The fourth year of the rebranded Formula 2 championship promises to be one of the most competitive in its history. Josh Suttill runs through the drivers and teams that are returning to action in Austria this weekend
With a compressed calendar and strict social distancing measures to follow, the pressure will be high throughout the upcoming Formula 2 season. Competitors can take solace in the improving reliability of the Dallara F2 2018, now in its third year of use, but will have new challenges to understand such as the enlarged 18-inch wheels and Pirelli tyres.
The 2020 field features seven graduates from the stacked 2019 FIA Formula 3 Championship grid, including five of the top six drivers in the standings. Those rookies will be joined by a number of returning drivers, who will be looking to impress the onlooking Formula 1 teams to earn a seat in the top tier for 2021.
There will now be 22 cars on the grid due to the arrival of Hitech GP and HWA Racelab, which takes over Arden’s entry.
Bahrain hosted the solitary three-day pre-season test back in March before the global coronavirus pandemic put a stop to track action, and not even the full field made it out there to test. Read our in-depth analysis of that test here.
Along with FIA F3, F2 will support F1 on its return this weekend at the Red Bull Ring – Formula Scout assess the prospects of each of this season’s drivers.
The reigning champion team has won 11 races over the past two years, only one less than ART Grand Prix, but will have a difficult time retaining its title in a highly competitive 2020 field. In contrast to its approach in recent years, the French outfit’s title aspirations will be firmly cemented around one driver. Signing an incredibly talented but inexperienced F1 junior and a driver with two podiums in 96 F2 starts is a risk, but could it pay off?
1. Sean Gelael
2019: 17th in Formula 2
DAMS’ signing of Gelael from Prema will bolster the team financially and it will benefit from his four-and-a-half years of experience in the series. However, Gelael suffered his worst full season yet last year, scoring just 15 points. The clear low point was at Silverstone where he withdrew after disagreeing with the stewards’ decision to award him a three-place grid penalty. DAMS may provide Gelael with his most competitive car yet, but it’s hard to see how it will retain its teams’ title.
2. Dan Ticktum
2019: 9th in FRegional Europe, 20th in Super Formula
Gelael’s record will likely leave the heavy lifting points-wise to Dan Ticktum. The two-time Macau Grand Prix winner lost his Red Bull backing and Super Formula drive mid-season last year, but has rebounded by getting a place in Williams’ young driver programme. His Pirelli tyre experience is limited, and DAMS’ focus will be on helping him get up to speed with the specific demands of the series’ new rubber, but his impressive three-round GP3 cameo in 2017 proves his has the skills to get on top of it. Critics need little excuse to hound Ticktum, but freed of the Red Bull environment, he’s got a good opportunity to silence his doubters.
A change of ownership did little to blunt the team previously known as Russian Time, as it often proved to be the fastest package in 2019. Luca Ghiotto earned four wins while Renault junior Guanyu Zhou was the highest placed rookie in the standings with five podiums. Virtuosi has snapped up Ferrari junior Callum Ilott to partner Zhou, as he did at Prema in FIA European F3, and means it is the only proven frontrunning team to be fielding two returning drivers this year.
3. Guanyu Zhou
2019: 7th in Formula 2
Although he’s only won three races in the last four years, Zhou is tipped by many to be title favourite with a strong team behind him and after a stellar rookie season. He learned a lot alongside series veteran Ghiotto last year and he’s highly rated by Renault. If he can deliver a sustained title challenge – for the first time in his car racing career – Zhou will be the firm favourite to replace the outgoing Daniel Ricciardo at Renault in 2021. A looming potential F1 graduation and intense calendar will put Zhou under immense pressure, but he’s a laid-back character who seems capable of handling it.
4. Callum Ilott
2019: 6th in Macau GP, 11th in Formula 2
The latest twist in Ilott’s roller-coaster career has landed him in a leading team as one of five Ferrari juniors in the F2 field. His final points tally in his maiden season failed to reflect how superb he was occasionally, as he lost a top result in Monaco after his car broke down on the grid and he took a stunning pole position at Monza in incredibly difficult circumstances. If he can demonstrate that class on a more regular basis with a more consistent team, Ilott could emerge as a surprise contender to join Alfa Romeo Racing in F1 next year and supersede his recently more prominent Ferrari stablemates.
ART Grand Prix
ART Grand Prix may not have won either of the 2018 or 2019 teams’ titles, but with Williams F1 driver George Russell and Mercedes Formula E star Nyck de Vries, it’s won both drivers’ championships since the introduction of the current car. It’s looking to continue its streak with two highly-rated F1 juniors who starred in FIA F3 last year. Much is expected of both, but ART has not had both its F2 drivers finish inside the top eight in the points since the 2012 GP2 season.
5. Marcus Armstrong
New Zealand, 19
2019: 2nd in FIA F3, 2nd in TRS, 8th in Macau GP
Armstrong had a trying 2019. He was pipped by series rookie Liam Lawson to the Toyota Racing Series title at the start of the year, then struggled to match the results of his Prema team-mates when the FIA F3 season began. He suffered worst luck than most but was also involved in a number of clumsy incidents – not least his collision with fellow Ferrari junior and Prema team-mate Robert Shwartzman at the Red Bull Ring. Armstrong ended the season in stunning fashion at Sochi with a brilliant race one win and a charge from eighth to second in race two to remind everyone why he can be force this year. Considering ART’s recent form compared to Prema, Armstrong has likely made the right move to leave his usual Italian home.
6. Christian Lundgaard
2019: 4th in Macau GP, 6th in FIA F3, 23rd in F2
Lundgaard was never a factor in the FIA F3 title race in 2019 but was consistently impressive even if ART’s competitiveness was anything but consistent. He won the first race of the season on-track (he was later penalised), dominated at the Hungaroring in qualifying and the races, and convincingly beat both of his team-mates. He’ll have a tough task getting the better of Armstrong but he can lean on his one weekend of F2 experience he gained in Abu Dhabi last year. This advantage was somewhat offset by then missing pre-season testing due while quarantined in Tenerife, meaning his first experience of the 18-inch tyres will have to wait until free practice. If he can get over that, expect a fiery team-mate rivalry at the front of the field.
In 2019, Carlin was always going to find it difficult to match its triumphant 2018 return so fourth in the teams’ standings with two feature race wins was not a bitter disappointment. It’s swapped experience for youth in 2020 with two FIA F3 graduates. They’re not as well known as some other rookies, but a strong pre-season suggests its line-up could be dark horses.
7. Yuki Tsunoda
2020: 4th in TRS 2019: 4th in Euroformula, 9th in FIA F3, 11th in Macau GP
Red Bull’s rapid catapulting of Tsuonda up the European junior single-seater ranks has left him in F2 in only his second year since switching continents following his 2018 Japanese Formula 4 title. His impeccable Spa and Monza weekends last year for minnow team Jenzer Motorsport in FIA F3 highlights the potential for an extremely special driver, but it will be a steep learning curve again this year. The jump up the ladder is big, but he faced something similar last year and was a winner in Euroformula and TRS.
8. Jehan Daruvala
2019: 3rd in FIA Formula 3
The Indian enjoyed something of a breakthrough in 2019 with easily his strongest year in car racing, which yielded third place in the new FIA F3 series. While the pre-season attention was on his team-mates Shwartzman and Armstrong, Daruvala shone by winning two of the first three races and only lost second in the points to Armstrong in the season finale. The Indian won’t have the same performance advantage he had with Prema last year, but there could still be a performance advantage if his stunning pace in pre-season testing is anything to go by.
Campos Racing ended a three year winless drought in emphatic style in Baku last year courtesy of Jack Aitken. It marked a much-needed return to form for the Spanish outfit and one it will be hoping to continue into 2020. Vital to this was securing Aitken’s services for another year, and his experience will be crucial in navigating the team and his rookie team-mate through the switch to 18-inch tyres.
9. Jack Aitken
2019: 5th in Formula 2
Aitken returns for his third year in the series, following on from his giant-killing 2019 campaign that included three excellent victories. He took a brilliant Baku win and made arguably the pass of the season on Louis Deletraz to win the Silverstone sprint race as the rain began to fall. He’ll have a tough task fulfilling his title aspirations against tough opposition unless Campos and he can improve their one-lap speed, but there would also be little shame in repeating last year’s success – now with a Williams F1 seat as the target for the next season rather than one with Renault.
10. Guilherme Samaia
2019: 16th in Euroformula
F2 rookie Samaia faces one of the toughest learning curves of any driver on the grid. While he was Brazilian F3 champion in 2017, he’s scored just two podiums in two years in Euroformula. In a more competitive F2 field and based off his pre-season test performance, it’s difficult to see Samaia troubling the points often. He’s also the only driver in the field to have never raced at the Red Bull Ring, venue of the first two rounds, making his learning curve that much steeper.
Charouz Racing System
Charouz had a difficult sophomore season in F2, especially following Juan Manuel Correa’s crash at Spa. But it showed its capability when Ilott handed the team its first ever pole next time out at Monza. Its 2019 points tally was nearly half of what it achieved during its maiden season, but it still managed to repeat its sixth place in the standings. Louis Deletraz has returned to the team, and it’s also signed F3 veteran Pedro Piquet.
11. Louis Deletraz
2019: 8th in Formula 2
Deletraz has demonstrated a solid and steady improvement since making the full-time switch to F2 in 2017. He’s still yet to win a race, though he did come within 0.059 seconds of success in last year’s Monaco sprint race. A maiden feature race podium at Sochi was an important landmark, and he now reunites with the Charouz team he drove for in 2018. With a rookie team-mate, Charouz will be expecting Haas F1 reserve Deletraz to lead the team and deliver the long-awaited win.
12. Pedro Piquet
2019: 5th in FIA F3
Six years at F3 level culminated with an impressive 2019 campaign in FIA F3 for the Piquet. He’ll be looking to avoid the fate of former GP3 team-mate Giuliano Alesi, who stepped up to F2 last year after a lengthy stint in GP3 and found little success, but the key disparity is that Piquet managed an excellent race one win at Spa at last year while Alesi’s four third-tier wins all came in the reversed grid Sunday races. Despite his obvious potential, Piquet may find it difficult to stand out in this company.
MP Motorsport has bolstered its engineering side by snatching experienced F2 engineer Daniele Rossi from Carlin. It’s also hired arguably its most consistently competitive F2 driver line-up in recent years. Nobuharu Matsushita’s experience will be a huge asset for the team looking to add to the one win Sergio Sette Camara achieved for the team in the 2017 Spa sprint race.
14. Nobuharu Matsushita
2019: 6th in Formula 2
The oldest driver in the field is back for a fifth season, turning down a Super Formula drive to continue pursuing his dream of making it to F1. Whether or not F1 graduation still remains a realistic prospect is questionable, but Matsushita’s persistent is admirable. A title challenge seems a stretch with MP, but placing better than the sixth place he achieved with ART Grand Prix and Carlin in 2017 and ’19 respectively would be a success. Since it joined GP2 in 2013, no MP driver has finished higher than eighth in the points, but considering his experience and MP’s improved engineering team – he already worked with Rossi last year – Matsushita stands a good chance of matching that at the very least.
15. Felipe Drugovich
2019: 16th in FIA F3
The driver who narrowly came out third-best in a title scrap with Red Bull’s Juri Vips and Ferrari’s Armstrong in the 2017 ADAC F4 season and won 14 of the 16 Euroformula races in 2018 scored points just once in FIA F3 last year. That was a misrepresentation of Drugovich’s ability, and he’s decided to forego a second season there to step up to F2. Drugovich believes the new tyres will act as reset and offset his inexperience. He’ll have an experienced team-mate to learn from and if he can impress with MP in 2020, he could land himself a top F2 seat for a title challenge in 2021.
The first year for the team under HWA’s full control is an exciting prospect considering the company’s rookie success in FIA F3 last year. The ex-DTM outfit’s long-term vision should lead to success, although it remains to be seen if the benefits of that will be realised in 2020 or if it will be written off as a learning year.
16. Artem Markelov
2019: 16th in Formula 2, 21st in Super Formula
Following a woeful maiden Super Formula season, Markelov is back for a sixth full-time attack on F2. His partnership with the team began under the Arden banner in the final two rounds of last season, and qualified 16th and 14th. His poor one-lap speed has always been his Achilles heel, but on the other hand his racecraft and supreme tyre management have often more than made up for it. He’s more likely to deliver a season of stand-out drives rather than a consistently solid season. He’ll also have to get his head around the new tyres and if pre-season testing is anything to go by, that will be much easier said than done.
17. Giuliano Alesi
2019: 15th in Formula 2
It’s easy to write off four-time GP3 race-winner Giuliano Alesi, who finally ends his four-year association with Trident to joins HWA. However, Alesi showed a marked season-on-season improvement during his time in GP3, having moved there after a single season in French Formula 4, and there’s no reason why he can’t achieve the same in F2 with more competitive machinery and a solid team-mate. Finishing top 10 in the standings may prove to be a stretch, but repeating his reverse grid race magic from his GP3 days would not do him any harm.
Junior single-seater powerhouse Prema suffered arguably its worst season ever in F2 last year. It finished second-to-last in the teams’ standings and claimed just one podium: Mick Schumacher’s Hungaroring sprint race win. There was internal turmoil too as Gelael refused to race at Silverstone and the team-mates collided on occasion. Prema cannot afford a repeat of 2019 and it’s difficult to see how things won’t improve.
20. Mick Schumacher
2019: 12th in Formula 2
No driver in F2 has more pressure on their shoulders than Schumacher. That appeared to manifest itself on track at times during 2019 as his usual top-10 grid spot would end with little or no points. His qualifying performances were among the best of the rookies, showing he has the underlying one-lap pace. He just needs to transition it across the entire weekend if he’s to have any chance of adding to his 2018 European Formula 3 title success. Schumacher will also be hoping for no repeat of the immense bad luck that seemed to follow him last year. Unlike 2019, he’ll have an extremely competitive team-mate, and if he loses the intra-team war convincingly his dreams of reaching F1 will have to wait longer.
21. Robert Shwartzman
2019: FIA F3 champion
The young Russian was the class of the 2019 FIA F3 field and proved – unlike Schumacher – that his sudden surge at the end of the 2018 European F3 season could be repeated. He beat Armstrong and marked himself out as Ferrari’s leading junior prospect. Whether he can retain that mantle in 2020, with Ilott and Armstrong in strong machinery and Schumacher alongside him with a year of experience, is unknown. He proved adept at tyre management in FIA F3, knew how to make the most of reversed grid races, and having proven ability to manage a title fight it means it cannot be ruled out for Shwartzman to mirrors Charles Leclerc and George Russell in winning back-to-back titles on the F1 support bill.
Trident’s recent F2 form has been nothing short of dreadful: For the last three years it’s finished last among the teams in the standings. It had by far the worst retirement rate of any other team, which did it no favours, and when it was far more competitive at the end of the season it wasn’t enough to shed the unfortunate record of being the only team to fail to make the podium since the series was renamed F2 in 2017.
22. Roy Nissany
2019: no racing
Nissany’s pointless 2018 campaign with Campos alongside Ghiotto was a slightly unfair reflection of the ability of a driver who won four races in Formula V8 3.5 across 2016 and ’17. He didn’t race last year, but secured a deal with Williams to become its 2020 test driver. Earning his first points in F2 will be the first target for Nissany, but he has a lot of progress to make if he’s to have a realistic shot an F1 seat.
23. Marino Sato
2019: Euroformula champion, 21st in Formula 2
Sato struggled when he joined Campos at the end of the F2 season last year, failing to make a lasting impression or get on the pace of team-mate Aitken. But what he lacked in mileage and experience of Pirelli tyres there, he had in abundance in the Michelin-shod Dallara F3 car in Euroformula. He won nine races out of the 16 he participated in there, and the Taki Inoue protege put some of that down to the Michelin rubber after struggling on more complex Hankooks in European F3. To avoid being back down the order, he needs work really hard on figuring out what F2’s new 18-inch tyres demand.
Hitech’s welcome debut at F2 level brings the total number of teams in the series up to 11 for the first time since it was known as GP2. It had a mixed pre-season test, but it still managed to put in some impressive laptimes. It’s difficult to know what to expect from one of the busiest teams in motorsport, but it’s more than up to its latest challenge.
24. Nikita Mazepin
2019-20: 3rd in Asian F3 ’19: 18th in Formula 2
The 2018 GP3 runner-up suffered a miserable rookie year in F2. While his ART GP team-mate Nyck de Vries rocketed to the title, Mazepin never finished higher than eighth place and squandered his two big chances from sprint race pole in Baku and Sochi. He looked sheepish in wheel-to-wheel combat as he was swatted down to fourth from pole in Baku in just two corners, and wiped out Aitken and Matsushita when he failed to follow the correct rejoining procedure on the opening lap in Russia. It goes without saying that his second F2 season must be better. Returning to Hitech, run by Mazepin’s long-time career mentor Oliver Oakes, has already paid dividends in Asian F3 over the winter.
25. Luca Ghiotto
2019: 3rd in Formula 2
Having initially committed to a switch to GT racing, Ghiotto returns for what will be his fifth F2 campaign. It’s easy to see why the least experienced outfit has hired the very experienced Italian. As he did with Zhou in 2019, Ghiotto can set a good example for his inexperienced team-mate to follow. Whether he priorities his F2 season or his GT World Challenge Europe campaign is unknown, and that will determine whether he can fight for the title. With a new team that seems like an unlikely prospect, but not impossible with its resources and recruitment.