Buckle up your seat belts as the stage is set for FIA Formula 3’s most spectacular title fight yet – with an astonishing SEVEN drivers still in with a shot and there’s no better place for a blockbuster ending than Monza’s Temple of Speed.
36 points stand between first-placed Victor Martins and seventh-placed Jak Crawford and with 39 points left on the table, we won’t know who succeeds Dennis Hauger as our Drivers’ Champion until the final chequered flag has flown in the Feature Race.
There’s a lot of ifs, buts and maybes, but here’s what each of the seven drivers will be aiming to do to bring home the title...
VICTOR MARTINS (ART GRAND PRIX) – 1ST IN DRIVERS’ CHAMPIONSHIP
The short and simple answer is – outscore all his title rivals and the crown is his. However, that’s brushes over a lot. Firstly, Martins can afford to finish behind them in the Sprint Race, but that then gives him more work to do come Sunday’s main event.
If he fails to score any points and Isack Hadjar scores five to tie on 126 points, the ART ace will lose the title on countback, having one less victory than his compatriot.
Qualifying on pole would give the Frenchman a much-needed two points heading into both races. However, Martins is yet to secure that highly coveted P1 spot so far this season. Although Monza’s abundance of overtaking opportunities does give the Alpine junior some breathing room to make his way through, it will also force him to be on guard and looking in his wing mirrors to keep threats behind.
ISACK HADJAR (HITECH GRAND PRIX) – 2ND IN DRIVERS’ CHAMPIONSHIP
To overcome Martins’ advantage, Hadjar needs to score at least five more points than the Championship leader, whilst hoping those behind all fail to outscore him.
With the most victories to his name of any driver in the 2022 campaign, it’s clear that the Red Bull junior has what it takes to bring home the goods on race day. However, whilst he’s scored points in every Sprint Race this season, he’s failed to score in a third of the Feature Races, including in two of the last three – something the rookie won’t be able to afford to do around the Italian circuit this time.
ROMAN STANEK (TRIDENT) – 3RD IN DRIVERS’ CHAMPIONSHIP
The only one of the title contenders to have scored points in all four races across following the summer break, Stanek’s consistency has given him an outside chance of leapfrogging the two leaders and bringing home Trident’s first Drivers’ Championship title.
With a 17-point gap to close, he’ll need to maximise his score on Saturday. Taking victory in the Sprint Race would put him only eight points off overtaking Martins, should he and Hadjar both fail to score. Having secured a 27-point haul in Round 7, the Czech driver has proven he’s got what it takes to score big but will the fact that he hasn’t qualified inside the top three since the third round in Barcelona hold him back?
OLIVER BEARMAN (PREMA RACING) – 4TH IN DRIVERS’ CHAMPIONSHIP
After an exceptionally strong middle stint, with four consecutive Feature Race third places from Silverstone to Spa-Francorchamps, Bearman looked to be going from strength to strength in the title fight. However, a late Red Flag in Zandvoort Qualifying put him on the backfoot and the PREMA driver left the Dutch circuit empty handed.
Now the hard work begins to close a 21-point deficit to Martins. Even a Sprint Race victory alone wouldn’t be enough, he’d then need to finish at least fourth, whilst hoping results elsewhere go his way. Can the Ferrari Academy junior do it? Well, he’ll certainly have no shortage of support from the fans this weekend as he tries to fight for the title.
ZANE MALONEY (TRIDENT) - 5TH IN DRIVERS’ CHAMPIONSHIP
Perhaps the surprise dark horse of the season, Maloney has gone from being a rapid, but not always perfect points scorer to a real threat to the leading pack. In the space of two rounds, he’s rocketed up the order – with nearly half of his 102 total coming from his back-to-back Feature Race victories in the seventh and eighth rounds.
Now he faces the daunting task of closing up a 24-point gap. His Qualifying form should help him in that regard, as one of the most consistent qualifiers this season. The Bajan rookie has five top three appearances to his name on Friday and is our only repeat pole-sitter of the year. Adding the two points for pole would be helpful, but he’ll need to have his eyes firmly fixed on the podium in both races to put himself within touching distance of those ahead.
ARTHUR LECLERC (PREMA RACING) - 6TH IN DRIVERS’ CHAMPIONSHIP
Much like Maloney, Leclerc also faces the difficult task of trying to bridge the 25-point gap between himself and Martins. However, the PREMA driver has struggled to translate his pace into Qualifying, with two P20 Friday results in the last two rounds marring his report card.
Known for his fierce fightbacks through the field, the Monégasque driver will be hoping he doesn’t have to pull one off this weekend. He will be setting his sights on recreating his form from Silverstone which helped vault him into title contention five rounds ago.
JAK CRAWFORD (PREMA RACING) - 7TH IN DRIVERS’ CHAMPIONSHIP
Very much the outside contender for the title, Crawford will be desperate to put in the weekend of his Formula 3 career if he stands any chance of bringing his fight down to the final day on Sunday. Staring down a 36-point gap to Martins, the PREMA driver has to leave everything on the table on his Monza debut.
Nothing but the top step in both races will be good enough (unless he manages to claim pole and either or both fastest laps). This would be a huge ask for the American driver, who’s best haul of 26 points came at the Championship’s last visit to Italy in Monza. Even then, he’d need to hope circumstances elsewhere fall in his favour because if Martins scores three more points than him by the end of Saturday, his fight will be over.
AND IN THE TEAMS BATTLE...
With all three of their drivers inside the top seven, PREMA Racing are in the driver's seat to dethrone reigning champions Trident and regain their Teams’ Championship title – their third in four F3 seasons. All they need to do is score 14 points more than their Italian rivals across Qualifying and the Sprint Race to bring home the trophy on Saturday.