When the Formula 3 teams and drivers clambered off the planes from Macau, China, and returned to their team bases in various parts of Europe, they regrouped, debriefed and analysed a weekend that didn’t exactly go to script.
For some, there may have been a few cups of coffee and a scratching of heads, with a lot of the pre-race favourites faltering around the tricky streets of Macau. For many though, such as MP Motorsport and Carlin Buzz Racing, the reaction must have been jubilant, and you suspect, already laced with two or three glasses of champagne.
One of the most interesting aspects of this year’s FIA F3 World Cup was the exciting cluster of rookies on show: two of the first three drivers to cross the line were racing there for the first time, as were a further three inside of the top ten.
Those were Richard Verschoor, Logan Sargeant, Christian Lundgaard, Liam Lawson and Fredrik Vesti. All bar Vesti were known to fans from the 2019 F3 season, with all four competing in their first full campaign at that level.
Of those, Lundgaard was the most successful in F3, emerging as a race winner with ART Grand Prix, finishing sixth overall. Lawson was the next closest, finishing in 11th place, with two podium finishes to his name. All enjoyed their most successful weekends in the second half of the campaign and Macau, a non-Championship event, handed them a chance to continue their development as drivers.
Due to his performances in 2019, and his status as a Renault Academy driver, Lundgaard already featured highly on a list of ones to watch in Macau. He still had to live up to his billing though, and will have been rather pleased with fourth on Sunday, with an accomplished and mistake-free performance.
Lesser fancied were the duo who finished in front of him, Verschoor and Sargeant, who both enjoyed their best races at this level to date in the stand-alone event. First and third place will have far exceeded their expectations heading into Macau, but it isn’t just their finishing positons that have caught attention. The duo’s manipulation of the machinery around what is arguably the most challenging circuit in the world was nothing short of exemplary.
They displayed impressive pace throughout the five sessions and held their own against drivers with more experience of both the level and the circuit. As well as Shwartzman, Armstrong and Vips, they were also up against two-time Macau winner Dan Ticktum, Formula 2 racer Callum Ilott and three-time entrant Jake Hughes – to name just a few. Verschoor only finished outside of the top five once, while Sargeant made the top ten in every session. A display of two vital ingredients for success in this sport - pace and consistency.
Their overtakes during Sunday’s race speak for themselves. Verschoor’s shrewd start set him up for the win, as he allowed Shwartzman and Lundgaard to engage in battle, before firing down the right of them both and into the inside line. This propelled him into second, behind Vips, who the Dutchman admitted post-race had more pace than him. Once again, he thought outside of the box: he opted to wait patiently for a potential opening and made the most of a safety car restart to get ahead. His subsequent defence wasn’t without its difficult moments, which included a minor coming together with the barriers, but he recovered astutely and never presented the Estonian with a true opportunity to pass.
Sargeant was similarly exciting in this aspect. Starting sixth, he made moves on the more experienced duo of Ilott and Alessio Lorandi before coming up against Lundgaard for the final spot on the podium. The 18-year-old cleverly reeled in the fellow rookie before passing him ahead of the Lisboa Turn for third.
The next debutant to cross the line was Lawson, who, at 17-years-old, was the youngest driver in F3 last season, having joined on the back of a successful campaign in ADAC Formula 4, where he finished second. The Kiwi enjoyed a consistent debut year, where he only finished outside of the top 20 on one occasion, scoring seven points finishes and two podiums.
Lawson built on this at the non-Championship event in China, finishing the race in a strong seventh place. The most remarkable aspect of this though, was that he had started Sunday from 20th. The Kiwi riffled his way through the field ruthlessly to P7, before displaying his defensive abilities to prevent fellow New Zealander, and 2019 title challenger, Armstrong, from passing him.
The final of those five debutants in the top ten, Vesti, was a slightly different quantity. Unlike the others, the 17-year-old didn’t compete in F3 in 2019, and, wasn’t actually supposed to be in Macau. The Dane was a late entrant for PREMA Racing after Jehan Daruvala pulled out through injury.
His only previous experience of F3 machinery came at the post-season tests with PREMA in Valencia, just a month prior. He was already well known to the team, having won the Formula Regional European Championship as part of their squad and was quickly drafted in as the Indian’s replacement.
On a grid of 30 cars, the majority of whom with more experience than him, the Dane finished outside of the top ten just twice, and never outside of the top 20. Arguably, he was the high point of PREMA’s weekend, due to Shwartzman and Armstrong’s aforementioned disappointment.
He claimed tenth in the main event with a mature performance, which saw minimal risk and maximum gain, finishing ahead of Ticktum, Hughes and the highly rated Yuki Tsunoda. While all three could claim to have suffered bad luck, or crashes that put them towards the back of the grid, the Dane never put himself in a vulnerable situation and managed to keep his nose clean.
All five have seen their reputations rise following the FIA F3 World Cup and will aim to use it as a springboard for their future in junior formula.