The European F3 grid is almost complete, with 18 of 20 drivers confirmed. It is a talented and diverse, albeit sparse, grid with a number of talking points worth mentioning.
The actual set up of the grid is probably what will grab the most headlines, with just 5 teams entering 4 cars each to make a field of 20 cars. But first of all, it’s worth looking at the drivers.
Motorpark’s line-up consists of Joel Eriksson, Marino Sato and Keyvan Andres Soori, and will enter just three cars.. Joel Eriksson is the likely to be the quickest of the trio this season, and despite being just 18 he’s one of the favourites for the title. The Swede impressed finishing 5th in the championship last season, as well as winning the masters of Formula 3. It’s clear he’s a real talent. Marino Sato is a rookie, and steps up from two mixed campaigns in Italian F4. Points will be his sole aim this season, but at age 17 he has time.
Keyvan Andres Soori is also 17, and again the German of Thai decent won’t expect to be frontrunner from the off. He’s had success stateside, winning the Skip Barber championship and dominating the Atlantic Racing Series races he attended, finishing 5th in the championship despite attending less than half of the races. Last year he participated in Euroformula Open, finishing 12th in the overall standings. It will be interesting to see how he does.
Of course, you have to look at how good Motorpark are as a team. Their car will be powered by a Volkswagen engine which lags slightly behind the rival Mercedes power unit. However, they are a very capable team and the nature of the 2017 season means if a driver is good enough, they should be able to win the championship, regardless of their team.
The dominant Prema Powerteam steamroller rolls on into the 2017 season, and yet again the team have championship favourite drivers. Prema are simply the best team in Euro F3, so their whole quartet of drivers could easily win races this season. Max Gunther is the favourite for the title, without very much doubt. He may be just 19 but he enters his third season in the series and his second with Prema. It is rare that a driver who finished second in the championship stays in F3, so the Oberstorf native must be hoping for a dominant, landslide victory.
Say what you want about him being a class act in surname alone, but Mick Schumacher is an exciting prospect. Of course, first of all the 18 year old will have to put his disasterous family situation Sbehind him. But if he can do that then this is his chance to impress. He finished second in the two F4 championships he participated in last year. He also came third in the MRF challenge. Schumacher’s aims this season will be twofold; Learn the F3 car to the extent he can compete for podia, and also avoid any major mistakes, as he, along with Lance Stroll, isn probably the most widely criticised young driver around, simply because of his surname.
Callum Ilot had a torrid end to last season, but is still one of the favourites for the title. After Prema got fed up of racing Ilot, and vice versa, Prema decided to sign him up. This is massive for Ilot. The supposed successor to Max Verstappen is just 18 but he is in his third year of competition, and finally has a good team. It would be unfair to expect him to beat Gunther, but he should surely win at least 5 or 6 races this season.
Guanyou Zhou should approach this season with no fear, as no-one is expecting much from the Chinese driver. This is purely down to reputation, as he secured podia last year Motorpark and will be looking to win a couple of racers. Furthermore, aged just 17 he can afford to bide his time.
Van Amersfoort Racing
The team that produced Max Verstappen return with Mercedes engines and four promising drivers. Joey Mawson is now 21, so he will want to be quick straight off the bat. There is no reason why he can’t be though, as he wont the ADAC F4 series last season and lost the MRF challenge to a tiebreak. His aim will be wins from the outset, as he needs to get up to GP3 or F2 as quickly as possible if he wqants a drive in F1.
David Beckmann is unbelievably a millennial. He enters his first whole season with aim of more podia, a possibly a maiden victory or two as well. Harrison Newey is another son of a major name in motorsport, aerodynamic engineer Adrian. He won the MRF challenge and has proved he is capable last year in F3 and in BRDC F4 so the pressure will be on him to beat his VAR teammates this year.
A year of track knowledge means Pedro Piquet, yet another son of a racing driver, should now be more confident in F3. He is very talented, having won Brazilian F3 twice in a row, and he will be looking to respond to the hype with some Podia at least. But whether he can in such a competitive season is another question.
Hitech will yet again be aiming to compete with Prema, an objectively they partially completed last year. They come with another strong lineup as well of Nikita Mazepin, Jake Hughes, Tadasuke Makino and Ralf Aron. Mazepin may well struggle against such strong opposition, with the Russian driver struggling last year and enduring a campaign that produced hardly any positives. Instead, he caught more more attention after being excluded from one of races after punching Callum Ilot. It is a far cry from coming second in the World Karting championships in 2014 However, he did manage to get a Force India testing role, so if Mazepin can bounce back then his career may be righted.
Jake Hughes makes the bizarre step down from GP3, where he finished 8th last season. He is the oldest driver in the field aged 22, but this experience should play to his advantage. He raced in the last race of the F3 season last year and got a podium finish, so he already knows the car. Therefore, expect him to be competing for the championship, with Hitech piling their resources into him.
Ralf Aron will also be looking to be involved in the title fight. The 19 year old Estonian has finally left Prema Powerteam to race with Hitech, however this shouldn’t hinder his chance to succeed as a driver. He was able to win a race last season, and finished 7th in the standings, and if you look at how most drivers in that position (for example, Lance Stroll) fared they ended up fighting for the title.
Tadasuke Makino is a Honda protege who has already impressed in his native Japan. He came 5th in JAF Formula 3 while he impressed in Super GT by almost breaking the lap records at both Suzuka (for a GT300 car) and Buriram (for a GT500 car). He now makes tyhe move over to Europe and while he may struggle with track knowledge at first, expect some very impressive drives during the season for him.
All 4 drivers have a good team behind them, and will be hoping that Hitech carry on improving into a high flying team. If any team has the willingness and investment power to break Prema’s stranglehold, its Hitech.
Carlin carry on with Volkswagen engines for the season, with a lineup that includes 2 rookies and 1 driver who hasn’t been confirmed. Jehan Daravula, a Mumbai native, is one of the favourites for the rookie class this year. He was a frontrunner last year in the Toyota Racing Series and Formula Renault 2.0, finishing 2nd and 4th respectively. He is often metronomically consistent as well, something most younger drivers lack.
That’s not quite as high as his teammate Lando Norris though. Norris recently joined Mclaren’s driver academy and won both of the aforementioned series dominantly. He is also the 2015 MSA formula championship, and it seems that if after Hamilton retires Britain will have a F1 champion, it will likely be Norris. He will be looking to win the rookie title this year as well as win races. His record in the junior formulae shows he will be very competitive, even in such a difficult series to succeed in.
It feels like Ferdinand Habsburg, who is only 19, has been bouncing around the junior formulae for quite some years now. Last year was his most successful year yet. He came 4th in the Toyota Racing Series and finished 2nd in Euroformula open, proving he is definitely ready to make the step up to Euro F3.
2015 F3 frontrunner Jake Dennis strangely steps back down from GP3 to become a title favourite. He was part of the quartet that dominated F3 two years ago and he finished 4th in GP3. Why he has taken the step back to F3, as supposed to the step forwards to GP2 is unclear, but it will doubtlessly make the championship more interesting, as he goes for the championship yet again..
This is probably the strongest grid F3 has ever seen. There may be just 19 drivers. Yet this is the first time we’ve really seen a grid made up of drivers that all have the chance to get to F1, the ultimate aim for everyone, and if you look at previous evidence, European F3 produces some real stars. Since 2012, successful drivers who participated in F3 include Carlos Sainz Jr, Pascal Wehrlein, Esteban Ocon, Max Verstappen, Felix Rosenqvist, Antonio Giovanazzi, Lance Stroll, and many more who didn’t quite reach the heights of F1 but still have had success in other disciplines of motorsport.
That is the reason why F3 is a must watch. You are guaranteed to be watching at least 1 future star in F1, and the drivers you are seeing right now are the future of F1 as a whole. All races are live streamed for free on youtube as well, unlike GP3 and GP2. Of course, some of the racing is brilliant as well.
Two seasons ago this series was making headlines for all the wrong reasons. A 37 strong grid was leading to crashes, crashes and more crashes, with drivers manically driving like it was a computer game, and races having to be stopped due to dismal driving standards. Since then, the series has calmed down, and the driving has improved. But what remains the same is F3’s ability to churn out top quality drivers, who are future F1 champions.
Picture credits Autosport/F3/Motorsport.com/F1fanatic