Each year, Formula Scout selects its top 50 junior single-seater drivers of the past 12 months. We begin this year’s countdown with drivers 50 to 41.
50. Richard Verschoor
TRS star who faltered in Eurocup but redeemed himself in GP3
Verschoor made an almost-perfect start to life after Red Bull in the Toyota Racing Series at the beginning of the year. He was the fastest driver, ahead of Ferrari-backed team-mates Robert Shwartzman and Marcus Armstrong, and scored twice as many wins (six) as those two did combined.
The category’s unconventional points system meant that a single retirement – the only one suffered by any of the top drivers – for a gearbox issue in the opening round prevented Verschoor from taking the title by just five points.
There were high hopes that the Dutch teenager could take that form back to the Formula Renault Eurocup, but an off-season switch to Josef Kaufmann Racing didn’t stop him from struggling just as badly as in 2017. A front-row start and second-place finish at the Red Bull Ring would prove to be a false dawn.
When the chance came to step up to GP3 with former team MP Motorsport, Verschoor took it with both hands and proved his quality. He scored points at Spa from a qualifying exclusion and was in the top 10 in both Monza races. His return to Sochi – where his strong Formula 4 debut had caught the eye of Helmut Marko – was superb: fourth in race one and third in race two.
49. Tadasuke Makino
Thrown in at the deep end in F2 but came out a winner
Stepping up to Formula 2 was never going to be easy for Honda junior Makino, with his prior European experience limited to a single, often difficult season in Formula 3. But he displayed promise from the start, qualifying eighth for his debut in Bahrain when veteran team-mate Artem Markelov struggled to 17th. The pair ended the year level on their head-to-head record.
More often than not in races, Makino was scrapping over the final points-paying positions, getting into them eight times out of 12 weekends, and learning vast amounts about tyre management.
He put those lessons into practice to pull off his stunning Monza feature race triumph from 14th on the grid. Clearly, there was an element of luck that the alternative strategy turned out to be the one to be on, but Makino was the only driver to capitalise on it, decisively working his way through the field in the early laps and then managing his pace perfectly in isolation.
Some might have dismissed it as a fluke, but it was another demonstration of the potential that has been on show ever since Makino dominated the start of the first Japanese F4 season.
It’s illogical that he won’t get the chance to use the experience gained during 2018 in a second F2 campaign next season. Hopefully he can use the home comforts of Super Formula to prove he’s a serious Formula 1 prospect.
48. Jehan Daruvala
Carlin’s leading man during European F3 struggle
On paper, this was a poor second season in F3 for Daruvala, who fell from sixth to 10th in the standings compared to 2017. But in contrast to its title-winning exploits with Lando Norris last year, this was a tough season for the Carlin team. All of its drivers struggled to some degree, but it was Daruvala who was consistently making the best of the situation.
There were three podium finishes from the first four rounds, and then came the Indian’s very impressive Spa weekend, where he won he first race from pole and then came third in race two from 12th on the grid.
At this stage he was fifth in the standings, within sight of the leaders and ahead of Juri Vips, Robert Shwartzman and Mick Schumacher.
Thereafter things became really difficult, but Daruvala was still frequently Carlin’s fastest driver even if there were a number of mistakes, perhaps the result of overdriving. His Macau showing was a disappointment, given how strong some of his team-mates were there, but he ended the year on a high on top of GP3 testing.
That’s a good sign going into the new FIA F3, for which Daruvala has grabbed the final Prema seat next to two Ferrari juniors. Proof that the farewell to Force India won’t be the end of the road for its long-term protege as a major player in the junior ranks.
47. Tom Gamble
Single-seater rookie showed promise in F3 before Award triumph
After winning the 2017 Ginetta Junior Championship, Gamble made the decision to skip F4 and move up to BRDC Formula 3 for his first full-season in single seaters.?It took the then 16-year-old just three races to finish on the podium, taking second in the final race at Oulton Park, while later on in April at a wet Rockingham he claimed his first race victory ahead of Linus Lundqvist.
That didn’t prove to be the beginning of a championship challenge for Gamble however. His disqualification from fourth place in the final Rockingham race due to a collision with Billy Monger was one of many incidents that cost him points.
It wasn?t until the second race of the Silverstone round in May that Gamble found his way onto the podium again, and he rounded off that weekend with a win. His first time at Spa was also a success, finishing in second place in races one and three after topping qualifying for the second time.
Eventually he finished fifth in the overall championship after finishing on the podium once more during the final weekend of the season at Silverstone. And if it wasn?t for a technical infringement in the second race of the Donington Park round taking away his second place finish, he could have been third in the standings.
The promise he’d shown was enough to get a place as a finalist in the McLaren Autosport BRDC Award, where he upstaged Formula Renault Eurocup champion Max Fewtrell and British F4 title winners Jamie Caroline and Kiern Jewiss to win after demonstrating his considerable talent behind the wheel in the Silverstone shootout.
- Scout Report: Tom Gamble?(October 20)
46. Leonardo Lorandi
Close to denying Prema and Fittipaldi in Italian F4
Lorandi carried over the consistent points scoring from his debut season in Italian Formula 4 and added race-winning pace this year. He had convincingly beat Enzo Fittipaldi to the 2017 rookie title, but an upturn in form for his rival meant it was Lorandi who played bridesmaid when it came to end of year honours.
The Italian stayed with Bhaitech, always an underdog against the might of Prema despite being reigning teams’ champion. Lorandi?s season started with three podiums in a row, and that run was ended by a sign of things to come when he and Fittipaldi collided in the first race at Paul Ricard.
Lorandi struck back at Monza, winning twice and taking the championship lead. An underpar Misano rounded handed the advantage back, but once again Lorandi showed resolve and made himself the man to beat at Imola, where a further two wins put him back on top in the standings.?At Vallelunga the top two again got into each other, and Fittipaldi narrowed Lorandi?s advantage at the top.
The title-deciding round at Mugello was what split the pair, as under pressure Fittipaldi was able to take pole for all three races, while Lorandi could only manage third, ninth and fourth. In the opening race they once more collided, with both failing to finish, although Lorandi came incredibly close to beating Fittipaldi to victory in the second. A wet final race with limited green flag running meant Lorandi struggled to progress up the order, and with dropped scores it meant he lost the title by 21 points.
A combination of small errors and moments prevented this being a title-winning season, but Lorandi deserves credit for taking the fight down to the wire.
45. Enzo Fittipaldi
Ferrari junior proved his worth with Italian F4 title
Ferrari Driver Academy member Enzo Fittipaldi took a large step forward in 2018 to become a key player in both Formula 4 championships he competed in.
After a relatively unremarkable rookie year focused mainly in the Italian F4 series, Fittipaldi was returning for a second year in both that and the German championship.?The Italian championship played host to his main success. The competition was mainly a battle between Fittipaldi and Leonardo Lorandi, with the pair swapping places at the top of the field for most of the year.
Though he was ultimately successful, clinching the title in the final round of the championship, it was a far from perfect year for the Prema driver. He retired from the opening race at Paul Ricard after collecting Lorandi, before a miserable weekend at Monza briefly dropped him to third in the championship standings.
He made up for that in Misano the following weekend, when he came the first driver in three years to claim a cleansweep of victories, putting him back into the championship fight and turning the season in his favour.
In a safety car riddled season finale, Fittipaldi kept calm under pressure to take another pair of victories to snatch the title.
Fittipaldi?s German campaign wasn?t quite as successful, ending third in the points, but he spent most of the season at the front of the field, taking at least a podium finish in all but one weekend across the course of the season.
While Fittipaldi?s results were impressive ? and likely a boost after a quiet first two seasons in car racing ? possibly more impressive was the improvement since 2017.
44. Sho Tsuboi
Broke F3 records in Japan then surprised at Macau
Breaking records can never be taken for granted, and Tsuboi?s efforts in Japanese F3 were nothing short of astonishing, despite the arguably low standard of his opposition.
A total of 17 wins out of 19 races has never been seen before in F3 history, and his 12-race winning spree is a feat also unmatched. Although most of these wins came by substantial margins, few came easy as Tsuboi had to handle the reality of typhoon season on more than one occasion.
Tsuboi also brought control of the championship back to TOM?s after new Motopark ally B-MAX Racing beat it to the 2017 title. Bar two occasions where team-mate Ritomo Miyata beat him, Tsuboi topped every qualifying session this season, and demonstrated his one-lap pace at the Macau Grand Prix.
He was one of the quickest out of the box on one of the most difficult circuits in the world, and this was despite his Toyota-powered car generally considered to be slower than his European rivals. Unfortunately he couldn’t put it all together when it counted, and was also unlucky to be involved in the terrifying race-halting crash with Sophia Floersch.
Tsuboi?s relationship with Toyota means he’s more likely to expand on his already successful sportscar career than go to the top in single-seaters, but he definitely has the talent to go further up the ladder.
43. Jake Hughes
Proved his class in Asia amid disappointing?GP3 return
His return to GP3 with ART Grand Prix didn’t go as expected, but Hughes still won a race, and demonstrated his true class in his F3 exploits in Asia.
The 24-year-old Englishman was the weak link in GP3?s top team, and if he was driving the best package in the championship then he should have really got more than three podiums. Admittedly each came in impressive style, rising from 13th to third in the second Barcelona race, but he was otherwise inconspicuous in the lower half of the points. That makes suggestions of factors outside of his control holding him back seem credible.?
Having finished fifth with Hitech GP in European F3 last year, Hughes was kept on by the team for the inaugural Asian F3 season, which he completed less than two thirds of due to his GP3 commitments. On tracks he’d never seen before and in the all-new Regional F3 car, Hughes swept the floor with nine wins out of nine. He was also unbeaten in qualifying, with his only blot being beaten to a fastest lap at Sepang.
His non-attendance in the series finale set up a tense title decider, with team-mate and fellow GP3 race-winner Raoul Hyman beating him by just two points in the final race.
Hughes returned to proper F3 machinery at Macau, and his smooth style made him a dark horse for victory after impressing in practice. He finished sixth on his 2016 debut, and improved to fourth this year, proving he’s a match for the best at this level.
42. Jack Aitken
Rookie F2 campaign began brightly
Staying with ART Grand Prix alongside George Russell for his move up from GP3 to F2, Aitken suffered some of the worst of the championship’s start issues and unreliability during the opening part of the season. His speed at that time was strong however, and he scored a couple of stand-out results after adapting quickly to the step up.
It was from a stall that he claimed a stunning second place in the Baku feature race, demonstrating great pace and racecraft to work his way up through the field. Next time out in Barcelona came victory in the sprint race, vaulting from third on the grid to lead before pulling away on a damp track. A first-lap mechanical failure denied him a third podium from as many rounds in the Monaco sprint race, having been among the strongest debutants around the principality.
The summer triple-header was tough for Aitken for a variety of different reasons, just as his team-mate hit top gear, but he bounced back well with a second place in qualifying at the Hungaroring that led to fourth in the wet-dry feature race. That promise couldn’t be replicated after the break however, with constant issues with the balance of the car compromising him in qualifying or the races, or both.
Renault’s test and reserve driver is now aiming to return to F2 next season to prove he’s better than this year’s points tally would suggest.
41. Alex Palou
Return to Europe led to no wins but some impressive drives
With his considerable experience at F3 level, it was perhaps disappointing that Palou did no better than ?best of the rest? in European F3 this year – down in seventh in the standings.
But what he lacked in Prema and Motopark-rivalling pace, the Hitech GP driver made up for in consistency and reliability. His seven podiums were obviously highlights of his season, but it was the points he was picking up when off the podium that enabled him to beat Ferrari-backed Prema driver Guan Yu Zhou and Carlin?s lead drivers in the standings.
The gulf between himself and sixth placed Prema driver Ralf Aron in the standings was certainly insurmountable due to the disparity in machinery, but Hitech were glad to have the Spaniard on board, including longtime admirer and team-mate Enaam Ahmed.
The Briton had the edge early on when the team was at its strongest, but while he was fighting for scraps at season’s end, Palou got on the podium in each of the last four rounds.
The Formula Scout Top 50 has been compiled by Bethonie Waring, Craig Woollard, Elliot Wood, Peter Allen, Josh Suttill and Tim Lumb.