No driver stands at immediate risk of a race ban with three rounds of the 2022 FIA Formula 3 Championship to go, but what can this season’s distribution of penalty points tell us about the nature of the competition in the third tier on the F1 ladder? F1 Feeder Series crunches the numbers.
By Michael McClure
For a championship with 30 cars and some drivers that have just one year of prior single-seater experience, F3 has had a remarkably clean year in terms of driving standards, with no driver accumulating more than six penalty points in the first six rounds.
That’s in stark contrast to the state of affairs on the 22-car Formula 2 grid: two drivers have already received race bans and a third stands just one point away with ten rounds elapsed. The second of those drivers to be banned – Campos Racing’s Olli Caldwell, who will sit out this weekend’s race at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps – accumulated seven penalty points at the first weekend in Bahrain alone, putting him in danger of a suspension from the getgo.
As in Formula 1 and Formula 2, the accumulation of 12 penalty points at any point during the season yields a race ban for the next round in which a driver is slated to participate or the remainder of the weekend if the total is reached during Free Practice or Qualifying. Crucially, unlike in Formula 1, points in F2 and F3 are erased at the end of the calendar year, meaning that any suspensions tend to be dished out later in the season and making any points accumulated after Qualifying in Monza moot for the purposes of suspension.
Race hard, play fair, be safe
Penalty points can be given for incidents related to on-track conduct as defined in Article 39.3 of the F3 sporting regulations, including but not limited to causing collisions, exceeding track limits more than three times without justifiable reason, failing to follow flag instructions, and violating pit-lane safety protocols. Infringements that would result in fines or reprimands as well as sanctions related to technical aspects of the car may not be additionally punishable with penalty points.
The two drivers at the greatest risk of a race ban are Prema’s Ollie Bearman and Carlin’s Enzo Trulli, who have otherwise experienced vastly different fortunes on track. While Bearman sits in fifth in the championship on 80 points as an outside contender for the championship title, Trulli has zero points and a placement of 33rd on account of his best finish in the championship.
Trulli’s penalty points haul built up thanks to a variety of smaller incidents, including overtaking under yellow flags; violating track-limits; and causing collisions with Nazim Azman in Bahrain, Arthur Leclerc in Imola and Brad Benavides in Spain.
Four of those six points for Bearman came at the second round at Imola, where he picked up one point for impeding and another three for causing a last-lap, last-corner collision with Grégoire Saucy as the pair battled over third place. The 20-second time penalty Bearman received dropped him from fourth on track to 17th – losing points that could prove crucial in the championship battle.
Benavides and Saucy themselves have each accumulated five penalty points, as has MP Motorsport’s Kush Maini.
The only other driver to have received three or more penalty points for a single incident was László Tóth, who received three points for exceeding the minimum delta time in the first safety car period of the Imola Feature Race. Tóth has four penalty points at the moment, a standing shared by five other drivers – Leclerc, Francesco Pizzi, Alexander Smolyar, Pepe Martí and Hunter Yeany. Ido Cohen and Franco Colapinto are just behind them on three points each.
While only two F2 drivers can boast spotless records this year, more than a third of the present F3 grid has made it through the season without picking up any penalty points. Victor Martins and Isack Hadjar, who are tied for the championship lead, are two of these drivers, as are podium finishers Jak Crawford, Zane Maloney and Reece Ushijima.
William Alatalo and Nazim Azman are the last of the full-time drivers to have spotless records, while five of those entered this weekend at Spa – Jonny Edgar, Juan Manuel Correa, Federico Malvestiti, Christian Mansell and Oliver Goethe – have missed at least one round of the season.
Rafael Villagómez was one of those who hadn’t scored penalty points, but he picked up his first during the most recent race in Hungary after exceeding track limits four times. That puts him level with Caio Collet, Roman Staněk, Zak O’Sullivan, Kaylen Frederick and David Vidales on one point, the median figure among the current grid.
The average number of penalty points per driver, per race this season is 0.38, meaning that a driver who competes in the full season should, in theory, have scored 2.28 points by this stage. But looking at the season-long trend, there’s a clear drop in the number of penalty points awarded from the opening races at Bahrain and Imola to those in the middle part of the season.
The new track-limits guidance introduced for the 2022 season caught out many drivers in Bahrain, a circuit with ample run-off area. Imola too attracted a litany of penalty points, albeit many of them for incidents less commonly seen on an F1 weekend such as Tóth’s safety car delta penalty or the violation on the warm-up lap that required Sprint Race winner Colapinto to serve a stop-go penalty during the race.
Splitting up the penalties by type, it becomes clear that there hasn’t been a dramatic improvement in driving standards or a massive contrast in stewarding. Rather, teams and drivers, newcomers especially, are slowly learning to avoid potential pitfalls as they become more familiar with the championship.
The damp sessions in Imola, Austria and Hungary were particularly treacherous when it came to collisions, with a number of drivers caught out in the low-grip conditions. Rain is in the forecast for this weekend’s Spa-Francorchamps round, which adds an additional challenge to an already daunting circuit.
Spa and Zandvoort, though, are circuits on which track limits are less likely to pose a challenge, with most of the asphalt surrounded by grass or gravel. Instead, it’s the final round at Monza where drivers are most likely to fall foul of track limits as well as impeding during Qualifying, which notoriously lends itself to chaos as drivers jockey for the best slipstream down the straights of the Temple of Speed.
The title contenders will be focused on stretching out a points advantage in the final races, but a few names further down the pack will be seeking to limit how many of another kind of point they take in order to avoid the ignominy of becoming the first banned FIA F3 driver.
2022 FIA F3 penalty points (after Hungary)
Graphics developed by Michael McClure
Header photo credit: Red Bull Content Pool
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