There was an extremely welcome return to action for Formula 3 at Spielberg as the new-look field finally got out on track around the Red Bull Ring. A touch of snow on the Sunday morning didn’t stop the F3 lap record from being broken several times as we got our first taste of how the 2021 campaign may unfold.
Here are five things we learned in the opening pre-season test of the year…
1. CAIO COLLET LOOKS READY TO GO
As a member of the Alpine Academy, Caio Collet has the perfect role model to look to in Oscar Piastri, who ran to the title in 2020 as a rookie with PREMA Racing before earning promotion into Formula 2.
Stepping up with MP Motorsport, Collet got off to the ideal start in Spielberg finishing as the fastest driver of the two days by nearly two tenths, lapping at 1:18.592. Setting the time on the afternoon of Day 2, Collet’s nearest rival was PREMA’s second-year Dennis Hauger, who punched in 1:18.711.
The Brazilian also ran 171 laps for his troubles – the third highest tally of the 30-strong field.
2. A NEW LAP RECORD
Not only did Caio Collet set the quickest lap of the two days, but the MP man also broke the F3 track record at the Red Bull Ring, smashing Marcus Armstrong’s time of 1:19.396, which was set back in Free Practice of Round 3 in 2019.
In fact, the lap record at Spielberg was actually broken on multiple occasions, with four drivers all breaking it and 22 drivers beating Armstrong’s time in total by the end of the test.
Alex Smolyar was the first to do so on Day 1 with ART Grand Prix, before Jenzer Motorsport’s Calan Williams went marginally quicker on Sunday morning. A Qualifying run in the afternoon on Day 2 then saw the best time beaten twice more, first by Hitech Grand Prix’s Jak Crawford and then by Collet.
3. AGE IS JUST A NUMBER FOR JAK CRAWFORD
Still just 15 years old, Red Bull junior Crawford looked completely at home in F3, setting the third fastest lap overall, less than two tenths off Collet’s record and just 0.064s off Hauger in P2.
Red Bull clearly have plenty of faith in the American given they promoted him directly from the ADAC Formula 4 Championship, where he finished runner-up in his rookie season.
Signing with Hitech, Crawford will turn 16 just five days before the start of the season. He’s aiming to get up to speed as quickly as possible, and posted the highest lap count of the field, running 178 laps across Saturday and Sunday at the Red Bull Ring.
4. ART GRAND PRIX WERE HARD AT WORK
They may not have appeared in the top five overall, but ART Grand Prix were the only team to feature two cars in the top 10. Not only this, but all three of their drivers also featured in the top 10 for distance ran – again, they were the only team to accomplish this.
After a disappointing debut campaign in Formula 3, ART showed considerable improvement in 2020 and shined towards the end of the season in particular. Théo Pourchaire’s run of five podiums from the final six races was an impressive feat.
Snapping up title favourite Frederik Vesti and retaining second-year Smolyar, ART feel they can properly challenge reigning champions PREMA for the title this year. The experience of former F2 racer Juan Manuel Correa could also prove pivotal, even if the Ecuadorian-American has tempered expectations ahead of his return.
5. THE LONG-AWAITED RETURN OF JUAN MANUEL CORREA
Speaking of which, the inspirational return of Correa has been a hot topic ever since the F2 podium finisher was announced at ART for the upcoming F3 season. Getting back out on track just 18 months on from the shocking crash in Spa-Francorchamps, the 21-year-old’s story continues to be incredible.
Finishing last week’s pre-season test 18th overall, Correa said he got back up to speed quicker than expected, an encouraging sign and welcome reward for his dedication and graft over the past year-and-and-half.
Keen to lower expectations ahead of his return, he knows it will take time to fully re-adjust, admitting that there were physical elements of driving that he found more difficult than he previously anticipated, braking in particular.
The 21-year-old doesn’t expect to be 100% when the season kicks off at Barcelona in May, but he is confident he can still be competitive and was boosted by his performance overall in Austria, where he ran the joint-ninth most laps, posting 158 in total.
Regardless of the results, this felt like a major step in Correa’s recovery and was truly heart-warming to witness.