Home Featured The two Italian-run Red Bull-backed stars stealing the early FIA F3 show

The two Italian-run Red Bull-backed stars stealing the early FIA F3 show

by Craig Woollard

Photo: DPPA / Red Bull Content Pool

Two rounds into the FIA F3 season and the two ‘main’ races have been won by Red Bull-linked stars Dennis Hauger and Jack Doohan. In their second season after a tough first, how have they turned their form around?

Red Bull supports five drivers in FIA Formula 3 Championship’s 30-strong field, and its Formula 1 team ran another in a test last year. Three of the five it supports are Red Bull juniors embarking on rookie F3 seasons, and two are drivers who previously held that status but have had their support scaled back and are having to re-establish themselves in sophomore campaigns.

Jack Doohan and Dennis Hauger enter car racing together in 2018 as Red Bull juniors, and were placed into British Formula 4 with Arden. Both won races, and had successful campaigns on the continent the next year in Euroformula and Italian F4 respectively. They then reunited in FIA F3 in 2020, with Doohan driving for HWA Racelab and Hauger for Hitech GP.

Dissapointing campaigns for both, with Doohan scoring zero points, led to them being moved out of the Red Bull Junior Team (RBJT) setup and instead becoming ‘RBJT-supported drivers’, a status usually reserved for prospective RBJT members.

But with Doohan having moved teams to Trident, and Hauger joining the often dominant Prema in FIA F3, they’re now making the right impressions again at the start of this season. Have they flourished with reduced Red Bull involvement?

“Being a part of a junior team in formula cars is quite important,” Hauger said when Formula Scout asked about his Red Bull relationship.

“You have to perform. It’s a good opportunity, and against other guys; we’re on track fighting but no hard feelings off-track. Just focusing on what I have to do, my own stuff, and keeping my own head down really.”

Doohan added: “It’s quite simple with Red Bull. You perform, and everything’s okay. I’m very grateful and thankful for them to give me this opportunity, and I don’t feel like the last two years I’ve been able to show my potential and had the chance to really show what I can do.

“Now I feel like I am confident with the car and the people I am surrounded with, so I’ll be able to show them what I can do, and it’s very important to be in one of these junior teams on the formula ladder. Especially unless you have quote a lot of backing behind you to get you to that top step. So I’m very grateful, very thankful with the opportunity that they’re giving me, and hopefully I can do the job [they want].”

While it would be natural to assume that their form is solely down to the year of experience they have in a field with a lot of rookies, for both, switching to an Italian team has played a huge role in them making a step forward.

“I like Italians a lot,” said Hauger. “Also when I was younger I was racing for CRG [in karting] which is an Italian team, so I am quite used to the way the Italians work and how it is. So I’m enjoying it a lot, really connecting with the team and working well with them. So I think that’s one of the things that’s made it go well this year as well, so I’m really happy with that.”

Doohan shared his perspective of the team change while surrounded by his Trident colleagues.

“I love them. I love working with an Italian team. I really enjoy the atmosphere, very passionate, every single one of them – the mechanics, the engineers, and so that’s also very helpful because they want to win just as badly as I do, which contributes massively.

“It’s not just a job or work for these guys, it’s what they want to do. and the emotion thing, to have the opportunities that we have had, so they’re living through kind of us. So they want this just as badly as we do, and I really like that. So hopefully I can give them back all of the hard work they put in.”

The returns have been pretty much instantaneous for both. Hauger, despite crashing out of the second race at Barcelona, owned that weekend. Doohan has been in the mix through the opening two rounds and was a star of testing, and his drive in the wet at Paul Ricard, where he beat Hauger to victory, really showed what he was capable of doing.

They are not the only Red Bull-backed drivers to have stepped into an Italian team and proceeded to thrive. Pierre Gasly has been magnificent with AlphaTauri in Formula 1, stealing a win at Monza in 2020 and nabbing a brace of other podium finishes with the Faenza-based squad and making a very valid case of being ranked among F1’s current elite. But it was with Prema where he truly thrived in GP2 and narrowly took the title back in 2016 after years spent dallying as a RBJT member.

Doohan, who has been particularly open in recent media sessions with Formula Scout, is an interesting character in particular. Being the son of five-time MotoGP world champion Mick Doohan, who once tested a Formula 1 car, cannot be easy as an athlete. When asked by Formula Scout at Paul Ricard, he opened up about his experiences with ‘surname pressure’.

“I’m obviously very thankful for the last name I have, and for the benefits, but it one way it only gets you so far,” he said.

“Especially in this game. If you don’t perform, then you’re out. I feel like after last year I’m very lucky to get another opportunity this year, and a chance to show my potential.

“But on the pressure side of things, I feel like it would probably be a lot more were I to take the two-wheeled route. On a four-wheel one, there’s probably the slightest bit of pressure of it stands out a little bit more on a level, especially if you’re not performing.

“But hey, I’m putting that not performing stage in the past and focused on myself, and making sure I can be the best that I can be with the team that are around me and the car that I’ve got. And hopefully then enjoying the pressure in a way.”

The pair are running first and third in the championship. Hauger’s place as points leader in particular is interesting because of his Barcelona incident and that he later revealed he was unwell at Paul Ricard.

“I’d been struggling with some sickness this weekend so especially in race one I was not at 100% and felt pretty bad,” he said.

“I struggled to breathe after the race so I was just trying to survive.

“I got some medicine for race two and was a bit better, so P2 in race two was not too bad. I was the only one on used tyres compared to the guys around. So the pace was looking pretty strong, and we were quite confident going into today.”

“But then it started raining, which was quite unexpected. It was raining quite a bit. I had a really good start, got off in front and once I got away, just tried to manage the small gap. But then the rears were just not there anymore by mid-race as the track dried out. I got caught by Jack.”

Yes, he is with a Prema outfit who has often been the absolute class of the field since the series’ inception with the Dallara F3 2019 car two years ago, and been reunited with his F4 engineer Pedro Matos. But he has moved quickly in his second year to take the F3 title favourite tag (while in Formula 2 nobody has been a victory favourites at every round), and established a slender lead in the points over ultra-consistent Alpine Academy meber Victor Martins – driving for MP Motorsport.

Prema’s advantage at the top seems to have been cut back somewhat too with ART Grand Prix and Trident both regularly featuring for wins and MP nestled finely in the positions just behind them and looking quicker than ever.

This FIA F3 season is set to be mighty close between the frontrunners. Doohan is just two points behind Martins, but seems to have broken through at Paul Ricard. Hauger held Doohan off to win the ‘main race’ (with the grid set by the qualifying order) at Barcelona, and Doohan returned the favour at Paul Ricard. They are giving off the right signals when it matters the most this season and are making a case for that extra little bit of backing from Red Bull and Dr Helmut Marko.

And with all three of Red Bull’s F2 juniors potentially racing elsewhere or losing their junior status next year, it’s not too early to say that these two 18-year-olds from Australia and Norway will be on track together in single-seaters’ next step in 2022.