There is a certain unpredictability going into this weekend’s Formula 2 season opener, making it difficult to pick out who will be at the front. That didn’t stop the Formula Scout team, who share their title predictions
Five of the 11 teams on this year’s Formula 2 grid are running drivers who have already won races in the series, but it’s talents in the other six that look more likely to be title contenders, and that’s before you take into consideration that pre-season preparations have been severely disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic and had an impact not only on drivers but on what and who teams will be able to bring to race weekends.
Alongside the unpredictability is an inevitable excitement that racing is getting back underway and that the grid of drivers is possibly one of the most competitive the series has ever had. There are 13 Formula 1 juniors, two drivers who are already carving careers in professional sportscar racing, and seven rookies who have moved up from the supporting FIA Formula 3 Championship. It looks like the top of junior single-seaters in Europe is healthier than for many years.
The Formula Scout team has assessed the past results of drivers and teams, the pace shown over one lap and in race runs in the Bahrain pre-season test, and a variety of other factors to pick who could be champion come season’s end. There were six different selections for that number one spot, and presented below is the combined predictions of the newsroom.
One of the favourites to pick up a win has been omitted, with uncertainty over how Luca Ghiotto’s schedule with Hitech will look amid clashes with his GT racing programme.
Key: Writer’s initials (their predicted position for the driver)
Contributions from Josh Suttill, Peter Allen, Elliot Wood, Bethonie Waring, Craig Woollard, Rachel Hillman and Harry Slade.
10. Nobuharu Matsushita MP Motorsport
9th in pre-season testing (100.356%)
EW (6th): That Honda offered the 26-year-old a Super Formula seat, which could very well have led to a successful career in Japan, and he turned it down to stay in F2 means Matsushita has a very personal mission in the championship that he won’t leave uncompleted. Going off previous results and his own comments, that means gaining the FIA superlicence points to race in F1, but motivation alone won’t lead to an improvement on last year, even with his experience.
RH (7th): Matsushita has been in the championship below F1 for some time that you might now call him an F2 veteran. It will be his third team in as many F2 seasons as he switches to MP Motorsport, which only finished in seventh in the teams’ championship last year and has never broken into the top six in the drivers’ championship. He may be a podium contender and could snatch a win if he’s lucky but will just fall short of breaking MP’s top-six duck.
JS (10th): His continued belief that he will make it to F1 is admirable but misguided. He should have remained and built a career in Super Formula. Instead, he faces a tricky year which will lack the consistency for his long-attempted championship push but will still feature a couple of standout drives.
HS (10th): Matsushita seems firmly a part of the furniture in F2, having been a mainstay of the series since its former guise as GP2 in 2015. He has only finished outside of the top 10 in the standings once since then (excluding 2018 where he didn’t compete) and I find it hard to believe he will break that trend. However, moving from Carlin to MP Motorsport is likely to leave him less competitive than in 2019.
9. Christian Lundgaard ART Grand Prix
Missed pre-season testing due to quarantine status
CW (2nd): An under-rated star that should be destined for great things, 2020 may be the year Lundgaard really puts his name on the map. Sticking with ART (with whom he raced with in 2019) will be helpful, and his constant upward trajectory through the ladder makes him a title threat even as a rookie. He is already showed glimpses in F2 by impressing on debut with the struggling Trident last year at Abu Dhabi.
JS (8th): Missing the pre-season test will leave Lundgaard severely on the back foot even for someone of his talents. He’s the youngest driver on the grid, making his learning curve that much steeper. His immense ability will enable him to catch up fast but it won’t be enough to prevent Lundgaard ending up as second-best at ART in 2020 and someway off a title challenge – which should come in 2021.
PA (8th): Lundgaard will start with one hand tied behind his back because of his absence from the pre-season test and total lack of knowledge with the new wheels and tyres – especially in the crucial battle for supremacy at ART with team-mate Marcus Armstrong. And that’s a shame, because he might just be the best prospect on a very talented grid, and a strong season could earn him the vacant Renault F1 seat for 2021.
HS (9th): In my eyes the most talented driver in the field, Lundgaard outscored both his team-mates combined at ART in F3 and regularly challenged the Prema monopoly – taking a win and a pair of pole positions. However, he may be making the leap too early, with his season being blighted by inconsistency twelve months ago. He also missed the pre-season test due to being quarantined – leaving him firmly on the back foot.
8. Dan Ticktum DAMS
15th in pre-season testing (100.715%)
CW (3rd): There is no questioning Ticktum’s speed during his career, but he is yet to truly banish the demons of five years ago. DAMS may be the team to get the best yet out of him, and this combination should not be ruled out as a title threat. If he has looked past the setbacks of 2019 and works hard this year, he will certainly be challenging for poles and wins on a consistent basis.
EW (4th): Immensely talented, well regarded by his new team and hungry for success, there’s more to suggest that Ticktum will be one of this year’s best than there is to suggest he won’t. DAMS is the reigning teams’ champion and looked like it had to do the least work to be on the testing pace (which is different to being quickest). Ticktum is open to tweaking his driving style to aid development, and unlike last year knows all the circuits.
JS (5th): It’s easy to forget how for the majority of the season, Ticktum was the class of a stellar 2018 European F3 grid, which featured fellow F2 drivers Schumacher, Shwartzman, Armstrong, Daruvala and Zhou. His stock has fallen significantly over the past 18 months, but DAMS and Williams should provide a less-intense environment and Ticktum will thrive. A shakey pre-season dissuaded me from predicting Ticktum to win the championship, but he probably won’t be far off as long as he can keep his emotions in check.
RH (8th): After exiting the Red Bull Junior Team last year, Ticktum is another driver to make a fresh start with Williams. He drove the last two races of 2018 in F2 with Arden and failed to score a point. Super Formula may not have worked out for the two-time Macau GP winner and he will be looking for to replicate the 2018 form that saw him compete for the European F3 title. If he can do this then he will do well but may fall short of his experienced rivals amid intense scrutiny.
7. Jehan Daruvala Carlin
2nd in pre-season testing (100.008%)
EW (1st): You can’t always treat pre-season testing as a litmus test of what’s ahead, but the way that Daruvala so confidently set the pace on his first time in an F2 car – and while recovering from an injury that meant he missed the 2019 Macau GP after a mega year in FIA F3 with Prema – was ominous. Like (2019 champion) de Vries last year, he’s downplayed testing but been similarly confident in his own ability going into the season.
RH (2nd): Daruvala moves into F2 with Carlin, who he drove for in European F3, and the Indian is one of the latest members of the famed Red Bull Junior Team. Last year he fell short of the F3 title but was a winner in the championship. Carlin has a strong pedigree of competing for titles and there is no reason why Daruvala won’t be the latest driver to do so. He performed well in testing, so keep an eye on him.
HS (8th): Daruvala will have championship ambitions following his near-miss in F3 last season. But the fact that it took him three years at F3-level to challenge leaves questions over his ability. While his talent eventually shone, I doubt his performance will continue to be as high from the outset as he moves up to F2. Carlin could be the team to get the best out of him though – it did push a rookie Lando Norris into F2 title contention in 2018.
PA (9th): Daruvala proved in FIA F3 last year that he can mix it with some of the best young drivers around, and he should be able to do the same in F2. He certainly adapted quickly to the car in the pre-season test, but it’s difficult to imagine the speed he showed being truly representative. If it is, it means Carlin has found an early advantage with the new tyres. As in 2018, I wouldn’t expect that advantage to stick.
6. Mick Schumacher Prema
6th in pre-season testing (100.276%)
BW (1st): If Mick Schumacher’s history is anything to go by, he’s a quick learner and will no doubt be aiming for the top sport in 2020. In 2017, he was pretty much nowhere in the European F3 championship. By the end of 2018, he was unstoppable. I wouldn’t put it beyond him to achieve the same feat in F2, especially considering he already has a race win to his name.
JS (3rd): I have underestimated and overestimated Schumacher in equal measure throughout his career, but I reckon he’ll take a big step forward in 2020 if he can avoid the bad luck that made his rookie season look a lot worse than it actually was. In reality, he was one of the most consistent drivers over one-lap last year, and he has an outstanding previous record at the Red Bull Ring, so I suspect he’ll hit the ground running but ultimately fall short of the title.
PA (6th): Many expect Schumacher to replicate his feats in F4 and F3 and win the F2 title in his second season. But last year was tougher than even the greatest cynics could have expected – although his pace was promising enough at times. Even if he does make another big step forward, winning the championship will be a big ask: Prema is playing catch-up against its rivals in F2, and team-mate Robert Shwartzman brings a lot of momentum from last year.
EW (12th): Combining everything we know about Schumacher’s ability, Prema’s recent form and the strength of the 2020 grid, there is little to say the German will be much better than he was as a rookie unless Prema becomes the team to beat once again. The messy time he had alongside Sean Gelael last year is unlikely to be repeated, but definitely dampened his own development and means he really needs to focus to avoid being Prema’s second-best driver.
5. Jack Aitken Campos Racing
7th in pre-season testing (100.312%)
RH (3rd): Aitken will remain with Campos for a second season and will be looking to build upon his fifth-place finish overall last year, which also yield three wins. It’s a new dawn for Aitken after departing the Renault Sport Academy after four years to join Williams. It took Aitken until his third season in Formula Renault to capture the title, so there’s no reason why he can’t be a contender in F2 this year.
HS (3rd): Aitken’s biggest ally over his title rivals will be his experience as he enters his third season in the category. If the Anglo-Korean driver can continue his upward trajectory from 2019 that saw him take a trio of victories, there is no reason why he can’t be a champion. However, Aitken’s chances may rest on whether his Campos team can react to the switch to wider tyres as successfully as the perennial powerhouses such as Prema and Carlin.
PA (4th): Aitken was more impressive than the championship standings showed last year, proving he has what it takes to perform in F2 – especially in race-trim with his racecraft and tyre management. Losing engineer Jan Sumann to Hitech isn’t ideal after the progress they made together, but that doesn’t mean that Aitken and Campos can’t keep moving forwards and become an even more competitive force now that he’s one of the more experienced drivers on the grid.
JS (7th): Aitken was brilliant last year, and I rated his giant-killing season only second to that of champion Nyck de Vries. However, I think Aitken and Campos will fall short in a better field this year and when it comes to adapting to the new rubber in comparison to their rivals. I will be delighted to be proved wrong.
4. Marcus Armstrong ART Grand Prix
16th in pre-season testing (100.836%)
JS (1st): ART Grand Prix has consistently delivered the best package on the grid to its lead driver since the introduction of this exact car. Unless the tyre switch reduces ART’s advantage, I think Armstrong has a great chance of replicating Russell’s 2018 season, especially given the quality Armstrong has repeatedly shown over the past few seasons. He needs to combine the first half of his 2018 Euro F3 campaign with the second half of his FIA F3 season last year, and he’ll be the champion. Granted, that’s easier said than done.
PA (3rd): Getting himself into ART for the move into F2 could give Armstrong the upper hand over Shwartzman and Schumacher when it really matters. A lack of experience (this will only be his fourth full season in car racing) may have hurt him before and could do again, but this could equally be the year it all comes together for him – especially as he has the fundamental maturity, speed and racecraft needed to succeed.
HS (7th): Armstrong is quickly becoming the junior series’ perennial bridesmaid with near misses in each of the last two seasons. This is something the Kiwi will wish to squash with immediate effect. His move to ART, which has powered Russell and Nyck de Vries to the two most recent F2 crowns, will give Armstrong the support to do so. Although questions still remain over whether he can beat his rivals over a season.
CW (10th): Titles have eluded Armstrong over the past couple of years, but he comes in with form from 2019 (even if that was a long time ago now). Predicting such a low placement for Armstrong may be harsh, but F2 could be very tight this year. He could certainly challenge for strong points on a regular occasion, but consistent (or even occasional) podiums may elude him. Could nab a sprint race win, though.
3. Robert Shwartzman Prema
11th in pre-season testing (100.398%)
BW (2nd): Coming into 2020, Shwartzman is the reigning Formula 3 champion. He has a Toyota Racing Series title under his belt and finished third in the highly competitive 2018 European F3 championship. It’s easy to overlook Shwartzman, even though he’s consistently there or thereabouts. That consistency will work in his benefit and with Prema behind him, he’ll be tough to beat over the course of a season.
HS (4th): Shwartzman’s remarkable consistency last year took him to a Formula 3 title. Coupled with his undeniable speed, this makes him a major threat from the outset. The Ferrari junior also has the added stability of continuing his successful partnership with Prema, this should ease his transition into the category. However, even though Shwartzman competed the most laps at the pre-season test, his lack of experience should still hamper him throughout his campaign.
EW (9th): As reigning FIA F3 champion, Shwartzman could follow Charles Lerclerc and George Russell in then winning F2 as a rookie, but Prema simply doesn’t look like a title contender. The Russian driver has what it takes to score big points though, especially with proven prowess when starting lower down the order, and remains with a team and a young driver programme that has brought the best out of him. His own F2 pace is still an unknown.
RH (10th): Shwartzman joins the grid as the reigning F3 champion after an impressive campaign last season. But F2 is a different playing field. The Russian has the right team-mate to learn from in Mick Schumacher, but Prema struggled last season and finished in a dismal ninth place in the teams’ championship. He knows how the team works having worked with them for two seasons, but his inexperience may cost him.
2. Callum Ilott Virtuosi Racing
12th in pre-season testing (100.500%)
PA (1st): Ilott is the least-hyped of Ferrari’s four serious contenders in F2, but he’s in a good position to change that. He might not have matched new team-mate Zhou’s results as a rookie last year, but he is arguably a superior talent and extracted more out of the machinery at his disposal in qualifying last year. He needs to improve his race pace, but Virtuosi is the best place for that – as long as the new tyres haven’t rendered its knowledge in that department redundant.
EW (5th): There’s probably no place better to be right now for Ilott than Virtuosi, but making the most of a great opportunity has been something that’s always just slipped through his hands in single-seaters. First of all, it looks like team-mate Zhou has the advantage over him already, helped by team familiarity, and Virtuosi doesn’t appear to have the grid’s standout package. It will be a competitive year and Ilott should be one of the top five.
BW (6th): Ilott should be one to watch this year. He had a few stand out performances in 2019 and if he can get that consistency down in 2020 he should be towards the front of the field. However, Ilott typically hasn’t developed as quickly as his fellow Ferrari Driver Academy members and other drivers on the grid this year. The high level of competition could lead to his performances being eclipsed.
RH (6th): Ilott had a strong first full season in F2 but missed out on the top 10 in the championship. If he can be more consistent then trips to the podium should become a regular occurrence. He faces tough competition to achieve his maiden win, particularly from team-mate Zhou, and if this remains elusive, then that may be his downfall in contending for the title.
1. Guanyu Zhou Virtuosi Racing
4th in pre-season testing (100.123%)
HS (1st): 2019’s rookie of the year, Zhou may well be best placed to fight for the title in his sophomore season. The Chinese driver put a few disappointing years in European Formula 3 behind him last year to become a regular frontrunner – with pole position at Silverstone being the highlight. With an added year of experience on Pirelli tyres, coupled with the stability provided by Virtuosi, I expect Zhou to become F2’s leading light.
CW (1st): How Zhou slots into the de-facto team leader role at UNI-Virtuosi is going to be crucial to his title campaign, but there is every reason to believe that he can adapt seamlessly. He has hopefully worked on his race pace over the off-season, and more knowledge of Pirelli tyres will certainly be an advantage to him over last year. He is not a clear-cut title favourite, but the one that stands out.
EW (2nd): There are lots of factors going in Zhou’s favour as heads into the season, but the statistical unlikeliness of a winless rookie season and then a title-winning second campaign means he’s not my champion pick. In testing, he wasn’t spectacular either but did look very solid. If he is in the title fight, expect him to be the one who keeps his cool the longest, but don’t rule out unforced errors when the pressure isn’t on.
JS (4th): A controversial placing perhaps, but I think Ilott will upstage Zhou at Virtuosi, which looked strong in pre-season testing and was among the fastest teams in 2019. I struggle to see the championship-winning potential within Zhou, who enjoyed a stellar rookie year but it was far from the most spectacular F2 debut we’ve seen in recent years. Over the past three seasons, he’s won just two races and was beaten by Schumacher, Ilott, Shwartzman and Armstrong in the same team during his time in European F3. He will be strong and it probably won’t take him long to earn his maiden F2 race win, but I can’t see him providing a sustained title challenge.