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Euroformula Open 2019 season review

by Elliot Wood

Opening up its engine regulations and adding Pau to the calendar certainly gave Euroformula Open additional drama this year, but really it was the drivers that were the (surprise) stars of the show.

Once again the title was wrapped up more than two races early, and by a driver whose previous career map had not suggested major international success. That took nothing away from Marino Sato’s crowning in the end, such was the level of his dominance for much of the season with Motopark.

FIA European Formula 3 refugee Motopark was one of four teams that made their debuts during 2019, but only two of them lasted the whole season. Those that did make it to the final round at Monza got to sign off the Dallara F312/F317 chassis after eight years of service in a weekend of drama, excitement and history.

Other moments of history during the season included Billy Monger’s inspiring Pau Grand Prix win, Silverstone’s last appearance on the calendar amid Britain’s political uncertainty, and a title lockout by the debuting Motopark.

Below is a driver-by-driver review of the top performers over the season, working down from standout champion Sato.

Marino Sato?JAPAN Motopark
1st in standings, 307 points (9 wins, 6 poles, 5 fastest laps)

The first win of the season for Marino Sato came as a surprise, but the manner of the second suggested a few more would be coming for the previously nonthreatening Japanese driver.

Taki Inoue’s latest management pick finally came round to Motopark’s way of working in his third season with the team, and when he worked to the car’s strengths he was unstoppable. One example would be at Spa-Francorchamps, where Sato threaded a tail-happy car around a complicated lap with apparent ease in qualifying and the races.

His race two pole in Belgium – by 0.775 seconds – is a performance he credits as his best, and is a visual explanation of why the 20-year-old was so quick this year. Pushing his car to its limit at Spa is probably one of the riskiest actions Sato made in 2019, given his usual reluctance to take decisions that could end in misery.

This approach was evident at Spa, as Sato didn’t fight his team-mates early on, watched them crash while disputing the lead ahead of him, then took back over at the front for a dominant fourth win.

Two brilliant starts then cautious drives to the chequered flag resulted in two wins at the Hungaroring, one over Formula 2 driver Nobuharu Matsushita, and avoiding early battles or pushing too quickly helped with wins at Red Bull Ring and Monza.

Being risk-adverse meant we rarely saw Sato engaging in overtaking battles, but having already been crowned champion he did take a slightly more aggressive approach for his Monza win, secured on the final lap.

Yuki Tsunoda?JAPAN Motopark
4th in standings, 151 points (1 win, 3 fastest laps), 3rd in rookie standings, 92pts (2 wins)

Fresh from Japanese Formula 4, Honda and Red Bull junior Yuki Tsunoda was a podium threat straight away with Motopark but admitted to taking a while to get used to the nimble Dallara F317.

This wasn’t helped by Motopark missing pre-season testing, but Tsunoda turned up to Paul Ricard and came just 0.026s short of taking pole for his debut. After converting that into second place in the race, he then fought the second race on the backfoot after picking up significant damage from an opening clash with team-mate Liam Lawson.

He looked confident at Pau too, his first visit to a street circuit, and had played things out a little differently he would likely have been the winner of the grand prix.

Motopark looked its weakest at Hockenheim when it came to getting the most out of the Michelin tyres, and a continuation of early-season clutch issues limited Tsunoda to fourth in race one. He came close to pole once again for race two, and team-mate Sato refused to fight back when Tsunoda went for the lead in the race and took his only win of the season.

Once Tsunoda’s FIA F3 Championship commitments took precedence his form took just enough of a dip for him to slip down the order, but once that season had concluded and he was focused solely on EF Open again he was rapid. In both Monza races he qualified down the order, but showed incredible racecraft to make the podium twice.

Liam Lawson NEW ZEALAND?Motopark
2nd in standings, 179 points (4 wins, 2 poles, 1 fastest lap), 1st in rookie standings, 91pts (6 wins)

Like Red Bull stablemate Tsunoda, Lawson missed pre-season testing, but was the fastest out of the box at the Paul Ricard season opener. He won the first race despite tyre issues, and after a clutch issue led to the circumstances where he crashed into Tsunoda at the start of race two, he raced on to second place. A penalty then dropped him to fourth.

There were several more victories that went amiss due to on-track incidents. He lost the Pau GP when he collided with team-mate Julian Hanses, and cost himself victory at Spa when he and Tsunoda crashed. At Monza he could have taken a double win were it not for an overly risky move early on that dropped him down the order, and then being fired out of the race through no fault of his own by Drivex School’s Rui Andrade. He did at least respond with success in race two.

Lawson did pull out top class drives frequently, including a dominant 16.1s victory in the first Pau race. When similarly wet weather hit Barcelona, the opposition thought he was on a different tyre compound such was his pace on the way to victory.

At Hockenheim he rose up the grid and was chasing Sato down for the lead before spinning, a result of a loose legrest detaching and making it “undriveable” for the New Zealander.

Despite missing two rounds due to FIA F3, Lawson’s four wins was enough for second in the standings and the rookie title.

Lukas Dunner?AUSTRIA Teo Martin Motorsport
3rd in standings, 178 points (2 poles, 2 fastest laps)

After fighting for a victory in the Winter Series race at Paul Ricard and looking rapid on one-lap pace in testing, Lukas Dunner started the season with a historic pole for HWA-powered Teo Martin Motorsport at Paul Ricard.

He potentially would have held on for a first single-seater victory were it not for a safety car interruption that gave Lawson the opportunity to take the lead, but it was clear that the Spiess-powered Motopark team would be tough to beat.

Two podiums were followed by two fourth places at Pau, and he was usually best of the rest behind Motopark. To do so at Spa he had to pull off an incredible overtake on Jack Doohan to take second place, a result he matched at the Hungaroring.

In Hungary he took a second pole, and after being bettered by Sato off the line he pressured the champion for the whole race.

Track limits violations took the shine off his home event at the Red Bull Ring, which was the last time he ran with a team-mate. From Silverstone onwards, Teo Martin only ran one car for Dunner and were shuffled down the competitive order by an increase in engine performance introduced by the championship.

A brutally unlucky weekend in Britain all but ended Dunner’s slim title ambitions, and his solo efforts at Barcelona and Monza barely featured. More than once he had brilliant starts compromised, effectively ending any chance of progress up the grid. Had Teo Martin stuck with several cars for the full season, Dunner would probably have held on to second in the standings.

The Austrian is still only 17, and while he plans to enter FIA F3 next year he also has a promising sportscar career on the side.

Toshiki Oyu?JAPAN Motopark
14th in standings, 52 points (2 wins, 2 poles), 8th in rookie standings, 20pts (2 wins)

Sato was supposedly the surprise of the season after converting winless years in European F3 into a dominant EF Open title, but when he missed Silverstone to make his F2 debut with Campos Racing, Motopark brought along even bigger surprises.

Only Cameron Das remained of the team’s usual line-up for the trip to Britain due to FIA F3 clashes and the loss of Hanses, and it was Tsunoda replacement Toshiki Oyu who turned up and dominated the weekend in a way even Sato had not shown.

The 21-year-old has raced for the self-powered Toda Racing in Japanese F3 for the last two years, picking up two wins in a usually TOM’S and now Motopark-dominated series which uses the same Dallara car as EF Open.

He topped the free practice one – his first sight of Silverstone – and blew away the track record to take pole for race one.

His super smooth driving style not only lent itself to one-lap pace around Silverstone’s high-speed sweeps, but worked the Michelin tyres better in the race.

After a stunning opening lap he was unsighted up front for the whole of race one, and repeated his efforts on Sunday with an improved track record and another dominant win to many’s disbelief.

While driving a Toda-powered car in Japan and racing in Tsunoda’s Red Bull colours in England, Oyu is in fact a Honda junior. After his stunning EF Open cameo, Red Bull junior boss Dr Helmut Marko is minded to add him to the F1 team’s books for a full European campaign next year.

Linus Lundqvist SWEDEN Double R Racing
5th in standings, 144 points (1 pole, 1 fastest lap), 2nd in rookie standings, 83pts (2 wins)

Linus Lundqvist

After winning with Campos Racing in the Winter Series, Linus Lundqvist stuck with British team Double R Racing for a third straight season and their first in EF Open.

The combination excelled under the radar, only visiting the overall podium twice but racking up plenty of top five finishes and scoring enough points to still be in contention for second in the standings at the final round of the season.

When the team was at its best it seemed to be Red Bull junior team-mate Jack Doohan who had the better pace, but Lundqvist was the more rounded package in the races. In the season opening race he rose from 10th to finish fourth, and a similar performance in race two also resulted in fastest lap.

A crash-heavy Pau weekend was followed by Double R’s strongest performance at Hockenheim, but mistakes from Lundqvist cost him once again. At Spa it was somebody else’s error that harmed Lundqvist’s race, but remarkably he came back from being pitched onto two wheels at the end of the first lap to claim seventh.

Lundqvist was stronger in races than qualifying, despite taking pole at Monza, and two fighting drives at the Red Bull Ring netted third and fifth. He was top HWA runner thereon, and was outscored only by Sato over the second half of the season.

Teppei Natori JAPAN Carlin
6th in standings, 115 points (1 win, 2 poles, 1 fastest lap), 4th in rookie standings, 67pts (2 wins)

Japanese F4 runner-up Teppei Natori shone immediately in pre-season testing, marking himself out immediately as one to watch. In reality though, it took far longer for his confidence to catch up with him during the season.

The 19-year-old admittedly finished outside of the points only once, but only had four sixth place finishes to speak of before missing the Red Bull Ring and Silverstone rounds for FIA F3. When he came back he was far more efficient on track, helped by Carlin making the most of EF Open reverting to the 2018 FIA F3 engine spec.

In the first Barcelona race he recovered from last to finish ninth in the wet, and followed that up with a dominant lights-to-flag victory in a hot race two. Monza was much of the same, and Natori led the first race before finally conceding to an energised Sato on the last lap. He took pole for race two, and a third place there brought him up to sixth in the standings.

Despite missing two rounds, he ended up being the highest scoring of Carlin’s regular quartet of drivers and was the only driver to beat all the Motopark drivers in a race in a straight fight.

Billy Monger ENGLAND?Carlin
9th in standings, 89 points (1 win, 1 pole), 7th in rookie standings, 53pts (1 win)

Monger

The Pau Grand Prix victory was obviously Monger’s highlight of the season, which was really one of two halves.

While Carlin were competitive on some circuits, the team was only truly able to rival Motopark after the tweak to the engine regulations, which more clearly demonstrated the strengths of its drivers and how closely matched they were.

Despite actually struggling with them, Monger’s starts were usually the class of the field and the first half of the season was spent gaining places on the opening lap then trying to hold on to them in a packed midfield. Monger couldn’t work the tyres like his opposition early on in the season, and a breakthrough at the Red Bull Ring should have resulted in at least a podium.

On the next track, Silverstone, he showed off his one-lap pace and took two fourth places from a weekend where he was a few corners away from being Oyu’s closest rival in race two. That form continued into Barcelona, where a qualifying washout meant Monger claimed pole off his free practice pace. A rare bad start began a difficult race where he slumped to fifth, but he responded in race two with a much deserved second podium of the season.

His season ended messily at Monza, but he had importantly shown that his historic Pau win was not a one-off performance and that were he to return to the championship next year, he would no doubt be fighting at the front consistently.

Nicolai Kjaergaard DENMARK Carlin
7th in standings, 111 points (1 fastest lap), 5th in rookie standings, 63pts

Nicolai Kjaergaard had a breakout year in 2018, finishing second to Lundqvist in BRDC British F3, but his debut EF Open campaign was even stronger and it was unjust that he failed to win a race.

He was slower to adapt to the Dallara car than his Carlin team-mates, but followed Monger’s strategy to finish second in the Pau GP, and didn’t really demonstrate how good he could be until the engine performance break.

The boost in pace seemed to restore some of Kjaergaard’s confidence in the car, and he picked up two third places and a lap record at Silverstone. Calmness was key to the Dane’s approach, and at the next round at Barcelona he improved with two second place finishes and some canny strategic driving. He vowed that the Monza season finale would bring a victory.

Unfortunately that turned out to not be the case. He was fourth in the seven-car slisptreaming battle for race one victory, and was accidentally punted out by Monger while behind the safety car in race two due to Tsunoda excessively slowing the field.

That meant he conceded sixth in the points to Natori, despite having the same amount of podiums as Lundqvist and Natori combined.

The rest

Julian Hanses?had Motopark equipment for the first six rounds but could never get the same from it as his team-mates. He was admittedly a late addition to a team that was intending to downsize, and he did at least take pole for the Pau GP. His best result came in his final race, finishing second at the Red Bull Ring and pressuring Sato into pushing harder than he wanted to.

ADAC F4 graduate Niklas Krutten took his seat thereon, but didn’t make a major impact. Cameron Das also joined the team for the second half of the season, after starting it with Fortec Motorsports, and was set for a second place at Silverstone before contact with Monger. To come 12th in the standings after finishing fifth last year was no doubt a disappointment, but he did put in one of the performances of the season by finishing eighth in the wet Pau GP while remaining on dry tyres throughout.

F3 expert?Enaam Ahmed substituted for Sato at Silverstone and finished second to Oyu twice, while Italian F4 champion Dennis Hauger drove in place of Lawson and massively impressed with a top five finish on his first weekend in F3.

Christian Hahn could have been Carlin’s lead driver this year, and was certainly the quickest until Natori’s late surge, but the Brazilian got involved in too many midfield battles and is ultimately yet to make the podium in three seasons. He ended his year in a scary crash with an innocent Jack Doohan, who was consistently strong in the middle of the season but seemed to lose his way slightly late on when Double R didn’t benefit from the engine boost as much as Carlin did. His highlights were no doubt finishing second to Sato at Hockenheim and Red Bull Ring, where Motopark was just too fast to beat.

Also shining at the Red Bull Ring was Calan Williams, who came into his own once Fortec became a one-car operation.

Teo Martin’s?Guilherme Samaia and?Aldo Festante both showed pace prior to leaving, with Samaia actually taking a fastest lap and a second place at Paul Ricard.

Usual EF Open dominator RP Motorsport had a messy in-and-out year, changing engine supplier from Piedrafita to Spiess after being outperformed, and scored 24 points in part-time campaigns with Javier Gonzalez and?Pierre-Louis Chovet. After a lengthy absence, they returned for their home round at Monza with the impressive?Kyle Kirkwood and?Lorenzo Ferrari.

Drivex ran one full-season entry for the inexperienced?Rui Andrade, who was prone to errors but did score points.