The idea that Formula 1 contains the 20 greatest drivers in the world is an unrealistic unfair assumption, especially when you consider the strength and breadth of talent outside of the supposed ‘pinnacle of motorsport’.
We all know various factors, such as finances, injury and just sheer bad timing can prevent an extremely promising driver from reaching F1, meaning that many great drivers have to display their talent in other top-tier series.
The FIA Formula 3 European Championship built a reputation as the greatest proving ground for young drivers since its revamp in 2012, having previously run as the F3 Euro Series between 2003-’11. Confusingly, the two coexisted for the ’12 season.
In its seven years of FIA blessing, it produced 12 F1 graduates, compared to the six that third tier rival and F1 support GP3 was able to supply.
The quality of the grids each year was maintained at a high level not only in terms of drivers but also chassis-optimisation and engine competition, something lacking in the new FIA F3 championship that it makes way for.
It’s not just the European F3 drivers that have reached F1 that prove the series’ pedigree, with champions and race winners in Super Formula, Formula E, DTM, Blancpain GT and Super GT all honing their craft in Dallara’s much-loved F3 chassis.
Here are 10 of the best European F3 drivers (who raced between 2012-’18) to never make it to F1.
As they were ran to the same regulations and majority filled with European F3 drivers, we have considered the editions of the Macau Grand Prix and Masters of F3 during this period an extension of the drivers’ achievements for the sake of this article.
currently 2nd in 2019 Intercontinental GT Challenge, 2018 Blancpain GT Series champion -?2013 European F3 champion
Marciello was the breakout star of the first re-branded European F3 season. He announced himself on an international level by winning the Pau Grand Prix as a rookie, and then won twice on his first visit to Brands Hatch to take an early championship lead.
He was eventually overtaken by his more experienced Prema team-mate Daniel Jundacella, but it was Jundacella who looked more like the rookie, earning two disqualifications in successive weekends, the first of which had resulted in Jundacella robbing Marciello of victory.
Marciello’s charge effectively ended at Zandvoort, where team-mate Sven Muller’s over-cautious safety car restart caused the Ferrari junior to run into the back of him, capping off a miserable weekend for Marciello.
Marciello battled back in his second F3 season in 2013, taking 12 poles and 13 wins to triumph in a thrilling title duel with Mucke Motorsport’s Felix Rosenqvist, with the killer blow delivered at Marciello’s home round at Vallelunga – winning two of the three races as Rosenqvist’s title challenge crumbled amid a number of mistakes and technical issues.
Although he was never quite able to deliver on his full potential in GP2, he was Sauber’s F1 reserve driver and has since demonstrated his class in the Blancpain GT Series with Mercedes-Benz by winning the overall and Sprint titles in 2018, with many calling him the top GT driver of 2018.
currently 10th in 2018-19 FE, 2nd in 2015 British GT – 2nd in 2010 Masters of F3,?4th in 2009 & ’10 F3 Euro Series
Alexander Sims’ junior career was patchy. Not in terms of results like most drivers, but in terms of appearances. He spent two years racing in the F3 Euro Series, finishing fourth in the points both years, before moving to GP3 in 2011, where he finished sixth with one win.
When his backing from the Gravity management firm was then pulled, he initially looked to sportscars, but he did return to F3 during ’12, making a one-off appearance with underdog T-Sport (running a ThreeBond engine) at the Nurburgring. Two of the three races counted for FIA points, with Sims winning the one that didn’t, beating regular frontrunners Marciello, Juncadella and Pascal Wehrlein.
In ’13 he increased his track time with T-Sport to four rounds, taking five podiums for a team on a shoestring budget and with minimal experience of the championship.
He spent 2014 racing in British GT, but Hitech GP snapped him up for a development role the following year and he drove in two of the final three F3 rounds – finishing in the top five twice before returning to the Macau Grand Prix with Double R Racing and finishing third.
In 2016, Sims made his final F3 appearance, joining Hitech for the Hockenheim season finale and getting a top five result.
As Sims scaled back his single-seater commitments, his reputation increased internationally as a BMW factory driver in GTs. Ge came close to the British GT and IMSA GTLM titles while doing development work on BMW’s FE programme, and was rewarded for his work with a single-seater return alongside old GP3 team-mate Antonio Felix da Costa as part of the BMW Andretti line-up in FE for the 2018-19 season.
Off-track Sims is one of the most unassuming racing drivers, whose politeness masks his ruthless talent behind the wheel. This is already evident in FE, where he was denied an first win after clashing with da Costa in Marrakesh, and arguably should’ve been on the podium in each of the first three races. Watch this space.
6th in 2015 & ’16 GP2, 2014 GP3 champion – 2013 Macau GP winner, 2nd in 2013 Masters of F3,?3rd in 2013 European F3
After impressing in a part-season with Fortec in ’12, Lynn was snapped up by Prema to partner eventual champion Raffaele Marciello for the following season. While he was unable to match Marciello’s consistency over the season, he still shone, taking a triple-pole on home turf at Brands Hatch, three wins across the season and third in the standings.
His most impressive achievement was saved for his final race of the year – Macau. Lynn excelled around the twisty street circuit, showing raw bravery and speed and unsurprisingly winning the grand prix. The year previous, he had taken pole in his first visit and ended as top rookie in third.
Lynn moved to GP3 in 2014 with Red Bull backing, winning the title with Carlin. He became Williams’ development driver the following season, and dovetailed his duties with a solid rookie year in GP2. He failed to make a significant step in his second year, and with Lance Stroll’s arrival at Williams, Lynn’s F1 chances faded.
It didn’t take long for the wider motorsport world to take notice of Lynn. He won the Sebring 12 hour and Spa 6 hour races in 2017, and took pole position on his FE debut in New York. This earned him a full-time seat for the 2017-’18 season with DS Virgin, where he was plagued with bad luck.
Aston Martin now has Lynn’s signature, and he races in the World Endurance Championship’s GTE Pro class.
2nd in 2012 German F3, 3rd in 2013 & ’19 TRS, 6th in 2017 DTM – 2nd in 2014 Macau GP, 4th in 2013 & ’14 European F3
The nephew of F1 race-winner Gerhard Berger has returned to junior single-seaters this year for the Toyota Racing Series and Super Formula as a Red Bull junior, but has spent the last five years in the DTM with Mercedes.
Auer’s previous single-seater stint ended in victory as he won the final race of the ’14 European F3 season – considered one of the greatest F3 seasons of all time – with Mucke. One year prior he’d finished fourth in the championship with Prema, but behind two of his team-mates.
His year with Mucke was far more impressive, taking 13 podiums from 30 races, and beating the likes of Antonio Giovinazzi, team-mate Felix Rosenqvist, Jordan King and Jake Dennis. He was narrowly beaten by Rosenqvist in Macau.
In four years in the DTM he picked him up four wins, and his single-seater return has been prompted by previous employer Mercedes’s DTM departure. Auer’s comeback showing in TRS was troublesome, with tyres proving particularly challenging, but the pace was still there. He won once, and took pole for the coveted New Zealand GP.
3rd in 2017 Super Formula, 3rd in 2016-17 FE, 6th in 2017-18 FE, 11th in 2016 Blancpain GT Series, 12th in 2016 Indy Lights – 2015 European F3 champion, 2014 & ’15 Macau GP winner, 2011 & ’13 Masters of F3 winner, 2nd in 2013 European F3
Rosenqvist has won in FE, Super Formula, Indy Lights and Blancpain as a rookie, has been poached by legendary IndyCar team Chip Ganassi Racing for the upcoming season, yet has never driven an F1 car.
After success in Formula Renault 2.0 and an indifferent German F3 campaign,?Rosenqvist burst onto the international scene in 2011 with fifth in the F3 Euro Series and Masters of F3 victory with Mucke.
He spent the next two seasons with the team, while Mercedes assisted in making sure he had the budget to compete, and was third in the ’12 European F3 standings – the best non-Prema driver.
That was followed by a stellar ’13, where his 10 wins wasn’t enough to beat Marciello to the title, and he got another Masters win. Budget limitations meant F3 was where Rosenqvist stayed in ’14, his fourth season proving to be his worst despite Pau GP victory, slumping to eighth in the standings.
He’d been fighting against the might of Prema his entire F3 career up to that point, but he joined them for 2015, ending his association with Mucke after four years together. Facilitated by the Stroll family, this decision paid off with a supreme season, where he beat Antonio Giovinazzi, Jake Dennis and Charles Leclerc to the crown, as well as picking up a second successive Macau win.
Since he left the series at the end of 2015, he’s driven in most other top tiers of motorsport, with success in Formula E, Super Formula and Super GT. This has accumulated in him securing a full-time IndyCar ride with Chip Ganassi Racing for 2019.
All-time FIA European Formula 3 statistics
|R Marciello?20||Marciello?16||Olofsson?19||Baldi?35||Stroll 738|
|A Olofsson?18||E Ocon?15||Marciello?14||Ghinzani?32||Marciello?718|
|O Larrauri 14||Olofsson?13||Prost?12||Marciello?28||Giovinazzi?681.5|
|P Ghinzani?13||Ilott?12||Ferte?12||Ferte?27||L Auer?642|
|A Prost?12||Gunther?10||Ilott?12||Larrauri?27||J Eriksson?640|
|E Pirro?11||A Ferte?8||J Nielsen?10||Giovinazzi?27||Ilott?635.5|
|R Patrese?11||L Norris?8||C Fabi?9||Pirro?26||Dennis?592|
2018 Spa 24 Hours winner, 6th in 2016 DTM – 2nd in 2014 European F3, 7th in 2012 & ’13 European F3
Blomqvist is often forgotten when people talk about the legendary 2014 F3 season, which saw plenty of thrilling duels between Esteban Ocon and Max Verstappen. Although not in spectacular style, Blomqvist finished the year as runner-up to Ocon, beating Verstappen thanks to a stellar final weekend at Hockenheim.
After a season each with the small Ma-con and Eurointernational teams, Blomqvist got the opportunity to drive for the Jagonya Ayam-backed Carlin squad in ’14, the latter actually lacking in pedigree in European F3 at this point, having never taken a driver to the top three in the standings since joining the Euro Series in 2008.
It was also the strongest opposition yet for Blomqvist, but the 2010 FR2.0 UK champion was unfazed and demonstrated his talent with wins at six of the 11 rounds.
BMW swiftly snapped him up for DTM, where he won in his rookie season then was sixth in the standings the year after. A part season in FE with BMW’s backing wasn’t entirely successful, but he is now one of the manufacturer’s?leading GT assets.
Jake Dennis ENGLAND?23y/o
2nd in 2019 Bathurst 12 Hours, 4th in 2016 GP3? – 3rd in 2015 European F3, 9th in 2014 European F3, 9th in 2015 Macau GP
2014 was far from the easiest year for Jake Dennis to make his F3 debut, but he placed third in the rookies’ championship with Carlin, only behind Ocon and Verstappen.
His debut efforts earned him a seat with Prema for ’15, and he improved to third in the standings, ahead of four 2019 F1 drivers. Pau highlighted his excellence, as he took a triple pole and two race victories to propel him into a title fight with the more experienced Rosenqvist and Giovinazzi.
His challenge faded amid inconsistencies and a nightmare weekend at the Norisring, but he’d firmly put himself among the best British racing drivers around, and secured himself a GP3 seat with Arden for the following year. The Racing Steps Foundation-backed driver finished fourth but returned to Euro F3 for 2017, competing in the opening three rounds for Carlin, helping its rookies and regularly sacrificing?his own race results for the benefit of his team-mates – a testament to his willingness and ability to play the team game.
He’s now carved a career in GT racing for himself, with a stunning pole lap for the Bathurst 12 Hours his most recent achievement (even if a small technical breach stripped him of it). Driving F1 cars is part of his job now too, having become a valuable part of Red Bull Racing’s test and simulator programme.
Nick Cassidy?NEW ZEALAND?24y/o
2017 Super GT champion, 2nd in 2018 Super Formula – 3rd in 2014 Macau GP,?4th in 2016 European F3
Two-time TRS champion Nick Cassidy made sporadic appearances in European F3 from 2013-’15, before finally racing there full-time with Prema in 2016.
His season started with three second places, but a combination of misfortune, playing second fiddle to team-mate Lance Stroll and a failure to deliver the goods meant Cassidy was not a title threat. Commuting from Japan -? where he was undertaking his debut season in Super GT after winning the national F3 title the previous season – may also have played its part.
At the Hungaroring, the wear on his tyres was so extreme that his rubber was shot on the formation lap of one race, and he had engine and gearbox issues at the Red Bull Ring and Norisring.
Fourth in the standings was a disappointment by all standards, especially as Cassidy’s name had been on people’s lips since his stunning third place as a rookie with T-Sport in the ’14 Macau GP.
The New Zealander’s achievements since have made up for it, winning the 2017 Super GT title in his first full season and finishing a close second last year, then coming achingly close to the 2018 Super Formula title as a rookie.
Cassidy is a good example of a driver who didn’t waste years of his career scrambling for an unlikely F1 seat by racing in F2/GP3 for several years, but instead one who is among the best racing in Japan right now.
currently 18th in 2018-19 FE, 14th in 2018 F2 – 2nd in 2016 European F3, 3rd in 2017 European F3, 5th in 2017 Macau GP
The disbelief at the recent news that Dragon has dropped Maximilian Gunther just three rounds into his debut FE season should tell you all you need to know about the quality of the 21-year-old’s career so far.
He made his F3 debut in 2015 with Mucke, impressing immediately by qualifying third for six successive races early in the season. He struggled to convert these into race results, with only one podium at Pau to show for it.
However, he produced the goods at the Norisring with a stunning win from 12th on the grid. Team-mate tensions boiled over leading to his premature departure from Mucke, but he found a new home with Prema, and impressed in his one-off outing with them in the ’15 season finale.
Unsurprisingly this led to a full-time drive for ’16, in which he finished runner-up to champion Stroll. Considering the extra testing miles and backing behind his team-mate, Gunther could be pleased with his efforts.
For ’17 he chose a third season in F3, as he still had much to improve in his driving. He dropped a spot in the standings, but had a much better, more rounded year. He didn’t quite have the outright pace to match the might of Lando Norris, but he could regularly wrestle himself in front of the Englishman in races.
He moved up to Formula 2 with Arden last year, but the partnership was never an easy one, with his focus moving on to securing a FE drive having become Dragon’s reserve driver. One win and five other points finishes was enough to convince Dragon to promote him to a race seat, and he missed the final F2 round in preparation.
His FE debut was a chastening experience, but in the Santiago E-Prix he starred in qualifying, and was doing even better in the race before a technical failure intervened.
Gunther is still Dragon’s reserve driver and may be recalled later in the year. Regardless, it’s a shame that the German has ended up on the sidelines.
14th in 2018 DTM – 2016 Masters of F3 winner,?2nd in 2017 European F3, 2nd in 2018 Macau GP, 5th in 2016 European F3
Younger brother to former GP2 driver Jimmy, Joel Eriksson has reaped the rewards of sticking with one team in his single-seater career.
Two years in entry-level German categories helped forge a strong relationship with Motopark, with whom he graduated to F3 in style with in ’16
That season he was paired up with Red Bull juniors Niko Kari and Sergio Sette Camara, beating them both and soon finding himself being courted by BMW. Having one victory to his name (aside from his excellent Masters of F3 win at Zandvoort) did no justice to what Eriksson was achieving that year.
People were taking Eriksson and Motopark seriously for 2017, and he pushed now-McLaren F1 driver Norris for the title. He won in each of the first four rounds but a mid-season qualifying dip meant his three wins in the last five races were too late to deny Norris.
The 19-year-old then switched to the DTM with BMW, and faired well against his more-experienced team-mates. Everything fell into place at the Misano round for him to take a rather fortunate maiden victory, helping him to 14th in the standings.
Late last year he returned to F3 with Motopark to tackle the Macau GP. He made the most of a bruising weekend to finish second, and his street circuit nous may come useful were he to race in FE in the future.
The most obvious absentee from this list is 2012 champion Daniel Juncadella. His title victory was marred with controversy, with two disqualifications for his driving. It was still an impressive year, but his results since have been unremarkable. Five DTM campaigns with Mercedes yielded just one win, but he’s still a part of the manufacturer’s motorsport plans.
Harry Tincknell has established himself as one of Ford’s leading GT lights, while Pipo Derani is arguably the most exciting young driver in prototypes. Jordan King may have lost his full-time IndyCar drive for 2019, but that was down to a lack of finances rather than talent after a solid debut season. Ed Jones?meanwhile has solidified himself as a staple of the IndyCar grid, heading into his third season and chasing a first win.
The classic entries
Between 1975 and ‘1984, the FIA ran a championship that was also named European F3. It too produced many an F1 driver, including the likes of Alain Prost, but also had its fair share of overlooked talents.
Anders Olofsson?(1952-2008) was one of many Swedes who flourished in European F3 when Scandinavia had its own F3 championships to supply talent from.
Two titles at home nearly translated into success on the continent, as he finished second in both the 1977 and ’78 standings. In total, he picked up 18 wins across six years.
Like contemporary Rosenqvist, he was fast in whatever he sat in, and won titles in prototypes and touring cars in Japan. His crowning achievement was overall victory at the 1997 Le Mans 24 Hours, achieved in a GT car.
John Nielsen, from neighbouring Denmark, also appeared across six seasons, and was runner-up in 1983. He made up for that loss by triumphing at Macau a year later. After that he topped he podium in F3000, won Le Mans in 1990 for Jaguar, the ’95 Global GT and ’97 Super GT titles in McLarens, and was winning in prototypes as late as 2008.