For most young drivers their ambition in Motorsport is to make it to Formula 1 and the FIA European Formula 3 (F3) championship has been a great place for drivers to show their talents in front of large crowds and to teams backed by the likes of Red Bull, Renault, Mercedes and Ferrari. Since its inaugural season in 2012 the championship has regularly produced some of the best drivers in Motorsport (likes of Daniel Juncadella (DTM), Esteban Ocon (F1), Felix Rosenqvist (Formula e), Lance Stroll (F1) and Lando Norris (F2)).
Currently in its seventh season, the champion of 2018 will make history as the last champion in its current format as 2019 becomes a new era for the championship as it merges with GP3 to the form the FIA Formula 3 (F3) Championship and run in support of Formula 1 and Formula 2. As the FIA European Formula 3 (F3) Championship reached the UK on the 18-19 August, Silverstone would open the second half of the season. Twenty-four drivers came to Silverstone after a break of three weeks for round six, Marcus Armstrong (PREMA Theodore Racing) was the driver everyone was trying to beat. The rookie New Zealander graduated to FIA European F3 for the 2018 season and with one win already led the standings on 154 points. Armstrong had been consistent in the first of the season but as he approached Silverstone would be weary of British driver Dan Ticktum, who held second in the standings driving for Motopark. Backed by Red Bull, Ticktum came into his home race with three wins to his name and sat within a point of Armstrong. The gap between first and third was also tight as Estonian Ralf Aron (PREMA) was shy of top spot by 12.5 points and Aron had so far secured three wins in 2018. With the championship close at the top there was another Brit also entering his home race hungry for victories and that was Enaam Ahmed, the former BRDC F3 champion in 2017. After racing for Carlin in Britain, Ahmed joined fellow British team Hitech Bullfrog GP and with two wins, sat sixth in the standings and in contention for the title with five rounds making up thirty races.
Silverstone had always been a crucial round in the FIA European F3 championship as the fast flowing circuit forced the drivers into making full commitment and if previous results at the Northampton circuit were anything to go by, then PREMA were likely in for good result, with their drivers Guanyu Zhou and Mick Schumacher (son of racing legend Michael) usually doing well at the venue. Both Zhou and Schumacher were in contention of the overall title coming to Britain as lied fourth and eighth, as the top eight are covered by only fifty-three points.
British Success in Opening Race
Free practice and qualifying took place on the Friday at Silverstone so the opening race of the weekend fell shortly after the FIA WEC practice, thus being the second session of the Saturday. A larger crowd than normal stood trackside and with reasonable conditions, Sacha Fenestraz would line up on pole position. The Carlin driver secured pole with a time of 1:50.571 around the 6km circuit, 0.04 seconds faster than Guanyu Zhou (PREMA). Row two was where we found the first Brit as Dan Ticktum took third with team mate Jonathan Aberdein fourth, both on identical times (1:50.683). Championship leader Armstrong would start race one on row three in fifth, alongside team mate Mick Schumacher.
When the lights went out Sacha Fenestraz made the most of pole position, leading into Abbey and keeping Guanyu Zhou in second. Zhou came under pressure from Ticktum on the opening few corner and it wasn’t long before the Brit moved up into second. Mick Schumacher jumped from sixth on the opening lap to fourth, whilst Armstrong slipped back as Enaam Ahmed and Juri Vips jumped the New Zealander on the opening lap. Positions would remain unchanged for a few laps before Mick Schumacher went missing from the top four, slowing on circuit with a puncture. The German lipped back to the pits and retired, shortly being followed by team mate Zhou who suffered the same fate, meaning PREMA lost two cars from the action.
In-between the drama for PREMA the race was pretty much calm and out-front Ticktum was continuing to apply the pressure to the Carlin car of Fenestraz. With the clock ticking down, Ticktum made a move at Stowe corner and completing his move at Vale/Club, taking the lead of the race and breaking clear once ahead. Motopark held a 1-3 with Jonathan Aberdein holding third but following a full course yellow in the later stages, Enaam Ahmed and Juri Vips timed the green flag to perfection to jump ahead of the South African. Aberdein was able to hold onto the fifth just ahead of Marcus Armstrong and with such a loss of points in comparison to Ticktum, the Brit took the series lead on home soil. Behind Armstrong, Alex Palou (Hitech Bullfrog GP) was seventh, Robert Shvartzman eighth for PREMA, Force India protégé Jehan Daruvala ninth for Carlin and lastly Fabio Scherer completing the top ten for Motopark.
FIA European F3 Championship – Race 1 Top Five:
- D.Ticktum (No.27 – Motopark) = 19 Laps = 36:13.442
- S.Fenestraz (No.11 – Carlin) = +1.458s
- E.Ahmed (No.65 – Hitech) = +11.498s
- J.Vips (No.44 – Motopark) = +12.659s
- J.Aberdein (No.23 – Motopark) = +14.252s
Schumacher Replicates Dad to be a Winner at Silverstone
The second race of the weekend took place on Saturday afternoon just after the WEC had qualified and with perfect rubber on track, Mick Schumacher made the most of his front row start, pulling away to lead into Abbey corner ahead of the chasing pack. Fabio Scherer closed the door on Motopark team mates to slot into second, but the pace Schumacher showed on the opening lap gave the German a healthy lead. Juri Vips and Jonathan Aberdein battled over third position, as well as closing the gap to Scherer, creating a great team battle. The grid was mixed up for this race and as a result the front two from race one were slightly down the order, as Sacha Fenestraz and Dan Ticktum worked their way from the mid-pack.
Over the next few laps position rarely changed but once front, the Schumacher name was again shining at Silverstone as Mick was putting in a dominating performance and controlled the race. Fabio Scherer lost second at the halfway mark as Rookie team mate Juri Vips grabbed second when Scherer pulled off the circuit with a technical issue, promoting everyone up a spot and handing Jonathan Aberdein the final podium position. The front three were in a class of their own however Aberdein had to be weary of a charging Brit, as Enaam Ahmed closed the gap to within 0.696 seconds at the chequered flag. Any mistake from the South African would have handed Ahmed at podium for sure on home soil. Whilst one Brit challenged for a podium, the best new championship leader Dan Ticktum could manage was eighth. Ticktum battled hard from a difficult grid position and along with Sacha Fenestraz followed each other up the order with Fenestraz ahead in seventh. With Marcus Armstrong closing the gap to Ticktum in the standings by finishing ahead in fifth position, Ticktum’s race one result meant the Brit held onto the championship lead with one F3 race remaining at Silverstone on Sunday.
PREMA would lock out most of the top ten in race two as Guanyu Zhou completed the race in sixth whilst Robert Shvartzman and Ralf Aron completed the top ten in ninth and tenth.
FIA European F3 Championship – Race 2 Top Five:
- M.Schumacher (No.4 – PREMA) = 19 Laps = 35:38.068s
- J.Vips (No.44 – Motopark) = +1.060s
- J.Aberdein (No.23 – Motopark) = +8.260s
- E.Ahmed (No.65 – Hitech) = +8.956s
- M.Armstrong (No.8 – PREMA) = +13.452s
Rookies on Top in Final Race of the Weekend
On Sunday morning the track action began at 11am with the final F3 race of the weekend and with conditions overcast, the gloves were certainly off for drivers to end the weekend on a high. With Motopark holding a front row 1-2 with Vips on pole and Aberdein alongside, the team mates made the most of the start to lead away but a superb challenge by Carlin’s Sacha Fenestraz left the Motopark duo split as lap one was ticked off. With Vips under pressure to hold off Fenestraz, the race was neutralised on lap two as Ralf Aron and Sebastian Fernandez collided resulting in a safety car deployment. Marcus Armstrong would also retire from the action before the safety car was deployed.
With the field bunched up behind the Porsche safety car Vips would have to control the restart with Fenestraz and Aberdein hungry to pounce when the race went green again. Behind Aberdein though was Enaam Ahmed followed by Mick Schumacher and Dan Ticktum, with the German and Brit fired up after racing hard on the opening lap at Stowe corner and nearly making contact. The racing would resume on lap five and Vips got away well to hold the race lead, with Fenestraz and Aberdein unfazed by those behind. Enaam Ahmed’s attempts to break into a podium position were halted as Schumacher challenged the Hitech driver on the restart with Ticktum searching for a way past.
The gaps between the front three started to grow bigger in the later stages of the race and this allowed Juri Vips to take the chequered flag in some comfort, recording his second win in his debut F3 season. Sacha Fenestraz repeated his result from race one coming home in second by 1.177 seconds, but comfortably ahead of Jonathan Aberdein. It was a successful weekend for the South African as he recorded another podium in his rookie season. Outside the podium places, Enaam Ahmed held onto fourth place as Dan Ticktum made a last lap challenge on Mick Schumacher. Coming around Stowe corner, Schumacher collected the kerb and went airborne; however the German maintained his momentum and speed to record fifth position. Ticktum’s sixth place was enough for the Brit to increase his championship lead over his closest rival, Marcus Armstrong. Completing the top ten in the final F3 race saw a mix of teams as Alex Palou ended seventh, Guanyu Zhou eighth, Ferdinand Habsburg ninth and lastly Robert Shvartzman in tenth.
FIA European F3 Championship – Race 3 Top Five:
- J.Vips (No.44 – Motopark) = 18 Laps = 36:02.838s
- S.Fenestraz (No.11 – Carlin) = +1.177s
- J.Aberdein (No.23 – Motopark) = +3.632s
- E.Ahmed (No.65 – Hitech) = +4.857s
- M.Schumacher (No.4 – PREMA) = +5.506s
With three fantastic races at the home of British Motorsport, the teams and drivers didn’t have long until the next round, with Misano, Italy the venue for round seven of ten. In support of the DTM, the Italian venue would be a new event for the championship and therefore technically favour no one. Anyone with history of the Italian F4 series would have prior knowledge and as an Italian team, PREMA were likely to be favourites. Their driver Marcus Armstrong would move to Misano dethroned from the series lead, as Dan Ticktum took the championship lead in race one and held on over the weekend. Sitting on 190 points, eighteen points would separate first and second, whilst Estonian Juri Vips moved to third after victory in race three to have 157 points. The top five in the standings were covered by only 47.5 points with twelve races remaining, so plenty of opportunities for things to change.
FIA European F3 Championship Top Five
- D.Ticktum (Motopark) = 190 Pts.
- M.Armstrong (PREMA Theodore Racing) = 172 Pts.
- J.Vips (Motopark) = 157 Pts.
- E.Ahmed (Hitech Bullfrog GP) = 145 Pts.
- R.Aron (PREMA Theodore Racing) = 142.5 Pts.
To keep up to date with the FIA European F3 Championship in its final season, check out www.fiaf3europe.com.
To see a full photo album including the FIA WEC and European Le Mans Series at Silverstone, please click here.
Written and Produced by Chris Collier and Cheryl Closs.