With the 2021 F3 season having now drawn to a close, here is a look at five top drivers from across the season.
Whilst two Red Bull junior drivers were locking horns in a fierce title fight in a season which saw a new three-race weekend format introduced, there were plenty of highlights throughout the field from the highest-placed returning driver from 2020 surprising at a lower-grid team to a strong rookie star fighting for wins.
2021 also saw 12 different race winners from 20 races which underlined just how competitive the grid has been this season, yet there were five drivers who stood out for various reasons so here is our top five drivers from the 2021 Formula Three season.
We have also paid honourable mentions to five drivers who didn’t do enough to make our top five list but are worthy of mentions for various reasons.
Having flopped heavily at Hitech GP last season, it was certainly a surprise to see PREMA sign Dennis Hauger, but he has certainly proved me wrong with a superb season in which he simply was the class of the field across both Qualifying and race trim.
Beginning with his Qualifying form, Hauger was simply excellent with five top-two finishes of which three of those results saw him claim pole, yet poor qualifying sessions in Belgium and Russia proved costly for his overall grid average which was only fourth compared to third for his title rival – Jack Doohan.
That fourth-placed grid slot average across the season though does represent a huge improvement for Hauger, who managed an average grid slot of 18th across eight rounds last season once excluded the fact that he failed to set a time in Italy in the 2020 campaign.
Hauger though was able to convert that improved Qualifying form in reverse races as well as the main race under this season’s new format, with the opening Austrian race a clear stand-out after driving from 12th to victory and fastest lap with excellent tyre management which was a key aspect in his improved form.
Hauger also maximised the bonus points opportunities with 12 points from three pole positions and eight points for fastest laps, which means that even if those bonus points hypothetically didn’t exist – Hauger would of still been champion but by a six point margin rather than the eventual 26 points difference.
F2 now surely beckons for the 18 year-old and if he remains with PREMA, it won’t be a huge shock if he is in serious title contention next season if he can quickly get to grips with the car.
Following a difficult rookie season in 2020 at HWA Racelab with two of his three highest finishes coming in the final round at Mugello, Doohan has certainly proved his critics wrong with a stunning season to finish as 2021 F3 vice-champion behind fellow Red Bull junior – Hauger.
One particular aspect that Doohan has vastly improved is his qualifying form because he only produced one top ten qualifying result in 2020 (seventh at first Silverstone round), with an average grid slot of 16th yet managed to improve that average grid slot to third this season.
Consistency meanwhile was largely one of Doohan’s best qualities but he often enjoyed strong races yet failed to take full advantage in three races where Hauger failed to score points whilst the title fight was still alive nor by targeting more fastest lap points, with various small mistakes this season proving costly.
Those small errors though are typical of young junior drivers and hopefully Doohan can learn from those experiences moving forward, especially given his potential once up to full speed in a car where he can confidently extract his full talent.
If there is one aspect of Doohan’s season that can be debated then it has to be his teamwork quality after disobeying team orders in the season finale, before saying post-race over team radio; “I’m sorry guys but I race for myself, you know.”
He followed that particular line up by adding; “I’m racing for my own career here.”, which can arguably be seen as a show of arrogance, yet Red Bull has a habit of producing arrogant young drivers of which Doohan is on their junior programme so that attitude probably shouldn’t of come as a shock really.
As for his long-term career prospects though, that particular controversy will stick out unfortunately if driver selections at various teams boiled down to teamwork ability, yet Doohan is the son of a five-time MotoGP champion and part of Red Bull so that arrogance mentality sadly will be ingrained in him.
Doohan however did have a point about team orders because every driver in F3 are racing for their own careers which means that victories do matter, whereas the teams don’t have much to gain other than prize money and results so the topic of team orders in F3 is quite iffy really if look at wider context.
Either way, this season marked a vast improvement and hopefully Doohan can make the step up to F2 in a competitive car next season.
Ever since Clement Novalak announced himself on the F3 scene at the 2020 season-opener for Carlin, he has simply been one to watch and I am mightily impressed at how consistent Novalak has been this season at Trident en route to third without a single win.
Consistency though has been Novalak’s biggest asset this season because he has failed to score points on four occasions, of which only one of those non-points finishes was really his fault after colliding with Matteo Nannini in the first Austrian race as they tussled over the race lead.
Zooming in on that particular incident and Novalak’s performances since then, you can’t help but feel that was a vital lesson for the 20 year-old, especially in his battle for the win with Doohan at the final race of the season because he definitely showed a calmness to his style that wasn’t present in Austria.
Novalak’s Qualifying performance also improved massively this season at Trident with an average qualifying grid position of 5th, which is remarkable consistent given that he has qualified sixth and fifth in three and two of the seven rounds this season respectively.
His slow start to the campaign compared to Hauger and Doohan though realistically cost him a real shot at the title but at 20 years-old, Novalak does have time on his side to improve his skillset and hopefully find a breakthrough into F1 if he continues to improve the way that he is currently doing.
Having been released from Renault Sport Academy at end of 2019 only to be handed a second chance this season in Alpine Academy after winning 2020 Formula Renault Eurocup title, Victor Martins has certainly grasped his recall with a brilliant rookie season in F3 with MP Motorsport.
From qualifying third on his competitive debut in Barcelona to claiming six podiums and finishing as top rookie, Martins has simply been a joy to watch grow across the season particularly during his mid-season rut before bouncing back with a strong finish to the campaign.
Martins also demonstrated that he is certainly one to watch next season by also claiming a win, albeit under immense pressure from Novalak in the second Dutch race as he fended off his compatriot by just 0.396 seconds, underlining just how much potential he has if he returns to F3 next season.
In fact if he does return to F3 next season, I would consider him as the early title favourite in pre-season next spring because he will only grow with the consistency of MP Motorsport’s environment, unless promoted to a top team like ART GP or PREMA.
After budget issues almost cost him a race seat in F3 before the season even began, Logan Sargeant has done a brilliant job in guiding Charouz up the order almost single handed after producing 80.3% of the team’s 127 points in the teams’ championship and finishing seventh himself in the driver standings.
It is also worth noting that he narrowly missed out on the title last season too which makes his performance this season that more impressive, given that he basically went from a frontrunner in PREMA to effectively a backmarker in Charouz yet was able to regularly fight for points in every race.
Sargeant also comfortably outqualified his teammates in all seven rounds this season with an average grid slot of 9th on the grid based on qualifying times, whilst his fifth place in Qualifying in Belgian Round represented the team’s best qualifying result since Lirim Zendeli qualified fifth in Italy in 2019.
It is therefore impossible to ignore Sargeant because he has simply been outstanding whilst sitting under the radar, especially given how he has managed to put Charouz firmly in the midfield pack, culminating in a well-earned Race One victory in Sochi last weekend.
If there is anything positive to come from Sargeant’s season in the coming months, hopefully it will be increased sponsorship and financial backing because this young American has plenty of talent and the potential to go far if given the right support and team environment.
Frederik Vesti – Remarkably consistent in his second season despite moving from PREMA to ART but mechanical issues prevented a title challenge, yet was able to finish fourth in the standings again with one win and four other podiums.
Olli Caldwell – Fantastically consistent first half of season but struggled in second half of season due to various mechanical issues, yet has gained vital lessons which he can implement next season if returns to F3.
Lorenzo Colombo – Great progress throughout his rookie season complete with impressive drives in Hungarian and Belgian Race One, as well as comfortably finishing as the top Campos driver in standings.
Juan Manuel Correa – This season has been tricky for the American as he adapted to life back in a racing cockpit after his serious F2 accident in Belgium in 2019, yet one where he can build on in coming seasons if he returns to F3 or F2 next season.
Ayrton Simmons – Made F3 debut for Charouz at final round with no prior testing yet looked comfortable despite racing against fellow backmarkers, especially after driving from a pit-lane start to 12th in the season finale and hopefully will attract attention of a competitive team for 2022.