Formula 2’s fanbase has continued to grow since its logical rebranding from GP2 in 2017. While there may not be a Schumacher on this year’s grid, onlookers will be staying for racing that’s predictably unpredictable
The harsh realities of the current economic climate means that while Formula 2 is celebrating sending three drivers from its 2020 grid to Formula 1, it’s had to go on a cost-saving mission for 2021 with fewer rounds, adding an extra sprint race to each weekend and updating the wildly unpredictable tyres introduced for 2020’s new 18-inch wheels to make them a step harder.
As the paddock waits to see whether this will have the desired effect and what unforeseen consequences will occur, some have already been outspoken about the changes.
Race one of each round will be a sprint race that reverses the top 10 from qualifying to set its grid, while the second sprint on Saturday flips the top 10 finishers from race one to decide starting positions. As before, the feature race will use qualifying’s results but now takes place on Sunday rather than Saturday – hopefully giving it more focus and attention.
Street circuits make up half of the calendar, which runs over eight rounds and 24 races (the same number as last year). Making its first appearance will be the proposed ultra-fast Jeddah street circuit in Saudi Arabia, which runs back-to-back with Abu Dhabi at the end of the season. The Middle East is also where the season kicks off this weekend at Bahrain, with the Eurasian leg of the season including Monaco, Baku, Silverstone, Monza and Sochi.
Drivers changing teams during the off-season, as well as the calendar and format shake-up, makes picking out standout drivers all the more challenging. After controversies surrounding reliability last year in what was expected to be a more reliable Dallara F2 2018, all involved will be aiming for mechanical issues to have a less significant impact on the title fight.
Bahrain hosted the sole three-day pre-season test, and conclusions were hard to make during a week when the temperatures were different to what they will be for the season opener. You can read Formula Scout’s analysis of the laptimes here.
Like last year, 22 drivers across 11 teams form the grid for what is often regarded as one of the most entertaining junior single-seater series in the world.
The reigning champion team took Mick Schumacher to the 2020 title and Robert Shwartzman to more wins than anyone else. This year it runs the last two FIA Formula 3 champions, which should make Prema a standout in the field. Qualifying was an area where the team struggled last year, only making the front row once, but it was incredibly effective in executing races and its drivers were able to punish almost anybody who tripped up. With qualifying slightly less important in 2021, it must continue to build upon where it was so effective last year, while also getting its rookie up to speed as quickly as possible.
1. Robert Shwartzman
2020: 4th in Formula 2
Inaugural FIA F3 champion Shwartzman was exceptionally potent in the early part of his rookie F2 season – notching up some useful wins in fine style and putting himself well and truly into title contention. Misfortune through collisions and unreliability put a halt to that, but he ended the season strongly with a win in Bahrain. Just 38 points shy of the title as a rookie, Shwartzman is the highest-placed returning driver and will be a logical title favourite for many. With just one other Ferrari junior to keep an eye on this year (as opposed to four last year), getting 2021 off to a good start will inevitably put the Russian in the conversation for an F1 seat many believe he should already be in.
2. Oscar Piastri
2020: FIA Formula 3 champion
Reigning FIA F3 champion Piastri makes the identical step up that new team-mate Shwartzman did last year. Recent third-tier champions have managed to thrive early in F2, so there will be some added pressure on the Alpine F1 junior. With established stablemates vying for title success, Piastri will also aim to leapfrog both in the pecking order for a potential F1 seat going forward, despite Alpine not having any customer teams at present to place him in. What Piastri lacked in one-lap pace last year, he made up for by being stealthily effective and combative in races – something that should aid him nicely in F2.
It was unquestionably the fastest over one lap last year, but the Norfolk-based outfit came second to Prema in both title fights. Mistakes from Virtuosi’s drivers cost the team big points, but the title-contending potential should not be underestimated. It retains an F1 junior for his third successive season with the outfit, while a hotly tipped Brazilian joins the ranks after praise from the previous incumbent Callum Ilott. Making sure its drivers are error-free and extracting the most from races will be pivotal if Virtuosi is to snatch one or both titles.
3. Guanyu Zhou
2021: Asian F3 champion 2020: 6th in F2
Title favourite for many in 2020 (including this writer), it never worked out for Zhou in his second F2 season. He is now the second-most experienced driver on the grid and has the benefit of title success behind him – having taken the Asian F3 crown during the winter. His confidence seems to have grown significantly after that, and it will be important that he is able to convert that into better race results in what is expected to be a critical season for the Alpine junior as he attempts to break into F1. There won’t be a repeat of his excellence in Austria last year as it’s not on the calendar, but without the reliability woes he should be a threat at more circuits.
4. Felipe Drugovich
2020: 9th in F2
Drugovich is, without question, one of the hottest properties on the junior ladder not currently associated with an F1 team. 2020 F2 runner-up Ilott concurs with that sentiment. Drugovich, who romped to the 2018 Euroformula crown, was back to superb form in his maiden F2 season by taking supreme poles and wins with MP Motorsport. While outstanding at a number of rounds, Drugovich will likely need to go one better this time around and be outstanding at most rounds, if not all of them. If Virtuosi is one of the quickest teams again, this multiple race winner will be a title favourite.
Carlin returned to being a major threat last year, taking wins with the sensational Yuki Tsunoda and Jehan Daruvala – who came on strong late in the year after engine woes were solved. From two rookies in 2020, it now has two drivers with a year of experience at this level behind them, with one driver staying and one moving teams. Carlin has all of the ingredients for title success – two strong race-winning drivers and a team that knows how to be hugely successful at this level.
5. Dan Ticktum
2020: 11th in F2
The polarising Williams junior moves to Carlin for his second full season at this level and will be aiming to prove more doubters wrong. He had a strong 2020 at times, even if the results didn’t fully show it, but qualifying performances and tyre preservation must improve on last year. The underlying speed is unquestionably there, and Ticktum must extract the best from Carlin’s proven package if he is to be a serious contender for the title and then for an F1 seat in the near future. The same can be said of Carlin, which has to get the best out of the two-time Macau Grand Prix winner.
6. Jehan Daruvala
2021: 3rd in Asian F3 2020: 12th in F2
A rookie season that was largely marred by an underperforming engine and disappointing starts concluded with a fine victory. Following that up with a strong run in Asian F3 will put Red Bull junior Daruvala in the mindset of wanting to continue his podium-contending form. Qualifying was solid if unspectacular in comparison to Tsunoda in 2020, and he will aim to rectify that (as well as the starts) if he is to be a title contender. Not a standout favourite, but expect a stronger second campaign.
F2’s newest team had a brilliant maiden campaign with Nikita Mazepin (now in F1) and the vastly experienced Luca Ghiotto (who has also finally moved on to pastures new). It wasn’t always fighting for wins, but sometimes showed off levels of tyre management other teams couldn’t rival, and the year of experience and calendar shake-up in the calendar should be of benefit to a team that was able to brilliantly snatch results in both feature and sprint races. This year it runs two Red Bull juniors with heaps of potential. It was one of the standout outfits during pre-season testing too, having both drivers in the mix on one-lap pace and long runs.
7. Liam Lawson
New Zealand, 19
2020: 5th in FIA F3, 2nd in Toyota Racing Series
The quick Kiwi makes a justified step up to F2 in 2021 with the same outfit he fought until the end with in FIA F3. Supremely quick and aggressive, as one would expect from a Red Bull junior, Lawson will aim to assert himself in F2 quickly. He was a standout driver in FIA F3 last year, despite a run of misfortune, and the continuity of staying at Hitech should be an advantage. Lawson has the talent to be a title race dark horse, and is perhaps the Red Bull junior with the least expectation for 2021.
8. Juri Vips
2020: 16th in F2, 8th in Formula Regional European Championship
Vips’ 2020 record absolutely does not reflect the potential and talent that he possesses. His racing plans were hampered massively by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the results in his back-up Formula Regional European Championship campaign were achieved with a team that, at the time, was uncompetitive. He was then called up to F2 as a stand-in at DAMS for a few rounds and was able to notch up a strong podium at Mugello. In his first full season, much is expected from him. His first aim will be to assert himself as the leading Red Bull junior, before targeting the top-four finish needed for F1.
ART Grand Prix
As has occasionally been the case in recent years, ART Grand Prix had one driver who thrived and another who didn’t in 2020. It will be looking to change that, and has two F1-aligned teenagers on its books once again. Consistency seemed to be a real struggle in 2020, but it was able to notch up wins in the hands of its standout driver, who stays on. Once a dominant force in F2, it will be looking to recapture this with its Alpine junior and one of the most exciting revelations of 2020.
9. Christian Lundgaard
2020: 7th in F2
Alpine junior Lundgaard was stellar in 2020 despite missing pre-season testing, and the sophomore driver will be aiming to build on that. His year has started well by going fastest in pre-season testing, but there remain question marks over the long-run pace. He was supremely quick at times as a rookie, and pretty much unbeatable on his day, but this form must be more consistent to be a title threat. He is the first driver to race for ART for more than one season since Nobuharu Matsushita from 2015 to 2017, and will aim to use that experience to have the upper hand against a hotly-rated team-mate.
10. Theo Pourchaire
2020: 26th in F2, 2nd in FIA F3
Sauber junior Pourchaire was a sensation in FIA F3 and a true joy to watch. He will be the youngest driver on the grid, but that is unlikely to mean that he will be uncompetitive. Pourchaire is very talented. However, he must avoid falling into the same trap of those recent ART rookies who have struggled. Fighting for the title at the first time of asking may be a bit of a stretch for the youngster, but it is silly to totally rule him out. Should his performances early on be exceptional, there is every chance that his name could be thrown into the ring for a seat in F1 for 2022 – logically at the Sauber-run Alfa Romeo Racing team.
The Dutch squad impressed in 2020 by taking some stellar wins from unconventional positions, but an unpredictable line-up means that it will be a challenge to repeat those results. One of its seats is still unconfirmed at the time of writing, but the expected all-rookie line-up doesn’t match its past stars. MP Motorsport should remain capable of producing shock results, especially with the new format, but the team has to do very well to improve on its championship position from last year.
11. Richard Verschoor (TBC)
2020: 9th in FIA F3
At the beginning of race week, MP has still to announce one of its drivers, but Macau GP winner Verschoor is the favourite to fill the seat for Bahrain having done so for testing – after racing for the team in Formula 4, Formula Renault 2.0, GP3 and then FIA F3. He had a very solid 2020 in FIA F3, but the step up shouldn’t be understated. He can hold his head up high if he is able to simply have a solid run and making the most of his expected chance. If he appears after that, it will likely be a return earned on merit.
12. Lirim Zendeli
2020: 8th in FIA F3, 8th in TRS
Zendeli’s second year in FIA F3 was solid, culminating in a stellar performance at Spa-Francorchamps, but a further year in the championship and going for the title may have been more beneficial. Regardless, MP has a handy driver on its books who will be looking to use this year as one to grow and progress as it will be a challenge to impress in F2 with a steep learning curve.
Charouz Racing System
It’s a question of if Charouz Racing System overdelivered at times in 2020 with Louis Deletraz, or if it was capable of being a consistently strong performer all along. Solidly in the midfield, it can be happy if it can maintain that level of form in 2021.
14. David Beckmann
2020: 6th in FIA F3
Beckmann was Trident’s leading charger in FIA F3 last year alongside Zendeli, despite being a late call-up. A sprint race expert means that the format changes should go in his favour for his rookie F2 season. He spent five years at the F3 level, so moving up to something more potent has definitely come at the right time. Beckmann isn’t expected to be in the title race, but he could be a victory threat in at least the sprint races.
15. Guilherme Samaia
2020: 24th in F2
Samaia’s graduation to F2 certainly came too early, and he was regularly at the back of the field with Campos Racing in 2020. While drastic improvement shouldn’t be expected, it would be signs of good progress if he was able to regularly get himself into midfield battles. What he can ill afford is another year at the back, especially when Charouz is expected to be competitive.
DAMS’ championship position last season perhaps didn’t reflect the outright pace of the team that notched up a few podiums and a sprint race win. A horrible share of unreliability and a driver being injured, as well as being unable to master the tyres in qualifying, dropped it well down the standings. Its 2021 driver line-up consists of two F1 juniors, and both will have a point to prove in a team that will look to head towards the front of the field once more after winning the 2019 teams title.
16. Roy Nissany
2021: 5th in Asian F3 2020: 19th in F2
Nissany’s 2020 performances were a bit better than the final standings implied, although the veteran of five years in Formula V8 3.5 and F2 (and the oldest driver on the grid) will definitely need to show major signs of progress in his third F2 season. He has a strong team-mate and will need to use his experience as a Williams F1 tester to push himself and DAMS forward.
17. Marcus Armstrong
New Zealand, 20
2020: 13th in F2
The second Ferrari Driver Academy member on the grid, and one that will be desperate to put himself back on the radar for a 2022 F1 seat. Armstrong’s rookie F2 season had its highs but way too many lows for his liking at ART GP. He moves to a third team in three years on the F1 support bill, and how quickly he adapts to life at DAMS will be important. The underlying speed is there, for sure, but this is arguably one of those crucial years for a driver with F1 aspirations. Ferrari has a headache as it is with its young drivers either in or on the cusp of F1, and Armstrong must make it worse for the Scuderia.
The Spanish team is sadly without its founder this year following the passing of Adrian Campos in January. Regardless, the outfit is determined to continue racing. Last year was a difficult one too, following with personnel movements leaving it falling down the order. For 2021, it has the most experienced F2 driver on the grid on one side of the garage and a Brazilian who makes a surprising leap up after having his career almost halted in the middle of an intense F3 title fight.
20. Gianluca Petecof
2020: FREC champion
Petecof’s career came close to stalling due to budget issues in 2020, all while he was battling hard with Arthur Leclerc – brother of 2017 F2 champion Charles – in FREC. That funding did come, and Petecof was able to prevail. His native Brazil is very excited about him, and with justification. He has reigned in some of his aggression that cost him earlier in his career, while also maintaining the same speed. It’s a huge leap from FREC to F2, and Petecof is at a team rebuilding itself. Therefore, expect this to be a learning year rather than one where he repeats countryman Drugovich’s rookie heroics.
21. Ralph Boschung
2020: 25th in F2
Boschung’s own budget issues means he has never completed a full F2 season, and his last full season campaign was in GP3 back in 2015. He has more F2 starts to his name than anyone else on the 2021 grid, and took part in the 2020 season finale on Bahrain’s Outer layout for Campos. It’s a return to the team for the Swiss, having picked up his best F2 race result of seventh as a rookie with Campos in 2017. He will be aiming to improve on that as early as possible.
HWA Racelab struggled immensely on its entry into F2 last year to the the point where not even the vast experience of Artem Markelov was able to produce something special. Its driver line-up is very inexperienced – although there is potential on one side of the garage. Curiously, that one is running a dual programme with the outfit in FIA F3. HWA will probably be aiming to make the most of the increased number of sprint races to build on the 13 points it scored in its first year in F2 as a team.
22. Matteo Nannini
2020: 18th in FIA F3, 15th in FREC
The nephew of F1 race winner Alessandro Nannini debuts in F2 after a single season in FIA F3, but will continue to race in that series too – the one driver set to make the most of the splitting of the F2 and F3 calendars. He drove for the middling Jenzer Motorsport team in 2020 and was regularly the standout performer among its drivers, but this is just his third year in single-seaters and the 2019 F4 United Arab Emirates champion finds himself racing in the two top series on the F1 support bill simultaneously. It’s a tough task for Nannini, who has only notched up one podium outside of F4.
23. Alessio Deledda
2021: 16th in Asian F3 2020: 34th in FIA F3, 22nd in Lamborghini Super Trofeo Europe
The oldest rookie on the grid, but only in his fourth year racing cars, Deledda achieved very little in two years of FIA F3, never finishing higher than 16th. In addition, he came under fire over the winter for posting videos of reckless driving on social media. Despite all of this, he makes the step up to F2, and will likely be one to make up the numbers at the rear of the grid. If he can reduce his number of spins, particularly in races, that would be progress.
Trident outfit finished last in the championship in 2020 and, along with HWA, was one of only two teams to not appear on the podium. More sprint races in 2021 will provide for opportunities to pounce to rectify that. It retains one of its drivers for 2021, while there are question marks over the full-time occupier of the other car. Pre-season testing form may not be concrete evidence is Trident back on the up, but it certainly doesn’t look like it will be last again.
24. Bent Viscaal
2020: 13th in FIA F3
FIA F3 race-winner and Euroformula title runner-up Viscaal will race in Bahrain, but is looking for sponsorship to stay in F2 for Monaco and beyond. He is convinced he can do a good job despite Trident’s 2020 struggles, which will be a tall order. But he was quick in testing. One of Trident’s FIA F3 drivers has also been linked to the seat if Viscaal isn’t able to keep it.
25. Marino Sato
2020: 22nd in F2
Sato crushed the opposition in Euroformula two years ago but has largely struggled in F2 to date – picking up a sole point in what was an eventful sprint race at Mugello last year. With a full season under his belt, and staying with Trident, he should now have an easier time on Pirelli’s F2 tyre – although two compounds have changed again.