The 2018 season ushered in a new era for Formula 1’s leading feeder series, with a new car for the first time in seven years and a plethora of young talent, with numerous links to F1’s teams.
While mechanical issues with the new generation of car disrupted much of the first half of the season, in the end, there was little doubt that champion George Russell deserved the title.
He along with runners-up Lando Norris and Alexander Albon secured graduation to F1, marking the first time since 2009 that the top three in F2/GP2 made it onto the starting grid of the first F1 race of the following season.
This year’s F2 field is arguably inferior in quality to last year’s offering, but it still includes a number of experienced returning drivers as well as the usual bunch of highly-rated rookies.
While Nyck de Vries may have dominated Formula 2’s pre-season testing and is the highest-placed returning driver from last season, it would be wrong to assume he’ll have it all his own way this year – here’s our rundown of all 20 drivers starting the 2019 F2 season.
1. Louis Deletraz / 2. Nobuharu Matsushita
While on paper, its line-up may seem like a downgrade to the championship-winning pairing of Lando Norris and Sergio Sette Camara, the apparent impressive long-run pace in pre-season testing means it would be wrong to underestimate?Louis Deletraz and?Nobuharu Matsushita this year.
Deletraz is entering his third season in the series, and although his initial season was immensely disappointing following his stellar Formula V8 3.5 season the year before, he showed plenty of his potential last year with Charouz.
His qualifying record was solid last year, but his race-performances and consistency ultimately let him down, scoring points on just four of the 12 weekends last season. This must improve.
Honda-backed Matsushita spent three seasons in F2 before a character-building campaign in Super Formula last year, and although he’s returning to a new car and rubber (Super Formula uses tougher Yokohama compounds than F2’s Pirellis), his experience of high-downforce machinery will be vital.
Matsushita made his European return happen to keep his dreams of F1 alive, but if he is to (re)progress up the ladder, he needs to finish in the top three as a minimum.
ART Grand Prix
3. Nikita Mazepin / 4. Nyck de Vries
Nyck de Vries has previously fallen short of expectations after being branded with the pre-season favourite tag: his previous stint with ART Grand Prix in 2016 is one such case, when a step down to GP3 resulted in sixth in the standings and as team-mates Charles Leclerc and Alex Albon fought for the title.
Last year at Prema he won twice, but inconsistency, troubles with the new F2 car and a strong trio of British talents left him fourth. The highlight was a hugely impressive mixed conditions drive to victory at the Hungaroring over McLaren stablemate Norris.
It was a stark reminder of the raw talent that de Vries still possesses, but he will have to show consistency if he wants his first championship title since 2014.
Sean Gelael was easily swept aside last year, but his new team-mate Nikita Mazepin will provide a bigger headache for the Dutchman. He’s had a lengthy pre-season testing plan and along with fellow rookie Mick Schumacher is as prepared as a rookie can be.
Expectations of Mazepin were low in GP3 last year but he almost won the title, so should not be underestimated.
5. Sergio Sette Camara / 6. Nicholas Latifi
De Vries’ biggest competition ought to come from fellow third-year driver Sergio Sette Camara. The Brazilian had a difficult but impressive 2018, when a hand injury that ruled him out of both Monaco races, but he had the pace to beat team-mate Norris on merit.
The improvement he was able to make from his first to second year was stellar, and he’ll need to make another step to become a title challenger.
His speed has never been in doubt, but there is the Felipe Nasr-like tendency to let the win slip away, as he hasn’t won since his breakout victory at Spa in 2017.
Sette Camara switches from Carlin to DAMS, which retains Nicholas Latifi for a fourth season. Latifi struggled to get up to speed with the new F2 car last year, hindered by a pre-season illness, but once he hit his stride in the second half of the year, he was extremely competitive, winning the Spa sprint race and completing a DAMS one-two in the Sochi feature race.
Latifi also showed in the first half of last year, that even when the pace wasn’t there, he was able to nick vital points from difficult weekends.
7. Guanyu Zhou / 8. Luca Ghiotto
Following de Vries and Camara as the next-highest placed returnee is Luca Ghiotto, driving for Virtuosi Racing. The team once known as Russian Time highly rates the Italian, whose two wins in three seasons doesn’t reflect his ability.
His team-mate is new Renault junior Guan Yu Zhou, who switches to F2 after three seasons and two wins in European F3. Zhou’s backers have stakes in the team, so he’ll be expected to take to the series quicker than he did to Euro F3, although unlike when he made his F3 debut in 2016, he’ll have a strong foundation of experience behind him. Just like Ghiotto, Virtuosi also has high expectations of the Chinese driver.
Ghiotto has been brought in as an experienced mentor to Zhou, but he can attempt to become the first fourth-year driver to win the series since Jolyon Palmer five years ago. If he’s to do that, he needs to avoid the rookie-like mistakes we saw at times last year, such as his clumsy opening lap shunt at Baku.
Ghiotto and Zhou should make for an effective pairing, and help Virtuosi continue the success of its predecessors Russian Time.
9. Mick Schumacher / 10. Sean Gelael
Mick Schumacher’s 2018 European F3 title was mired in speculation, and he usually takes at least a season to click with machinery, but he topped one of the Jerez F2 test sessions and looked potent on long-run pace.
His conviction in the way he dominated the latter half of last season’s F3 championship will be a concern for his rivals, and if Prema can return to the top of the field, a Leclerc-esque field bashing cannot be ruled out. He’s the best bet of the rookies to make it three rookie-champions from three-seasons.
It remains to be seen how he’ll be able to handle Pirelli’s rubber and a more powerful car, but Ferrari’s faith in junior has already been shown in him with a test outing in both the Ferrari and the Alfa Romeo at the upcoming F1 test in Bahrain following the F2 opener.
Also, the majority of his 2018 rivals have gone to the new FIA F3 championship this year, with Zhou the only other Euro F3 driver to graduate to F2.
Sean Gelael joins Schumacher at Prema for his fourth crack at GP2/F2, and will be attempting to avoid finishing 15th in the standings for the fourth season in a row. As a consequence, the entire team will be built around Schumacher, and he’ll be looking to avoid the mistakes and inconsistencies that Prema’s last team leader de Vries made.
Sauber Junior Team
11. Callum Ilott / 12. Juan Manuel Correa
Charouz Racing System has picked up Sauber F1 backing for 2019, as well as GP3 graduates Callum Ilott and Juan Manuel Correa. Ferrari junior llott had a difficult GP3 debut, being outshone at ART by team-mates Mazepin and Anthoine Hubert.
Ilott’s ambitions will likely rest in being top rookie, with Charouz not only proving its pace in testing, but also winning twice last year in its debut F2 season. He’ll also get a crack at revenge on his former team-mates, and with a decent platform to do so.
Like Schumacher, Ilott has been handed an F1 test day with Alfa Romeo, and if Schumacher falters, Ilott has the potential to bag an F1 promotion. The queue behind the duo is talented and long, so Ilott has to impress this year to have any chance of securing an Alfa Romeo or Haas seat.
His team-mate for this year Correa is no slouch. Don’t let his 12th overall in GP3 last year or mediocre pre-season testing pace fool you. He was on level terms with team-mate David Beckmann before the German ace switched from Jenzer to Trident and began his end of season surge. Expect the Charouz line-up to be an effective pairing.
14. Dorian Boccolacci / 15. Jack Aitken
Replacing Ghiotto at a recently struggling Campos is Jack Aitken, looking for redemption after being well beaten by George Russell at ART last year.
There’s still great potential within Aitken – look no further than his stellar Spanish sprint race win last year – and he looks happier this year with the Spanish team.
Bettering Ghiotto’s eighth place from last year should be the base aim, and beating team-mate Dorian Boccolacci is a must.
That won’t be easy however, as although the results from last year failed to show it, Boccolacci was mighty in GP3 and subtly impressive when he graduated to F2 mid-season, despite a barrage of technical issues and bad luck.
2019 should mark the first time, arguably since 2015, that Campos has two drivers capable of finishing in the top 10 in the championship. Together, Aitken and Boccolacci should also help develop the team’s package, after Ghiotto seemed to lack to tools to match expectation last year.
16. Jordan King / 17. Mahaveer Raghunathan
MP was the last team to announce its line-up, as it revealed a surprise return for Jordan King,?who last raced in the series in 2017. He’d seemingly moved onto IndyCar and endurance racing, and with some success.
He took an LMP2 class victory on his WEC debut at Sebring a week before he announced his return to F2. Like fellow-2017 returnee Matsushita, he’ll have the disadvantage of having to learn the new car, as well as juggling his continuing LMP2 commitments and his Indy 500 preparations.
His second attempt at the Indy 500 means he will miss the Monaco F2 round – perhaps Roberto Merhi?could make another return, considering his recent success and experience around the streets of Monaco.
King’s first F2 stint concluded with a podium-less year with MP, so the obvious goal for this year is to secure another top three. He was the king of sprint races in 2016 – two reverse-grid wins with Racing Engineering – and the Sunday races will likely the offer best chances for him to return to the podium.
Alongside King is?Mahaveer Raghunathan. Little is expected of the 20-year-old Indian whose recent success is limited to BOSS GP. He propped up the timesheets for the majority of testing and will have a tough time this year lifting himself any further up.
18. Tatiana Calderon / 19. Anthoine Hubert
Arden has elected for an all-rookie line-up of GP3 graduates from different ends of the grid.?Anthoine Hubert?was the somewhat surprise runaway winner of the 2018 crown, while Tatiana Calderon’s third year in the series yielded 11 points, her personal best, but only good enough for 16th in the drivers’ championship.
Testing hasn’t been short of woeful for Arden, with Hubert setting the 18th and 19th fastest times in Jerez and Barcelona, while Calderon was 20th in both tests. It seems a continuation of the team’s struggles with the new car.
Last year, it had a stellar rookie line-up but finished the year ninth in the teams’ championship. Gunther picked up a reverse-grid win at Silverstone, but there was little else to cheer about.
Arden will be hoping, a tie-up with Formula E/DTM outfit HWA will yield better results, after its record in both F2 and F3 (GP3) has plummeted in recent years. They have the right driver to lead them out of the crisis. By all accounts, Hubert is a wise head on young shoulders and showed his talent against the odds last year.
Only time will tell if Calderon can make an impact at this level. She’s always showed potential and flashes of speed but her F3/GP3 results were simply not good enough, and an inferior car would only make her life more difficult.
20. Giuliano Alesi / 21. Ralph Boschung
Trident has gone for a mix of youth and experience, with Giuliano Alesi making his F2 debut alongside series returnee Ralph Boschung, starting his third season for his third different team.
The Italian outfit desperately needs a good year, after two years of collecting the wooden spoon. It is lacking the big-name lead driver it was able to attract with the likes of Raffaele Marciello and Luca Ghiotto back in 2015-16.
Ferrari junior Alesi didn’t make the expected leap in GP3 last year and was overshadowed at Trident once David Beckmann joined the team. Even Pedro Piquet robbed Alesi of his ‘reverse-grid races crown’. However, he’s still a tough racer and only 19-years-old.
Alesi will enter F2 far more prepared than when he made his GP3 debut, and surely his three prior years on Pirelli’s rubber will give him an advantage over his fellow rookies.
Boschung’s first two years in the series were underwhelming, to say the least, and he hasn’t completed a full championship without skipping the last rounds since 2015. While both drivers have shown potential in the past, Trident could well be propping up the field for the third year in a row.