With the first round of the new Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 season kicking off at Aragon this weekend, PaddockScout previews another top-quality grid.
Last season provided entertaining racing with full capacity grids and it all came down to the final race of the season at Barcelona. When dust had settled it was Belgian Stoffel Vandoorne, who beat out Russian Daniil Kvyat and Brit Oliver Rowland, to take home the title.
This season, we enter what appears to be one of the most competitive season, with multiple drivers staking their claim as a title contender. After his strong finish to the season last year, Brit Oliver Rowland enters this season as one of the favourites, but this season will be far from a one-sided affair. Frenchman Esteban Ocon has been lightning quick in testing and has already tasted victory this season in the opening round of the NEC. Also throwing his hand up as a contender is Dutch karting ace Nyck de Vries, who has been very consistent in testing this winter. Then there is Steijn Schothorst and Oscar Tunjo, who will be looking to bring a third straight title to Josef Kaufmann Racing.
Here is a look at the 38 drivers taking part at Aragon.
Josef Kaufmann Racing
1. Steijn Schothorst
2012: Sixth in Formula Renault 2.0 NEC, 22nd in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0
Schothorst makes his full-time debut in Eurocup after making several appearance last season with Fortec and Manor MP. He now moves to Kaufmann, where his brother Pieter raced last season, and takes over the plum #1 seat that has taken Robin Frijns and Stoffel Vandoorne to back-to-back titles.
Last season proved to be a successful one for the 18-year-old, who was able to take two wins and two podiums on his way to fifth place in the championship. He also took part in several rounds of the Eurocup, finishing twenty-second in the standings after scoring a best finish of sixth at the N?rburgring.
Schothorst has been a bit inconsistent in testing this winter, topping days at both Paul Ricard and the Red Bull Ring, but struggling at Aragon, the site of the first round and he will need to show more consistency if he wants to be a factor in the title race. He comes into this weekend having tasted success already this season in the Toyota Racing Series in New Zealand where he was able to take one win at Manfield and finishing third at the season ending New Zealand Grand Prix.
2012: Second in ADAC Formel Masters
Malja moves to the Eurocup after two successful seasons in the ADAC Formel Masters series in Germany. Last season was the 17-year-old?s best to date, competing for the title up until the very last round at Hockenheim, before narrowly losing out to eventual champion Marvin Kirchh?fer.
Given his inexperience with the Formula Renault car and the fact he’s competing against more seasoned drivers, he has equipped himself quite well during the winter tests.
He won?t be fighting for the title like his team mates, but if he continues to improve and learn from his more experienced team mates, his stock will continue to grow and he could surprise the competition.
2012: Seventh in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0, fourth in Formula Renault 2.0 Alps
Tunjo returns to the German squad, whom he raced with in 2011, after a season with Tech 1 last season. The 17-year-old had a strong season last year in both the Eurocup and Alps series and will be looking to capitalise on his experience and to bring Kaufmann another championship.
The Lotus F1 Junior Team member, who is entering his third Eurocup season, has been very consistent in testing, running in the top ten at Aragon, Paul Ricard and the Red Bull Ring.
If he can continue his consistency and use his vast Formula Renault experience, he will surely lead the Kaufmann assault on their third title in three years.
2012: Fifth in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0, tenth in Formula Renault 2.0 NEC
The McLaren Young Driver makes the move from R-Ace GP to Koiranen, who took Estonian Kevin Korjus to the 2012 title. The Dutchman was nothing short of excellent in his first season of car racing last season, after a very successful karting career. He was able to challenge more experienced drivers like Stoffel Vandoorne and Daniil Kvyat and take his first win in the NEC at Assen.
He was on the pace right away in testing at Aragon and has been almost untouchable in wet and tricky conditions and has consistently been in the top ten of the time sheets at the end of the day.
The ceiling is very high on this young driver and he will lead Koiranen?s assault on returning to the top step after two years of Kaufmann glory.
2012: 17th in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0, eighth in Formula Renault 2.0 Alps
Silva moves over to Koiranen after his debut season with Interwetten. 2012 was a good first season of car racing in Europe scoring two podium finishes, one in the Eurocup and one in the Alps, but he was let down by the number of retirements that he had, two in the Eurocup and four in the Alps.
Like de Vries he was quick out of the blocks, but started to fade towards the end, but fortunately for the Brazilian he was very strong at Aragon, which is the site of the first round.
If he can cut down on the mistakes and the retirements and challenge de Vries, he, like Schothorst, can be a dark horse in the title hunt.
2012: 11th in Formula Renault 2.0 Alps, no points in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0
Franzoni continues his association with Koiranen after forming part of the squad?s Alps line-up last season. He also joined the squad at the Eurocup round at Spa-Francorchamps. Unfortunately, it was rather a weekend to forget for Franzoni, who was involved in one of the most spectacular crashes of last season with Dan de Zille and Norman Nato.
Much like his countryman, he was quick out of the blocks at Aragon, but he slowly faded in the test at Paul Ricard and the Red Bull Ring.
His lack of experience in the Eurocup means that we can?t expect him to challenge for the title like de Vries and Silva, but he has shown the pace to challenge with the best of them.
Nation: Great Britain
2012: Formula Renault 2.0 NEC champion, 12th in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0
Dennis is the next in the long line of drivers backed by the Racing Steps Foundation and quite possibly the most talented of the lot. After an extremely successful karting career, his foray in the car racing has also been very successful with title successes in the InterSteps Championship in 2011 and then last season in the Formula Renault NEC.
The 17-year-old took some time to get up to pace in pre-season testing, with Fortec struggling with the new Formula Renault car, but once the issues were sorted the Brit was able to show his true pace and show everyone why he will be a force to reckon with this season and possibly bring Fortec their first Eurocup title.
If he can keep up the consistency, which has seen him take two titles in two season, he will be towards the top come Barcelona in October.
2012: 15th in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0, 24th in Formula Renault 2.0 NEC
The Finn returns to Fortec for another season after finishing 15th in the standings last year. The 17-year-old had an up and down season when it came results, scoring a podium finish at the Hungaroring, but was not able to build on this result as he was only able to score on two more occasions.
Pakari came out and shocked a few people by putting himself towards the top of the time sheets at Aragon and outpacing Dennis on more than one occasion at Aragon.
If he can keep up the pace he has shown in testing and consistently score points, he can put together a strong Eurocup campaign in his second season.
Nation: United Arab Emirates
2012: 27th in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0, 20th in Formula Renault 2.0 NEC
Rounding out Fortec?s squad the UAE driver, who like Pakari will be looking to improve on his position from last year. His results in the Eurocup and the NEC didn?t exactly set the world alight, but he did show glimpses of pace that suggest with more experience he could race with the best of them.
That was a fact that he then proved at winter testing, consistently running in the top ten at both Aragon and Paul Ricard. He tailed off a little bit at the Red Bull Ring, but with more experience and guidance from the Fortec squad, he will be challenging for top ten?s and possibly even podiums in no time.
Jones is also competing in F3 Open this year, but has opted to focus on the Eurocup this weekend at least.
Tech 1 Racing
2012: Tenth in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 and 23rd in Formula Renault 2.0 NEC
Many predicted that the French star would join the Red Bull Junior Team this season, however that hasn?t happened and he now moves from R-Ace GP to French stalwart team Tech 1 Racing. Gasly had a marvelous debut season in Formula Renault and he will be looking to challenge for the title this season.
The 17-year-old has been towards the top during testing, but he didn?t really come into his own until the final session of the final day of the final pre-season test at the Red Bull Ring.
He needs to take the challenge to his competitors early and look to lead the Tech 1 squad to the Eurocup title.
2012: Tenth in French F4 Championship
The young Russian moves up to the Eurocup after competing in the French F4 Championship. He also took part in selected rounds of the Eurocup and Alps championships last season with Fortec and AV Formula respectively.
Although he didn?t quite set the world alight last season, the French F4 Championship has been churning out star drivers over past seasons and only time will tell with Orudzhev.
The 17-year-old has struggled in testing, but has slowly been improving. He won?t challenge for the title this season, but he still has room to improve and with the quick Gasly and the experienced Vaxivi?re as his team mates, he also has very good benchmarks to aim for.
2012: 29th in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0, 14th in Formula Renault 2.0 Alps
2012 was a disappointing season for the Frenchman after the way in which he won the French F4 Championship in 2011.
He returns to Tech 1 for another season and will be looking to improve on last season and return to his winning ways.
Testing suggests that he will be quick, but he struggled with consistency. If he can put last season?s disappointments behind him and consistently score points and fight with Gasly and the like, he might be adding more silverware to go with his French F4 title.
ART Junior Team
2012: French F4 Champion
Alexandre Baron was nothing short of spectacular last season dominating the French F4 Championship. It was truly a season to remember as he was able to take eight wins out of a possible 14 and add two podiums for good measure.
He now joins a long list of French F4 champions to make the move to the Eurocup and he joins the ART Junior Team, known last season as R-Ace GP.
The Frenchman took his time to get up to pace, but his track record speaks for itself and he will definitely be one to watch and see how he goes against stronger opposition.
2012: 14th in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0, seventh in Formula Renault 2.0 Alps
The Lotus F1 Junior Team member returns for a second season in the Eurocup, making the switch from Koiranen to ART. Ocon showed glimpses of real pace last season, but couldn?t consistently put it together. However, what a difference a year makes.
Ocon came out of the blocks flying this season, topping the time sheets at Aragon and Paul Ricard in dominating fashion and also taking a win and two fastest laps at the opening round of the NEC.
If we go by the time sheets of the winter tests, then Ocon should enter the season as the favourite to win the title, but he is still a very raw racer and needs to cut out the silly mistakes that cost him points last season.
2012: 21st in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0, 13th in Formula Renault 2.0 NEC
Pizzitola flew under the radar last season in both the Eurocup and the NEC. He returns to the French squad for a second season and will look to build on last season.
2013 got off to a good start, running in the top ten during most of the winter tests and, like Ocon, scoring a victory in the reverse grid race at the opening round of the NEC.
Pizzitola needs to build on his strong start to 2013 and take the fight to Ocon if he wants to establish himself as the lead driver at ART.
2012: 17th in Formula Renault 2.0 Alps
The son of ex-Formula driver Olivier Panis, make his first full-time debut in the Eurocup after competing in selected rounds last season, and continues with RC Formula, who he raced with in last year?s Alps championship. He finished seventeenth in his rookie year of Formula Renault and now steps up to the more competitive Eurocup.
Panis has equipped himself quite well in testing, consistently being the top RC Formula driver throughout the winter.
He is still a very raw racer and needs the time to grow, but as RC Formula proved with Norman Nato last season, he might be able to fight at the top.
18. Benjamin Bailly
2012: 31st in Formula Renault 2.0 Alps
The Belgian returns to racing full time after only competing in selected rounds of the Alps last season. He was able to complete a late deal with RC Formula and was able to attend the final test at the Red Bull Ring.
Bailly was French F4 champion back in 2009 and performed well after a huge step up to Formula 2, but he then lost his backing from the Belgian federation, the RACB.
Due to his lack of much testing he will need the time to adjust to the new Formula Renault car and also adjust to getting back into racing in general, but as we have seen in the past, he can be very quick on his day.
19. Naomi Schiff
Nation: South Africa
If Bailly?s deal was last minute, than Schiff?s deal was a zero hour deal and only announced the Thursday before the first round. The South African returns to racing and makes her first move into Europe after largely sitting out last season.
Her lack of experience and testing with the Formula Renault car means that she won?t be expected to challenge for points scoring finishes, but it will certainly be interesting to see how she gets on at Aragon.
Roman Mavlanov had previously been announced in Schiff’s car but is racing in the GT Open during the Aragon weekend.
2012: No points in Formula Renault 2.0 Alps, no points in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0
Tereshchenko makes the move to the Eurocup after competing in the Alps championship last year and he also took part in select Eurocup rounds. The Russian continues with Interwetten and moves to the Austrian squad?s Eurocup team. At this stage it is unclear if he will take part in the whole Eurocup, but he will present at the first round at Aragon.
The 18-year-old did not take part in all of the pre-season tests, but he has the experience of last season, which makes him a more than capable candidate.
His inexperience means he won?t be towards the front, but he will use the experience as a spring board for a strong Alps campaign.
2012: No points in Formula Renault 2.0 Alps
The Mexican makes the jump up to the Eurocup after a less than stellar season in the Alps. He moves to Interwetten after competing last season with Italian squad Team Torino Motorsport.
Abogado has been midfield during testing this offseason and he needs the time to grow. In Wackerbauer, he has an experienced teammate, who he can learn from and set a strong benchmark for him to aim for.
If he can consistently improve, he will be an interesting prospect to watch this season.
2012: 11th in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 and 12th in Formula Renault 2.0 Alps
2012 was a turbulent season for the 2011 Formula BMW Talent Cup champion that lead to the German being dropped from the Red Bull Junior Team. Although, it didn?t long for Deutsche Post Speed Academy to reach out and scoop up the 17-year-old and put him back in the Eurocup for a second season.
He now moves to Interwetten from Koiranen and will need to use his experience to lead the Austrian squad.
Wackerbauer has shown steady improvement in testing from last season and will need to continue to improve if he wants to be a factor in the title hunt. If he can be more consistent this season and race with a chip on his shoulder and show Red Bull they may have made a mistake, but only time will tell and we will have to wait and see.
Manor MP Motorsport
Nation: Great Britain
2012: Eighth in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 and tenth in Formula Renault 2.0 Alps
McKee joins Manor MP Motorsport for the first round at Aragon, to replace the previously announced Felipe Fraga. It is unclear whether or not this is a one off race, but the Brit recently announced that he would take part in the GP3 Series with Bamboo Engineering.
He comes into this weekend having not tested the new Formula Renault car, but he proved to be very quick last season and we should expect to see him towards the sharp end of the standings and possibly even on the podium at Aragon.
Nation: Great Britain
2012: Third in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0
Many were surprised when the 20-year-old didn?t end up following fellow RSF-backed Jack Harvey into F3, many were even more surprised when it was announced that he would move from Fortec, where he finished runner-up in Formula Renault UK in 2011 and in third in the Eurocup last year, to Dutch squad Manor MP Motorsport.
After being given a reprieve by Racing Steps, Rowland has delivered strong performances in testing and in the first round the NEC where he scored three podiums and left Hockenheim with the championship lead.
As the returning highest finishing driver from last season Rowland will have to take the fight to Ocon and de Vries and lead the squad to victory.
2012: Formula Renault 2.0 Argentina champion
Merlo makes the move to Europe and the Eurocup after competing in Formula Renault in his native Argentina, where he was able to take the title last season.
His inexperience means that he needs the time to grow, but he has shown glimpses during the winter tests.
He is also fortunate that he is in the right environment for him to grow, with McKee and Rowland he has two experienced drivers for which he can learn from and compare himself to.
2012: Fifth in Formula Renault 2.0 Alps, 16th in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0
Vermont, who enters his second Eurocup season with ARTA, showed good results in his first season in Formula Renault last season. Vermont is an extremely experienced driver having also competed in the F3 Open and the ADAC Formel Masters.
Vermont has shown in testing that he will be the lead car for ARTA and will most likely be a top ten finisher.
If he can consistently score points and challenge for possible podiums and wins, he will put together a strong Eurocup campaign in his second season.
2012: Second in French F4 Championship
The 17-year-old joins his French F4 rival Baron in making the jump to the Eurocup this season. He enjoyed a strong season last year, taking second place in F4 after two years in the European karting ranks.
He now makes the jump to the Eurocup where he will need time to get use to the new car, increased grid size and the intense wheel-to-wheel racing throughout the field.
Winter testing went well, with Tirman staying on the pace of his rival Baron, it will be an interesting little side not to see if he can turn the tides and finish ahead of his countryman this season.
28. L?o Roussel
2012: No points in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0, 21st in Formula Renault 2.0 Alps
Completing the all French line-up for ARTA is 17-year-old L?o Roussel, who like Vermont, enters his second Eurocup season with the French squad after finishing fourtieth in last year?s campaign. Entering the Eurocup straight out of karting last year was never going to be an easy task and the results showed, but there were glimpses that the Frenchman was a strong racer, with him have great battles further down the field last year.
After gaining the experience last year, Roussel entered the winter tests a much improved driver, but there is still a long way to go to get onto the pace of Vermont. If he can continue to work his way up the grid and get on pace with his teammate, he could put together a few points scoring finishes in this year?s championship.
2012: No points in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0, 19th in Formula Renault 2.0 NEC
Kanamaru endured a tough start to last season in both the Eurocup and NEC, enduring two retirements and one not-start in the first four races of the NEC alone. However, after a strong points scoring mid-season, he was able to take his first victory at the wet final round of the NEC at Spa-Francorchamps. He now returns to the Belgian team for a second season looking to improve his on his NEC results from last season and fight in the Eurocup.
When it came to winter testing, Kanamaru was like last year a bit up and down at times, but showed glimpses of pace to think that he can challenge for points this season.
If Kanamaru can hit the ground running and not fall into a slump at the beginning, like last season, then he could put together an improved Eurocup campaign.
2012: No points in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0, 17th in Formula Renault 2.0 Alps
Albon makes the move to KTR from Spanish squad EPIC Racing for a second season in the Eurocup. Last season didn?t exactly go to plan for 17-year-old which led to his departure from the Red Bull Junior Team.
He now returns this season with the Belgian squad as a member of the Lotus F1 Junior Team, where he will need to take advantage of this second opportunity in an F1 team?s junior scheme.
Albon has put a good but not spectacular winter testing campaign, but it will be hard for him to challenge for wins and podiums as the grid is just so strong this season and more experienced. If he can put together several points scoring finishes, he will have a good Eurocup campaign.
2012: 26th in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0, 17th in Formula Renault 2.0 NEC
Rounding out KTR?S line-up is Eurocup returnee Ignazio D?Agosto, who returns to the Belgian squad for a second Eurocup campaign. D?Agosto returns as the team?s highest place finisher from last season, although he only managed to score points once last season.
Earlier this year he joined the Toyota Racing Series in New Zealand at Hampton Downs and was able to duel with Eurocup rival Schothorst straight and even managed to snatch a podium.
His winter testing results show that he will most likely lead the KTR squad, but he will need to improve if he wants to score points consistently. His pace shown in New Zealand against more experienced drivers from F3 shows that he can fight with the best of them, he just needs to translate this season to Eurocup and put together a strong campaign.
2012: Second in Formula Abarth
The 18-year-old Italian steps up to the Eurocup with new team Prema Powerteam after competing last season with the Italian squad in Formula Abarth.
After a strong campaign in both the European and Italian championships, he moved into the final rounds of the NEC and Alps championships with the Italian squad and was quickly on the pace scoring several points scoring finishes in both the NEC and the Alps.
Testing has gone well so far and the pace shown in his selected Formula Renault rounds last year is there. If he, along with Prema Powerteam, can progress quickly with the new car and come to grips with the close wheel-to-wheel racing of the Eurocup, he can fight for points this season.
2012: Third in Formula Abarth
The Brazilian follows Ghiotto into the Eurocup after competing in Formula Abarth with the Italian squad last year. He also competed in selected rounds of the NEC and Alps and took a podium in the NEC round at Spa-Francorchamps.
He has already tasted victory this season after taking victory during the Toyota Racing Series in New Zealand and will look to build on the strong start he made down there.
Bonifacio has been quick in testing, but he struggles with his consistency. If he can cut out the retirements that plagued his TRS campaign and show some consistency and score points and challenge for podiums, he can lead the Prema charge.
2012: Sixth in Formula Abarth
J?rg continues his association with the Swiss squad as he makes the move from their Formula Abarth to their newly formed Eurocup squad. The 17-year-old will be making his first full-time debut in Formula Renault after competing in the final round of the NEC last season with Daltec Racing.
J?rg will need to adapt himself quickly to the new car and continue his progress.
Testing results suggest that he will be fighting in the middle of the pack this season, but he is still a very raw prospect that has shown some potential.
2012: 12th in F?rmula Metropolitana
The 17-year-old Argentine makes the move to Europe this season after competing in the F?rmula Metropolitana in his native Argentina. He joins the Swiss squad, who are making their debut in the Eurocup this season after focusing on other series in recent years.
Siebert requires time to grow, as has been seen by his testing results, and the quicker he adapts himself to life and racing in Europe, along with the new Formula Renault car, the more experience he will gain and continue to grow his race craft.
2012: Formula LO champion
Amweg makes to move to Eurocup on the back of taking out the Formula LO championship last season. The 18-year-old has a strong karting record in Europe and has two season of car racing under his belt in Formula LO, finishing fourth in 2011 before taking the title last season.
He seems to have struggled to get to grips with the new car this season during winter testing, but his record speaks for itself and he will need to continue to improve and work on his consistency to put together a strong first campaign in the Eurocup.
40. Victor Sendin
2012: Fifth in French F4 Championship
The Spanish squad has been granted a wild card entry for the opening weekend and has brought their NEC driver Sendin for this weekend. Sendin steps up to Formula Renault after competing in the French F4 Championship last season, finishing fifth, as well as taking part in the Toyota Racing Series in New Zealand.
AV Formula has brought him here this weekend to gain the experience of racing in the tough Eurocup and they will be hoping that he can use the experience as a stepping board to a strong NEC campaign. Also in Cassidy, he has one of the hottest young driving prospects as a team mate to learn from and set as a benchmark to compare himself against.
41. Nick Cassidy
Nation: New Zealand
2012: 24th in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0
2012 was an interesting season for the 18-year-old Kiwi, who after winning his first Toyota Racing Series title, moved to Europe to compete in the Eurocup with British squad Fortec Motorsports. Cassidy then shocked a few people by putting his car on the front row during the first round at Aragon. But after three difficult rounds he returned to his native New Zealand.
Cassidy then returned for another season in the TRS in 2013 and put together a consistent campaign, taking out his second consecutive championship. He has now moved to Europe in hopes of securing a GP3 drive with Manor, but has been invited to compete this weekend at Aragon by AV. Although he has yet to drive the new car, Cassidy is a star in the making and expect to see him towards the sharp end this weekend.