The 2023 Formula 3 season has gone by in a blur, and we arrive at Spa-Francorchamps for the ninth and penultimate round of the year.
Gabriel Bortoleto could clinch the title this weekend, but there are more than a few names aiming to stop that from happening. Here is what you’ll want to keep an eye on this weekend at Spa-Francorchamps.
THE FORM BOOK
Bortoleto arrives in Belgium with a 43-point advantage in the Drivers’ Championship, and the chance to equal the Formula 3 record for the most consecutive points finishes. Trident were victorious last season at Spa in the hands of Zane Maloney and will be hopeful of a repeat in 2023 with their lead driver on 144 points at the top of the Standings.
Zak O’Sullivan is in the midst of a late-season revival of sorts. The PREMA Racing driver put in his best weekend of the year last time out, winning the Budapest Feature Race expertly from teammate Dino Beganovic. Now on 101 points, the Briton leaps up to second in the Championship.
Josep María Martí said mistakes were extra costly at the Hungaroring, as the Campos Racing driver slipped to third behind the Briton. While he was exciting to watch on Sunday, fighting back to sixth in the Feature, the Spaniard cannot afford any more slip ups to keep his strong season going.
Paul Aron has enjoyed three top five finishes on the bounce and is fourth in the Drivers’ Championship heading into the Spa weekend. The Estonian is tied with PREMA Racing teammate Beganovic on 94 points, one ahead of Franco Colapinto in sixth, with the MP Motorsport driver hitting his stride late on in 2023.
In the Teams’ Standings, PREMA Racing retook the top spot from compatriots Trident in Budapest. The reigning Champions lead the way on 289 points to Trident’s 274. If the latter can repeat their incredible ending to 2022 and wins at Spa and Monza, this fight is a long way from being over.
The fight for third is hotting up as well, with Campos Racing closing the gap to Hitech Pulse-Eight. The British outfit remains third on 154, but Campos is catching, now on 143.
FROM THE GRID – Nikita Bedrin, Jenzer Motorsport
“Spa is great for the many overtaking areas and high-speed corners. Corners like Pouhon are really cool, when you’re driving them, you feel the downforce and g-forces of the car. It makes the track special because the whole track is made up of high-speed corners, which is really cool, especially when you’re inside the car.
“The best overtaking areas are T1, the last chicane and especially going into Turn 5 and 6. Because of the long straight that comes before, you have a lot of momentum on those ahead, so it’s very simple to make a move if you have a good run out of Turn 1.
“I don’t know how much tyre wear there will be at Spa in this car, but I know it’s not low for sure because of the number of high-speed corners. Knowing the medium tyre from Hungary, I know it’ll be bad because this track has many high-speed corners which will punish the tyres. So it will be a challenge. Also, you need to take care of the tyres in the race, you can’t just go full push all through the race because you’ll end up last like that.”
With the high-speed blasts making up two thirds of the lap, Spa-Francorchamps is all about aerodynamic efficiency, especially in terms of top-end speed. The middle sector is the most demanding when it comes to downforce. Teams will be looking to strike the right balance between a car that can carry speed through the corners without scrubbing the tyre surface through the corners excessively, whilst not being vulnerable in the full throttle sections of the lap due to drag. Managing that balance will be a crucial performance differentiator throughout the weekend, as those who struggle to find the best setup will fall away late on in the races. With so much of the lap being flat out, fuel consumption is also high.
Pirelli have brought the medium tyre once again this weekend, and after Budapest, the drivers and teams will have plenty of data to chew through as they look to understand the new compound for 2023. Around the Hungaroring, tyre degradation was big factor but around Spa-Francorchamps, that should be seen to a much lesser extent this weekend.
While there is a balance to be found in terms of keeping the tyres alive through the demanding middle sector, the long straights of Spa mean tyre wear is less of a concern, and the biggest consideration could be the weather. The longest circuit on the Formula 3 calendar, Spa is notoriously tricky when it comes to changeable conditions, and it has been known to rain heavily over one side of the track but remain dry in other places. Keeping an eye on the sky will be crucial throughout the weekend.
Mario Isola, Pirelli Motorsport Director
“The P Zero Yellow medium has been chosen for Spa, offering the best compromise between performance and durability: a vital consideration given the relentless pace of the Belgian circuit, with multiple forces acting on the tyres. As always on this demanding track in the Ardennes, the weather can be decisive: it’s not unusual for the track to go from dry to wet in just a few minutes, and to have both wet and dry conditions on different parts of the circuit. With no intermediates available, identifying the crossover point from wet to slick tyres could become a decisive factor.”