Home Featured Formula Scout Top 50 Drivers of 2018: 20-11

Formula Scout Top 50 Drivers of 2018: 20-11

by Formula Scout
The penultimate part of our Top 50 countdown looks at the drivers we placed from 20 to 11.

20. Leonardo Pulcini

Re-entry (40th in ’16)
Performed giantkilling acts in second GP3 season

After finishing on the podium on his GP3 debut at Barcelona last year, much was expected of 2016 Euroformula Open Pulcini. However his season quickly crumbled, and he scored points on just one further occasion in 2017.

He returned to Campos from Arden for his second season in the series this year, and his speed at Catalunya was once again shown when he became the first non-ART driver to take pole in two years.

Although he was only able to convert pole into fourth place on this occasion, his next pole at Sochi resulted in a dominant maiden victory, and he was able to make it back-to-back feature race victories when he triumphed in a thrilling duel with Nikita Mazepin in the season-finale at Abu Dhabi.

Unfortunately, Pulcini?s success in the Sunday races was lacking. He made progress from his reverse-grid starting position in just three of the nine races and had the 10th best Sunday race points tally on the grid.

A lot of this was down to bad luck: take the broken radiator after his car sucked in a visor tear-off at Spa, or a broken gearbox at the next round at Monza. On the other hand, he was involved in a few clumsy collisions – such as the borderline-dangerous moving across the track which resulted in the three-car collision in the final race of the season.

Despite these errors, it can not be understated what a brilliant season Pulcini had with a team which had previously never won a feature race in the series. He?s likely to either continue his long-term collaboration with the Spanish outfit in Formula 2 next year or switch to Trident, which he also ran with in the post-season test.

19. David Beckmann

Re-entry (41st in ’16)
Got career back on track after mid-season GP3 team switch

For the second successive year, Beckmann made a mid-season team switch, and this time it paid dividends for the 18-year-old German. He went from a solid midfield runner hoping to capitalise on reverse-grids with Jenzer, to the man to beat in the second half of the season with Trident.

That?s not to say he wasn?t impressive with Jenzer. He generally had the measure of his more experienced team-mates, and cruelly lost out on potential podiums in Barcelona and Austria due to incidents in the sprint races.

However, he was instantly successful when he switched to Trident from Hungary onwards, taking back-to-back pole positions and feature race wins at Spa and Monza – completely blowing aside his team-mates once again.

At the next round in Sochi, he won the reverse-grid race to make it three wins from three weekends, despite starting the first race of the weekend down in 15th place after a mechanical failure in qualifying.?His year ended with a second place in in Abu Dhabi, meaning he scored more wins and more points than any other driver in the second half of the season.

The Beckmann that showed enough promise to make this list in both 2015 and ’16 is back, but now he must make the most of an ART Grand Prix seat against stronger opposition in FIA Formula 3.

18. Callum Ilott

Down 9
Ferrari junior came third in GP3 and starred again in Macau?

Ilott made the move from European F3 to GP3 as a newly-signed Ferrari junior, and was tipped by many as having the talent to follow in the footsteps of ART predecessors Ocon, Leclerc and Russell and win the championship.

His title bid didn’t start in an ideal way, but come the Red Bull Ring round, everything seemed to be coming together. Fresh from his race two win in France a few days earlier, Ilott took pole, race one victory and moved into the championship lead. For the third time in as many years since his departure from the Red Bull junior team, he received a winner’s trophy from Helmut Marko at the Austrian track.

There was the feeling that he could kick on from there, but at Silverstone he had no answer to Anthoine Hubert’s speed. Surprisingly for the driver that took more poles than anyone in F3 in 2017, qualifying proved to be Ilott’s downfall and he never added to his tally.

Regular podiums kept him firmly in title contention until Monza, where he raced to a pair of third-places only to lose the second of them due to a tyre-pressure infringement, but his chances were then ended early by a mysterious lack of race pace in Sochi.

Returning to Macau allowed Ilott to end the year on a positive note, demonstrating his talent once more and looking like a strong contender for victory for most of the week. That he slipped back to seventh place during the interrupted grand prix itself was sadly typical of his season. A move up to F2 seems to be on the cards for 2019, most likely with Charouz.

17. Felipe Drugovich

Up 5
Destroyed all before him in Euroformula Open and MRF Challenge

After missing out on a top seat in European F3, Drugovich chose the alternative route to success and made the absolute most of it.

He started his year in the MRF Challenge, winning eight races in late 2017 before wrapping up the title with two wins out of four at Chennai in February. The results spoke a lot, but meant little to Drugovich as he was using it to stay race sharp physically and mentally.

The title did give him confidence, and as demonstrated during his record-breaking Euroformula Open season, being on top enabled him to access further reserves of performance to keep his winning run going further.

Drugovich was beaten on merit in the second race of the season, but only gave up the top step on the podium on one other occasion throughout the season, a loss that came down to the fact he?d been beaten to pole and would therefore find it difficult to pass unless the leader made a mistake. In total he won 14 of the 16 races, took 10 poles and 10 fastest laps, and had an average finishing position of 1.125.

He was driving for the best team, but there is an obvious question mark against his achievements this year: the standard of his opposition. Still, given what his former Formula 4 rivals Juri Vips and Marcus Armstrong have achieved this year, there’s little to say he can’t be a match for stronger competition should he rightfully join them in FIA F3 in 2019.

16. Artem Markelov

Down 5
Fifth-year F2 racer lacked outright speed in new car but still thrilled

Formula 2 is going to miss one of the most exciting, flamboyant and daring drivers ever to rock up to Formula 1?s prime feeder series. His lower ranking this year is a reflection of his lack of progress despite yet another season at this level under his belt, with the arrival of a new car and fresh competition having exposed him somewhat.

The unthinkable degree of tyre management while pulling off beautifully-executed overtakes was very much there in 2018, but once again it was qualifying which left Markelov to have to do simply too much work in the races.

Wins came in Bahrain, Monaco and Austria, but he ultimately ended up over 100 points shy of the championship ? a massive amount. Markelov has shown great racing driver potential with his gradual progress through GP2 and F2, but there are a few obvious weaknesses that mean he’s probably not F1 material.

The time is right to move on. Super Formula is a likely option for the future, which in turn could well lead onto another crack at making it to F1 in the future. If not, Markelov should have a very healthy future in motorsport regardless.

15. Robert Shwartzman

Down 3
TRS champion takes third in European F3 with late charge

Shwartzman’s arrival into the Ferrari Driver Academy near the end of 2017 soon led to his first car racing title when he snatched the Toyota Racing Series title from under the nose of colleague Marcus Armstrong. It was an extremely consistent campaign – he won just once but also finished outside of the top four on only one occasion – that demonstrated some new-found maturity from a driver who had looked ragged during his failed Formula Renault Eurocup title bid.

That trend would carry over into his rookie F3 season. After first-corner contact with Enaam Ahmed at the Norisring from his maiden pole position, Shwartzman finished every race thereafter, and scored points in each of the last 18 races. The consistency put him top of the rookie classification from mid-season, even though team-mate Armstrong was at that stage miles ahead of him in the overall standings.

For much of the season, Shwartzman’s speed was a little disappointing for a driver making the often-successful move over from the Eurocup with a Prema car underneath him. That all changed at the Nurburgring – a circuit he’s always gone well at – when he followed Mick Schumacher home for a trio of second places. He was similarly strong at the Red Bull Ring, and beat Schumacher off the line in the finale to get his first win.

Shwartzman’s late-season form, rounded out with another victory in the final race at Hockenheim, meant?he ended up third overall. It would be a stretch to say that was entirely representative of his season, and paddock suspicions were that he, like Schumacher, had benefitted from a stronger engine near the end of the year.

Nonetheless, it was definitely a positive year for the SMP Racing-backed Russian, and he’ll look to continue in a similar fashion in FIA F3 in 2019 when he is set to stay with Prema.

14. Nikita Mazepin

New entry
Much improved Russian nearly won GP3 title as rookie

Arguably the breakout star of 2019, Mazepin went from inconsistent midfield European F3 driver to win more races than any other driver in GP3 this year.

While the best team and plentiful resources helped his cause, Mazepin was still able to usurp drivers who came into GP3 with greater reputations.

The way Mazepin was able to click with the machinery from the opening round was very impressive – dominating the opening feature race at Barcelona. He was the only title rival who was able to consistently beat eventual champion Hubert.

He took arguably the most dominant victory of the year in the feature race at Hungary, beating Pulcini by 10.5 seconds. Mazepin added two further wins in the reversed-grid races at Spa and Abu Dhabi.

While his racecraft was still too erratic at times, and mistakes such as the track limits infringements which cost him a home race pole were still evident, Mazepin was one of the most improved drivers of the year, and it will be interesting to see if he can continue this form with ART in F2 next year, alongside third-year title favourite Nyck de Vries.

13. Nyck de Vries

Up 8
F2 title bid with Prema?never materialised, but brilliant wins did

The championship was surely the objective for de Vries in his second Formula 2 season, especially driving for Prema, who won two drivers? championships on the bounce. Finishing fourth behind two rookies must be a disappointment. But still, he factored often through the year and notched up three wins.

He was involved in a bit of a spat with eventual champion George Russell at Baku, and more race-damaging contact occurred in Monaco. Once he started racing in the World Endurance Championship mid-season, his form took an upward swing. He won a frantic feature race in Hungary and followed that up by winning at ?home? in Belgium. But a late run at the title did not materialise.

Qualifying one of de Vries?s stronger weapons in his armoury, with two pole positions and several other impressive performances, but race performance was still disappointing at times, as strong as it was at others

The long-time McLaren protege has seen Lando Norris land a Formula 1 seat at the team and now Sergio Sette Camara also join the fold. The perfect response will be to beat the latter to next year’s F2 title, this time with another reigning champion team in ART.

12. Max Fewtrell

Up 18
Renault junior upped his game to claim Eurocup crown

Winning the Formula Renault Eurocup crown has given Fewtrell an impressive haul of three titles from as many years in single-seaters. And while consistency was crucial to his British F4 and Eurocup rookie successes (he scored just one outright podium last year), in 2018 he demonstrated his outright pace with six poles and six wins – more than anybody else.

An off-season switch from Tech 1 to R-ace GP gave Fewtrell a faster package, and three strong team-mates to work with: each won multiple races this year.

But in the championship race, Fewtrell was playing catch-up ever since being pushed off by his chief rivals Christian Lundgaard and Yifei Ye in the two races at Monza. A home win next time out at Silverstone was tempered by a retirement.

Off-key weekends in Monaco and at Spa hindered his fightback, but Fewtrell otherwise finished on the podium in every race on the run to the season finale.?That he won both races at Hockenheim and vaulted into a healthy championship lead was fortuitous given Lundgaard’s mechanical woes, but Fewtrell had put himself into position to capitalise. At Barcelona he could afford to play it safe and pick up a pair of fourth places to clinch the title.

Faced by the challenge of rookie Renault stable-mates, the pressure was on Fewtrell this year but he responded in perfect fashion. An even bigger challenge may now await in FIA F3, where he’s set to race for ART Grand Prix.

11. Patricio O’Ward

New entry
Won Indy Lights title on single-seater return before?stunning IndyCar debut

To take essentially a year out of single-seaters, then come back and win the Indy Lights title in awesome style is a feat you can’t imagine many drivers of being capable of doing.

The catch is of course that O?Ward was against a grid of seven usually, which undermines his own personal brilliance when it came to driving this year.

Although he started as a learner on Indy Lights tyre compounds at the beginning of the season, his learning curve was massive, and this helped propel him to his late season wins. More impressive was the fact those skills only took two stints to transfer successfully into IndyCar, where he stunned everybody on his debut and now has a full-time 2019 seat.

One of the top requirements in IndyCar is racecraft. O?Ward showed it in abundance, pressuring rival and Andretti team-mate Colton Herta when he had to, and picking the perfect moment to make a move as he did in the Portland finale.

In defence he was not only brilliant at fending off potential overtakes, but in the second half of the season was judging when to push so that Herta and co. took more out of their tyres in response.

The O?Ward/Herta dynamic worked brilliantly, with the pair pushing themselves and the team forward. On his IndyCar debut, O?Ward?s feedback and judgement belied his inexperience, and it’s all the more impressive that he is still only 19.

The question is: would a bigger grid have stunted O?Ward?s brilliance? Going off the scale that O?Ward pushed the Andretti package, there’s a convincing case to say he would’ve just upped his game if he had to.

It’s scary to think what the Mexican could be capable of in top IndyCar machinery.

The Formula Scout Top 50 has been compiled by Bethonie Waring, Craig Woollard, Elliot Wood, Peter Allen, Josh Suttill and Tim Lumb.

Click here to view the rest of the list