The Dallara 320 continues the design philosophy of the Formula 3 category and is used in Euroformula and Super Formula Lights. Who in the two championships could stand out this year?
While the FIA Formula 3 Championship can boast a 30-car grid, its name is a bit of a misnomer these days as F3 no longer exists as a contemporary single-seater formula in the way it used to. There are however several series still using cars homologated to previous F3 specification, as well two championships that use the halo-shod Dallara 320 car.
Designed to be a successor to the uber-popular F312 and F317 cars used primarily in FIA European F3 and Japanese F3, the lightweight car follows the old F3 design philosophy and is loved by drivers. But since the 320’s introduction two years ago, grid sizes in Euroformula and Super Formula Lights have simply not reflected that.
The COVID-19 pandemic hit both series harder than most in the junior single-seater scene, with Euroformula losing at least two grands prix from its schedule in the first year of lockdown restrictions while SF Lights had to make do with a Japanese-only grid as travel into the country was all but banned for foreigners.
Both series have a lot going for them, with some of the best calendars away from the Formula 1 support bill and an open engine formula that has attracted German manufacturer Spiess to both series, HWA to Euroformula and local brands TOM’S (with a Toyota-sourced unit) and Tomei to SF Lights.
The teams have close relationships with their engine suppliers, with TOM’S actually competing as a team in Japan and with an expanded four-car line-up for 2022. It has a Super Formula programme its drivers can step up into, while Van Amersfoort Racing has just expanded into Formula 2 to provide future options for its drivers, and Carlin can do the same in Euroformula.
But with grids only just tipping over 10 cars for both series in 2022, there’s not a huge amount of weight behind the anticipated title battles at present. There is, however, reason to look out for several of the names taking part…
Five from Euroformula
Christian Mansell [pictured] had the ninth-highest scoring average and finished 11th in the standings last year, as he debuted with Carlin at Spa-Francorchamps then contested the Monza and Barcelona rounds with Motopark.
He impressed both teams with his quick adaptation to the 320, and definitely would have threatened for wins had he done the full season as he did take a podium in his first race with Motopark. Now he has the opportunity to take wins in Motopark’s Japanese offshoot CryptoTower Racing Team and with a top engineer on his car too.
Van Amersfoort Racing has two names that could be topping the podium this year: Sebastian Ogaard and Filip Ugran.
Ogaard has raced in Formula 4 since 2019, making his debut in the Spanish championship finale that year then coming 13th in Italian F4 in 2020 in a full campaign. He also did two of Danish F4’s three rounds and won three races to be third in the points. Last year he moved back to Spanish F4 with the debuting Campos Racing team and with five race wins was title runner-up.
Ugran meanwhile shuffles across from FIA F3, where he was 31st in the standings with a best finish of 15th. That was a pretty dire year, but he proved himself in F4 with wins in the Italian and Spanish series and could surprise in Euroformula.
It’s hard to tell right now who will be racing for Drivex School, but don’t rule out its pre-season testers Nico Pino and Alex Peroni landing race seats. Peroni’s focus this year is the European Le Mans Series with Algarve Pro Racing, but Drivex is interested in getting him in one of its cars for the Pau Grand Prix, which is the second round of the season, because the 22-year-old Tasmanian is a three-time winner on the streets of Pau in Formula Renault 2.0.
Nobody is expecting big results from Effective Racing’s Vladimir Netusil, but the debuting all-Czech combination is definitely one to watch out of curiosity.
Five from Japan…
Hibiki Taira [pictured above] was a crushing Japanese F4 champion in 2020, and the Toyota junior picked up four podiums in his rookie SF Lights season last year. He missed one round following a positive COVID-19 test, but still came fifth in the standings and will be the highest placed returnee this year as three of the four ahead of him step up to Super Formula.
It’s actually not too common for a second-year driver to be title favourite in SF Lights, but Taira has proven his worth at TOM’S and will be seeking his own SF promotion for 2023.
His F4 title ‘rivals’ Reiji Hiraki and Seita Nonaka will also be names to watch, and similarly don’t go into this year with a load of SF Lights success behind them.
Hiraki was the only driver able to beat Taira during that dominant F4 campaign, but his single-seater career didn’t continue as he moved into Super GT300 while his brother Yuya worked on building their Helm Motorsports team. That squad is now moving into SF Lights, and its line-up will consist of the two team founders. Test pace has been promising so far for Reiji, and the team proved it was an effective race operation when it ran him to the F4 title runner-up spot in two years ago.
Nonaka finished third in F4 that year, taking five podiums as Taira’s team-mate, then won the 2021 title in a final race showdown. At the same time as that, he was racing in SF Lights for TOM’S as a stand-in for Kazuto Kotaka who was summoned for SF duties several times and rendered unavailable for the supporting SF Lights on the same weekends.
Being at a top team helped Nonaka’s rather unscheduled step up into F3-level competition, and he made the podium in his second race. There were only two more podiums after that though, and in testing so far it’s been the Spiess-powered teams that have looked more competitive than TOM’S, where Nonaka remains for his second season.
The level of talent in Formula Regional Japanese Championship is hard to judge when the grids of its first two seasons have often been smaller than SF Lights’, so reigning champion Yuga Furutani‘s step up into the latter series will be important.
Sena Sakaguchi dominated the inaugural FRJC season in 2020 and came second in SF Lights at the same time, but was already a known quantity. Furutani was the only full-time driver on the grid and claimed eight second places but no wins, so that makes his sophomore campaign where he won four races against very few other full-timers even harder to judge.
In both seasons he raced for TOM’S, under the team’s ‘Youth’ banner, and stays with the outfit for 2022. He will have a lot of experience to lean on from his team-mates, including the returning Kotaka, so will no doubt get faster through the year.
One of the most exciting drivers to watch in F4 anywhere on the planet last year, Iori Kimura [pictured above] graduates to SF Lights with B-MAX Racing and will be leading its title hopes. The Japanese-Russian had a messy Japanese F4 season that still resulted in four wins and third in the standings, and definitely had the potential to beat Taira to the title.
For the Honda junior to be a consistent threat in SF Lights he would need to tone down his defensive driving at times, but given the difficulty of overtaking in the Dallara 320 on Japan’s circuits he may be less likely to incur penalties now. It may be an outside bet, but he could become one of few rookies to become champion at this level in recent years.
The 2022 SF Lights season gets underway at Fuji Speedway this weekend, while Euroformula starts at Estoril on April 29.
21st century rookie champions in single-seaters’ tertiary level
|FIA F3 Championship||Oscar Piastri (2020)|
|Euroformula||Felipe Drugovich (2018), Harrison Scott (’17), Ed Jones (’13)|
|FIA European F3||Lando Norris (’17), Esteban Ocon (’14)|
|British F3||Martin Cao (’14), Jean-Eric Vergne (’10), Daniel Ricciardo (2009), Jaime Alguersuari (’08), Antonio Pizzonia (’00)|
|GP3||Daniil Kvyat (’13)|
|German F3||Marvin Kirchhofer (’13), Richie Stanaway (’11), Carlo van Dam (’07), Bastian Kolmsee (’04)|
|Japanese F3||Ryo Hirakawa (’12)|
|Italian F3||Daniel Zampieri (’09), Luigi Ferrera (’05)|
|Spanish F3||Ander Vilarino (’01)|