Rookies shone, teams scored their best-ever results and drivers battled all the way to the flag, but there was much more to the fourth round of the FIA Formula 3 Championship than just the crowd-pleaser moments. We select six of the storylines we watched as the third tier on the F1 ladder returned to the sport’s spiritual home in Silverstone.
By Michael McClure
Ushijima finally delivers
Reece Ushijima stepped up to FIA F3 after finishing fourth in the GB3 Championship in 2021. As one of two rookies at new F3 team Van Amersfoort Racing, Ushijima was facing an uphill battle primarily because of their combined lack of experience. Across the first three races of the 2022 season, Ushijima had taken points only at the Sprint Race at Barcelona, where he finished ninth. Teammate Franco Colapinto, meanwhile, had already taken both pole position and a Sprint Race win.
Ushijima’s 12th place in Qualifying gave him reverse-grid pole for the Sprint Race, but the characters immediately behind him would usually qualify better and thus start from further down on Saturday. From the championship top five, Victor Martins started the Sprint Race second, Isack Hadjar started fourth and Roman Staněk started fifth. For Ushijima, a rookie with a previous best finish of ninth in FIA F3, the race presented a challenge unlike anything he’d have seen before.
And to his credit, Ushijima delivered. The race wasn’t flawless: He lost the lead off the line to Martins immediately, and Hadjar then got by him for second on Lap 8. Ushijima held onto third place until the end to take his first career podium, and even when describing the stress of the race start to F1 Feeder Series in the post-race press conference, he couldn’t stop smiling.
He took another point with 10th place on Sunday and deftly picked up the mantle of team leader this weekend from Colapinto, whose lacklustre weekend at Silverstone was capped off by an opening-lap crash on Sunday.
O’Sullivan finds his footing
Zak O’Sullivan faced a similar predicament to Ushijima’s for the 2022 season. After a dominant title-winning campaign in GB3 that earned him a place in the Williams Driver Academy, O’Sullivan moved to F3 with Carlin, the team that finished last in the standings in 2021. He was paired with two other rookies in Brad Benavides and Enzo Trulli, neither of whom have yet scored points.
O’Sullivan’s previous best results were eighth in Qualifying and a pair of sixth places in the races, but at Silverstone, everything changed. O’Sullivan delivered a shock pole position, improving from a prior best qualifying of 8th and giving Carlin their first pole position in FIA F3. F1 Feeder Series spoke to O’Sullivan after Friday’s Qualifying session, and he had a calm, almost disbelieving demeanour about him as he talked about his session.
After a scoreless Saturday, O’Sullivan drove brilliantly on Sunday even though he couldn’t take the win. Prema’s Arthur Leclerc nearly got by him at Stowe on the opening lap, but the safety car came out just in time to save O’Sullivan. Leclerc did make the move stick on Lap 6 through Brooklands and Luffield, but O’Sullivan held station in second as spectacular racing unfolded behind him.
The highlight, and perhaps the most stressful of those moments, came on the final lap. O’Sullivan and Prema’s Ollie Bearman went side by side at Brooklands and again at Stowe, but as they navigated Vale in lockstep, it was clear that the fight would go to the flag. It nearly ended in tears when O’Sullivan squeezed Bearman onto the kerb at Club and both cars veered towards the run-off on exit, but both drivers did make it to the flag separated by just 51 thousandths, delighting their home fans.
Maloney’s missed opportunity
If O’Sullivan and Ushijima leave this weekend with increased confidence, another rookie will be ruing what could have been. Trident’s Zane Maloney finished third in qualifying, just four hundredths away from replicating the pole position he took in Imola. He climbed up from 10th to seventh in the Sprint Race after a heated first-lap battle with Bearman in which each driver left the other very little quarter through the final corners.
The pair came to blows again on the opening lap of the Feature Race when Maloney squeezed Bearman wide at Turn 6 and the Prema driver spun the Trident as he rejoined the racing surface. Maloney expressed his disappointment over the team radio as he fell to the rear of the field, but all hope wasn’t lost. His Trident still had its pace from Friday, and he fought through the field to move all the way up to 11th at the flag.
Maloney’s first three Feature Races had been destroyed by an engine failure, a spin on a safety car restart and a pit lane start. Silverstone was the best opportunity so far to right the ship, but unfortunately for Maloney, he still couldn’t put the weekend together and take points on Sunday.
Martí battles from the back
Campos driver Pepe Martí has had a similar story in his rookie season – decent pace with no points to show for it. Martí ran wide multiple times in Qualifying at Silverstone and had his lap times deleted, which meant he didn’t get a representative time on the board and had to start both races from last place.
But the lowly grid position proved no obstacle for Martí, who finished as the runner-up to Leclerc in the Formula Regional Asian Championship over the winter. The Campos rookie moved up to 24th in the first two laps, with the highlight being a side-by-side battle with series returnee Filip Ugran through Becketts on the second lap. He climbed up to 20th by the end of the race, but the best was still to come on Sunday.
In the Feature Race, Martí had made up six places from his starting position when Maloney and Colapinto were spun at Turn 7. The consequences of that incident allowed Martí to slip through to 19th by the end of the opening lap. Further incidents and overtakes helped Martí up to 14th, and he was only overtaken by fellow hard charger Maloney during the race.
It all came undone, though, on the final lap, when Martí and Hitech’s Kaylen Frederick came together in the infield section while battling over 12th. The incident relegated Martí to the back of the field, and he was classified 23rd – hardly reflecting the recovery he had.
Prema enjoy their best weekend
Three full race weekends without a Prema Racing victory might seem unusual to viewers familiar with the outfit’s F3 prowess. But in the first three rounds of 2022, the team had demonstrated their class in other ways – by scoring podiums in five of the six races, taking twelve total points finishes and finishing every race with all three cars.
F1 Feeder Series asked Leclerc on Friday whether he and Prema were planning to play the team game in the races, and he said it wasn’t something they’d considered. Team tactics or not, their drivers have produced consistently strong drives, giving the team results like the 1-3-6 they took in the Feature Race.
Leclerc in particular seems to have stepped up this season, growing from a driver who seemed fast but unpredictable last season to one who appears controlled and confident even when things don’t go perfectly to plan. His title-winning FRAC campaign gave him additional front-running experience in a high-calibre field, and this weekend’s Feature Race victory has shown that he now has all the ingredients necessary to mount a championship challenge in F3.
Jak Crawford and Bearman had scrappier weekends, but each showed progress of their own. Crawford made good on his desire to improve Qualifying by taking fifth, his second-best placement of the season. That left him well positioned for Sunday, but contact with Hadjar upset the Prema driver even though there was no discernible damage to his car. Despite heated duels with Maloney and O’Sullivan, Bearman survived to take his maiden Feature Race podium.
There was a moment on the opening lap of the Sprint Race when Maloney squeezed Bearman at the apex of Turn 17. Bearman lost a place to his teammate Crawford, who barely slid around his outside as Leclerc peeked to his inside. Perhaps that’s the image that best encapsulates Prema’s season: When one car encountered an obstacle, the other two were right there to capitalise. Trident may have the three-pronged spear as its logo, but on track, Prema have a veritable three-pronged attack.
Shifts in the championship picture
As Leclerc vaulted from fifth to second in the standings, Sprint Race winner Hadjar moved up to third after a brilliant victory in the Sprint Race and fifth place in the Feature Race. Despite the touch with fellow Red Bull junior Crawford in the Feature Race, he once again appeared the most well rounded of the rookies in the field.
Though he retained the championship lead, Martins looked to be a step behind his competition on pace for the first time, qualifying 11th, losing out on a possible win late in the Sprint to the impressive Hadjar and fighting only for the lower points positions in the Feature Race. He did salvage 15 points from Silverstone, outscored only by Hadjar and the three drivers on Sunday’s podium, in a weekend of damage limitation.
Martins’ podium served as perhaps the only consolation for ART Grand Prix, who otherwise endured their worst weekend of the season. After taking four points finishes from the four races he entered this season, Juan Manuel Correa failed to score in Silverstone. Grégoire Saucy’s weekend also came undone by a clumsy collision with Trident’s Staněk, and he walked away without points for the third round in succession.
Perhaps Staněk was the biggest loser of the weekend, at least in terms of the championship. He qualified only eighth in Silverstone, breaking a streak of top-two finishes. He came home sixth in the Sprint, but the collision with Saucy forced him to retire from the Feature Race – the first time in more than two seasons of F3 that he has not been classified at the finish. With Maloney’s own incident, Jonny Edgar, returning from a two-round absence due to Crohn’s disease complications, was the only Trident to score points with eighth in the Feature Race.
Staněk’s qualifying statistics remain the most impressive of the field, but two of his four weekends, Bahrain being the first, have now been significantly disrupted by incidents. He’ll be hoping to regain some momentum at the Red Bull Ring, where he made his F3 début in 2020 and where the championship hosts its fifth round this coming weekend from 8–10 July.
Header photo credit: Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool