ROAD TO F1: Who will come out on top in the F2 and GP3 title deciders?
Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit represents an opportunity for those dreaming of a future Formula 1 drive to showcase their talents one more time this year. And while the F1 titles have been wrapped up by Mercedes, the F2 and GP3 championship battles will go down to the wire. So, ahead of the season finale, here’s who’s fighting for top honours this weekend…
Who's the frontrunner to win the F2 title?
George Russell has enjoyed a stonking debut F2 season, leading the title tussle since the summer break. The Mercedes junior heads to Abu Dhabi holding an almost unbeatable advantage over closest rival Alexander Albon, and somewhat with the pressure off having already bagged himself an F1 drive with Williams next season.
Russell leads Albon by 37 points - with a maximum of 48 on offer in Abu Dhabi when pole position and fastest lap bonus points are considered. Russell needs just 12 points to guarantee the title, which is equivalent to fourth or higher in the first race or second or higher in the second race.
THE TOP FIVE IN F2
|4||Nyck de Vries||Prema||184|
|5||Artem Markelov||Russian Time||166|
Below is how he can wrap up the title in the opening race of the weekend, Saturday’s Feature Race, with DAMS driver Albon knowing a race victory, plus pole position and fastest lap, will give him the best chance of taking the fight to Sunday's Sprint Race. But it’s fair to say the championship is Russell’s to lose. He has six victories already this season, and knows a triumph on either day will go some way to securing that title.
In terms of the team’s title tussle, it’s Carlin – who boast Lando Norris and Sergio Sette Camara as their current drivers – who lead the way, and that triumph is within reach. It would be some achievement for the team, who are competing in their maiden season in the F2 championship.
They lead closest challengers by 51 points, and after a disappointing showing in Russia saw them fail to wrap up the title last time out, it would take a huge swing in points to see them fall short this weekend…
How has that title tussle swung this season?
It has been a battle of two Brits for most of the season, with McLaren junior Norris enjoying an impressive start to the season, converting pole to victory in Bahrain's opening Feature Race – and he led the championship for the opening five events of the season.
But then Russell took control in Austria, which marked the halfway stage of the campaign, and since that double-header he hasn’t looked back. The Mercedes protege has been able to extend his lead over his British rival, while Norris’ performances faltered – and that Bahrain victory remains his only triumph of the season.
Norris’ struggles have ultimately allowed Albon to leapfrog him to second in the championship, but Russell has been in control – and he’ll be determined to finish with a title before he embarks on a new chapter next year…
The F2 stars with F1 graduation on their minds
The dream for any F2 driver this year is to line up on the Formula 1 grid at the season-opening race in Melbourne next year, and for at least two racers, they’ll do just that...
Norris has been promoted to McLaren’s 2019 line-up, replacing Formula E-bound Stoffel Vandoorne, while Russell, who is part of Mercedes’ Junior Programme, will be given a chance to shine for Williams, with his partner yet to be confirmed.
They’re not the only ones who you’ll see more of in F1 next year, either. Norris’ current Carlin team mate Sergio Sette Camara has joined the McLaren Young Driver Programme, and will work closely with the team as part of his position.
And could we see a fourth member of the F2 class of 2018 involved in F1 in 2019? Albon is expected to take part in the Formula E series with Nissan e.dams, with the London-born Thai driver named on the official entry list - but he has recently been linked with an F1 switch to Toro Rosso. Whether that move plays out remains to be seen...
What about the GP3 championship battle?
It's another two horse race for glory. Anthoine Hubert, taking part in his second GP3 season with ART Grand Prix and a Renault-affiliated driver, is currently sitting pretty at the top of the standings, leading team mate Nikita Mazepin (a Force India youngster) by a healthy 32-point margin.
Highly-rated British youngster Callum Ilott, who also drives for ART and is a member of Ferrari's young driver team, trails Hubert by 52 points, and with only 48 on offer this weekend when you add pole position and fastest laps to the equation, he’s unable to taste title glory this season.
THE TOP FIVE IN GP3
|4||Leonardo Pulcini||Campos Racing||131|
So, as in F2, the title chase is heavily tilted in one driver's favour. But nevertheless, it’s a battle that will go down to the wire – and it’s one Renault’s Managing Director Cyril Abiteboul is keeping a close watch on.
“We will be keeping an eye on the GP3 Series, in particular, as Anthoine Hubert aims to lift the Drivers’ Championship," he said. “This would be an excellent achievement both for Anthoine and our young driver programme.”
It’s been another memorable campaign for Hubert’s ART squad, who have seen three of their four drivers make up the top three, and they’ve also already wrapped up their fourth consecutive team title. They’re 163 points ahead of second-place Trident heading to Abu Dhabi, and also know a drivers’ title will be added to their trophy cabinet this weekend…
So, what's next for GP3?
As revealed in March, next year's new FIA Formula 3 championship replaces the GP3 Series on the Formula 1 support bill and will feature an all-new car - set to be revealed in Abu Dhabi this weekend.
Having the top three tiers of FIA single-seater competition together at the same events will make it easier than ever for fans to follow the careers of aspiring young drivers as they fight for a place on the F1 grid.
Exciting times indeed…