Formula Scout is celebrating the past decade of junior single-seaters by recapping the highlights of each year, from the best drivers to the races, stories and title battles of the 2010s that gripped us the most
The year that kicked off the 2010s was the last in the junior tiers for many drivers, with 15 departing for professional drives in Formula 1, IndyCar and Super Formula, and another two picked up by DTM teams.
Pastor Maldonado broke records on the way to the GP2 title for Rapax, while rival series Formula Renault 3.5 recorded its closest ever title conclusion – just two points separated Carlin’s Mikhail Aleshin and Tech 1 Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo.
It was another FRenault series that provided the best title battle of the year though.
FR2.0 UK, which would end the following year, had 10 race winners and four drivers spread across three teams with a title shot at the Brands Hatch Indy season finale.
Fortec Motorsports’ Tom Blomqvist led the points, and got lucky after crashing in the first qualifying session. Manor’s Ollie Millroy, team-mate of Blomqvist’s main title rival Lewis Williamson, then had his own off and the resulting red flag enabled Blomqvist to get his car repaired and outqualify his rival. Williamson beat Blomqvist in race one to put them equal on points (with dropped scores) going into the title decider. Blomqvist qualified ahead once again, and by staying there won the title.
He went on to race for BMW in DTM and Formula E, while Williamson has led Strakka Racing’s exploits in various categories. Tamas Pal Kiss – the early title leader – became a rallycross star, and Will Stevens raced for Manor in Formula 1 and the World Endurance Championship after missing out on the FR2.0 title with the team. Other top talents in the 2010 field include BMW’s Nick Yelloly, Aston Martin’s Alex Lynn and Le Mans 24 Hours class winner Andre Negrao.
Another British series provided the best junior single-seater driver, with F3 champion and Red Bull junior Jean-Eric Vergne being awarded the #1 slot after winning 13 races as a category and circuit rookie with Carlin. He then made several appearances in FR3.5 with Tech 1, winning in his third race and having a better scoring average than champion Aleshin.
He beat fellow FR3.5 drivers Esteban Guerrieri, who missed four races and was disqualified from another but was in title contention until the penultimate race, and Ricciardo. F3 Euro Series dominator Edoardo Mortara was fourth.
The?best race of the year was awarded to GP3’s first trip to Spa-Francorchamps, where rain led to split strategies and Status Grand Prix’s Robert Wickens taking a canny win despite crashing into the pitwall in the wet. He stuck with slick tyres in conditions ill-suited for them, then deliberately ran down the race timer after a safety car period to avoid being overtaken.
Victory in the 2009 Macau Grand Prix prompted Mortara to return to F3 full-time after a tricky time in GP2, and he ended his story with Signature-Volkswagen by becoming the first two-time Macau winner since 1980.
FIA F3 Championship predecessor GP3’s debut season, won by Sauber junior Esteban Gutierrez, squeezed F3 Euro Series’ grids, as did MotorSport Vision’s FIA Formula Two series. F2 champion Dean Stoneman only joined the series after founder Jonathan Palmer pitched successfully on the phone to him, although the Brit’s year sadly ended with a cancer diagnosis.
Stoneman got to be part of the second ever F1 young driver test for Williams, which included some forgotten entrants such as Superleague Formula driver Yelmer Buurman at Force India and Bulgarian GP2 backmarker Vladimir Arabadzhiev at Lotus.
Full-time returns to FR3.5 for Vergne and Wickens the next year resulted in a stunning intra-team title battle that pushed the pair to new heights at Carlin – winning 10 races and taking 11 poles of the 17 available.
After a near-double win for Fortec’s rookie Alexander Rossi at Motorland Aragon, the season became a two-horse race. At Spa, Carlin’s duo took a first and a second each; Vergne?s win earned after he closed down on Wickens and passed him at Les Combes in a move that required Wickens to lock up to avoid contact. There was no bad blood afterwards.
Both had issues at Monza, but Vergne still left with a win and the points lead after a thrilling battle with Ricciardo that left him with a semi-detached front wing for much of the race. Wickens had built up a 34-point lead by the penultimate round at Paul Ricard through a double win at Silverstone, and a win at the Nurburgring. That was down to two points when he left France.
He finished second to Vergne in race one, but the restless Canadian qualified seventh for race two and finished 19th after getting a puncture from contact. The Barcelona finale was full of drama, but the title fell safely into Wickens?s hands.
Vergne qualified ninth for race one using the mandated low drag setup. He finished second, but 21 seconds behind Wickens.
A fast-starting Anton Nebylitskiy led to a cautious Wickens braking early into turn one on the first lap of the title decider, which helped Vergne slip down the inside. Vergne?s front-left wheel slammed into Wicken?s sidepod, but more damage was inflicted on his own trackrod. A second impact did the same to Wickens, and his out-of-control car knocked another car into a roll. Both Carlin drivers retired, although Vergne made it further into the race before spinning out, and Wickens was champion.
Roberto Merhi ended a lengthy F3 career by dominating the Euro Series and winning the FIA International Trophy.
For the third year in a row he had changed teams, and few predicted pre-season he’d beat Signature’s Marco Wittmann and Laurens Vanthoor. He won 11 races in Europe, as well as two non-scoring but dominant successes in British F3’s visit to Spa, and had several sublime drives in the reversed grid second races that included wins at the Red Bull Ring and Nurburgring.
Considering he screwed up at the start of the two biggest races of the year ? the Masters of F3 at Zandvoort and the Macau GP ? it was a sign of his dominance that he was still Formula Scout’s best driver, and won the International Trophy.
The one-off championship was the story of the year. It combined the Masters and Macau with the Pau Grand Prix, the Euro Series’ first Hockenheim round and British F3’s Spa trip, and planned to revive the Korea Superprix. Merhi won the Int. Trophy title two races early at the Masters, despite a first lap clash with Prema team-mate Daniel Juncadella getting him disqualified.
Merhi’s next move was the DTM with Mercedes-Benz, and after two seasons he returned to junior single-seaters in FR3.5. His three wins with underdog team Zeta Corse propelled him to F1 and then WEC with Manor, before leaving for Formula 2.
F2 predecessor GP2 provided the most thrilling race of the year, as Ferrari junior Jules Bianchi and DTM driver Christian Vietoris battled for victory in the Silverstone feature race. After the pitstops, Vietoris eradicated Bianchi’s 7s lead, and passed him at the exit of Luffield. Bianchi got back past at Copse, so Vietoris went around the outside of Stowe to reclaim the lead. The fourth pass of the lap was a late braking move by Bianchi at Stowe. Bianchi eventually got the upper hand to win.
Antonio Felix da Costa only joined the Red Bull Junior Team midway through 2012, but that was the motivational boost needed for him to become the best driver of the year. After being signed, he was thrown into the fired Williamson‘s Arden FR3.5 seat, while continuing his GP3 campaign with Carlin. Like magic, he instantly became a winner in the latter series.
At the Hungaroring he took his first FR3.5 win, and became the only ever driver in GP3 to win both races in a weekend. Two second places at Spa kept him in the GP3 title race until the penultimate race, while he won three of the final four FR3.5 races. To make sure he could race in Macau, da Costa entered a round of MotorSport Vision’s F3 Cup with Carlin and won both races, then successfully turned his third Macau appearance into an assured victory. It was the kind of year that drivers dream of.
While the title battles?in FR3.5 (Robin Frijns/Bianchi/Sam Bird) and GP3 (Mitch Evans/Daniel Abt/da Costa/Aaro Vainio) were tense and concluded in memorable style, it was Stoffel Vandoorne and Daniil Kvyat’s FR2.0 Eurocup fight that stood out. Bar one race, they exclusively traded wins from the season opener to the dramatic Barcelona finale.
Vandoorne extended his points lead in race one at Barcelona, but qualified 16th for the title decider as Kvyat took pole. A slick tyre gamble in the wet resulted in a 10-place gain on lap one, but Vandoorne then crashed and retired. Watching from the pits, he won the title when Kvyat was penalised for picking his race tyres too late and was overtaken by the slick tyre runners.
FR3.5’s title fight and dramatic conclusion was a highlight of the introduction of the Dallara T12 car, which provided great racing and set up the story of FR3.5 becoming F1’s primary feeder series over GP2 for the next few years. GP2 did have 2012’s best race: James Calado and Rio Haryanto fought for Valencia sprint victory until clashing, which damaged Calado and ended Haryanto’s race. A slowed Calado led until the last lap, when he clashed with Fabio Leimer just as Luiz Razia passed both to win.
The trend of switching from gaming to racing professionally – or combining both – has changed a lot in the last seven years, and arguably what lit the public’s imagination on the topic was the story of Nissan’s GT Academy and Jann Mardenborough.
Mardenborough was the third winner of the GT Academy, and in his first ever season of racing he lost the British GT title in a final race showdown. His potential was so big that Nissan decided to switch him to single-seaters in F3 for year two.
He made his single-seater debut in the Toyota Racing Series with ETEC Motorsport, and was immediately the best of the team’s five drivers that included future F2 racer Tatiana Calderon and 2014 TRS champion Andrew Tang. Mardenborough came close to taking pole in round four at Hampton Downs, and four sixth place finishes put him 10th in the standings.
Carlin signed Mardenborough for British and FIA European F3, and he didn’t look out of place in the class field of the latter. He did only make the points four times, but 21st in the standings wasn’t awful compared to his team-mates Nicholas Latifi (15th) and Antonio Giovinazzi (17th), both also in their second year of cars and now with drives in F1.
The opposition was far easier in Britain, where he had the same team-mates, and Mardenborough was sixth in the points with a first podium at Spa. During his ‘free’ weekends, Mardenborough took podiums in the Le Mans and Spa 24 Hours.
Mardenborough started 2014 with a TRS return, almost winning the title and earning the backing of Red Bull Racing. He went on to become a GP3 race-winner and reached GP2 before moving to Japan and continuing his career with Nissan there.
The best F1 junior of 2013, and Formula Scout’s pick for best junior single-seater driver?was FR3.5 dominator Kevin Magnussen. Son of Corvette sportscar icon Jan, the 21-year-old Dane took five wins (or six if you include the Paul Ricard victory taken away by a technical DSQ) with DAMS, and earned himself promotion to a McLaren race seat for 2014.
He was demoted after one season despite finishing second on his debut, and being kept on contract denied him a 2015 IndyCar seat. His F1 return with Renault was a disappointment, and his three years with Haas since has been a mixed bag.
While Magnussen dominated in FR3.5, the FR2.0 grid had a far closer title battle?between Pierre Gasly and Oliver Rowland. Each won three races at three different circuits, and headed to the Barcelona finale 11 points apart after 12 races. The gap closed in race one, then they got too close in the title decider as they crashed on the opening lap, guaranteeing Gasly the title.
The action stayed mostly on the right side of too close in ADAC Formel Master’s second Slovakia Ring race, which was voted best race of the year. Ralph Boschung was the early leader, with Marvin Dienst jumping from eighth to second within two laps. After a short safety car period, Boschung led a four-way battle including Dienst, Alessio Picariello and Jason Kremer.
With ten minutes to go, Dienst braked lead into the first corner to pass Boschung for the lead, but both were almost immediately passed by Picariello. The top two swapped places multiple times over the next laps, with Boschung and Kremer doing the same over third place. With five minutes to go, Dienst made a move stick on Picariello and pulled away, with the latter coming under late pressure from Kremer and Boschung. Beitske Visser won a thrilling duel with Nicolas Beer for fifth.
Without a doubt, Max Verstappen was the biggest?story, most exciting driver and cause of one of the best title battles in junior single-seaters in 2014. But there wasn’t a follow-up, as the Dutch 17-year-old went to F1 after his one season in F3.
He began his car racing in the Ferrari Driver Academy-organised Florida Winter Series, which included racing on a roval and against two European F3 champions and several journalists (sadly none of Formula Scout’s), and he won four of the 12 races.
FIA European F3 with Van Amersfoort Racing was Verstappen’s next stop, and he was on pole by his fifth race – adding to the three he took in America. The first of many engine issues prevented him from even starting that race, but he was on the top step for the first time later that weekend at Hockenheim. Two crashes in Pau were his fault, but his next race was ended by another engine failure. He finally got his winning run started at Spa, going unbeaten there, at the Norisring and Masters of F3 (signing for Red Bull shortly after) to mark himself out as closest rival to Prema’s five-time winner Esteban Ocon.
This required Ocon to up his game, which is exactly what he did by taking a triple win at Moscow Raceway next time out. The pair then clashed at the Red Bull Ring, and Ocon’s pointless weekend allowed Jagonya Ayam with Carlin’s Tom Blomqvist to close in. Further success by he and Verstappen wasn’t enough to deny Ocon the title, and status as best?driver of the year.
Beating even that?title battle was the one for the British Formula Ford crown between Jayde Kruger and Harrison Scott, which was decided in the national court after a penultimate race clash led to a penalty, an appeal and a counter appeal.
GP2 once again supplied the best?race, with Raffaele Marciello tracking down, duelling with, then beating Stoffel Vandoorne in greasy conditions to win the Spa feature race. Felipe Nasr qualified 11th, but made several bold overtakes to finish fourth.
Part Two of Formula Scout’s Review of the 2010s will cover every season from 2015 to present
Additional reporting by Peter Allen