The third part of our look at this year’s best junior single-seater drivers continues with those placed from 30 to 21.
30. Victor Martins
Renault-backed rookie won twice in Eurocup
After winning the world junior karting title in 2016 and coming close to the French F4 crown last year, Martins came into the Formula Renault Eurocup as a newly-recruited member of the Renault Sport Academy and showed good progress to become a two-time winner in the middle of the season.
Despite his inexperience – he only started competing regularly in karting at 13 – big things were expected of Martins after some strong showings in winter testing with R-ace GP. His start to the season was solid, with a run of five straight top-six finishes. Then came a very impressive weekend in Monaco, where he came third in both races.
He continued his upward curve over the next two rounds, winning at both the Red Bull Ring and at Spa-Francorchamps. These victories were paired with a ninth place and a retirement, but he was nonetheless an increasing force in the title race and ahead of eventual champion Max Fewtrell at the time.
Unfortunately, his form dropped off again thereafter, with only two further podiums over the final eight races, separated by a string of three straight retirements. His pole for the Barcelona finale, where he beat title-fighting Renault academy stable-mates Fewtrell and Christian Lundgaard in a straight fight, offered a strong reminder of his potential, which he’ll take to MP Motorsport for the new-look Eurocup in 2019.
“The season went quite well,” Martins told Formula Scout. “We had some bad luck at the end of the season with three DNFs in a row, which I think was really bad for the championship. The main point is I learnt a lot with the team and about myself and we showed some really good pace in races and in qualifying, so I think it’s a positive season for me.”
29. Lirim Zendeli
Dominated ADAC F4 for Ralf Schumacher’s team
After he won four of the five opening races, there was little doubt over who would win this year?s ADAC Formula 4 title, such was the dominance Liam Zendeli was able to display from the very start of 2018 with US Racing.
He eventually won 10 of the 24 races, as well as eight of the 14 pole positions, and he wrapped up the title with a round to spare, with his 114-winning points margin the biggest the series has seen.
With two years of prior experience in the series, where he’d already shown his promise, and one of the championship’s fastest cars underneath him, his performance level was arguably just as strong as it should have been. Star rookie Liam Lawson was able to match his speed for the majority of the season, too, but Zendeli had far better consistency and ultimately comfortably took the title.
His performances are set to earn him a graduation to the new FIA F3 series with Charouz, which was affiliated with US Racing in F4 this year through Zendeli’s team-mate of the past two years Tom Beckhauser.
28. Caio Collet
Todt protege had the edge over a strong French F4 field
French F4’s first season with an FIA-specification car attracted a strong grid of talent, but one driver always stood out above the rest.
Simply being a protege of Nicolas Todt – the manager behind Felipe Massa, Jules Bianchi and Charles Leclerc – made Collet notable, but he added to his reputation over the early weeks of 2018, firstly by winning in the United Arab Emirates F4 series and then by claiming the revived Winfield Racing School scholarship.
When the French F4 season got underway at Nogaro on Easter weekend, Collet had to make do with a trio of podiums as the returning Ugo de Wilde, talented Adam Eteki and Leclerc’s brother Arthur took the wins. But Collet shone on the streets of Pau, winning twice, albeit chased home by Leclerc in the opener.
Collet didn’t immediately kick on at Spa, but he gradually took command, with one win at Dijon followed by two at Magny-Cours and two more at Jerez to seal the title with a round to spare.
A move into the Formula Renault Eurocup appears to be on the cards for 2019, potentially as part of the Renault Sport Academy having received an offer to join as part of his prize.
27. Kiern Jewiss
British F4 champion excited fans, and F1 teams
Jewiss was one of the most exciting discoveries of the year, as the Ginetta Junior graduate took the British F4 title in his first season in single-seaters.
Carlin?s withdrawal from F4 this year meant Double R Racing driver Jewiss may have had it easier than it would’ve been, especially with rival Ayrton Simmons driving for the underfancied JHR Developments team. The pair’s rivalry was one of the most volatile of the season.?Stewards were involved on several occasions, and despite the clashes and one short-lived disqualification, Jewiss only retired from one race.
His eventual 71-point winning margin was massive, and he had a knack of picking up any kind of result regardless of circumstance, frequently achieved by utilising the confidence in his overtaking ability, best demonstrated in maiden win from the last row of the grid at Donington. He proved his superiority over the subsequent rounds at Thruxton, Oulton Park and Croft, and did enough over the second half of the year even though he didn’t win again until the title was secured.
His talent was enough to convince the Ferrari Driver Academy to invite him to an evaluation camp, and for the McLaren Autosport BRDC Award to lower its age limit to encompass him, even though he ultimately lost out to former Ginetta rival Tom Gamble.
- Scout Report: Kiern Jewiss (August 15)
- British F4 season review: How another potential superstar Brit was crowned (November 29)
26. Ralf Aron
Re-entry (30th in ’16)
Pau Grand Prix winner and outside title threat in European F3
Under the eye of Marko Asmer, Estonia?s Aron continued his upward trajectory in 2018. He returned to Prema ? the team in which he debuted in European Formula 3 in 2016 ? and made his mark immediately by winning the Pau Grand Prix (unfortunately for him only a half-points race after being cut short by rain).
Two further victories came at Zandvoort, and a fourth of the season in the rain at Misano. At this stage, he was still in the championship picture, 2.5 points behind Mick Schumacher, but faded as the balance of performance at Prema swung away from him.
Sixth in a third F3 season doesn?t appear particularly impressive, but what Aron showed frequently through the year was a lot of speed and, despite never qualifying on pole, an ability to take victories. Only Schumacher had more race wins throughout the season.?His year was capped off with a solid run to sixth at the Macau Grand Prix, ahead of the European champion.
Aron has tested in Formula 2, which would be a logical step, as well as Super Formula.
- Estonia: The underdog that keeps on achieving (November 13)
25. Enaam Ahmed
First year on the European stage was a qualified success
After his dominant BRDC British F3 title success in 2017, even Ahmed himself was expecting the jump up to the European series this year to be a tough one.
He was therefore as surprised as anyone by his stunning start to the season, where he first claimed pole position and a second place in the Pau Grand Prix (on his first time on a street circuit) before a fine double win at the Hungaroring to give him the championship lead.
Hitech driver Ahmed also looked strong in round three at the Norisring, where he was unlucky to lose a second place finish and the championship lead due to a penalty.
A shocking weekend followed at Zandvoort followed after a big practice crash, and things proved much more difficult from there onwards, as Hitech lost the edge it found in pre-season, but there were still highlights such as a third and two fourths at home at Silverstone.
“I think we had a really strong car in the beginning of the year,” he told Formula Scout. “We were there on the pace, I was beating my team-mates. The second half of the year was more of a struggle: I was new to a lot of the tracks and as a team we didn’t have as much pace.
“But even at the Red Bull Ring when we weren’t quick enough to be in the top 10, I still outqualified my team-mate [Alex Palou]. Qualifying-wise, I was always there and I didn’t expect that because he’s much more experienced than me. In the consistency in the races, he’s had a little more than me which is why he’s beaten me in the championship.”
Ninth in the final standings was indeed unrepresentative of the impression that Ahmed made in his first season against such strong competition. He’ll look to build upon that in FIA F3 next year, when he seems likely to remain with Hitech.
24. Logan Sargeant
American earned his stripes with full-time Eurocup move
In a talent-packed Eurocup grid, Sargeant was one of several who belied their rookie status and was frequently fighting at the front. There is lots to shout about regarding his performances, albeit with some asterisks.
Without a doubt Sargeant had the best car on the grid with R-ace GP, and in reigning rookie champion Fewtrell had the best team-mate to learn from. And as part of the same management stable, he could get closer to Fewtrell than anyone else.?He also competed in some Formula Renault races last year, alongside testing, which gave him valuable experience but also a wave of confidence that he essentially rode from the second half of 2017.
But Sargeant made the most of these advantages. He won the Paul Ricard season opener, and repeated that triumph twice. Only Fewtrell and Lundgaard won more.
He was second-best in R-ace GP?s strong quartet, and only at Hockenheim did Fewtrell appear to have a sizeable margin as number one. And as for qualifying, it?s difficult to look past Sargeant as the best across the season, with a disadvantageous group slot meaning the eight times he topped his qualifying session only converted itself into two poles.
Although a distant fourth in the standings may not be as meritous as rookie champion Lundgaard?s runner-up spot, it’s a result that nonetheless confirms his status as America’s greatest prospect in Europe.
“It?s been up and down. I?d say it was a solid 8/10. I proved what I could do,” Sargeant told Formula Scout.?“Honestly this season we were hoping to just get one win, let alone three. I?ve had eight group poles, and have really got a lot better towards the end of the season. We?ve been banging out good results. I?m really happy and really proud of the team and myself.”
23. Antonio Fuoco
Re-entry (15th in ’16)
After Leclerc battering, led F2 newcomer Charouz to victory
Fuoco was effectively the ?best of the rest? in this year?s Formula 2 championship behind the six main contenders. His upturn in form at the end of 2017 following his early-season crushing by his champion team-mate Charles Leclerc was continued with a stellar season with series debutant Charouz Racing System.
The Italian’s one-lap speed is still his weakest area, but his racecraft meant he was often able to recover from poor grid positions, taking four feature race podiums – the most impressive of which was his third place in the first race at the Red Bull Ring, which concluded with a stunning last-lap pass on ex-F1 driver Roberto Merhi.
The 22-year-old also made the most of the reverse-grid pole position to win the sprint race at Monaco, perhaps fortuitously after being penalised for putting compatriot Luca Ghiotto in the wall at the start of the feature race. He ended the year with a dominant victory at Abu Dhabi, capping off a much-improved second year in F2.
The Ferrari junior also secured a test and reserve driver with Dragon in Formula E, suggesting his time in single-seaters may not be over, despite his absence from the post-season F2 test.
22. Colton Herta
Missed out on Indy Lights title but got full-time IndyCar ride
In a depleted Indy Lights field, Herta had the embarrassing status of being the first loser. His season was no failure though, enhancing his already glowing reputation, becoming the first diver since Alex Lloyd in 2007 to win four races in a row, making his IndyCar debut and securing a full-time drive there for 2019.
The 18-year-old could have won the title, and it?s easy to count the small errors that contributed to the points deficit to championship-winning Andretti team-mate Patricio O?Ward.
In the opening round at St. Petersburg, Herta crashed out while leading, costing him at least 17 points. Two podiums at Barber brought him closer to O?Ward, and four brilliantly-executed wins at Indianapolis and Road America, including the Freedom 100, put Herta 17 points ahead by the season?s midpoint.
As O?Ward mastered the Cooper tyres, something Herta had got a handle on earlier than his rival, the momentum switched sides within Andretti.
In Toronto qualifying, Herta took pole but crashed, fracturing his left thumb. This mistake made his job thereon considerably more difficult, and his weak grip meant he crashed again in the first Toronto race. In the second race of the double-header he chose to start-and-park, reducing the risk of further injury. It was an additional 11 points lost.
At Mid-Ohio he drove brilliantly, but spent the weekend stuck on O?Ward?s gearbox, and although he convincingly beat him at Gateway, his team-mate was taking it easy.
The season finale took place at Portland, with O?Ward securing the title in race one after Herta left just enough room at Turn 1 for his team-mate to dive down to take victory. It was a rough move, but better positioning by Herta would have prevented it happening. He lost the title by 44 points, and probably threw away 33.
21. Yifei Ye
Re-entry (50th in ’16)
Challenged Renault juniors for Eurocup title
The level-headed Chinese protege of Neel Jani started the year with record-breaking pace in Eurocup pre-season testing for Josef Kaufmann Racing, and put in some top class performances, especially on a personal level, through the first half of the season.
He was on the podium in five of the first six races, including his first win at Monza, and lost a second win there after clashing with Max Fewtrell in the next race. This was a much improved Ye, and even at Monaco, his weakest circuit, he still took two fourth places and was better than rivals Fewtrell and Christian Lundgaard.
A poor qualifying performance at the Red Bull Ring put him on the back foot there, but he demonstrated his true pace with fastest lap, and led the standings at the season?s halfway point. He had another three-race run on the podium after that, the only driver to achieve that twice, including a second win at the Hungaroring.
Once again he let himself down in qualifying for the second Hungaroring race. On a track where overtaking isn?t common, he not only cost himself points, but the championship lead too.
Fewtrell upped his game at this point, but Ye still had the pace to stick with him. A failed overtake on the eventual champion put him down in seventh at the Nurburgring, where once again fine margins in qualifying then bit him for the second race. Another sixth place put him third in the standings.
Fewtrell got the better of Hockenheim specialist Ye in the penultimate round, but at the all-important Barcelona title decider JKR and Ye were off the pace entirely, a sad end to a deeply impressive season leading essentially a one-man team in a highly competitive field. No wonder Formula 1 teams have been calling.
The Formula Scout Top 50 has been compiled by Bethonie Waring, Craig Woollard, Elliot Wood, Peter Allen, Josh Suttill and Tim Lumb.