There may be four fewer Formula 2 rounds this year, but the grid appears just as competitive as ever. The Formula Scout team make their predictions for who they think the top 10 drivers of 2021 will be
Three races per weekend is the headline format change in Formula 2 this year, but there’s also plenty of change amongst the driver line-up and prospective title contenders. There are six returning race-winners and half of last year’s top 10 in the standings, as well as a rookie crop that includes the reigning FIA Formula 3 champion and his closest rival.
The Formula Scout team has assessed the past results of drivers and teams, the pace shown over one lap and in race runs during the Bahrain pre-season test, and a variety of other factors to pick who could be champion come season’s end.
Each of the five participating writers predicted the top 12 in the drivers’ championship, what’s below is the accumulation of those rankings.
Key: Writer’s initials (their predicted position for the driver)
Contributions from Peter Allen, Josh Suttill, Bethonie Waring, Elliot Wood and Craig Woollard.
10. Marcus Armstrong DAMS
Test pace 3rd (100.335%) long run 13th (100.709%)
Bethonie Waring (4th): Armstrong was a difficult driver to place. Initially, I had him in the mid-pack before I made a last-minute decision to bump him up the order. 2020 did not go in his favour and was probably the worst year of his junior career to date. For the first time since 2017, he wasn’t one of the favourites for the title, and not continuing with Prema definitely didn’t help. Armstrong will need to bounce back this year and with DAMS that is possible. He has shown consistency, and the ability to battle wheel-to-wheel and put together a championship challenge before. Now he just has to prove 2020 was a blip.
Peter Allen (8th): After a strong start, Armstrong seemed all out of sorts in his rookie season. And while a move away from ART was entirely logical, joining DAMS certainly doesn’t come with any guarantees of a turnaround, because the Le Mans outfit struggled in qualifying last year just as much as Armstrong seemed to at times. But he himself has proved perfectly quick enough in the past, as has DAMS, and both have the quality required to overcome any problems and move forwards.
Craig Woollard (11th): It’s a really big year for the Ferrari Driver Academy member, who really must reassert himself as a star for the future after a challenging rookie F2 campaign. There were positive signs at times, especially across the opening Red Bull Ring rounds, so he must use experience to his advantage in 2021. I expect a good level of progress this season, but I’m not convinced going to DAMS is necessarily a move up the order. With that in mind, and so many strong drivers across the grid, Armstrong will do well to break into the top 10. It wouldn’t be the result he wants or needs to realise his Formula 1 dream.
9. Oscar Piastri Prema
Test pace 13th (100.752%) long run 4th (100.246%)
BW (6th): Despite winning titles two years in a row, Piastri manages to fly under the radar. But his FIA F3 title means he has to be one to watch. Though he was pushed all the way by Theo Pourchaire and Logan Sargeant, his ability to just keep his head down and pick up the points cannot be underestimated, especially in a season where reversed grids are going to play such a huge part. This year will likely be a learning one, getting to grips with the machinery and being in F2 before going for the title in 2022. But he could very well but the surprise of the season, flying under the radar to a top-five finish in the championship.
Josh Suttill (7th): Piastri follows Shwartzman in winning the FIA F3 crown and graduating to F2 with Prema alongside an already established driver (in this case Shwartzman). His F3 campaign wasn’t as convincing nor as controlled as Shwartzman’s, but it was impressive nevertheless. Qualifying was a weak point, but – as he said himself – that didn’t hold back the man he replaces at Prema, Mick Schumacher, from winning the F2 title. I think he won’t match the highs of Shartzman’s rookie F2 year, but he won’t be far off, with at least a sprint race victory or two ahead of a 2022 title push.
PA (11th): The calm approach that netted Piastri the F3 title could just pay dividends in F2. But his well-documented qualifying struggles could also pose a problem when combined with a team which was also not as strong over one lap last year. Piastri himself has acknowledged that the new format could negate that issue, but only if he makes the top 10 in qualifying – something team-mate Shwartzman struggled to do regularly in 2020. A difficult rookie season or a title challenge are both possible.
8. Theo Pourchaire ART Grand Prix
Test pace 9th (100.639%) long run 8th (100.451%)
CW (5th): Teenage sensation Pourchaire was (absolutely rightly) well praised for a brilliant rookie campaign in FIA F3 where he nearly snatched the crown from Prema’s Piastri – something that seemed unthinkable after the opening round. He’s a joy to watch, already has a little bit of experience with this car after running in Bahrain last year and has an incredible amount of talent. I do have question marks over how he will adapt to the 18-inch tyres, but if he is able to get on top of that then I see no reason why he can’t squeeze into the top five and win several races.
Elliot Wood (7th): Frederic Vasseur’s Sauber protege hasn’t been set lofty performance targets, but nonetheless it’s his results so far that have made Pourchaire one of the next big things. Of course, it’s on many pundits’ minds that ART Grand Prix hasn’t always been able to propel both of its drivers to title contention in GP2/F2, but team-mate Christian Lundgaard shouldn’t necessarily be the benchmark to compare against given he can have incredible highs but also be unremarkable at times. Being the best of the rookies on street circuits will really make Pourchaire stand out though.
JS (9th): Do not let my prediction be any reflection upon Pourchaire’s ability. He’s a superb talent, who has an extremely bright future. He’s shown time and time again that he can overcome an experience deficit, but F2 is a series like no other. In a year where the field is so strong, and where the car and tyres (mainly) stay the same, it would be tough for a rookie to challenge for the title. He should be right in the mix with Piastri and Lawson for top rookie honours, then fight them for the ’22 title.
7. Liam Lawson Hitech GP
Test pace 5th (100.512%) long run 2nd (100.084%)
BW (3rd): Lawson is the most impressive driver currently in the Red Bull Junior Team, and is a very Red Bull driver in that he can be a bit hit and miss at times. He doesn’t have the consistency of others on this list, but he backs up standout performances with solid top-five finishes. Replicating Red Bull Racing reserve driver Alex Albon’s third place from 2018 [in what was his second season] might be too ambitious, but I believe he is capable of managing it – should luck be on his side.
EW (8th): Lawson grows in maturity each year, and has stronger backing behind him in and outside of Red Bull for 2021. His ability to thread his car through tight spots is a good sign for street circuits, and the new Jeddah track could suit the driving style that rewards him well at Silverstone if Saudi’s asphalt isn’t too abrasive. How Lawson’s style gels with F2’s tyres is the big if, but testing and Hitech GP’s 2020 suggests he’s on the right path.
CW (10th): I certainly have Lawson down as a dark horse to surprise a few this year. While he has the least experience at this level of Red Bull’s three juniors in F2, there is a lot of untapped potential that is there which, if unlocked, will raise eyebrows. A ferocious racer and mighty quick on his day, why I have Lawson lower down the order is primarily through lower expectations of Hitech, and as I expect a number of standard rookie mistakes in combat that may not necessarily come from others. A top 10 finish in the championship would be a fine effort, though.
6. Dan Ticktum Carlin
Test pace 4th (100.480%) long run 11th (100.561%)
EW (4th): Ticktum’s title challenge hinges on whether he has tweaked his driving style to build tyre temperature faster and as a result boost his qualifying form. Being at Carlin should help that, but with other second-year drivers improving he needs to really scrutinise what hasn’t worked so far if he wants to be champion. He will win races, and they’re bound to be spectacular.
JS (5th): Stepping into Yuki Tsunoda’s shoes is no easy task. The top rookie of 2020 earned the right to become Carlin’s 27th F1 graduate after a stunning F2 season that nearly led to the title. Ticktum might not be able to replicate that title challenge but he should make a marked improvement on his own troublesome rookie season. Expect him to kick things off with a strong performance at Bahrain – where Carlin looked the strongest in the field last year – but for the usual self-inflicted problems and sheer bad luck to rear its head again thereafter. His robust racing style and 2020 sprint race record should mean he’ll benefit from the new weekend structure.
CW (9th): A full year of experience under his belt and a move to Carlin promises big things for Ticktum – who seems to have become a ‘Marmite’ character in recent years. Success will likely depend on two factors: Ticktum extracting the best out of Carlin’s package, and Carlin extracting the best out of him. I feel that they may just come up a little short in that quest and ending up on the fringes of the top 10 in the standings rather than a title challenge is what may be set to happen. It would not be a surprise to see the Williams junior win a couple of races this year, though.
5. Guanyu Zhou Virtuosi Racing
Test pace 7th (100.528%) long run 16th (100.916%)
BW (2nd): This season really is a make-or-break one for Zhou. He was one of the favourites last season but didn’t have the consistency – or the luck – of team-mate Callum Ilott. This year he will no doubt be aiming to make amends for that. If Zhou had had just slightly better luck in 2020, he probably would have been in the top five in the standings. He has what it takes to fight for the title, as does Virtuosi; it will just come down to whether he can put the whole season together.
PA (5th): Rightly or wrongly, winning the Asian F3 title has all but sealed Zhou his superlicence, so this is a big season for him to prove he deserves a place in F1 beyond his commercial appeal. Now in his third season of F2, he’s the most experienced of the leading contenders and will be expected to capitalise on that. As it was last year, a big part of the challenge could just be trying to match or better the pace of his team-mate. He should improve on last year, but by how much?
JS (6th): Experience still counts for a lot in F2, especially in a year where the technical regulations are largely the same. However, Zhou had a disappointing 2020, where he peaked at the first race and was thoroughly beaten by Ilott. He’s got another tough team-mate, who will probably get the better of him but it shouldn’t stop the Alpine F1 junior from adding to his win tally and earning enough points for an F1 superlicence – although he must finish top three to justify a promotion to the top level of single-seaters on merit, something I believe he’ll fall short of. It feels as if he’s reached his glass ceiling.
4. Juri Vips Hitech GP
Test pace 6th (100.518%) long run 3rd (100.176%)
PA (3rd): Vips’ disrupted 2020 season was a setback but it could have been a blessing in disguise, because getting this full season in F2 with Hitech is a huge opportunity to stake his case for a future in F1. The team was a frequent threat in its debut season with Nikita Mazepin, especially in race trim, and in Vips and Lawson it now has one of the most gifted driver pairings on the grid. Having come close to victory in Macau, Vips should relish the numerous street circuits on the new-look calendar.
EW (5th): He wasn’t happy with his 2020, even with his F2 performances once he arrived in the series mid-season. It’s already been established he can be quick there, but so far Vips hasn’t made the most of a title challenge in any of the series he’s been in (the numbers behind his ADAC F4 title make that success a surprise), and the fragmented 2020 will disadvantage him.
BW (11th): Quite a few drivers had their 2020 plans disrupted due to travel restrictions, and Vips is no different. By rights, he should have been put in F2 last year, but ended up doing a handful of Formula Regional European Championship races after his planned Super Formula campaign fell through. So last year’s results are relatively unrepresentative of his overall talent, but Vips has been missing that something extra that has propelled other drivers to titles ahead of him throughout his recent career. Hitech isn’t a bad place to be in F2, and the Red Bull junior will likely be on the podium again after visiting it at Mugello last year, but whether it will be a regular occurrence is a different matter.
3. Felipe Drugovich Virtuosi
Test pace 15th (100.858%) long run 17th (101.058%)
CW (2nd): Huge things are expected of Drugovich in his second season after a rookie campaign that netted three excellent wins and a fine pole position with MP Motorsport. With Virtuosi Racing, the team that was the fastest over one lap last year, more is to be expected. I firmly believe that Drugovich will be a title contender and will push his fellow second-year drivers very hard in that fight. If he is able to be as brilliant every round as he was a number of times last year, he will achieve this.
JS (3rd): The Brazilian is one of the best drivers not attached to a F1 team (for now). He was brilliant on occasion last year, but he’s going to need a much more consistent season if he wants to mount a serious title challenge this year. No driver was as good at leading from the front and building a gap as Drugovich, a useful skill if he wants to build a title bid. With multiple race wins, he should do enough to earn a place in an F1 junior programme, but he won’t quite have enough to win the title.
EW (3rd): Drugovich stood out in qualifying and races last year, which not many do in F2, and at a top team like Virtuosi there is no doubt that if he starts at the front then he will stay there. His dominant 2018 Euroformula campaign is a great reminder of that. However pre-season testing wasn’t spectacular, and the team lost a number of likely wins (and a title or two) last year, so winning the title in his sophomore season is probably one step too far.
PA (4th): The prospect of Drugovich replacing Ilott at Virtuosi promises a lot given how capable the Brazilian was of troubling 2020’s fastest driver at times last year. It could well be the most potent combination in qualifying. As Ilott proved though, that alone will not be enough, and that might be especially true now there’s two reversed grid races each weekend. The jury is still out on Virtuosi’s race pace with the 18-inch tyres, but Drugovich could also be the driver to change that.
2. Christian Lundgaard ART Grand Prix
Test pace 1st (100%) long run 12th (100.571%)
PA (1st): Because he finished seventh, it’s easy to forget how strong Lundgaard was for much of his rookie F2 campaign. After Mugello he was only 16 points behind leader Schumacher, and might even have been ahead if a safety car hadn’t denied him a deserved feature race win. This will be the first time he’s spent a second season at any level of the single-seater ladder, and if he and ART can iron out some of the inconsistencies in their package’s performance, his talent could do the rest.
EW (2nd): Relentless, disliking of Silverstone, a great adapter. Three things that come to mind when thinking about Lundgaard in the paddock over the past three years. Having a second crack at a series will be a first for the Dane, and it’s an exciting unknown given how seamlessly he became a F2 frontrunner as a rookie in 2020. While he may work better than ever with ART in their third season together, it’s difficult to see the team improving while increasing its motorsport presence elsewhere.
CW (3rd): Lundgaard is a brilliant racer and is asserting himself as Alpine’s best bet for a F1 graduate in the near future. Like several of his contemporaries, his rookie campaign was stellar. There were days where he looked totally unbeatable save for poorly timed safety cars. On the flipside, there were rounds where he struggled massively as well. This season, I expect a more consistent run – and a title challenge that goes just that little bit further but may just come up a little bit short.
BW (9th): The mid to end of the top 10 will be incredibly close this season, and it wouldn’t be surprising for just a handful of points to separate a good number of drivers. I expect Lundgaard to be right there in the fight, but the exact order will come down to minute details in the overall package. Lundgaard, with ART, is capable of great things on occasion, but consistent good results were really missing in 2020.
1. Robert Shwartzman Prema
Test pace 8th (100.551%) long run 5th (100.357%)
EW (1st): As Shwartzman has said himself, something went against him in the second half of his rookie season and it really could have been a title-winning one had that not been the case. Unlike his rivals, there was little you could point out about his 2020 performances that really needed improvement. The Russian could dominate 2021, and probably wants to.
CW (1st): The safe and obvious bet for the title, and the driver that stands out as the most complete of those returning to F2. Shwartzman was a very real title challenger in 2020, so why can’t he go seal the deal this year? I fully expect him to have the upper hand on the opposition, and to build on what was a very fine rookie campaign to make that final step up that makes him champion and put him very much in the mix for a 2022 F1 seat. Even if he is unable to find that extra tenth or two in qualifying lacking last year, the effect of that will not be as drastic as previously with the new format. Shwartzman is a supremely good racer and is able to read a race exceptionally well, which is what will set him apart from the rest this year.
BW (1st): Shwartzman has to be the favourite for the title. He came into F2 as the reigning FIA F3 champion and, despite his rookie status, was able to fight at the front of the field. Over the course of the season he couldn’t quite match team-mate Schumacher, but on his day would challenge the soon-to-be champion. Remaining at Prema for another season, everything appears to be in place for Shwartzman to take another title. One thing that is for certain is that Ilott, Schumacher, and Antonio Giovinazzi will all be keeping one eye on what he can do this year as Ferrari weighs up its options for 2022 and beyond.
JS (1st): I still believe he’s Ferrari’s brightest prospect and Charles Leclerc’s future team-mate. Whether it’s dealing with the loss of his father or winning the FIA F3 title, he’s shown an impressive level of maturity on and off track. The wins in his rookie F2 year were among the most speculator drives we saw from any driver. There’s still some question marks over his one-lap speed and street circuit credentials, but I think he’ll answer both of those and earn the title in a fairly convincing fashion.
PA (2nd): That Shwartzman is title favourite for most is entirely logical given how strong he looked on occasion in 2020, and he could very easily run away with it. But, together with Prema, he does need to take a step forward and especially in qualifying, which was a bit of a weakness in his F3 title run too. What worked for Schumacher last year might not work again as all the teams get to grips with the current package. Then again, the format change could play to Shwartzman’s strengths.