“Every point counts, consistency is key and hard work with the team always pays off.” Paul Aron couldn’t have summed up the lessons from his rookie Formula 3 season more aptly. Although not the quickest out of the gates in Sakhir and Melbourne, he became one of the stars of the second half of the campaign and forced the title decider to go all the way down to the final round.
Ultimately, the runner-up honours slipped out of his hands and over to PREMA Racing teammate Zak O’Sullivan at the final hurdle. Whilst Aron’s pleased at how he’s impressed this year given his limited F3 experience compared to many of the returning title contenders, the Estonian admits it’s bit unsatisfying given what could have been.
“If we look at the results, third place in my rookie season is certainly a good result. It’s always good to finish on the podium as rookie, but there is a little bit of disappointment as there was the potential for much more. For example, we lost out massively in Spa with a mistake on the strategy, which cost us a win that would have completely changed the last weekend.
“We would have gone in fighting for the title with P2 basically secured. For sure, it’s a bit bittersweet and in the end, actually losing out on the Vice Champion title in the last race wasn’t nice either. P3 in Formula 3 is a very good result for a rookie, but I’m looking at the potential and how things were going, we were wanting more and sadly that didn’t happen.”
Although his mindset was to fight for the title from the outset, Aron experienced a shaky start to life in the third tier. Finishing P5 and P12 in Sakhir, those results weren’t bad on paper, but didn’t match what he and PREMA thought was possible.
Learning from 2020 Champion Oscar Piastri’s example, the 19-year-old knew that he had to avoid off weekends at all costs – a feat he mostly achieved as the second-best qualifier on the grid and third-best finisher, averaging 6.94 each race. Earning one win, a further three podiums and 14 points-scoring finishes, Aron achieved points on five more occasions than O’Sullivan.
“That was my goal and that was the goal from the people around me, so it certainly wasn’t a surprise that we were in that position to fight for the title. However, the beginning of the season was not easy. We struggled more than we expected, but we were able to make steps forward quite quickly and turn our season around.
“It’s obvious that the F3 season is short, and consistency is key, we’ve seen it through the year. For example, Oscar Piastri never qualified on pole, but always managed to bring in points even on a bad day and ended up winning the Championship. We knew that it was key to be consistent, smart and to take points out of every race and every situation.
“The mindset was correct, and it definitely paid off. Coming from last year in Formula Regional, my biggest problem was consistency. We were super quick, but we just missed a little bit of consistency with bringing home points when it wasn’t my day. So, I’m very happy that I was able to work on that and come with that mindset into F3.”
Podiums in Melbourne and Monaco swiftly followed, an improvement Aron credits to him and his team’s straightforward approach to tackling their weaknesses.
“When we arrived, we didn’t have the car exactly where we wanted and I obviously had a lot to improve on my driving as it was still very early days,” he explained. “The combination of me and the team being very open minded and improving ourselves led us to the step-up that we made after the first two rounds.
“Throughout Bahrain and Melbourne, we realised what was holding us back and then during the two in-season tests, we were really able to make big steps forward. We certainly showed that in Monaco and then from there on, it was fine-tuning, and we were always fighting for the front rather than fighting to be in the top 10.”
Nowhere was that clearer than Round 6 in Spielberg as the stars aligned for Aron. Citing the weekend as his highlight of the year, he looked on course for pole, but tracks limited demoted him to fourth. Rebounding with victory in the Sprint Race, he had a shot at doing the double, if not for a hasty overtake attempt on Grégoire Saucy before the halfway mark.
“In the end, it didn’t fully turn out the way we wanted,” Aron admitted. “From day one, I felt really good in the car, I think the team did an amazing job and I was in a perfect place mentally. I’d just graduated from school, so I was super happy to be there and race.
“We managed to get pole, which didn’t count because of track limits but it showed our potential. Winning the Sprint was a bit like redemption, making the mistake on Friday and losing out on pole position. I went and delivered on Saturday and even in the Feature, we had a chance to go and win the race but a mistake from my side and an unlucky situation cost us big points.
“We were running third and could easily see that we were the quickest car on track, so it was just about patience. I risked a bit too much and, in those circumstances, it didn’t pay off, I broke my front wing and lost the race.”
In his mind, that error was one of two pivotal moments that were the deciding factor in how the story of his eventually panned out. Ending up seven points off O’Sullivan and 52 adrift of Gabriel Bortoleto, Aron rues the lost points that could have shifted the title momentum in his favour but knows everything isn’t always in his control.
“The second was the Spa Feature Race where again I was leading the race after we made the correct call to be on wet tyres. But then, the second call to pit for slicks was the wrong call and this strategy decision cost us the win. 25 points would have made a massive difference because going into the final round we would have been 18 points behind Gabriel fighting for the title and basically having the Vice Champion title secured.
“Arriving to Monza, we were second, and it was very, very tight from second to seventh. Honestly, I don’t have much to regret. We were very quick and were doing the job in Qualifying, but we were obviously a bit unlucky with how it turned out. In the Sprint, I was unlucky to not get past Turn 1 and obviously with the Feature being the last race of the year, it was crazy.
“I feel like I just ended up in between all the mess, which didn’t play out in the right way and because of that I lost P2 in the Championship. Looking at the points we lost in Spielberg and Spa, those were two moments that put us in a much more difficult position going into the last round and are what cost us a chance at the title and ultimately, P2 in the Championship.”
Aron is assured that how he approached the ’23 campaign was the right way. Even if it didn’t conclude how he had hoped, he says it has demonstrated how he’s evolved as a driver by implementing the changes needed.
Having been at home behind the wheel of the F3 car, that unshakeable self-belief will carry him through as he embarks on his next challenge – a Formula 2 debut in Yas Marina this weekend with Trident.
“I always thought that the top three was possible, I never had doubt in myself or the team. I knew it was a matter of time until we figured out how to improve our pace. I think focusing on results is not the right mindset and doing that, we would never have been able to have such a big performance jump from the beginning of the year.”
“Pace-wise, I think we were quick straight away when I jumped into the F3 car. Then going from track to track, you need to adapt, and we were struggling at the beginning, especially on those non-European circuits, but I felt pretty good and the driving style suited me.
“I think everything else – the maturity, decision-making in the races and the approach improved massively this year,” Aron concluded. “Last year, I just lacked consistency and that’s what cost me dearly during the season, but this year in F3, I managed to be one of the most consistent drivers. Rather than being crazy fast and finishing at the front of the Championship like that, I managed to be consistent and even on bad days bring home good points and I think that’s a key factor for my future.”