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New Zealand driver Marcus Armstrong has put his preparation behind him and is ready to do battle as the 2018 FIA Formula 3 European Championship opens this weekend at Pau in France.
Armstrong, 17, has one simple aim. He wants to be champion in his rookie year, and he believes his team, engineer and mechanics can help him achieve that goal. It is the last year for the current version of Formula 3, and thus a chance to write his name large in the history books.
“This season is going to be a good one. There are a number of championship contenders and all the teams and engine manufacturers want to stamp their claim on this F3, seeing as it’s the last year. My intention is to be champion in my rookie season. If there is a year that a rookie can do it, I believe it’s this year,” he said.
He has rivals a-plenty. With Prema running its biggest team ever in Formula 3 Euro, Armstrong says he faces the toughest battle within his own team.
“I think all of the Prema drivers are in contention for the title. It’s a strong and experienced line-up which is great because we are always learning from each other. My challenge is to be the best of them,” he said.
Others likely to feature among the 23-strong entry list include Alex Palou, Sascha Fenestraz, Dan Ticktum, and Ferdinand Habsburg.
The car, he says, is very well developed for this year.
“The F3 car is really quite special. The aero is very well developed and the car is light [535 kg minimum] which means at times we are cornering at speeds second only to F1. That’s really exciting.”
Additional key pieces of the F3 operation are the engineer and mechanics. With a French engineer and Italian mechanics, Armstrong says, he is learning Italian as he goes along.
“I’m lucky to have a very experienced engineer this season, in previous years he has worked with Lance Stroll and Esteban Ocon. My mechanics don’t speak much English but to be honest I enjoy making small talk with them in Italian!”
In preparation for the championship, Ferrari Driver Academy member Armstrong says he has been working up to seven days a week.
“Since I left New Zealand it’s been very busy. We’ve had a few Ferrari training camps plus one Prema training camp which was more of a team-building excercise. Between that we have had five pre-season tests, so I’ve been kept quite busy. Then whenever we have a free Friday, myself, Antonio Fuoco, Callum Ilott, Guan Yu Zhou will go KZ training in Lonato with a team based in Maranello.”
Armstrong says he knows the importance of nutrition in any athlete’s event preparation, and tries to eat mindfully – but this may also have been helped by the fact he hasn’t learned to cook any local dishes.
“First up I’m a terrible cook! Luckily where we live in Maranello there are a few restaurants, so we mainly stick to them. I prefer to stay away from the pizza, so much so I’m not even sure I’ve had a proper pizza since I’ve been living here. I try to eat half healthy, whereas Callum for example, basically lives on spaghetti Bolognese!”
Armstrong says the 2.76 km street circuit is spectacular but challenging, narrow in places and with plenty of kerbs and unexpected footpath edges to catch out the unwary. He is unfazed by the prospect of starting the season on a street circuit.
“This is what I’m here for, and it’s the same for each driver. I can’t wait!”
Prema rates its Euro F3 line-up
After a positive 2017 season, Mick Schumacher and Guanyu Zhou will be back for their second straight year with the team. The young German is aiming to make an impact and carry on the positives of his rookie year, while the Chinese racer has now a great amount of experience to take advantage of. Zhou will again be part of the Ferrari Driver Academy, and will be joined by two other young prospects coming from the Italian manufacturer’s developmental ranks, Marcus Armstrong and Robert Shwartzman.
The New Zealander won the 2017 Italian F4 title under the Prema banner, while the Russian impressed in last season’s Eurocup Formula Renault championship: they are both ready to step up right from the start.
Last but absolutely not least, Estonian Ralf Aron will make a highly-anticipated comeback to the team. The Estonian has the speed, consistency, and experience needed to be a top contender.
It is the final season for the current Formula 3 cars, as a new chassis, engine and safety package will debut in 2019.
European Formula 3 brings Kiwi driver to a massive audience
Marcus Armstrong will race this year in front of the biggest trackside and TV audiences he has ever seen. The growing profile of Formula 3 and the impending merger of F3 and GP3 mean the eyes of race fans, team managers, talent spotters and media are fixed on the F3 grid as never before.
The process began last year.
The 2017 race calendar took the FIA Formula 3 European Championship teams and drivers to eight different countries. During the course of the season they had to demonstrate their skills not only at current Formula One race venues, such as Spa-Francorchamps, the Hungaroring, Spielberg, Monza, the Hockenheimring and Silverstone, but also at two challenging street circuits: Pau and Nuremberg’s Norisring. The race meetings were attended by an average crowd of 63,600 visitors, representing an increase of about 9,000 visitors per event compared to 2016. The season finale at Hockenheim was witnessed by 152,000 spectators live on site and the Norisring meeting attracted 125,000 visitors. The fact that the FIA Formula 3 European Championship is very popular with motor-racing enthusiasts away from DTM events was demonstrated by the fact that the FIA Formula 3 race weekend at Spa-Francorchamps and the season kick-off at Silverstone were attended by 65,000 and 50,000 visitors respectively.
Indications are that this year’s championship will attract audiences up to 20 per cent greater in number both trackside and on television.
Friday, May 11th
10:40 – Practice 1
11:25 – Practice 2
16:05 – Qualifying 1
Saturday, May 12th
11:10 – Race 1
16:05 – Qualifying 2
Sunday, May 13th
11:10 – Race 2
15:25 – Race 3
Qualifying will be streamed live at: https://bit.ly/2HL121w
FIA Formula 3 entry list
Keyvan Soori Andres