Home Features Formula Scout Top 50 Drivers of 2018: 40-31

Formula Scout Top 50 Drivers of 2018: 40-31

by Formula Scout
Our countdown of this year’s best junior single-seater racers continues with drivers 40 to 31.

40. Pedro Piquet

Re-entry (49th in ’14)
Finally came good in Europe in race-winning GP3 season

After two middling seasons in European Formula 3, Piquet delivered a stellar rookie GP3 campaign in 2018, scoring more points than any other driver across the reversed-grid races.

He outpointed his Trident team-mate Giuliano Alesi, who had two years of prior GP3 experience, to finish the year sixth in the drivers? championship.

His impressive racecraft was demonstrated throughout the season, such as his excellent win at Monza, where he triumphed over Alesi in a race-long battle. He had earlier won the sprint race at Silverstone, getting the better of polesitter Alesi off the line, and holding the lead all the way to the chequered flag.

A feature race podium eluded him, hindered by a relatively poor qualifying record, and proving his class without the help of a reversed-grid will surely be his main aim next year when he seems set to stay on in the new FIA F3 rather than stepping up to Formula 2.

39. Kyle Kirkwood

New entry
Unstoppable in USF2000 and F3 Americas

Twenty-five race wins in a single year is a very impressive number. What is more impressive is that came from just 29 race starts. That is what Kyle Kirkwood achieved off the back of winning the United States Formula 4 championship in 2017.

However, the elephant in the room must be addressed ? the grid size for Formula 3 Americas was shockingly low. Kirkwood got the job done, but against grids as high as six and as low as four never reads particularly well.?That is not Kirkwood?s fault, of course. It also should not undermine the potential showed this year, because he showed a lot of it in USF2000.

Few drivers achieve a perfect season, and Kirkwood came rather close to it. Ten wins from 12 is an exceptional record for any driver in their first year. To add to that, Kirkwood did it with single-car entrant Cape Motorsports.

There are obvious benefits and drawbacks to running a one-car team, but to be able to nail weekends so close to perfect so consistently reflects very well on both team and driver. Only Alex Baron, who is more experienced on the Road to Indy ladder, looked close to taking the fight to Kirkwood before he left the series.

The newly-rebranded Indy Pro 2000 series is the next step for Kirkwood. After a strong 2018, he will be looking to make it four championships in three years.

38. Luca Ghiotto

Down 23
Strong drives lead to more F2 podiums

A switch to Campos Racing for his third season in Formula 2 did no favours for Ghiotto. The team had a best finish of seventh last year, and although the new car combined with Ghiotto’s experience and ability presented the opportunity for a fresh start, the package ultimately wasn’t strong enough to win.

Ghiotto scored from the off in Bahrain, immediately bettering Campos?s 2017 season with a sixth place in the sprint race. That was followed by an embarrassing crash at Baku, but he returned to form at Barcelona, finishing fourth and fifth. That pace continued into Monaco, but he was crashed out of the feature race. In the sprint he recovered to 10th place from the back of the grid.

The peak of his season came at Paul Ricard, where he qualified in the top five (while his team-mate was at the back), fought back from a first-lap spin to take a feature race podium and then repeated that result in the sprint.

There were two more podium appearances, at the Hungaroring and Yas Marina, but as the mechanical gremlins of the new F2 car were ironed out, the deficiencies of the Campos car became more evident, and Ghiotto only had one other top five finish in the second half of the season.

He still seemed to make the most of his machinery, including the near victory in Hungary and use of the alternate strategy to go from 16th to third in Abu Dhabi, and was in the points consistently enough to end eighth in the standings, but will hope for better when he returns to Virtuosi in 2019.

37. Dorian Boccolacci

Up 4
Impressed in GP3 to earn an F2 chance

Boccolacci began the year in GP3 with series debutant MP Motorsport, who took little time in getting up to speed. He won the main race at the second round at Paul Ricard, beating eventual champion Anthoine Hubert and becoming at the time only the second non-ART Grand Prix driver to win a feature race in the past 18 months.

However, Boccolacci was stripped of the home victory after he and team-mate Niko Kari failed to provide an adequate fuel sample at the end of the race. As with his misfortune-filled 2017, Boccolacci?s points tally was once again skewed and unrepresentative of his talent.

He eventually got the victory he deserved, in the Hungarian reversed-grid race, before earning promotion to Formula 2 with MP for the final four rounds of the season.

MP?s 2018 F2 season was curtailed with a multitude of reliability issues, with Boccolacci enduring a torrid run of issues at Spa and Monza. The most painful of which came in the feature race at Monza, where he was one of only two other drivers on the same far superior race strategy as eventual race winner Tadasuke Makino, until he was forced to retire.

He showed his class in the sprint race, charging from the back of the grid to finish in seventh. He also fought to score a solitary point in race two in Sochi.

36. Sacha Fenestraz

Down 31
More street circuit success bookends tough rookie F3 campaign

There were high hopes for Fenestraz in his first season in F3, but a largely tough campaign led to him losing his place on the Renault junior stable after just one year.

The 2017 Formula Renault Eurocup champion more than proved his talent though, starting off by taking victory during the season-opening European F3 round at ‘home’ in Pau. The tricky French street circuit rewards bravery, and Fenestraz looked like he had adapted to F3 already, having had just two weekends of experience prior.

But it proved to be a false dawn, as when the championship headed to the more representative permanent circuits, Fenestraz and his Carlin team floundered.

He didn?t see another top five finish until the second half of the season, even sinking to the depths of a pointless weekend at Zandvoort as team-mate Nikita Troitskiy won a race. But at Silverstone, where Carlin has always enjoyed something of a home advantage, Fenestraz looked like he was back at his best, taking a pole, two second places and enjoying some thrilling side-to-side racing with Dan Ticktum.

At the time he said a breakthrough had been made, and explained to Formula Scout that he could drive a F3 car just as well as anyone, but had been encountering tyre management issues. The Silverstone weekend was another anomaly though, because he could do no better than seventh after that, and finished 11th in the standings.

His second trip to Macau provided another timely reminder of his skill, enhancing his already superb street circuit record.?He qualified third fastest and also finishing the grand prix in third.

It initially looked like he?d be racing in the new FIA F3 championship for 2019, but it appears Japan is now his more likely destination.

35. Rinus VeeKay

New entry
Dutchman flew to Pro Mazda title

After a very strong first year in the United States and first year in cars, VeeKay continued to make waves in 2018.

With Juncos Racing, the title should have been the objective despite VeeKay?s relative inexperience. He delivered, in some style after hitting form at the perfect time of the season.

Wins came on the streets of Toronto, the undulating Mid-Ohio and on Gateway?s fast short oval in rapid succession. This run of form gave him a healthy advantage in the championship against Parker Thompson, who failed to make the rostrum in the five races VeeKay won successively.

He also won the opening pair of races at St. Petersburg, but that was not how he started his year. He rounded off the MRF Challenge season with four podiums (including a win) at Chennai.

With the two dominant drivers in Indy Lights off to IndyCar for 2019, VeeKay has a strong chance of making a good name for himself in the level directly below the main series. And keeping on the books of Ricardo Juncos is no bad thing as he continues to build his eponymous IndyCar team.

34. Guan Yu Zhou

New entry
Took a step forward in final F3 season

After two winless seasons, Ferrari Driver Academy member Zhou came into European F3 this year and won straight out of the box at Pau: the most challenging circuit on the calendar.

He narrowly lost out on a first pole just prior, and after taking the lead at the start had to endure a chaotic race before taking victory. It looked like he?d returned to the ?old Zhou? in the remaining Pau races though, failing to score in both after a poor second qualifying session.

His improved form stuck after Pau, with second place at the Hungaroring, a fourth at the Norisring, three podiums and his first pole at Zandvoort, and another pole at Spa-Francorchamps. As his Prema team-mates got faster, Zhou?s own performances faltered, but his stagnating points tally was more a result of bad luck in races. The variety of clashes he was involved in was unrepresentative of Zhou?s reputation as a clean racer.

At Spa he left pointless due to a puncture and then two clashes with team-mate Mick Schumacher. He was denied a strong result by another tyre failure at Silverstone, and then hit other team-mate Marcus Armstrong in the wet at Misano.

The decline in his performance was clearest at the Red Bull Ring, where he scraped two points as team-mates Mick Schumacher and Robert Shwartzman dominated, but he responded in perfect style by taking win, pole and fastest lap in race one of the Hockenheim season finale.

He was never title-winning material, but the Chinese driver?s progress was evident when he was the top Prema driver in qualifying at Macau, and fastest Mercedes-Benz powered entrant, and was fifth in the qualifying race until a final lap crash.

That resulted in a charge from 24th to 12th in the grand prix itself, and a conflicting end to 2018 for the Chinese driver, who?ll be racing in F2 next year.

33. Lorenzo Colombo

New entry
Rookie shines against Eurocup’s big teams

Italian F4 graduate Colombo showed promise from his first drive in a Formula Renault at the end of 2017, and made good on that with strong performances throughout the 2018 Eurocup while driving for a lesser-fancied team in JD Motorsport.

Close to the podium on his debut at Paul Ricard, he then excelled at his local circuit of Monza with a pair of podiums, and had led the second race from pole position.

Frustratingly for Colombo, that was the closest he would get to a win. But he was an almost constant threat, who scored a top-four finish at seven of the 10 circuits and claimed his second pole at an eighth. He ended the year a highly-commendable sixth overall.

?I was hoping for a top three finish for this year,” he told Formula Scout. “But it?s really hard to race against these teams because they have good drivers and they already know how the car setup is, they tested more, so I was really recovering session by session.

“I?m pretty happy with the work I?ve done with the team, because we worked a bit harder in the winter tests and in the end I think it paid off for making a good setup. It was just that we didn?t put everything together, so that?s why I?m here and not in the top three.?

Eyeing a step up for 2019, Colombo tested GP3 in Abu Dhabi last month, but could return to the Formula Renault Eurocup, where he should become an even stronger contender.

32. Liam Lawson

New entry
Young Kiwi starred in ADAC F4, then stunned on his Asian F3 debut

Lawson is without doubt one of the drivers to watch for 2019, and the Kiwi made his mark in Formula 4 and 3 this year.

After impressing massively in the Mazda Road to Indy Shootout at the end of 2017, Lawson switched from Australian to ADAC Formula 4 with Van Amersfoort Racing.

The 16-year-old Kiwi starred immediately, finishing on the podium in his first race in Europe. This was followed by two 17th place finishes, but he was on the podium in eight of the next 11 races.?His first win came at the Laustizring, where many of his rivals fell due to fluid on the track. He followed that up with a second place and another win, from seventh on the grid, to complete one of the most accomplished weekends seen in F4 this year.

At the Red Bull Ring he took his third win of the season and continued to close on veteran Lirim Zendeli at the top of the standings. It would prove to be his last victory however, with a puncture in the German Grand Prix support event and off-key Nurburgring weekend ending his title hopes, before he took two poles and two podiums in the Hockenheim finale to clinch second in the standings.

Last month Lawson made his Formula 3 debut in Asia with Pinnacle Motorsport, which also supported B-MAX Racing’s entry, and put established stars from Formula Renault Eurocup, GP3 and F3 to shame. Admittedly a new tyre compound for the round meant his rookie status was less of a disadvantage, but over three races he had a combined victory advantage of 35.582 seconds. With a performance so dominant, it wouldn?t be surprising if he does the same in the Toyota Racing Series next January.

31. Linus Lundqvist

New entry
Beat Carlin to the British F3 title

The Swede only needed one weekend of preparation in 2017 before taking on BRDC British F3 this year and winning the title on his first attempt.

He didn?t necessarily have the best car through the whole season, but he maximised what he had more often than anyone else, and as a result was on the top step of the podium on seven occasions. His points advantage at the top of the standings come the end of the season equated to over two races worth.

What marks Lundqvist down is the standard of his opposition, which mostly had shown little in single-seaters to suggest they could challenge Lundqvist to the title. One of them, Nicolai Kjaergaard, did just that though, and Lundqvist only ended up securing the title in the final weekend of the year, when it arguably would?ve been won earlier were it not for a nightmare penultimate round of the season at Donington Park.

Although he wasn?t the greatest qualifier, Lundqvist made up for it with exemplary racecraft, only retiring once, and going 16 races before ending a race outside of the top eight despite the championship introducing fully reversed grids. At Spa-Francorchamps, a track he got crucial experience of in his 2017 cameo, he took two wins, the only driver to achieve the feat this year.

Lundqvist?s versatility is one of his strengths, having driven three very different types of cars in the last three years, and he?s won a 2019 Daytona 24 Hours drive in a Lamborghini. A previous iteration of that reward was won by another British F3 champion, Felipe Nasr, and helped pushed him on to a career in F1 and sportscars.

A similarly as impressive job off the back of a British F3 title might be what Lundqvist needs to show he can perform on the international stage, ahead of a likely FIA F3 campaign.

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