Home FeaturesDriver profiles A winning recovery: Dean Stoneman

A winning recovery: Dean Stoneman

by Peter Allen
Dean Stoneman

Photo: Sam Bloxham/GP3 Series Media Service

Name: Dean Stoneman
Date of birth: 24 July 1990 (age 24)
Nationality: British
Currently:?Second in GP3

The story of Dean Stoneman was already impressive, beating cancer at an advanced stage and making a successful return to racing. But his tale just continues to get more and more remarkable. Having made a full-time single-seater comeback in GP3 this year and taken multiple race wins, the withdrawal of his Marussia Manor team ahead of last weekend’s Sochi round threatened to derail his season. But instead of this being a hurdle to Stoneman, he turned it into the opportunity of a last minute team switch which almost yielded a double victory, rocketing him up to second in the standings and taking the title fight to the final round.

Born in London but based near Southampton, Stoneman rose through the karting ranks before making his single-seater debut at the end of 2006 in Formula Renault BARC and then contesting the UK Winter Series. In 2007 he did a full season on Formula Renault BARC. Claiming three wins, nine other podiums and a total of 11 top four finishes from 12 races, he finished as series runner-up, just one point behind champion Hywel Lloyd.

Stoneman moved onto the premier FR2.0 UK series for 2008 and would again win three races on his way to fourth in the standings. He won the Graduate Cup standings for series rookies, beating James Calado and Oliver Webb. He finished third in the four-race Winter Series that followed, behind Calado and the late Henry Surtees. Remaining in the same series for 2009, he again finished fourth, this time winning on just one occasion.

After three years in Formula Renault, Stoneman took the step up to the FIA Formula Two Championship for 2010. Despite his relative inexperience at that level, he was immediately on the pace, finishing second to Jolyon Palmer in the season opener. The two Britons would go on to fight for the title. Stoneman scored his first win at the next round in Marakech, before Palmer took the initiative with a double at Monza.

Stoneman kept up the pressure though with victories at Zolder, Portimao and Brands Hatch, before two second-places at Brno. He then stole the advantage at the penultimate round at Oschersleben with a double win, helping him to seal the title at the Valencia finale. As a prize for winning the title, Stoneman got to drive a Williams F1 car at the young driver test in Abu Dhabi at the end of 2010.

Dean Stoneman

Stoneman during his Williams F1 test (Photo: formulatwo.com/James Bearne)

In January 2011, Stoneman signed a deal to move into Formula Renault 3.5 with the ISR team alongside Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo. But he hadn’t been well over the Christmas and New Year period, and just days later this illness was diagnosed as an aggressive form of testicular cancer that had spread all over his body, and was just two days from becoming untreatable. He survived the experimental treatment he required and was back behind the wheel of a racing car by November, testing the ISR FR3.5 car that he should have raced that season.

His pace was good, but physically it was challenging. So for 2012 he took up an opportunity to get into racing of a different kind – on the water. Getting into Powerboats thanks to his father being a former champion in the sport, Stoneman wasted no time in winning again and claiming the P1 SuperStock title.

His on-track return came in 2013 in the Porsche Carrera Cup GB, a move suggested by Tiff Needell when they met at the powerboats awards do. Stoneman won both races at the opening round at Brands Hatch. The rest of the season would be more of a challenge, but he did win three more races on his way to finishing fifth in the standings. Then the chance came up to make a return to single-seater racing.

That opportunity came in the GP3 season finale in Abu Dhabi with the Koiranen team. In the single practice session he had to get himself back in the groove, he was eighth quickest, and he would then qualify ninth, one spot ahead of championship leader Facu Regalia. Keeping out of trouble as others didn’t, he climbed up to sixth place at the finish. Starting third in race two, he moved up to second at the start and then reeled in the leader Tio Ellinas in the closing stages, finishing less than three tenths behind him.

Staying on with Koiranen for the post-event tests, Stoneman set the pace. A full-time single-seater return was on. Not wanting to take too large a step at once, he opted to do a full season in GP3, and signed with the Marussia Manor team. The first weekend at Barcelona would seem him grab his first win, coming from 13th to seventh in the first race and then winning a wet second race from P2 on the grid.

He would fail to score in Austria as an innocent party in a first corner clash, and got just one point on home soil at Silverstone after a suspension failure when up to fifth in race two. A fifth and a fourth followed at Hockenheim, and a ninth and an eighth at the Hungaroring. Things really began to come together again for Stoneman at Spa, when he correctly gambled on slicks on a drying track when starting 11th. He wasn’t the furthest forward starter on dry tyres, but he was the first who kept his car on the road, giving him his first main race victory. At Monza, a strong start helped him go from tenth to fifth in race one, and another great getaway put him into the lead of race two from fourth on the grid, triumphing in a battle with championship leader Alex Lynn to score his third win of the year.

Dean Stoneman

The last of Stoneman’s three Marussia Manor wins came at Monza (Photo: Sam Bloxham/GP2 Series Media Service)

Days before the next round in Sochi, news broke that the Marussia Manor team would not make the trip due to commercial reasons. Stoneman ensured his continued participation with a deal to return to Koiranen for the final two rounds, taking over the car that spent the season so far at the back of the field in the hands of Carmen Jorda.

Having struggled for qualifying pace all year – inside the top eight just once – the team switch worked wonders for Stoneman as he claimed pole, almost half a second clear of the field on the brand new Sochi circuit. He duly claimed a lights-to-flag win that lifted him from eighth to third in the standings. Starting eighth in race two, he closed onto a last lap fight for the lead and benefited to move up into second and then challenge for P1, before settling for second. He is now second in the standings, 47 points behind Lynn with 48 left available at the final round in Abu Dhabi. He therefore needs to take pole, both wins and both fastest laps, but that’s not impossible on his Sochi form – and given the base that he and Koiranen have from last year for the Yas Marina circuit.

Talent verdict

Stoneman showed promise in Formula Renault in the UK, but it wasn’t until F2 when he was able to convert that into a title. That was certainly an impressive achievement though in his first season racing across Europe, and up against drivers who had been in the series the year before. But with plenty of doubts over the level of F2, it would have been his move to an improving FR3.5 that would have given him the chance to assert himself among some of the most highly rated drivers around.

That wasn’t to be, but he’s now done impressively well on his single-seater return in GP3 after three years away. He and Marussia Manor struggled for qualifying results, but that just allowed him to demonstrate his overtaking prowess in a series where it’s often impossible to do that. And now he’s with Koiranen, he’s leading from the front, and almost making his way back to the front from the reverse grid too.

Chances of getting to Formula 1

As ever, a lot comes down to budget, and it’s unclear how much further Stoneman’s funds can stretch. But he’s currently doing enough to mark himself out to those who matter. You’re only as good as your last race they say, and based on Sochi, Stoneman stands above everybody else in GP3. And Formula 1 teams have shown they’re not scared of picking somebody up from GP3 if they think they’re good enough. Stoneman’s remarkable story might just be enough of an incentive for somebody to want to help him out.

His Williams links lasted from his test with them through his enforced absence, with their Advanced Engineering arm recruiting him in 2012 to develop their simulator in Qatar. And there might be plenty of uncertainty around Marussia right now, but Stoneman could well make his F1 return thanks to their initiative to give a prize test to their top GP3 driver. From there, who knows what could happen.

Dean Stoneman

Photo: Sam Bloxham/GP3 Series Media Service