AU­TOSPORT’S TOP 10 DRIV­ERS

Autosport (UK) - - SEASON REVIEW/EUROPEAN F3 -

LANDO NOR­RIS

His prepa­ra­tion was sec­ond to none, yet three out­stand­ing mo­ments of sheer im­pro­vi­sa­tional bril­liance spring to mind: an as­ton­ish­ing pole lap at Pau, over half a sec­ond clear of Ilott in his group; a sin­gle fly­ing lap at the end of wet free prac­tice at Spa, hav­ing sat out the whole ses­sion, which sprung him a sec­ond clear; and an ex­tra­or­di­nary pole in the wet at the Nur­bur­gring by nine tenths. Nor­ris wasn’t per­fect, but his re­lent­less speed and com­mit­ment earned him a fully de­served ti­tle. And all at the age of 17. This will leave For­mula 2 ri­vals in 2018 very wor­ried, which­ever team he’s with.

JE­HAN DARU­VALA

Our top five this year are com­fort­ably clear of the next batch, be­tween whom there’s not much to choose. The Force In­dia-backed Mum­bai tal­ent gets it be­cause, apart from his su­perb win at the Noris­ring, he also led most of the way in a race at Monza. In­cred­i­ble record of 30 fin­ishes from 30 races as an F3 rookie, 25 of them in the points, tells a tale of a very solid and con­sis­tent sea­son. Daru­vala is miss­ing just a tiny bit on qual­i­fy­ing pace, and he could be a bit more ag­gres­sive in the races. That’d prob­a­bly bring the fin­ish­ing record down, but would raise his win tally.

JOEL ERIKS­SON

There’s a nu­cleus of peo­ple who’d say there’s noth­ing to choose be­tween BMW’S Swedish ju­nior tal­ent and Nor­ris, but that you have to give the ver­dict to the Brit. Eriks­son, though, was of­ten out­stand­ing, and it was only Mo­topark’s rough patch in the mid­dle of the sea­son that dropped him out of the ti­tle pic­ture. Even dur­ing this pe­riod, he put in storm­ing drives to sec­ond from 12th and 10th on the grid at Spa. He’s a clas­sic, old-fash­ioned, hard-but-firm racer – ut­terly bril­liant bat­tles with Nor­ris and Hughes to­wards the end of the sea­son ex­hib­ited this clearly.

FER­DI­NAND HAB­S­BURG

The would-be next king of Aus­tria was a very pleas­ant sur­prise this year. He scored a podium sec­ond time out at Monza, and scored a ter­rific vic­tory at Spa with a bro­ken bone in his hand, le­gacy of a Noris­ring shunt – this was hugely pop­u­lar, be­cause he’s an ab­so­lutely crack­ing bloke with a great sense of hu­mour. The win seemed to un­lock a new con­fi­dence, and his driv­ing be­came no­tably fast and com­mit­ted – at Zand­voort, he was able to be flat in some places when team-mate Nor­ris couldn’t. Both he and Daru­vala will hope­fully re­turn to F3 in 2018; they’d be top con­tenders.

CAL­LUM ILOTT

Prema thought it could pol­ish this exquisitely ta­lented rough di­a­mond, but it took a long time to do so. Good re­sults – which could have been wins – were thrown away at Sil­ver­stone and Pau. Other races showed that per­haps Ilott’s in­stinc­tive rac­ing sucks him into dis­ad­van­ta­geous po­si­tions on the track and leaves him vul­ner­a­ble. He does have a very ad­mirable, pure, clean-rac­ing ap­proach, which can be taken ad­van­tage of by harder-edged ri­vals. In­ter­est­ing that he beat Nor­ris 10-8 on poles, al­though ad­mit­tedly Nor­ris lost two more to grid penal­ties.

GUAN YU ZHOU

This was the Chi­nese Fer­rari ju­nior’s sec­ond year in F3 but only his third over­all in car rac­ing. Af­ter switch­ing from Mo­topark to Prema for 2017, he was still a bit raw and his dra­matic driv­ing style – he seems to be mas­sively late on the brakes – prob­a­bly needed hon­ing down a bit. But there were in­stances where he was quicker than team-mates Ilott and Gun­ther in some cor­ners. It should also not be for­got­ten that Hab­s­burg’s win at Spa could have been Zhou’s: they were both on four new tyres, and Zhou was ahead of Hab­s­burg when he was taken out by Nor­ris…

MAX­I­M­IL­IAN GUN­THER

Part of the self­mythol­o­gis­ing ‘Prema Way’ is to play the ti­tle game softly-softly, not take un­due risks. This ta­lented Mercedes DTM ju­nior needed rein­ing in dur­ing 2016. Then, when his great ti­tle shot came this year, he swung too far the other way. You have to feel for Gun­ther, be­cause with Prema’s edge gone the team’s method­ol­ogy was less ef­fec­tive. It wasn’t un­til the penul­ti­mate round at the Red Bull Ring that sud­denly here he was, on the ab­so­lute edge. Per­haps the Merc DTM pull­out, and his own short­age of bud­get for the fu­ture, may have had an ad­verse ef­fect.

RALF ARON

Qual­i­fy­ing is ev­ery­thing in F3. This la­conic, funny and highly in­tel­li­gent Es­to­nian switched from Prema to Hitech for 2017 and, if only he could put a whole lap to­gether, he’d have been Hughes’s equal. The big prob­lem is stick­ing all his sec­tors to­gether on the same lap. He did that bril­liantly at Noris­ring to set the fastest-ever F3 lap of the cir­cuit, but of course, at only 48s a lap, you get many bites of the cherry there… Su­perb, in­stinc­tive racer with good judge­ment, but his qual­i­fy­ing woes of­ten left him in the mid­field tur­bu­lence from where it’s dif­fi­cult to emerge un­scathed.

JAKE HUGHES

In his first sea­son of F3, Hughes was the Hitech stand­out – way ahead of his team-mates in the points, and 12 times out of 20 ses­sions the team’s top qual­i­fier. The Brum­mie ticks ev­ery sin­gle box. He’s a good bloke, strong feed­back, and drives an F3 car beau­ti­fully smoothly and with great ac­cu­racy. When the team im­proved and he stopped get­ting hit by the er­rant Nor­ris, Ilott, Gun­ther etc, his re­sults im­proved, and he even looked an out­side shot for a top-four po­si­tion in the points. Pos­si­bly the driv­ing style could be more at­tack­ing when con­di­tions suit, but oth­er­wise ex­cel­lent.

JOEY MAW­SON

A bouncy, ami­able bloke and bruis­ingly-hard racer, Maw­son is pretty much the epit­ome of an Aus­tralian race driver. Even down to the fact that he’s got no cash. His in­vestors back home got him in at Van Amers­foort Rac­ing and he flour­ished when­ever con­di­tions were tricky. But per­haps those fi­nan­cial wor­ries over his long-term fu­ture led him to over­strive, be­cause there were too many in­ci­dents. He’s a ter­rific lit­tle tal­ent and, as a rookie, was 10 times out of 20 VAR’S top qual­i­fier (against six for Pi­quet and four for Newey, both sec­ond-year F3 driv­ers).

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