After nine rounds and 18 races, another FIA F3 season has come and gone. Who were the fastest drivers?
From the second to the 14th race of the 2023 FIA Formula 3 season, eventual champion Gabriel Bortoleto had an average finishing position of 4.3. Zak O’Sullivan, who would end up being his closest rival in the title fight, won four races in that time but had an average finishing position of 8.3. That’s one of the best illustrations of how this year was won through consistency rather than a pace advantage either in qualifying or races.
As is always the case in F3, qualifying held a lot of importance due to the difficulties in passing, and consistency there was a trait hard to come by for most of the field. While the slowest drivers may not deviate much from, for example, 27th to 30th, there can be a far bigger difference in positions between a good and a bad day for a driver aiming to fight at the front and particularly in a closely matched field.
At the Bahrain season opener there was 0.097 seconds between fifth and 10th place in qualifying, and fifth for Campos Racing’s Hugh Barter marked the only time he qualified in the top 10 all season. Of course it’s actually the top 12 that’s more important in F3, as it is those positions that are reversed to form the front of the sprint race grid. To score requires finishing in the top 10, with ninth and 10th of equal points value to a feature race.
Only two drivers managed to qualify in the top 12 every single time: Prema’s Paul Aron and MP Motorsport’s Franco Colapinto. Unsurprisingly, they were the two fastest drivers on average when it came to outright pace, but Colapinto’s average qualifying position was bettered by that of Bortoleto.
Colapinto never qualified lower than 12th but never higher than third. Bortoleto’s worst result was 15th, but he did take a pole.
Aron and Bortoleto qualified in the top 10 every time bar the penultimate round at Spa-Francorchamps, where qualifying took place on a wet but drying track so rain tyres were used. That led to both having an average qualifying position of 5.9, but if the Spa session is omitted then Bortoleto’s average improves to 4.8.
|1||Paul Aron||Prema||100.465%||19||Nikita Bedrin||Jenzer||101.542%|
|2||Franco Colapinto||MP Motorsport||100.674%||20||Kaylen Frederick||ART GP||101.644%|
|3||Zak O’Sullivan||Prema||100.687%||21||Christian Mansell||Campos||101.727%|
|4||Caio Collet||VAR||100.752%||22||Sebastian Montoya||Hitech||101.758%|
|5||Gabriel Bortoleto||Trident||100.823%||23||Max Esterson||Carlin||101.888%|
|6||Dino Beganovic||Prema||100.917%||24||Joshua Dufek||Campos||102.011%|
|7||Gregoire Saucy||ART GP||100.925%||25||Rafael Villagomez||VAR||102.063%|
|8||Luke Browning||Hitech GP||100.930%||26||Tommy Smith||VAR||102.125%|
|9||Leonardo Fornaroli||Trident||100.935%||27||Hunter Yeany||Carlin||102.230%|
|10||Taylor Barnard||Jenzer Motorsport||100.940%||28||Piotr Wisnicki||PHM by Charouz||102.482%|
|11||Gabriele Mini||Hitech GP||101.041%||29||Oliver Gray||Carlin||102.700%|
|12||Pepe Marti||Campos||101.049%||30||Sophia Floersch||PHM by Charouz||102.749%|
|13||Nikola Tsolov||ART GP||101.200%||31||Ido Cohen||Carlin||103.005%|
|14||Mari Boya||MP Motorsport||101.322%||32||Alex Garcia||Jenzer||103.049%|
|15||Hugh Barter||Campos||101.343%||33||Michael Shin||PHM by Charouz||103.563%|
|16||Oliver Goethe||Trident||101.496%||34||Roberto Faria||PHM by Charouz||103.858%|
|17||Jonny Edgar||MP Motorsport||101.500%||35||Francesco Simonazzi||Carlin||103.988%|
|18||McKenzy Cresswell||PHM by Charouz||101.510%|
That is pretty similar to the figure from last season for the driver with the highest average starting position, but Bortoleto was on average lapping at 100.823% of the absolute pace. That would have made him on average the 14th fastest driver in 2022, 16th fastest in 2021 and 15th in 2020. That shows how difficult it was to be consistent in 2023.
Hitech GP’s Gabriele Mini qualified in the top three on four occasions, but also qualified outside the top 10 four times. So the standard deviation in his qualifying form amounted to 8.6 places, whereas Aron had a standard deviation of 2.7, the lowest of anyone in the top 23 in the championship standings.
Only three drivers were more inconsistent than Mini, and just like him they were among the very fastest when at their best. Prema’s Dino Beganovic combined three front row starts with two times where he qualified 23rd or lower to have a standard deviation of 10 positions within his qualifying average. Somehow he was still the season’s sixth fastest driver, with his median starting position only bettered by Aron, Bortoleto and O’Sullivan.
Within the top 14 qualifiers, only three have a lower standard deviation in their results than Bortoleto. That led to only 10 drivers being on average within one percent of the absolute pace on any given weekend, compared to 19 the previous two seasons.
To conclude the qualifying analysis, how does the order of averages stack up against the order in the points table? Aron and Colapinto came third and fourth in the standings, while Van Amersfoort Racing’s Caio Collet was the fourth-fastest driver but converted that into ninth in the standings with only three top-five finishes in feature races.
Beganovic belied his inconsistency to be sixth on pace and points, and ART Grand Prix’s Gregoire Saucy was on average the fourth-fastest driver after five rounds but at that point was eighth in the standings. He only once qualified in the top 10 after that, dropping him to seventh on average pace and massively reducing his points-scoring opportunities. Saucy sank to 14th in the standings, scoring just seven points in the season’s second half. In that case it was not inconsistency, but rather just a drop-off in pace while his team-mates actually improved their form.
|Driver||Mean Q pos.||Median Q pos.||Standard dev. of Q pos.|
green text signifies top 10 in metric, red text signifies bottom 10
Next up is the races, and Bortoleto has figures that are better but also worse than previous champions. His average finishing position was 6.56, way above the preceding three title winners, and his rolling race pace average was 100.688%. That made him the third fastest driver on average over race stints this year, but that would have equated to being 10th best in 2021 and 12th in 2020 and ’22. And the drivers in those actual positions in those years were fighting to be in the top 10 in the standings rather than for the title.
Rolling race pace is calculated using the 10 fastest consecutive representative laptimes within a stint. Those laps have to have been completed within track limits, cannot include laps featuring full-course yellow flags, and cannot include laps where drivers passed through the pitlane. That left a sample size of 11 of this year’s 18 races that could be used to assess long-run pace thanks to having enough green flag running, and Bortoleto was one of six drivers with 11 races to build an average from as retirements, pitstops and most frequently track limits abuse led to races not being suitable for inclusion in the dataset for many drivers.
The contrast between Saucy’s qualifying and race pace was stark, and clearly demonstrated by his points tally as he was on average the 28th fastest driver on long-run pace.
Mini only finished half of the year’s races in the points yet was the benchmark driver on race pace, and there was a similar quirk with Campos Racing’s Pepe Marti who on average was the 12th fastest qualifier (despite earning more points in qualifying than anyone else) but second place on race pace and actually the driver with the best long-run pace in four races (more than Mini’s three and O’Sullivan’s two). Bortoleto’s run to second place in the Monza sprint race after winning the title marked the only time he topped the rolling race pace chart.
Finally, the most important metric of them all: points scored. Bortoleto absolutely smashed his opposition on this front, as his feature race haul alone (116 points) would have put him ahead of all but O’Sullivan (119 points) in the standings.
Rolling race pace average
He scored 27 points more than anyone else on Sundays, and his Saturday haul of 46 points was bettered only slightly by Colapinto (51) and Aron (47). That Colapinto was only able to score eight more points in feature races than sprints shows where he not only lost out on a title challenge but also the championship runner-up spot on the season’s final day.
Leonardo Fornaroli finished 11th in the standings with more Saturday than Sunday points, with four other drivers also being more productive in the sprint races with their points hauls.
Tommy Smith (VAR), Oliver Gray (Rodin Carlin) and Roberto Faria (PHM Racing by Charouz) all did the full season without scoring a single point.