Home Featured Who stood out in FIA F3 pre-season testing?

Who stood out in FIA F3 pre-season testing?

by Ida Wood

Photo: Formula Motorsport Ltd

The FIA F3 paddock headed to Bahrain for pre-season testing this year, with the opening races of 2024 taking place at the same track. Do we already know who might be starting the season on top?

For the first time since its creation in 2019 through the rebranding of GP3, the FIA Formula 3 Championship will have a 10-round season this year. That means it will match the 2021 season’s 20-race duration, giving plenty of opportunities for rookies to build experience and find their way to the front. The Dallara F3 2019 is now in its sixth year of use, therefore, there’s little learning left for teams to do and that means more focus than ever can be put into getting the most out of their drivers.

The first glimpse of which drivers are already looking confident on track came in the three days of pre-season testing at Bahrain earlier this month, and there were several names who kept on appearing at the top of the timesheet.

Little running took place on the first morning of testing due to the track being wet, and MP Motorsport’s Alex Dunne went fastest but set what would prove to be an unrepresentative pace. Although the track was also declared wet for the afternoon session, laptimes were significantly quicker but PHM Racing’s Nikita Bedrin was the only driver to attempt a long run.

Van Amersfoort Racing’s Noel Leon was fastest, setting a 1m46.657s that put him 0.015 seconds ahead of Campos Racing’s Oliver Goethe in second. Over the next two days, on a drier and more rubbered-in track, the pace was only lowered by 0.091s.

In contrast to Bedrin’s busyness on track, team-mate Tasanapol Inthraphuvasak only completed five laps over the 140 minutes of track time available.

The next day was dry, and the morning session was free of red flags, but it was another that did not seem to be optimised by the majority of crews. That was potentially down to the fact that only seven sets of the hard compound tyre (which will also be the nominated compound for the season-opening round at Bahrain) were available to each car for the test’s duration. In the morning session only Hitech GP’s Luke Browning, Trident’s Leonardo Fornaroli and MP duo Kacper Sztuka and Tim Tramnitz embarked on long runs. Fornaroli’s lasted 19 laps, while the others pitted after putting 10 laps on their tyres.

Single-lap pace

Pos Driver Team Pace Pos Driver Team Pace
1 L Browning Hitech 1m46.566s 16 S Meguetounif Trident +0.559s
2 N Leon VAR +0.091s 17 S Floersch VAR +0.628s
3 O Goethe Campos +0.106s 18 L van Hoepen ART GP +0.732s
4 N Tsolov ART GP +0.259s 19 C Mansell ART GP +0.821s
5 T Tramnitz MP +0.262s 20 M Zagazeta Jenzer +0.870s
6 M Esterson Jenzer +0.270s 21 T Smith VAR +0.915s
7 A Dunne MP +0.319s 22 K Sztuka MP +0.958s
8 S Ramos Trident +0.368s 23 A Lindblad Prema +1.020s
9 G Mini Prema +0.376s 24 C Voisin Rodin +1.102s
10 L Fornaroli Trident +0.387s 25 C Shields Hitech +1.164s
11 C Wurz Jenzer +0.397s 26 J Dufek PHM +1.179s
12 M Boya Campos +0.398s 27 T Inthraphuvasak PHM +1.204s
13 M Stenshorne Hitech +0.413s 28 J Loake Rodin +1.236s
14 D Beganovic Prema +0.494s 29 P Wisnicki Rodin +1.616s
15 N Bedrin PHM +0.556s 30 S Montoya Campos +1.648s

The majority of drivers failed to improve on their day one pace despite the focus on low-fuel runs, and in the heat of the afternoon far more time was given to long runs. Campos’s Sebastian Montoya ended up as the only driver not to attempt one.

Prema’s Dino Beganovic and Gabriele Mini were the top two, split by 0.2s after 10 laps and, therefore, with an average pace difference between them of 0.02s per lap over a stint. Their long runs, which lasted 13 laps, would go unbeaten the next day.

Trident once again emphasised the ‘long’ when its drivers headed out to test tyre life, with Fornaroli, Sami Meguetounif and Santiago Ramos all doing 23-lap runs. Not only that, but they each did stints of that length twice. Prema was the only other team whose drivers did two long runs.

Last year’s sprint and feature races at Bahrain were 19 and 22 laps respectively, making Trident well prepared for this year’s races. However, its drivers were the slowest on outright pace by several seconds, and Mini was the fastest Prema driver but a second off the pace down in 14th place.

One team that looks to have juggled the demands of a pointy car for a single lap but one that is easy to drive over a distance and, therefore, good for tyre management is Hitech. Browning was fastest overall on the second afternoon and on the third morning, when he lowered the pace to 1m46.566s and was also the session’s fastest driver over a long run with an average laptime just 0.131s off Beganovic’s day two benchmark.

He was one of 14 drivers to attempt long runs, with Prema and VAR the only teams to get all of their drivers to do them. The Prema trio all went on runs lasting 16 laps or longer, while Browning had the next longest run of 15 laps.

The final afternoon appeared to be the most productive session, although the pace was considerably slower, as teams prioritised getting as many laps done as possible.

Theoretical best pace [bold for actual best lap]

Pos Driver Pace Pos Driver Pace
1 Browning 1m46.566s 16 Lindblad 1m47.039s (-0.547s)
2 Tsolov 1m46.602s (-0.223s) 17 Sztuka 1m47.049s (-0.475s)
3 Tramnitz 1m46.604s (-0.224s) 18 Meguetounif 1m47.061s (-0.064s)
4 Leon 1m46.635s (-0.022s) 19 Floersch 1m47.194s
5 Wurz 1m46.657s (-0.306s) 20 Mansell 1m47.201s (-0.186s)
6 Goethe 1m46.672s 21 Van Hoepen 1m47.267s (-0.031s)
7 Dunne 1m46.684s (-0.201s) 22 Zagazeta 1m47.298s (-0.138s)
8 Mini 1m46.755s (-0.187s) 23 Smith 1m47.353s (-0.128s)
9 Esterson 1m46.770s (-0.066s) 24 Loake 1m47.621s (-0.181s)
10 Beganovic 1m46.839s (-0.221s) 25 Voisin 1m47.668s
11 Ramos 1m46.934s 26 Shields 1m47.717s (-0.013s)
12 Boya 1m46.936s (-0.028s) 27 Dufek 1m47.734s (-0.011s)
13 Fornaroli 1m46.953s 28 Montoya 1m47.746s (-0.468s)
14 Stenshorne 1m46.979s 29 Inthraphuvasak 1m47.770s
15 Bedrin 1m47.014s (-0.108s) 30 Wisnicki 1m47.873s (-0.309s)

Trident’s drivers had been the only ones to complete 40 laps in a session prior to the final one, having each put 47 laps next to their name on the second afternoon, and this time Fornaroli set 47 laps again while ART Grand Prix’s Nikola Tsolov did 41, team-mate Christian Mansell set 39 and a tally of 38 was reached by Mari Boya (Campos), Meguetounif and Laurens van Hoepen (ART GP). For Meguetounif, 20 of his laps came in a single run.

After two-and-a-half days of trailing his rivals in track time, Montoya finally set a decent amount of laps and also got a long run completed which was impressive enough to put him straight into the top 10 on long-run pace. He spent almost two hours in first place, but was 11th by the end and way off his personal best laptime from the first afternoon. Montoya left a lot on the table since he was slowest of all in the test’s combined timesheet, 1.648s off the pace, and with his best sector times showing a gain of almost half a second had he been able to hook all of those together.

Prema’s Arvid Lindblad and Sztuka had even bigger deficits between their actual and theoretical fastest laps, while Browning’s benchmark laptime featured his fastest splits in all three sectors. Seven other drivers managed that, but only one of those was in the top 10.

Had Tsolov put all of his best sectors into one lap, Browning’s advantage at the top would have been reduced from 0.091s to a tiny 0.036s. Tramnitz and Wurz would have also been within 0.1s of Browning.

There were red flag disruptions in several sessions, and between those interruptions and the wet weather it was unsurprisingly Trident’s trio who did the most running. They collectively set 511 laps, 53 more than the next most active team which was MP Motorsport. Montoya’s lack of activity meant Campos got 144 laps less of data than Trident.

Those differences will likely have an impact on who features near the front in round one, but it’s hard to tell beyond that. Team bosses said pre-season testing was treated as a continuation of post-season testing where the line-ups were mostly the same as they were in Bahrain and where the same names were topping sessions.

Long-run pace
Pos Driver Pace Pos Driver Pace Pos Driver Pace
1 Beganovic 1m51.509s 11 Ramos +0.622s 21 Sztuka +1.218s
2 Mini +0.020s 12 Esterson +0.625s 22 Shields +1.470s
3 Browning +0.131s 13 Goethe +0.830s 23 Floersch +1.480s
4 Tramnitz +0.141s 14 Wurz +0.844s 24 Bedrin +1.656s
5 Fornaroli +0.351s 15 Zagazeta +0.849s 25 Smith +1.716s
6 Lindblad +0.353s 16 Leon +0.856s 26 Wisnicki +1.732s
7 Dunne +0.451s 17 Tsolov +0.964s 27 Inthraphuvasak +1.834s
8 Meguetounif +0.542s 18 Stenshorne +1.057s 28 Loake +1.848s
9 Boya +0.555s 19 Mansell +1.092s 29 Dufek +1.987s
10 Montoya +0.614s 20 Van Hoepen +1.193s 30 Voisin +2.540s

Hitech’s Oliver Oakes reckons “the experience card gets dropped quite quickly once they start the first weekend” of the season, and MP’s F3 team manager Jeremy Cotterill similarly said that the testing mileage “should level things up quite nicely across all our drivers”, although in his case he does have an all-rookie line-up rather than Hitech’s mix of experience.

A single weekend in Euroformula aside, Tramnitz was the fastest of the third-tier single-seater racing rookies on outright and long-run pace in pre-season testing. Rookies have a lot more to learn than returnees, and therefore generally more room for improvement, so he could be a dark horse when the 2024 FIA F3 season gets underway.

Pre-season testing lap count [teams]

1 Trident 511   2 MP Motorsport 458   3 Van Amersfoort Racing 455   4 ART Grand Prix 446   5 Hitech GP 430   6 Rodin Motorsport 427   =7 Jenzer Motorsport & Prema 426   9 PHM Racing 396   10 Campos Racing 367

Most laps – session FornaroliMeguetounifRamos D2 PM – 47   Longest stints D1 Bedrin – 11, D2 Fornaroli, Meguetounif & Ramos – 23, D3 Meguetounif – 20

Pre-season test session reports
Day Morning Afternoon
Sunday Read here Read here
Monday Read here Read here
Tuesday Read here Read here