Returning for another bite of the Formula 3 apple, Jak Crawford’s second campaign might not have started out exactly as he would have liked, but there’s plenty of signs that the American driver will be in the fight for the title as the 2022 season heads towards its conclusion in Monza.
While he might not have dominated the headlines, the PREMA Racing ace has played the long game, staying consistent and keeping his nose clean whilst those around him falter. Nevertheless, that certainly doesn’t mean he’s been having a quiet time of things and when opportunities have presented themselves, the 17-year-old has shown no hesitation in seizing them with both hands.
As the final three rounds loom on the horizon, we look at his overall performance and Crawford gives us his take on how the season has unfolded, how he’s developed as a driver and the areas he needs to address if he hopes to be crowned the 2022 FIA Formula 3 Champion.
Remaining firmly within touching distance of the leading pack, Crawford has sat inside the top five in the standings since the second round in Imola. Whilst only 25 points stand between him and assuming the lead of the Championship, the American narrowly clings on to fourth on 80 points, with countback keeping him ahead of PREMA teammate Oliver Bearman.
After bringing home his maiden victory at the mid-point of the season, he’ll be hoping to add another first-place trophy to his cabinet before the year is out alongside his three further podium finishes.
CRAWFORD’S SEASON SO FAR
“At the moment, I’d rate my season a seven out of 10. I don’t think it’s been perfect. Fourth in the Championship is not bad, but it’s not where I want to be. Definitely not a 10 out of 10 so far, I think I just need to improve on my driving and have a bit more luck fall my way and then I’ll be able to rate my season a bit better.
“It hasn’t been a bad season. I think it’s a really competitive field this year, there’s a lot of quick drivers and quick cars. There’s a lot of people that can qualify on pole, there’s a lot of people who can win races so it’s very competitive. I really like the competitiveness; it keeps you on your toes and makes you a better driver. I’ve endured a bit of bad luck, so it hasn’t been great for my Championship – lost quite a lot of points in the last two rounds with the incidents that weren’t my fault.”
After a maiden outing with Hitech Grand Prix last year that only yielded a single podium finish, 45 points and 13th in the standings, Crawford carries the weight of many fans and his own expectations this time around. Returning in 2022 to line up for frontrunners PREMA, who remain undefeated in the Drivers’ Championship for three consecutive seasons, there was a high bar set for him before the lights had even gone out in Sakhir.
Unfortunately, the opening round proved to be more about damage limitation than title-contending pace. Qualifying in P21, over a second off pole, left him on the backfoot and at the mercy of a P27 finish in the Sprint Race. Crawford may have been down, but he was certainly not out and showed his grit and determination by cutting his way through the field to claim an impressive seventh in the Feature Race.
Imola proved to be his strongest weekend to date, overcoming challenging changeable conditions in Qualifying to take third. The PREMA driver came very close to a shot a pole position, clocking in a lap just over a tenth down on Zane Maloney’s leading time. Fighting back through the pack seems to bring out the best in Crawford and with confidence in spades behind the wheel, he clinically carved his way up from ninth to third whilst chaos unfolded around him in the Sprint Race. Back-to-back podiums were on the cards as he survived the slippery Feature Race, before making a return to the second step of the rostrum the following round in Barcelona.
With 29 F3 races to his name, it was his 30th appearance that secured his spot in the history books and his first trip to the top of the podium at his academy’s home race. Getting his elbows out in the Spielberg Sprint Race, Crawford fought off Caio Collet and mastered the game of survival to hold on to the lead around the Red Bull Ring, despite being at a disadvantage due to a lack of DRS.
Unfortunately, his maiden victory was followed up with a point-less finish in the Feature Race. Attempting to send a move around the outside of Jonny Edgar into Turn 1 on the Safety Car restart backfired as drivers struggled for grip around the drenched Austrian circuit. Collet tagged Edgar’s rear end, causing the Trident to slide into the side of Crawford and send him into a spin, resulting in a bittersweet ending to what should have been a celebratory weekend.
If there’s one universal rule in motorsport, it’s that you don’t make contact with your teammate. Frustratingly for Crawford, an overly ambitious move from Arthur Leclerc in the battle for fourth in the final lap of the Budapest Sprint Race dropped him out of the points. The Budapest Feature Race was another another bitter pill to swallow as Zak O’Sullivan’s gamble on tyre strategy allowed him to leapfrog him for fourth. Missing out on a potential 13 points in two races is not the kind of luck the American needed at this stage in the Championship.
STRENGHTS AND THINGS TO IMPROVE
“I think the strongest aspect of the season so far has been my race pace by far. I think the car really suits me for the race and I’ve been really quick in race scenarios and in general race pace with tyre degradation. Everything has been really strong, so that’s where as a team and as a driver I’ve been strongest.
“The weakest aspect so far has been Qualifying, even though it’s not bad, it’s not great. I’ve had one top three result and then only two top fives, so we definitely need to improve our Qualifying if we want to be Champions this year. I think that’ll be the main part to focus on.
“I’ve already learnt quite a lot in my second year of F3. I think the main thing that I’ve really learnt how to do better is my race craft in general. I’ve learnt how to be a better racer, make smart and calculated passes but also to be aggressive at the same time.”
Crawford’s strengths and weaknesses go hand in hand. Throughout the six rounds so far, his two top five starts came in Imola and Silverstone, whilst during the remaining weekends he’s relied on either tricky weather conditions or drama elsewhere to leave the door open for him to move up the order. When those opportunities have arisen, there’s no doubt the PREMA racer has showcased a level of maturity that is testament to how much he has progressed as a driver over the past season and a half.
However, his difficulties in getting right to the front in Qualifying have held him back from executing the perfect weekend and bringing home the big points hauls that have allowed his rivals to pull a gap to him. Crawford currently holds the lowest average Qualifying position out of the PREMA trio, with an average result of 9.1, compared to Leclerc’s 8.3 and Oliver Bearman’s 5.6.
FINAL STAGE - THE TITLE-DECIDING TRIPLE HEADER
“I have high expectations for the last three rounds. Spa is where I took my first podium in F3 last year in the wet. Hopefully, it’s not as wet as last year! Zandvoort is a place where I’ve had good success and then we’re back in Italy for the final round, so it’s going to be a crazy three weeks in a row but I’m really looking forward to it. I think we’ll be really quick so hopefully we can make a Championship charge. Hopefully, I can put it all together and get up there.”
The Championship fight isn’t over by any stretch of the imagination as there are 117 points left to play for. Although he sits in fourth, Crawford’s tenacity and perseverance put him in good stead to bring the fight all the way down the wire in Monza, but he’ll have to leave nothing on the table to extract the one lap pace needed to turn his title dreams into a reality.