Advantage Piastri!

The battle for the 2020 FIA Formula 3 Championship between Oscar Piastri and his PREMA Racing team-mate, Logan Sargeant, will go down to the wire at the final round at Mugello, after one of the wildest weekends of F3 racing seen in a very long time at Monza, September 4-6.

Coming into the weekend, it was advantage Sargeant with a seven point lead but ended with Piastri taking an eight point lead to Mugello after a stunning recovery drive from 15th to third in Saturday’s feature race. However, the Renault Sport Academy driver was denied the chance to further extend his lead in race two when he was taken out of contention while fighting for third and forced to retire with damage.

Bizarrely, the driver who ended Piastri’s race had done the same to Sargeant the previous day to cost the American his championship lead.

If qualifying at Spa was chaotic, Monza took it to another level as once again the drivers found themselves tripping over one another in search of an all-important tow on the mega fast Autodromo Nazionale Monza. Fifteen drivers were called to the Stewards and 11 of those were given grid penalties for Saturday’s race, including Piastri who was demoted three spots. Once all the penalties were applied, the biggest winners were Liam Lawson who ended up on pole, and Sargeant who went from 10th to fifth on the grid.

“It was a very, very messy session,” said Piastri. “To come out in P12 is not too bad considering what happened. Our pace was quite strong, it’s just that I had to lift on my best lap for a car that went off, then obviously with the second set of tyres it was a mess. It could have been worse; could have been a lot better but I think we can still try to get some good points tomorrow and salvage the weekend from that.” After hearing his penalty though, Oscar posted on social media, “I stayed off the racing line on my cool down lap to let people through but was instructed in the stewards room that I should’ve moved onto the racing line because that was the ‘better option’. I have stayed calm about all the issues/inconveniences during this season but, man, does this push my limits of patience. I am very confused by this decision. Anyways, head down tomorrow.”

Piastri indeed made a tidy start to the 22-lap race and was up into 12th by lap five, chasing down David Beckmann. Up ahead, Sargeant went straight on at the first chicane and had to weave his way around the polystyrene blocks, losing a fistful of positions in the process. He found himself being passed by his main championship rival at the Curva Grande before grabbing the position back at the first chicane. However, this left Sargeant with no DRS to defend from Piastri and a lap later the Australian was through into eighth and off up in the road. Piastri made short work of Lirim Zendelli and Beckmann but, crucially for the championship, further back Sargeant was in trouble, having been spun by Novalak and dropped to the back of the field. With four laps remaining, Piastri caught fellow Antipodeans Lawson and Alex Peroni. He passed Peroni around the outside of the first chicane and then pounced on Lawson to take fourth. The Kiwi tried to come back at Piastri but only succeeded in losing more positions. Piastri then closed on Jake Hughes, passing the British driver on the penultimate lap to take a stunning third place after a great recovery drive.

The race was won by Frederik Vesti and together with Piastri’s third place clinched the Teams’ Championship for PREMA Racing for the second year in succession.

“Third from 15th on the grid, it was a very good race. I think I made a lot of good moves but I didn’t really rush any, they were all calculated and picked at the right moment. The late Safety Car helped us quite a bit. Third is awesome from where the weekend started, and I’m looking forward to tomorrow. Seven spots ahead of today, let’s see what I we can do.”

After another clean start, Piastri worked his way through and by lap nine was disputing third place with Vesti. As they raced into turn one, he was hit from behind by Novalak and into the path of David Schumacher. The ensuing damage meant he could only sit and watch Sargeant charge from the rear of the field up into fifth. However, there was to be one final twist to the race when Sargeant and Vesti collided with two laps remaining, the erstwhile championship leader forced to retire with a puncture. With no points for either championship contenders in race two, Piastri will lead into the final round next weekend, September 11-13, with Theo Pourchaire now in third place not completely out of the hunt either.

“The race ended in some contact. Obviously, that’s not what I was looking for. It had started well, me and Frederik (Vesti) were fighting for third and then I just got taken out by Novalak in turn 1. There was nothing I could have done. It’s unfortunate but it happens every now and again. For sure it’s annoying in this position but we’ve got to move on, nothing we can change about it. Heads up for Mugello where we will try to win the championship.”

Post script: There was a nasty sting in the tail post-race for Piastri and Sargeant, with both drivers being issued with grid position penalties for next weekend. Piastri will drop five places for forcing David Beckmann off track during race two, while Sargeant will lose three for his collision with Vesti.

Images © Prema Powerteam