FOUR young Aussies have their eyes on the prize as they line up for the start of the 2020 FIA Formula 3 championship this weekend in Austria.
The next generation of grand prix hopefuls will be performing on the same bill as Daniel Ricciardo at the Red Bull Ring in the hope of following him into Formula One.
The fast four are Melbourne’s Oscar Piastri, Tasmanian Alex Peroni, West Australia’s Calan Williams and Queenslander Jack Doohan.
The quartet may face a shortened 2020 schedule but their task remains the same, as they attempt to emerge from a pack of hungry racers from around the world.
Piastri, 19, is well-placed to lead the challengers and hits F3 as a member of the Renault Sport Academy. He is one of just six up-and-coming drivers from around the world hand-picked to ascend the competition ladder with backing from the French company.
“Renault have set me targets that I need to achieve so, in that regard, I suppose there is a little bit more pressure. But those targets would probably be the same regardless of whether I was in a program or not,” says Piastri.
“To be honest with you, if I want to get to F1, which I certainly do, then I definitely need to be getting the results that Renault have set me to be on my way to F1, regardless of the academy.”
Piastri, who completed high school last year in an English boarding school, will drive for the crack Prema Racing, based in Grisignano di Zocco in northern Italy. Among the team’s former F3 winners are current F1 drivers Charles Leclerc, Esteban Ocon, Lance Stroll and Pierre Gasly.
For Peroni, who has 13 F3 rounds under his belt, the path at Campos Racing in Spain has been carved by double world champion Fernando Alonso, Marc Gene and Nelson Piquet Jr.
But he is best known for a huge crash at Monza in September that made headlines around the world.
Now recovered from his crash, the 20-year-old is trying not to look too far ahead.
“As always, [I am] trying to take it race by race. It looks like it could be a long season so trying not to get ahead of ourselves,” says Peroni.
“Who knows until we get to the first race – but I’m super keen.”
Williams, who will turn 20 next week, is the unknown among the Aussies.
He is taking a different approach with the Swiss-based Jenzer Motorsport team, although he has plenty of experience in single-seaters as a former winner of the Australian F3 title.
“I feel it’s going to be a race of who can be the quickest to adapt to both the car and the conditions so I am really looking forward to it,” he says.
“The technology seems a lot more advanced in this championship compared to anything I have ever done before. There are also lot of aspects to the championship itself which will be new to me, like the DRS and virtual safety car.
The final member of the quarter carries the most famous name.
Jack Doohan is the 17-year-old son of MotoGP legend Mick Doohan and is showing signs that he carries the steely resolve that took his father to five world titles.
The young Queenslander will race for the German HWA Racelab team, which has strong links with Mercedes-Benz. It’s a tough team as he will be alongside Briton Jake Hughes and Brazilian Enzo Fittipaldi, grandson of double world champion and Indianapolis 500 winner Emerson Fittipaldi.
“I am definitely not planning on just easing into it,” says Doohan.
“Obviously, there are some second and third-year drivers on the grid, and some quick rookies, but I am going in to win the championship, Doohan says.
“I don’t want to go in as a rookie and take a rookie season, because you need to make an impact. I want to fight at the front and be in and around it.”
No-one knows who will finish on top, but Peroni says that having four Aussies is a bonus.
“It’s good for our sport to have all these Aussies here. Daniel and Mark Webber have shown it’s possible to make it, which is inspiring for us.”
WHAT IS FORMULA 3
Australians have starred in Formula 3 since six-time Bathurst winner was in Europe in the 1970s.
But the cars are far faster than when Perkins won on the way to a short stint in Formula One.
The basis of the category is a Dallara chassis, identical for all teams and drivers, with the latest in F1-style safety features including a driver-protection halo, front, rear and side crush zones, and a removable driver’s seat.
For the second season, F3 engines are a V6 supplied by a French company Mecachrome. The 3.4-litre naturally aspirated unit produces 285 kiloWatts (380 horsepower), turning the rear wheels through a six-speed Hewland transmission with paddle shifters.
Top speed is around 300km/h at some of the faster circuits.
Pirelli supplies identical slick and wet-weather tyres, supplied in three different compounds depending on the circuit.
As with the faster cars used in F1 and F2, drivers have a Drag Reduction System (DRS) to make overtaking easier.