FIA Formula 3 Championship rookie Ollie Bearman triumphed in the Round 7 Sprint Race on his first visit to the legendary Spa-Francorchamps circuit, but the two drivers behind him that day, Roman Staněk and Alexander Smolyar, were helped by their status as the series’ two most experienced drivers.
By Michael McClure
Staněk and Smolyar are both contesting their third seasons in Formula 3, having entered the championship in 2020. They leave Spa fifth and eighth in the championship, 10 and 33 points behind leader Isack Hadjar respectively. After the Sprint Race, F1 Feeder Series asked them what sort of advantages they enjoy over the competition as a result of their unparalleled experience.
Russian driver Smolyar stepped up to F3 with ART Grand Prix in 2020 having finished the 2019 Formula Renault Eurocup season third. He impressed with pole in wet conditions at the Hungaroring in just his third F3 race weekend and scored a season-best third in Race 2 at Monza after starting 20th.
Remaining with ART for 2021, Smolyar staked his claim as a possible title contender early on by winning the opening races in each of the first two weekends, but his challenge fizzled as the season wore on and championship leader Dennis Hauger romped away. He took only two further podiums that year to come home sixth.
Smolyar returned for a third season in 2022 with MP Motorsport but initially called off his campaign amid the fallout of the Russo-Ukrainian War. The day before track action began in Bahrain, Smolyar returned as an authorised neutral driver, later taking third in the opening race. His 2022 season has not been easy – Smolyar was forced to miss Silverstone because of restrictions on Russian nationals – but his Feature Race win from pole at the last round in Hungary helped reinvigorate his campaign.
Smolyar took third in the Sprint Race at Spa and said that his experience with the Dallara F3 2019 helped him with tyre management.
“It helps quite a lot. Especially Spa is very hard on tires, so you really need to know what to expect. But for me, to be honest, after the second year you do in the same category, the third year doesn’t really add a lot. So as long as you have experience on these cars, same tires, same track, for sure in information you are above everyone else, which is good.”
A finite advantage
Staněk’s third season in FIA Formula 3 has always been on the agenda since the day he first tested for Trident in October 2021. It was in fact his initial season in the category in 2020 that was not planned: The Czech driver signed to Charouz Racing System on the week of the eventual season-opener in Austria, replacing Niko Kari, and saw out the campaign with the Czech team.
That largely inconclusive début F3 season came after only one previous year in single-seaters with US Racing, then affiliated with Charouz, in ADAC and Italian F4. In his second year in F3, Staněk disappointed, taking only 29 points and two podiums and finishing behind Hitech teammates Ayumu Iwasa and Jak Crawford, both rookies stepping up from F4.
But Staněk has been a revelation this season, taking a strong win at Imola and pole position at Barcelona before scoring back-to-back second places this weekend at Spa. Staněk said he “[hopes] it’s the last in FIA F3” while explaining that additional experience eventually stops adding benefit.
“It depends on track. As Ollie said, he never drove here, so of course, me and Alex, we have the advantage of him, but he did a good job, so congrats to him,” Staněk said.
“I don’t feel a big difference between this second year and the third year. As Alex said, it’s like we are improving, but the others are catching us, and then there is a point where you cannot gain anymore on your experience.”
Header photo credit: Formula Motorsport Limited
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