F3 Asia has officially begun, marking the end of the winter break for many F2 and F3 drivers. More than a handful of the drivers from FIA F2 and F3 descended on Dubai. A sceptic might suggest this was them to farm superlicence points. However, there is no doubt many of those racing were happy to be battling wheel-to-wheel again. The post-season test in Bahrain was nearly two months ago, after all. So a little cobweb dusting would be useful, but so are cheap superlicence points…
Whatever the reason, F3 Asia is running an ultra-condensed calendar this year. Round 1 was in Dubai, and the Dubai Autodrome will again host round 4 in two weeks. Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit will hold round 2 and round 3 next week, and the finale over 19-20th February.
To spice things up, Dubai raced on the International Circuit this weekend and will run the Grand Prix Circuit for round 4. Similarly, Yas Marina will race on the corkscrew layout first up for rounds 2 and 3 before switching to the Grand Prix Circuit at round 5. Two circuits, four weekends, and four different layouts for the (mostly) rising stars of F2 and F3 to race on.
So who was it that flew to the middle east for F3 Asia? Well, ten racers who will be racing alongside Formula 1 this year, at least. While we await some line-ups still, nearly half the names on the competitor list will support F1 in some capacity in 2021. For the likes of those racing in Formula Regional or W Series, that’s great racing experience. The Formula 2 drivers dropping down those rungs on the ladder, though. Did I mention some people might be sceptical?
F3 Asia Round 1: Formula 2 Drivers
The star of the opening F3 Asia weekend was Guanyu Zhou. He nabbed pole position for race 1 and race 2. The latter by virtue of setting the fastest lap in race 1. Grids ordered by fastest laps are quite an interesting way of sorting the grid for multiple races on a weekend. It keeps the racing in race 1 relevant, all through the order. However, Zhou’s luck ran out for race 3. After early race contact, he was forced to retire. Nonetheless, he leads the championship as it leaves Dubai.
It was an all-F2 podium for race 1. Fresh from his signing for DAMS, Roy Nissany scored second place for the first race. He then went on to grab another podium at race 3 for good measure, this time in third, though he led the early stages of the race. Not a bad weekend for the Israeli. Back to the race 1 podium, though, and Jehan Daruvala finished on the podium in P3. The Indian driver made sure the Mumbai Falcons team started their debut in F3 Asia the right way.
Sadly, Daruvala’s subsequent races both were P7 finishes. Little overtaking the reason at race 2, and a first-lap incident at race 3 were to blame. Daruvala grabbed the fastest lap on his recovery drive from down in 17th. Jehan showing he’s got the pace, and the overtaking prowess, to battle for the superlicence points (or F3 Asia championship points, you can decide) in the Middle East.
The usually point-less (two words) Alessio Deladda rounded out the 2021 F2 drivers’ presence. His couldn’t match his new competitors’ podium appearances but was good for P6 in race 2. Deladda grabbed P13 for the first and third races of the weekend. The 26-year old exits round 1 with eight points.
F3 Asia Round 1: Formula 3 Drivers
If Nissany’s week of securing a team and a podium was good, Pierre-Louis Chovet’s was excellent. Chovet will drive for Jenzer in F3 for his first full F3 season in 2021, we found out in the run-up to Dubai. To show he means business, the Frenchman harried the podium places, taking P4 at race 1 and 2. In race 3, though, Chovet took the win. After two processional rounds, he took the fight to those around him. Some clean but hard racing saw Chovet come away victorious.
Ayumu Iwasa and Roman Stanek joined Nissany in the Hitech team at Dubai. Iwasa, the fresh recruit in the Red Bull Junior Team kept his nose clean and scored solid points. P6 and a pair of P5’s for the Japanese drivers first outing in F3 machinery. Stanek fared worse, unfortunately, in his Hitech debut. The 16-year old Czech qualified in the middle of the pack for race 1. Without overtaking being possible, this impacted his second race, too. P12 in both for Roman. A P6 start for race 3 had some promise. Stanek was amongst the battle for the podium and ran in third place early on. However, the camera cut to Stanek with a front right wheel barely hanging onto the suspension and it was a DNF for Roman.
Not in FIA Formula 3 this year, but also competing F3 Asia were Dino Beganovic and Isack Hadjar. The two will race in FREC for 2021 and both are clearly worth keeping an eye on. Hadjar took his first F3-level podium with a third in race 2 and wasn’t far off with P4 in race 3. Beganovic was the headline-grabbing FREC driver, though. The Swede was the only one to overtake in race 1, on his way to P5. Dino then claimed P2 and two trophies in races 2 and 3. A top effort for the FDA driver who has never been to the Middle East before, as he explained to us in his In the Grandstand interview.
F3 Asia Round 1: W Series Drivers
Just one W Series driver is contesting F3 Asia. W Series newcomer, Irina Sidorkova raced F3 spec machinery for the first time at Dubai. The Russian star of the 2020 esports W Series racing has a little experience in F3, so these four weekends will be critical for her 2021 campaign.
The lowly qualifying positions could’ve dented Sidorkova’s confidence, but she may be buoyed by her races. Two P19 finishes for races 1 and 2 and a P15 in race 3 shows Irina is able to keep out of trouble. A minute off the victor at worst (race 1) and 31 seconds at best (race 2) are the numbers we’ll be looking at as the championship progresses.
All the F3 Asia drivers will be in action (negative Covid-19 test depending) at Abu Dhabi from Feb 4-7th. Yas Marina beckons with six races. The top three as we leave Dubai are Zhou with 50 points, Chovet with 49, and Beganovic with 46. It’s very much all to play for.