FIA Formula 3 ready for its first trip in Monaco: Everything you need to know

After seven long weeks, the 2023 FIA Formula 3 Championship is ready to race once more, the third round now being held in Monaco after the cancellation of Imola. With drivers eager to go out on track for the first time since Melbourne, here’s everything you need to know ahead of the first Formula 3 weekend in the Principality, as well as some insightful words from Kevin Ceccon, who finished on the podium in the GP3 Series in the championship’s last trip to Monaco in 2012.

By Daniele Spadi

The Principality will host Formula 3 for the first time in the history of the championship, becoming the 14th track to be included in the F3 calendar since 2019. This means that the two most important championships on the feeder series ladder will both race around the streets of Monaco for the first time since 2012 when the GP3 Series made its final visit to the Principality.

With drivers only getting official track time in F3 machinery during in-season testing in both Barcelona and Imola through the month of April, everyone will be eager to put their helmets back on and go racing. After two of the now nine rounds scheduled to take place during the season, Gabriel Bortoleto looks to be the one to beat. The young Brazilian clinched the win in both Feature Races, inheriting P1 in Bahrain after Gabriele Minì’s penalty and comfortably taking home victory in Australia in a lights-to-flag win. As his main rivals, such as Grégoire Saucy and Gabriele Minì, get ready to start making up lost ground, here’s what we can expect from the first FIA Formula 3 trip to Monaco.

A new qualifying format

As expected, the F3 qualifying format will temporarily change ahead of the third round of the season. Historically, it’s very difficult to witness a Formula 3 qualifying session without any trouble traffic-wise. After all, with 30 cars on the grid, it’s only natural to struggle to find a free piece of tarmac when everyone is looking to be setting their lap in the most favourable conditions.

In order to avoid what could turn out to be one of the most chaotic sessions in the history of the series, the championship has decided to use the same qualifying format as Formula 2. The drivers will be split into two groups, with the usual 30-minute long qualifying session becoming two separate 16-minute long sessions. The best time among the two group leaders will then be awarded the pole for the Feature Race, with the other fastest driver lining up alongside him on the front row. The rest of the drivers will then alternate on the starting grid, with the remaining competitors from the fastest group starting in the odd-numbered grid slots, whereas the ones from the other subdivision will line up in the even-numbered places on the grid. As usual in FIA Formula 3, the top 12 will be reversed for the Sprint Race, meaning that the sixth fastest driver from the slowest group will start from P1 on Saturday.

Speaking from experience

Even with half of the cars on track at a time, it will be difficult for the drivers to find the right space and put on the board valuable lap times. As a spectator, it’s difficult to fully understand how the different qualifying format and the general atmosphere around the Monegasque weekend affects the drivers.

However, Feeder Series got the chance to speak to Kevin Ceccon, former GP3 race winner and two-time podium finisher around the streets of Monaco between GP2 and GP3, to get to know the magic of racing in the Principality in single-seaters.

“Qualifying is the most important part of the weekend,” said Ceccon when asked about the importance of one-lap pace around the streets of Monaco. “Especially in feeder series championships, the weekend basically ends with qualifying, as it’s extremely difficult to overtake during the races.”

Born in 1993, Ceccon grew up in the world of single-seaters, racing in both the Italian and the European Open F3 championships before making the jump to Auto GP in 2011, where he took home the title. During the same year, the Italian had the chance to make his debut in GP2, replacing the injured Davide Rigon for Scuderia Coloni in the middle part of the season and becoming the youngest driver to ever race in the series. Although he failed to score points, he had his best result of the season in Monaco. It was a sign of things to come, as the Italian earned a drive for a full season in GP3 the following season with Ocean Racing Technology, where he took home his maiden podium in the series with a third-place finish around the Monegasque streets.

Ceccon stepped up to GP2 in 2013, and although he had to finish his season early due to a serious incident at the start of Race 1 at the Nurburgring, he had a fantastic showing in the Principality, where he finished second in the opening race of the weekend. After going back to GP3 following his crash, taking home two wins in the 2015 season, the Italian switched his focus to touring car racing, competing in the World Touring Car Cup and TCR Italy Touring Car Championship, finishing second in the overall standings of the latter in 2021.

Looking back on his career in single-seaters and his experience around the streets of the Principality, Ceccon underlined the main difficulties of the different qualifying format which was already in use during his time in GP3.

“In Monaco, qualifying is way different. You are divided into groups and you have very few minutes to get a lap on the board. You usually go through the whole session with only a single set of tyres, as you want to keep some fresh rubber for the races,” he added. “Everyone knows that the last lap of the session is the one with the most potential, so anything can happen and the whole weekend is basically decided on that lap alone.”

Often referred to as “F1’s crown jewel,” racing in Monaco is extremely special, and the feeling doesn’t change when talking about the feeder series championships. However, racing here while competing in one of the many feeder series championships is extremely difficult, as Monaco is considered to be one of the racetracks where experience matters the most. To be both competitive and clean around the streets of the Principality at such a young age requires great discipline, courage and lots of talent. Approaching this race weekend with the correct mindset is therefore crucial in order to maximise the result.

But does a race weekend in Monaco need a different approach compared to other tracks?

“You do need a different mindset, but it isn’t that hard,” Ceccon told Feeder Series. “In some ways, Monaco has its advantages. The track is very kind on tyres, so you can do four, five push laps in a row in qualifying to get comfortable, and eventually you will have a good enough banker time on the board. You need to know when to take risks and when to drive conservatively, too. On tracks like Silverstone, making a small mistake means to exceed track limits and possibly get your lap deleted. Here, you find yourself in the wall and that’s it.”

A golden opportunity

However, Monaco is more than just a complex street circuit. The media attention that revolves around the race weekend makes it even more special, and a good result here means so much more than the same result on any other track on the calendar.

“It’s a special weekend, the track and the atmosphere around it are so unique,” Ceccon told Feeder Series when asked about the importance of said race weekend.

The 29-year-old was mighty quick around the streets of Monaco when he raced in both the GP2 and GP3 Series. Therefore, he knows just how important it is to do well around said racetrack.

“Everyone wants to have a great result here. Getting a win or even a podium here has a wide appeal with both the sponsors and media attention because it’s one of those racetracks where the driver can still make the difference, especially in one-make championships like Formula 3.”

Will the long break shake up the standings?

Despite having tested during in-season testing, the drivers haven’t raced with F3 machinery since the second round of the season in Melbourne. When asked whether said break could change the situation at the top of the standings or not, Ceccon thinks that the influence of said break could be greater than imagined.

“Problem is, the break will affect the lower teams more. The main reason behind it is the budget that the top teams have on their hands. As a driver, to be practicing during such a long break on a top-tier simulator is completely different than doing so on a slightly lower-quality one, and the ones who can afford it have definitely been out on track in one way or another,” he told Feeder Series. “Even if it’s not in the same car or on the same track, to be up to speed and used to being in a racecar is so important, especially on a track like Monaco, where you need to be on top of things to be ready as soon as possible.”

Header photo credit: Diederik van der Laan / Dutch Photo Agency


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