RACE DEBRIEF

    Racing separately from the second tier for the first time in its history, Formula 3 will make its long-awaited return in Barcelona, as Formula 1’s premier support series for the Spanish Grand Prix – and it’s primed to produce a blockbuster.

    Armed with the same three races per-round format that Formula 2 is this season, fans will be treated to more third-tier action than ever before. Here are five reasons why you should be excited about F3’s return…

    1. Brand new academy talent

    A fresh batch of junior talent has arrived on the Road to F1 looking to catch the eye of on-looking Formula 1 bosses, and follow in the footsteps of Yuki Tsunoda, who passed through the third tier on his way to a seat in F1 with AlphaTauri.

    Amongst them are Alpine Academy duo Victor Martins and Caio Collet, who arrive with promising reputations from Formula Renault Eurocup, stepping up as champion and vice-champion respectively. Joining 2020 race-winners, MP Motorsport, their on-track rivalry will be one to watch this season, as will their friendship away from it.

    READ MORE: Collet breaks F3 track record at the Red Bull Ring to end Spielberg pre-season tests on top

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    Martins and Collet will be racing for MP Motorsport in 2021

    There’s a real buzz around American Red Bull junior Jak Crawford, who only became eligible for F3 on Sunday, but starred in pre-season testing with Hitech Grand Prix. The 16-year-old was third fastest in Austria, and a regular in the top 10 in Spain.

    READ MORE: Crawford feels 'pretty confident' following 'big change' from ADAC F4

    Fellow Red Bull juniors Jonny Edgar and Ayumu Iwasa arrive with plenty of potential as well, while there is of course Arthur Leclerc, the Ferrari junior and younger brother of F1 star Charles Leclerc.

    2. The teams will be closer than ever

    Could 2021 spell the end of PREMA’s stranglehold on F3? Their rivals certainly believe so.

    The Italian team ran away with the championship in the category’s maiden campaign, winning both the teams' and drivers’ titles by significant margins, with their drivers finishing first, second and third.

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    Jak Crawford comes into this season with a lot of expectations for Hitech Grand Prix

    Their supremacy was challenged to an extent last season, with ART Grand Prix’s Theo Pourchaire running eventual winner Oscar Piastri to the wire in the drivers’ title fight, and Trident closing the gap in the battle for the teams’ championship. Both sides are expecting to put up an even stronger fight this time around.

    There also appears to have been a power shift of sorts in the off-season driver market, with Mercedes junior and title favourite Frederik Vesti swapping PREMA for ART.

    GALLERY: The best shots from F3 pre-season testing in Barcelona

    3. Returning drivers look set to shine

    There was a strong rookie presence in the title fight last year, with three of the top five all in their first year of F3, including champion Oscar Piastri, but that looks less likely to be the case this year with such a strong cohort of experienced drivers entering their second year in the series.

    The highest placed returning driver in 2020 was Jake Hughes, who had finished seventh. For 2021, Frederik Vesti returns on the back of finishing fourth, joining ART as a Mercedes junior, while podium finishers Alex Smolyar, Clement Novalak and Dennis Hauger will all line-up with top teams, joining ART, Trident and PREMA.

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    Jake Hughes finished seventh last season for HWA Racelab

    Although, the addition of two new tracks, as well as the return of Le Castellet to the calendar, has the potential to even out the playing field between the rookies and those with F3 experience…

    4. Brand new tracks

    Ever since the calendar was announced at the end of 2020, fans of F3 have been abuzz with the news that the third tier will be heading stateside, joining F1 in Austin, Texas.

    In previous years, F3 have run on a selection of European tracks, before ending the campaign in Russia, but this time the third tier has opted to head to America for a mega season finale.

    Set just outside of downtown Austin, the prospect of the 30-strong grid ripping around the Circuit of the Americas will be a sight to behold, especially with four Americans on the grid this year.

    As well as Austin, F3 will also debut at Zandvoort, an old school circuit on the Dutch coast.

    READ MORE: 5 great moments in Dutch Grand Prix history

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    The F3 circus will join their F1 counterparts in racing at the Circuit of The Americas this season

    5. The return of Juan Manuel Correa

    The next chapter in the inspirational story of Juan Manuel Correa is set to begin in Barcelona this weekend, with the American primed for his first race in more than a year and a half.

    Debuting F3 machinery in April during an F3 test in Austria, Correa will take time to get back up to speed, having undergone several surgeries since the tragic accident in Belgium, which left him in an induced coma with two broken legs and took the life of fellow racer Anthoine Hubert.

    READ MORE: 'I think that people are genuinely happy for me' - Correa delighted with a positive return to track action

    But there were plenty of promising signs in the pre-season run out, finishing 18th overall on his initial return, Correa felt he got back on the pace faster than he imagined, although admitted to some difficulties with the physical elements of driving.

    Regardless of where he finishes on his return, just seeing Correa back out on track will be a heart-warming moment for everyone involved in the sport.

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    Correa is making his return to the sport with ART Grand Prix

    The F3 season will kick off this weekend in Barcelona. Don't want to miss a minute? Subscribe to F1 TV Pro for every single session live and visit the official F3 website for more.