Piastri Clinches Prestigious Formula 3 Title in Cliff-Hanger Finale
Nineteen-year-old Oscar Piastri has become the first Australian to win the FIA Formula 3 Championship after a nail-biting season finale in round nine at the picturesque Mugello circuit, Tuscany, this weekend, September 11-13. It’s a second successive title for the highly rated youngster who won the Formula Renault Eurocup in 2019.
The Renault Sport Academy driver went into the weekend with an eight-point advantage over his PREMA Racing team-mate Logan Sargeant but had uphill battle on his hands. After being taken out of a potential podium finish in the last race at Monza, it became a double whammy for the Melburnian after he was issued with a carry-over five place grid penalty for another incident at Monza.
It meant qualifying at Mugello was going to be crucial even though Sargeant had a three place grid penalty too. After everyone’s first timed run on the hard Pirelli compound, it was tight at the top with Sargeant third and Oscar fifth fastest; less than a 1/10th covering the top seven drivers. However, Piastri wasn’t able to reproduce the same form on his second set of tyres and ended up 11th fastest which – once the grid penalty was applied – dropped him to a lowly 16th on the grid. Sargeant on the other hand, was not disappointed to be second fastest which only dropped him to fifth.
Piastri’s focus for Saturday was to work his way through into 10th place to earn pole position for Sunday’s reverse grid start. He picked off Matteo Nannini and then fellow Australian Alex Peroni to slot into 14th. He continued to make good progress but ultimately fell short of his target by one position, meaning it was 11th on the grid for Sunday’s final race.
With Sargeant finishing sixth and Piastri out of the points, the two were level overnight on 160 points although Piastri was still ahead by virtue of his two race wins to Sargeant’s one. Not too far behind, young Frenchman Theo Pourchaire had ricocheted into title contention, just nine points behind the Prema pair going into the final race.
Piastri got away nicely at the start of Sunday’s 21-lap race and was up into 7th at the first corner and, importantly, ahead of Pourchaire. There was disaster and disappointment for Sargeant though after he was squeezed and pitched into the gravel with Lirim Zendili at turn two, taking him out of the race and title battle.
After the Safety Car intervention, all eyes were on Pourchaire who had got ahead of Piastri and was showing a rapid turn of speed. By lap seven, Pourchaire had charged up the order into sixth while Piastri was ninth, just inside the points. As the race moved into its final stages, it was nip-and-tuck with the points situation but although Pourchaire managed to secure third place, he was unable to close the gap on second placeman, David Beckmann. Meanwhile, Piastri swapped position with his team-mate Frederik Vesti to take eighth and then snatched seventh right on the line from Sebastian Fernandez to clinch the championship by three points ahead from Pourchaire.
After receiving the plaudits as the 2020 FIA Formula 3 Champion, Oscar admitted, “I’m exhausted to be honest…it was a tough race and yeah, I think the past few weeks have put me to the test emotionally…still can’t quite believe that we just won that thing. Obviously, I feel really sorry for Logan…you never want to see that happen to your team-mate and title rival so the first thing I’m going to do when I get back to the team is to try and console him. I had a good start and after that I could bide my time a little bit so long as Theo wasn’t too quick. It feels so great to take the title at the end of such a crazy and challenging race. Massive thanks to the team for believing in me and giving me a great car all year.”
“I think I have been quite consistent over the year and also the way I’ve bounced back from all the set-backs we’ve had; we’ve had quite a few technical issues and other problems to deal with so I think my consistency and keeping my head cool has been the biggest thing. Obviously, the beginning of this weekend wasn’t ideal and then to finish one spot off the reserve grid pole yesterday was pretty frustrating – but it doesn’t really matter now!
Despite his victory elations, Piastri also took time out to recognise and applaud his title rivals and in particular sympathise with Sargeant.
“To Logan, I can’t imagine how you’re feeling right now, man. You just don’t want to see that and I’m just sorry that it had to end that way… I would have loved to have fought to the death. And, to Theo…phwoar, he was very, very good in the second half of the year. At the first half of the year, we were joking that some of his wins came with a bit of luck but he definitely proved his worth in the second half. So, yeah massive congrats to both those guys and I’m looking forward to probably racing them in years to come.”
2020 FIA Formula 3 Championship final standings
1. Oscar Piastri (AUS) 164 points
2. Theo Pourchaire (FRA) 161
3. Logan Sargeant (USA) 160
4. Frederik Vesti (DEN) 146.5
5. Liam Lawson (NZ) 143
Images © Prema Powerteam