A brilliantly poised showdown: 4 takeaways from FIA F3 Round 8 at Zandvoort

The eighth round of the 2022 FIA Formula 3 Championship at Zandvoort was not the thrilling weekend many desired in terms of on-track action, but it set up a brilliant title fight that will go down to the wire at Monza. F1 Feeder Series was in the paddock to see all the action unfold on the ground.

By Michael McClure

With 39 points still on offer at Monza, the drivers’ points are as follows: Martins 126, Hadjar 121, Staněk 109, Bearman 105, Maloney 102, Leclerc 101, Crawford 90. Two outfits remain in contention for the teams’ championship: Prema on 296 and Trident on 250.

Are Prema in trouble?

Prema Racing left Zandvoort with just 10 points after a weekend that can only be described as a disaster – a stark contrast to last season, when Dennis Hauger’s dominant Feature Race victory put him on the brink of the championship title.

Jak Crawford scored all of Prema’s points on the weekend with ninth in the Sprint Race and sixth in the Feature Race. He started the latter third but locked up and ran wide at Turn 1 on the safety car restart on Lap 8. That mistake dropped down to ninth and ruined his chances at a podium and realistically at the championship title, even considering the recovery.

The other two Prema drivers remain better positioned for the championship, but scoreless weekends dented their chances. Last year’s Race 1 winner at Zandvoort, Arthur Leclerc, started both races 20th after falling victim to the red flag. He was among the biggest movers in the two races, climbing to 12th place in both, but it wasn’t enough for points. He now sits sixth in the standings on 101 points.

Ollie Bearman entered the weekend with 105 points, just one point off the championship lead, but leaves 21 back after failing to score in both races. He was set to qualify sixth before the red flag annulled his lap, and his 14th-place starting position put him on the back foot. He nearly took points in both races, losing 10th on Saturday after bouncing across the grass exiting Turn 3 on Lap 16 and being demoted from the same position to 25th on Sunday for failing to maintain the proper gap under safety car conditions.

Trident are surging – but will it be enough?

Zane Maloney became the first driver to take two pole positions this season on Friday. He followed that up by winning the Feature Race on Sunday thanks to a textbook over-under move on Victor Martins for the lead on the 12th of 26 laps. He’s scored second, first, and first in the last three Feature Races – an impressive run of form for anyone, let alone a driver who’d not scored a single point in the first four Feature Races.

Maloney leaves Zandvoort fifth in the championship on 102 points, 24 off the lead. That might not have thrust him back into title contention, but it puts him firmly in the fight for third, a battle led by Roman Staněk on 109 points.

Zane Maloney (Trident Racing) | Credit: Formula Motorsport Limited

Alongside Maloney and Staněk’s improbable but extant championship chances, Jonny Edgar’s form has also improved since his return from Crohn’s disease complications that sidelined him earlier this year. This weekend, he took fourth in the Sprint Race and ninth in the Feature Race, all of which helps Trident in the teams’ championship.

It’ll require something extraordinary for Trident to overcome the 46-point deficit they currently have to Prema, but the Trident car is suited to low-downforce circuits like Monza, as Staněk explained to F1 Feeder Series during the Spa weekend.

“I don’t know why, but it seems like our cars on the low-downforce tracks [are] quite strong. Also in Monza, also in Bahrain, but Trident this year or even last year, they were very strong almost everywhere. I think just on [Spa], as in Monza, we are a little bit of step forward.”

Collet aiming high in Monza

The last two times Caio Collet has started fourth for the Sprint Race, he has ended up winning. He got a strong launch off the line and swept past Grégoire Saucy and Zak O’Sullivan for second into Turn 1 before passing pole-sitter Juan Manuel Correa for the lead on Lap 5. He extended the gap to 4.057 seconds by the end of a physically demanding race with not a single safety car or virtual safety car across 21 laps.

He took seventh in the Feature Race for his best all-around weekend, though it would have been sixth but for a lock-up into Turn 1 on the final lap that let a recovering Crawford through. After the Feature Race, Collet spoke to F1 Feeder Series about what he took from a ‘positive weekend’ at Zandvoort and what his and MP’s goals were for Monza.

“Today, starting from P9, I was in P6. Just the last two laps, I made a mistake and went back to P7, but overall, it’s a decent weekend, and the team did a really good job with the car. We were quite quick all the sessions, but I think the main disappointment is a little bit qualifying,” he said.

“We did a pole in Spa, we won one race here, but we are just looking to finish on the podium in the Feature Race [in Monza] or, if possible, maybe win the Feature Race. I think that’s our goal as a team: to wind up the championship on a good note.”

Advantage Martins and Hadjar

Seven drivers remain mathematically eligible for the championship with a round to spare and six drivers are within 25 points of the lead. There are two drivers, though, who have been consistently at the top of the standings since July: second-year driver Victor Martins and rookie Isack Hadjar. The French pair leave Zandvoort on 126 and 121 points respectively.

Hadjar entered the weekend with the slimmest of leads, but he lost it on Sunday after Martins outscored him by eight points. Nevertheless, Hadjar’s measured drives to sixth in the Sprint Race and fifth in the Feature Race – gaining one place in each of the two races when other drivers hit trouble – were reminiscent of those of runaway F2 leader Felipe Drugovich on the other side of the paddock. It’s a quality that has been apparent in Hadjar’s entire 2022 campaign, though never in the season has it been so crucial.

Isack Hadjar (Hitech GP) | Credit: Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool

Martins, who qualified second, put in the more aggressive drives of the two this weekend, rocketing from 11th to seventh by the first corner of the Sprint Race. Those four points came in handy in the championship, but the most decisive result for the 21-year-old was his second place in the Feature Race. Martins even led the first 11 laps after Maloney had a wild ride through the grass exiting Turn 1 on the opening lap, but the ART Grand Prix driver was eventually overtaken and fell into the clutches of Franco Colapinto by the end.

The tension was palpable at Hitech Grand Prix as team principal Oliver Oakes watched the Feature Race in the hospitality unit and willed on his star rookie, while at ART, there was mild relief on Sunday as Martins took back the championship lead he has held for much of this season. It remains to be seen whether youth or experience will win out, but one thing is for certain – rarely has there been a more eagerly anticipated dénouement to an F3 season, one that we’ve all been lucky to enjoy.

Header photo credit: ART Grand Prix

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