Heading into his second Formula 3 campaign, Jak Crawford couldn’t have predicted the turn of events his future would have in store for him. Setting his sights on Championship glory, the PREMA Racing driver thought his dreams were left in tatters after the opening round, before clawing his way back into contention all the way to the final round.
Despite his seventh-place finish in the Drivers’ Standings, navigating his way through a topsy-turvy campaign to stand tall after the chequered flag proves Crawford’s determination to show how much he’s come into his own over the past two years.
“It was an alright season, not what I really hoped for,” he admitted. “But in the end, it was really close, and I was fighting till the final round, so I think that’s something to be proud of. Even though I was at the end of the Championship fight, I still think without a couple of mistakes we could have been the champion or inside the top three. It was a difficult season, but there’s still lots to take away from it.”
After finishing 13th last year with Hitech Grand Prix, the American made the switch over to PREMA Racing, becoming one of the hotshots for the title pre-season. While many, including Crawford himself, had high expectations, things didn’t quite get off to the smoothest of starts in Sakhir. Qualifying in P21 left him with work to do to salvage something from the weekend.
Undeterred by the setback, he demonstrated one of his and PREMA’s greatest strengths this season, their race pace, carving his way through to claim an impressive P7 finish in the Feature Race. Yet Crawford confessed he thought his title hopes were all but over at that point, before going on to claim consecutive podiums at Imola and in the Barcelona Sprint Race to haul himself up into the leading pack.
“I had a really good start to the season. Bahrain didn’t go well, and I thought I was already out of the fight, but then when we left Barcelona, I was still in the top three. It was a big turn of events, and it happened really fast. It was really difficult to be consistent, especially when you’re in such high-pressured moments and the Championship is so close, it’s easy to make a mistake and lose out on a bunch of points.
“Our race pace was super strong all year. It’s a shame we didn’t have amazing Qualifying pace because as a team, all of us drivers only won one race each. That was mainly because of the Qualifying, we got no poles as a team, and I think we were all definitely fast enough for one. If we had been a bit better in Qualifying, then I think the Championship would have been completely different as our race pace was spectacular. We were always one of the quickest in the race, so I was really happy with that. Even after Qualifying, we always knew we had a chance in the race.”
From there, two sixth-placed and a 10th-placed finish followed as the Championship approached the over-halfway mark in Spielberg. With the spotlight on him at his academy’s home race, the Red Bull junior ended his 29-race win drought. He was victorious in the opening Sprint Race, surviving Caio Collet’s many attempts to snatch the win.
However, he wasn’t able to match that result come Sunday, as Crawford found himself a sitting duck in the torrential conditions, getting tangled up in chaos on the Safety car restart. In his attempt to send a move around the outside of Jonny Edgar, Collet tagged the Trident’s rear end and sent him straight into the path of Crawford, resulting in a pointless finish to his Feature Race.
That misfortune continued to plague his title chances in Budapest. A dive from his teammate Arthur Leclerc in the battle for fourth on the final lap of the Sprint Race caused the pair to collide and sent Crawford spiralling out of the points.
However, the American revealed that it was the following round in Spa-Francorchamps that caused him to hit rock bottom. Heavy downpours ahead of their Qualifying session left the field facing precarious conditions around the slippery Belgian circuit. Unfortunately, it was the American who became its first casualty – spinning into the gravel trap in his attempts to re-join the circuit after an earlier off.
Nevertheless, he was quickly able to restore his confidence by executing a staggering 19 overtakes in 15 laps to go from P30 to P11 by the chequered flag.
“Spa Qualifying was my lowest point of the season. I was super disappointed in myself and the whole night I just didn’t want to speak to anyone, I just wanted to go back and sleep. It wasn’t the greatest moment and I think that’s what really hurt my Championship. Everyone ahead of me in the Standings also made mistakes, some bigger than others – mine led to me scoring zero points across the whole weekend.
“It was difficult to bounce back, as I started last in both races. To be honest, starting last was actually quite fun, you know you can’t go backwards! It’s sad that you’re not going to be able to fight for the win, but you’re able to make your way through the field and I think in the Sprint Race I gained 19 positions. That’s what gave me my confidence back.”
Back-to-back points-finishes followed in Zandvoort to keep him within touching distance of the title as the season finale approached. Arriving to Monza with a 36-point deficit to Victor Martins, his only hope was to execute a never-before-seen perfect F3 weekend, claiming pole and both victories, whilst needing his rivals to falter at the final hurdle.
While it wasn’t to be for Crawford, he did manage to end his 2022 campaign on a high note, with his and Oliver Bearman’s double podium helping PREMA to retake the Teams’ Championship title from Trident. Summarising his season, the 17-year-old acknowledged while the title fight had been a running feature in his mind throughout the year, it was a lack of consistency and a hefty dose of misfortune ultimately cost him a chance at a better result.
“The season was a bit up-and-down. There were moments where I was thinking about the Championship and some moments where I wasn’t. After Bahrain, I thought it was gone, I was way behind, and I thought the Championship wasn’t really possible. I think that was the furthest I was behind all year.
“Then we had Imola and Barcelona and I got back up there into the top three, which was a real turning point. Through the midway point of the season, I was trying to be as consistent as possible. I think that was where I had the most bad luck, between the Sprint Race in Budapest and the Feature Race in Spielberg where I lost a lot of points because of incidents that weren’t really my fault.
“Going into the summer break, I started to think about the Championship a bit and then afterwards, that’s where I made the mistake in Qualifying at Spa. At Zandvoort, I had a lot of pace because I wasn’t really thinking about the Championship. It was a big dynamic throughout the season and what I learned the most is not to think about the Championship too much.”
Now with all the dust settled, Crawford’s eager to have found some silver linings to his rollercoaster campaign, particularly how much the challenging circumstances and having a strong but healthy rivalry with teammates Bearman and Leclerc have helped shaped him into a more-all-round driver, ready to face the next frontier.
“It’s really good to see how much I’ve grown as a driver. At the start of my rookie year, I didn’t know very much. I’d come up from F4 and I’d just turned 16, so I was barely old enough to race. I think I’ve come a long way and I’ve learned so much. There were times when us three were so close, we were learning so much from each other. It was really pushing all of us, especially in Qualifying where we didn’t have a lot of pace but we were always trying to beat each other, and I think that helped us out.
“I feel like I’m already quite consistent. It’s hard to say mistakes won’t happen because they will, so I’ll be wanting to work on not making big mistakes and keeping them to a minimum. Also, improving my Qualifying pace. If I can figure that out a bit more from myself and getting the car more to my liking, then I think I’ll be able to qualify further up and give myself a better shot in the race.”