th)

CW (7th): Collet had a quietly effective rookie campaign without the highlights or the flair of team-mate Martins. One wonders how differently the Red Bull Ring event would have played out had his laptime that was good enough for pole been valid. His race pace was often on par with the frontrunners, but like Leclerc, he struggled to properly string weekends together. What made the difference here is that often being in lower end of the top 10 that made fighting for wins tricky. Having a win, even from a reversed grid pole, probably could justify a position higher on this list on the basis of showing winning potential, but no more than that on the whole.

RG (8th): He was often a match for the more experienced Martins but didn’t show the same level of ultimate pace. At no stage did he look a likely race-winner. MP Motorsport struggled at the Hungaroring but thereafter Collet was highly consistent, scoring seven consecutive points finishes, no mean feat given the occasional randomness of reversed grids. His awesome move to pass three drivers at Spa in the wet, though undoubtedly benefitting from exceeding the track limits at Raidillon, showed that he lacks neither bravery nor commitment. Collet scored more than Martins in race threes, and was bettered on that haul by only five other drivers. With improved qualifying and a little more aggression in races, he can challenge for the 2022 title.

6. Frederik Vesti DENMARK ART Grand Prix
4th in standings, 138 points (1 win, 1 pole, 5 podiums) – TP 54%, QA 5.7 (4th)

BW (3rd): After quite a pressure-filled 2020, the move to ART GP for Vesti could have been both a blessing and a curse. There was a sense that the expectations weren’t as high for him as they were the year before. Last year he was racing with Prema, graduating with the team after dominating the inaugural Formula Regional Europe season. He couldn’t come close to that kind of form once in FIA F3 and was overshadowed by his team-mates. But this year he really led ART GP. Results weren’t as consistent as they could be, but he set a good baseline for the team and was almost always in the top 10. There’s definitely room for improvement, but overall it was a solid year for him.

CB (5th): When looking back at this season, I wouldn’t be surprised if Vesti was disappointed with how it transpired. He was an early title rival for Hauger after all, but I think there are plenty of positives to reflect on. He was the quickest ART GP driver on single-lap pace, edging Alex Smolyar and his year of experience with the team, which is impressive. The Dane was also incredibly consistent, finishing in the points more than any other driver, and his tally of five podiums was bettered by only the two title protagonists and Martins. Unfortunately, the Mercedes-AMG Formula 1 junior seemed to suffer from the 2021-only three-race format, as a gearbox issue at the Hungaroring contributed to two of his three finishes outside the points.

5. Logan Sargeant USA Charouz Racing System
7th in standings, 102 points (1 win, 4 podiums) – TP 80%, QA 9.3 (9th)

CW (5th): Placing Sargeant is a tricky job because his objective in 2021 was different to his peers. However, what the most experienced full-time driver achieved in dragging the floundering Charouz outfit to race-winning potential should be celebrated. He seemed very relaxed compared to 2020 when he was in an intense title fight, and perhaps that showed in his driving, even if winning didn’t taste as sweet as before. It was a simply outstanding season given the context. There will be some who argue that he deserves to be higher on the list, but that he deserves a top-five spot is tricky to complain about.

CB (6th): He was never going to replicate his title-contending 2020, but for a driver that wasn’t sure if they would ever race in single-seaters again, this was one hell of a season. Sargeant scored 80% of Charouz’s points as the Czech team recorded its best-ever season in F3, and he also managed to net its first F3 win. After a slightly inconsistent start in which he only made the points four times in nine races (compounded by three retirements), he never finished outside the points again. This also made for the longest points-scoring streak of any driver this season. Sargeant has not only reaffirmed his credentials as a top driver in junior motorsport, but he has shown his potential as a leader too.

4. Clement Novalak FRANCE Trident
3rd in standings, 147 points (2 fastest laps, 4 podiums) – TP 39%, QA 5.3 (3rd)

CW (6th): Had Novalak been a race win threat on a more regular basis, or had he not been “too consistent” in qualifying by his own admission, he would certainly be a place or two higher. Heck, he could have snuck his way to the title. Regardless, while there was substantial improvement year-on-year from the Anglo-French driver, his peaks were simply not on the level of the drivers above him on this list and the perception was that Hauger and Jack Doohan were stronger. Still, a very handy campaign and he was determined to assist Trident to its maiden F3 title, which was achieved.

AA (2nd): Novalak’s season has been very much like him, a low-key one. However, that doesn’t mean it was an average one. Indeed, it was a really good one. His impressive consistency made up for the lack of standout results, and it prompted him to finish third in the standings. Qualifying always within the top eight allowed the Frenchman to score good points in every round, and on average he was actually the fastest of anyone on single-lap pace. Just a weekend full of misfortunes at the Red Bull Ring prevented him from scoring in every meeting. The 147 points achieved throughout the season were very valuable in Trident’s journey to the title, and the tensest moment of his season came at the very last race in Sochi, as he attempted to pass his team-mate Doohan for the lead of the race. Eventually, he ended up in third, but that team radio when Trident feared for its crown will be remembered forever.

3. Victor Martins FRANCE MP Motorsport
5th in standings, 131 points (1 win, 4 fastest laps, 6 podiums) – TP 58%, QA 8.1 (6th)

CW (4th): Of all of the rookies, none of them felt as complete a driver as Martins. He was damn quick in qualifying, relentless in races, clever enough to know when to attack, when to defend and when to back down. He also knew how to present himself on and off the track in the manner that a driver of this standard needs to be, and that is a testament to the up-and-down journey he has been on over the past few years. He attracted a lot of fans this year with his style, and the well-deserved victory on MP’s home turf at Zandvoort was sublime. He spearheaded the Dutch team’s efforts with a level of finesse, calm and speed that will make him a strong threat wherever he ends up racing next year.

BW (5th): Coming into FIA F3 after such a title-winning Formula Regional campaign, there were some pretty high expectations on Martins. And in the first half of the season, it looked like he was living up to those. But then Red Bull Ring and Hungaroring happened. Those two weekends completely derailed his season. What happened afterwards was still fantastic, but with the consistency that we saw elsewhere, having two off weekends just was not acceptable. If Martins had gone on to match the results from the first five races during his string of pointless finishes, he would have been second in the championship, just showing how close it was, and how his season could have been if things had just been slightly different.

RG (4th): Following the success of his predecessor as FR Eurocup champion, Oscar Piastri, and his strong pre-season test pace, expectations of Martins were high. He started the season at Barcelona and Paul Ricard very strongly, looking like Hauger’s main title rival until a disastrous period in the summer knocked him back. He managed to come back strongly and was outstanding at both Spa and Zandvoort. At Spa he was Doohan’s only challenger in the wet and came agonisingly close to a maiden win; something that deservedly came his way next time out in race two at Zandvoort. However, an impetuous lunge at Schumacher in race three cost him a podium and 15 valuable points. He was honest enough to take responsibility for his mistake. Four times in the top three in qualifying shows he has the speed. He will start 2022 as title favourite.

2. Jack Doohan AUSTRALIA Trident
2nd in standings, 179 points (4 wins, 2 poles, 1 fastest lap, 7 podiums) – TP 47%, QA 3.1 (1st)

CW (2nd): No points scored in 2020, but Doohan can hold his head up high after putting in a very strong effort in the 2021 title battle. Essentially, he was the only one to give Hauger and Prema sustained pressure as and when they tripped up, Red Bull Ring aside. Spa was an extraordinary weekend and absolutely the high point, but his execution in both Sochi and Paul Ricard were also very good. Definitely the strongest driver in the wet this year. Yes, he did take more points in race three situations, but he didn’t showcase the same level as the champion in the reversed grid races, where more points were awarded in 2021, and that is reflected here. The season was 20 races long, not seven.

AA (5th): Very few people would have said before the season that it was possible to challenge Prema for the title, but Doohan and Trident did it. The Australian made a big step forward thanks to his move to the Italian team and the experience gained in 2020, and kept the title fight alive until the last round. He claimed wet Sunday wins at Paul Ricard and Spa. The weekend at the Belgian track was his best of the season without any doubts. A perfect-timed strategy allowed him to clock a lap in qualifying before the rain came, clearing the field by seven-tenths of a second. During the races, he played it smart in very tricky conditions to score 40 points. Hadn’t it been for some unfortunate events such as the Zandvoort weekend and Sochi race one, the title could have definitely been in his hands.

CB (2nd): Doohan was mostly excellent this season, especially on one-lap pace as he achieved the best average qualifying position of the field. The highlight was obviously his back-to-back wins at Spa, a feat only Theo Pourchaire and Jehan Daruvala have managed in this championship since it succeeded GP3, although no driver had done it on the same weekend before. Performances like this made his poor outings much more glaring. Discounting retirements for the top 10 drivers in the standings, only Smolyar and Leclerc had more finishes outside the points than Doohan. The pressure of the title battle also seemed to affect him, as he finished behind both his Trident team-mates in two of the final five races – this had only happened four times all season before Zandvoort and Sochi. He was still the only driver to get close to challenging Hauger’s dominance and that is worthy of recognition.

1. Dennis Hauger NORWAY Prema
1st in standings, 205 points (4 wins, 3 poles, 4 fastest lap, 9 podiums) – TP 54%, QA 4.3 (2nd)

BW (1st): Looking at the results alone, Hauger’s season didn’t seem particularly spectacular. And any other season, the results probably wouldn’t have led to the dominant season he had. But with the format being as it was, being able to maximise bad days was essential and Hauger could do that. He made the format work for him, and was one of the best qualifiers, something that could probably have been expected with Prema, but he was also able to deliver those strong reversed grid races. His gap to his team-mates was also incredible and helped put him on the top of this list as much as his race results.

RG (1st): Hauger is undoubtedly a worthy champion, rebounding from his difficult rookie season to demonstrate that he had not lost the speed and racecraft shown in Formula 4. The switch to series heavyweight Prema clearly benefitted him, but he comprehensively outdrove his team-mates. At the Red Bull Ring he showed that he could overtake by winning race one from 12th on the grid, and then almost repeated the feat in race two. His pole lap and dominant lights-to-flag win at Zandvoort were imperious. Spa was the season nadir for driver and team, but adversity allowed him to show his ability to work with engineer Pedro Matos to sort out the problems over the weekend, such that by race three he was able to make strong progress through the field. F2 beckons for 2022 and he goes into the winter back on F1’s radar.

CW (1st): Every aspect of Hauger’s game in 2021 was at least very good and in some areas absolutely exemplary. What a way to bounce back from a demoralising 2020 by emphatically storming to podiums, very convincing pole positions and four excellent wins. Watching him on track, he looked the most complete package of the 35 drivers to race this season with the way he managed the whole campaign. He just lacked any major weak point. He even made the most of Prema’s huge off weekend at Spa. Brilliant passes, excellent season-long control and recovery jobs after the few blips in his season make Hauger firmly deserving on the top spot on this list in a completely unanimous decision.