Formula 3: series risks damaging credibility amidst driving standards crisis

There is no escaping the fact that Formula Three plays a crucial role in forming our F1 drivers of the future. The training ground of champions has witnessed some of the best drivers breaking through.

7 Charles Leclerc, Van Amersfoort Racing Dallara Volkswagen

2015 is witnessing some of the worst.

In terms of speed and talent in navigating a circuit, there is everything to suggest that this year’s crop has potential Grand Prix talent. But racecraft, logic and maturity lacks in such alarming quantities that the Formula 3 Europe series is a dangerous place to be in 2015.

The last 12 years have seen over 55 drivers participate in Formula One in one sense or another. Whether it be a race drive or test sessions, the building blocks were established in F3. In the same period, 14 Grand Prix winners have been created due to Formula Three as well as four World Champions.

There are few drivers in the 2015 Formula Three European series that can make it into the top flight, let alone win races and championships. The top four in the standings, Charles Leclerc, Antonio Giovanazzi, Felix Rosenqvist and Jake Dennis look the real deal. They have racecraft, precision, unquestionable speed and common sense.

Start: Felix Rosenqvist, Prema Powerteam Dallara Mercedes-Benz leads

Rosenqvist is perhaps the best all round driver in the series. Having spent six years in F3, he is bound to be. Luck has never quite been on the Swede’s side but the consistency, technical and race nous as well as respect has always been present.

Monegasque Leclerc is only 19, but his speed and talent is years beyond the youngster. He has poise and panache, just like Italian title challenger Antonio Giovanazzi – despite the latter’s Latin flamboyance getting the better of him on occasions.

And Dennis is the product of steady progress. Unspectacular in 2014 while he built confidence in the car and series, the young Briton has become a multiple race winner and has the pace to challenge the front runners.

Lance Stroll, Prema Powerteam Dallara Mercedes-Benz crashed in the gravel

The same cannot, unfortunately be said about the rest. As television commentator David Addison said in the wake of a spate of high speed crashes at Spa last month, “this isn’t the PlayStation, this is real life.”

A series of frightening crashes at the Monza event, which saw Michele Berreta tipped into a sickening barrel roll at the first chicane and Canadian Ferrari protege Lance Stroll launched into the air at Curve Grande saw the FIA summon all drivers to an emergency briefing in an attempt to curb poor driving.

This was not adhered to and the following round at Spa saw yet more idiocy. Stroll the culprit again for an aggressive move under braking for Les Combes shoved Gustavo Menezes flying into the air. The American was lucky to not hit the inside barrier head first as his Carlin car smashed back down to Earth with shuddering ferocity, breaking the roll hoop upon landing. Stroll was banned for a one race as a result.

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And all the way down the field, drivers were trying to win the race on the opening laps and Rosenqvist, a series veteran finally lost the will to live, and more significantly, his faith in his opponents.

“I can officially state that I’ve lost all my trust of other drivers. This is not racing, its dangerous,” the Swede tweeted after a tumultuous weekend in Belgium.

“To be perfectly honest, I think these are the worst driving standards I have ever experienced,” said the 23-year-old, who is in his sixth season of F3.

“It is just impossible to race among some of the guys out there, and it doesn’t matter how cautious you are; I was extremely careful in the final race and still got spun around by a driver who had just been handed a drive-through penalty.

“It’s such a shame this is happening, because the championship is fantastic and the organisers are trying their best to address the issues.”

Yet try as they might, the organisers have no say in how the race is run once the lights go out. Telling drivers what to do in briefings before the race is one thing, but something is intrinsically warped in the mindset of these young drivers.

Is the pressure to perform so prominent that they have to take huge risks to win? Is it a greed to win at all costs? Selfishness or lack of respect?

The answer is not clear-cut, nor is it something we will find out any time soon. But the FIA and the drivers need to knock their heads together and calm down before we talk about fatalities.

There seems to be an apparent lack of mutual respect between some drivers. Changing line in the braking zone is one of the regulations that all drivers learn, regardless of series. Weaving back and forth to defend a position is indoctrinated to even the humblest of go-karters. So why do we see this disregard in the breeding ground of F1?

One step in the right direction would be as the FIA suggests, an education programme. They need to be aware of the dangers of what they are doing. Waiting until a driver is hurt or even killed is not an option, despite that seeming like the only way they will see sense.

Drivers need to be nurtured and encouraged to race with spacial awareness, to take their time in making overtaking attempts and acceptance when being overtaken. Circuits like Spa and Monza have been and will continue to be havens for slipstreaming: so why defend like it is the last corner of the race?

Rosenqvist summed the situation up perfectly, but until all drivers are singing from the same hymn sheet, it may take more than a few months to sort out.

“Some of the new kids seem to think we’re in a video game,” he said. “It’s a wall-lined circuit with lots of slipstreaming and heavy braking zones, and I have to admit I’m feeling concerned going there.

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