Home Featured Formula Scout Top 50 Drivers of 2019: 30-21

Formula Scout Top 50 Drivers of 2019: 30-21

by Formula Scout
Several F1 junior drivers feature in part three of our look at the year’s best performers in junior single-seater racing

30. Mick Schumacher

Down 23
Managed a win in an otherwise difficult rookie F2 campaign

Schumacher’s first Formula 2 campaign was, on the whole, poor for a driver stepping up as European Formula 3 champion.

It started well enough, with eighth in the first race in Bahrain. But he would do no better than that in a feature race all year.

That was despite a pretty strong qualifying record: he had the ninth best average over the season, and only failed to make the top 10 at Silverstone and Sochi. That outright speed, which included being second to Callum Ilott (by 0.007s) in his qualifying group in Monaco and fourth at the Hungaroring, was in itself respectable, especially in a Prema team that lacked a proven top driver at this level to push it on.

Schumacher’s weekends were frequently ruined in feature races, with a series of incidents – some his fault, others not like being taken out by team-mate Sean Gelael in France – as well as mechanical troubles.

While, like all rookies, he said he found the tyres hard to get used to, he often looked good in this regard, especially in Austria: after a pit-lane start, he raced with the leaders in the feature race and even unlapped himself, and in the sprint race he charged from 18th to fourth. In Hungary, he turned his one other eighth-place feature race finish into a sprint race win, keeping Nobuharu Matsushita at bay.

Of course, a slightly lacklustre rookie season from Schumacher is nothing new. He did similar in both Formula 4 and F3, before making a big improvement in his sophomore year.

Beneath the surface, there were positive signs that he’ll be capable of a similar feat in F2 in 2020, when he’ll be under more pressure than ever as one of five Ferrari juniors on the grid.

29. Jake Hughes

Up 14
Helped HWA to be a force in its first F3 season

Now a veteran of F3 and GP3, Hughes was hired by HWA to lead its first team entry in junior single-seaters in the new FIA F3.

He ensured that the outfit made an almost immediate impact by claiming pole position at the second round of the season at Paul Ricard. In the race, he battled the Prema drivers for the podium, but crashed out after tangling with Marcus Armstrong.

Fortunately for Hughes, he got another chance at a top result next time out in Austria, this time benefitting when Armstrong and Robert Shwartzman collided to take the race two win.

His best performance of the year came at the Hungaroring, where he defied the supposed lack of overtaking opportunities to race from seventh to third in the opener, and from sixth to third in race two, making fine late moves on Juri Vips both times.

A fourth and final podium came in race two at Monza, and Hughes was again a frontrunner on HWA’s Macau Grand Prix debut before being caught in the first-lap qualifying race hold-up.

With HWA moving into F2 full-time in 2020, Hughes would have deserved the opportunity to finally make the step up too, but the seats went to Artem Markelov and Giuliano Alesi instead.

28. Pedro Piquet

Up 12
Went one better as GP3 became FIA F3

With the influx of talent as GP3 became FIA F3, Piquet’s decision to stay at that level for another year could have backfired, but he stepped up impressively and held his own to finish fifth – effectively best of the rest behind the four title contenders.

And whereas in GP3 his two victories and total of four podiums had come with the benefit of reversed grids, this year he raised his game at the start of a weekend, mostly notably winning race one at Spa-Francorchamps.

He was strong in this regard from round two at Paul Ricard, where he qualified fourth, held off Juri Vips to come third in race one and then came through to finish second in race two to Robert Shwartzman, defeating another of the major contenders in Jehan Daruvala.?It was the same names that he was simply able to pull away from when he won at Spa.

He finished up one point ahead of Christian Lundgaard in their fight for fifth in the standings, and might have been further clear without a few missed opportunities from top three grid spots on Sundays: he spun at the first corner in Austria, and his failure to find a way past Liam Lawson at Silverstone ultimately led him to be spun around by Daruvala, but it was a late mechanical issue that stopped him out of third place in Sochi.

After effectively six years racing F3 cars in Brazil and Europe, F2 with Charouz will be a big step up for Piquet next year, but one that this second-generation racer has more than earned by being a regular frontrunner in such a strong field.

27. Kyle Kirkwood

Up 12
Notched up yet another title in Indy Pro 2000

Only eight drivers this century have won four titles in their first five years in single-seaters, and the one driver whose achievements trump those of Kirkwood is McLaren F1 driver Lando Norris.

It didn’t always appear that that was going to be the case, as Kirkwood’s Indy Pro 2000 campaign with RP Motorsport had a tough start. The team was off the pace in the St. Petersburg season opener, but Kirkwood came away with a podium.

Kirkwood’s usual pace was clear from round two on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course, where a penalty and a broken wing prevented him from winning but he still charged through for another podium. He struggled at the Lucas Oil Raceway oval, and collided with a team-mate in Toronto, but otherwise was on the top step of the podium until the Laguna Seca title decider.

Highlights included dominating at his favoured Mid-Ohio circuit, charging from the back to win at the Gateway oval, and taking the points lead in the penultimate round at Portland International Raceway. A ninth win of 2019 in race one at Laguna Seca meant he only needed to start race two to be champion – just as well as he was eliminated after two corners and Rasmus Lindh won to finish just two points shy.

RP also ran Kirkwood in the Euroformula Open season finale, where he impressed massively and was sixth in his second race.

Further reading
How Kyle Kirkwood conquered the Road to Indy once again

26. Max Fewtrell

Down 14
Austrian performance the highlight of rookie F3 campaign

Fewtrell’s first season in F3 was tough going, but there were many days where the 2018 Formula Renault Eurocup champion gave a good account of himself.

Though he was generally outshone by team-mate and fellow Renault junior Christian Lundgaard, his deficit was not as great as it seems on first glance. Both usually had the beating of the more experienced David Beckmann, but with ART Grand Prix struggling for consistent performance across every circuit, Fewtrell was often left mired in the midfield.

His standout weekend was the Red Bull Ring, a circuit that was also a happy hunting ground in both his Eurocup campaigns. He’d already qualified ahead of Lundgaard before the Dane’s bizarre exclusion, and having secured second on the grid between Marcus Armstrong and Juri Vips, he proceeded to battle the two proven F3 heavyweights throughout the race, keeping Vips in reach as he finished second. A fourth place followed in race two.

The next round at Silverstone was a disappointment, having topped practice at home, but he took another second place at the Hungaroring behind Lundgaard, extracting the most out of ART’s strongest performance.

From there, the end to Fewtrell’s year was hard to watch as he slumped from sixth to 10th in the standings and scored just two points, especially in the context of Anthoine Hubert’s fatal crash at Spa, which hit him and the other Renault juniors hard.

A move to Hitech GP before Macau didn’t bring an immediate upturn in fortunes, but he could be a strong contender with the team next year if he can repeat performances like Austria.

25. Theo Pourchaire

New entry
Claimed ADAC F4 title a month after 16th birthday

Following his French F4 Junior title, Sauber signed Pourchaire to its ADAC F4 team and the Frenchman beat juniors from Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, Red Bull, SMP Racing and Venturi to win the German title.

Though he didn’t turn 16 until there were only two rounds remaining, Pourchaire was the most level-headed of the four Sauber juniors being run by US Racing, and his podium tally of 12 (the same amount as team-mates Arthur Leclerc and Roman Stanek combined) was testament to that.

Despite not really standing out at first, Pourchaire was in the championship lead by the end of the second round of seven, and then settled into a groove where he was usually the fastest man in the field (or at least the one who made the most of qualifying).

The weekend where he really made his title ambitions known wasn’t until the second half of the season, where he inherited one win after bad luck for Hauger, then was sublime in the wet to win another at the Nurburgring.

Bad luck at Hockenheim, in even greater proportions than rival Dennis Hauger usually received, meant he had the lowest scoring weekend of any of the top five drivers and his once handsome 68-point lead was reduced to a single point.

Pourchaire rebounded with three podiums in the season finale, the first time he’d achieved such a feat, and the title win. A jump up to FIA F3 looks most likely for 2020, possibly with ART.

Further reading
Scout Report: Sauber’s ADAC Formula 4 juniors

24. Nobuharu Matsushita

Re-entry (38th in 2017)
Took two fine feature race wins on F2 return

After a year back home in Japan in Super Formula, Matsushita returned to F2 with the hope of securing a superlicence to move up to F1 with Honda’s support. Sixth overall was not enough to succeed in that regard, but it was a respectable season nonetheless, and his most impressive to-date.

The move came with the not-insignificant disadvantage of being new to the F2 2018 car, but he didn’t let that hold him back for long, claiming pole for round two in Baku, although a mechanical issue soon stopped him in the race, and he had a fiery exit in Spain too.

He took second to Nyck de Vries in the Monaco feature race, and got the better of the eventual champion to win in Austria with a superior display of tyre management. That was Carlin’s first F2 win since Lando Norris triumphed in the 2018 season opener, and he would add another feature race victory at Monza, as well as a second place in Abu Dhabi.

With Yuki Tsunoda set to take his place as Honda’s focus in F2, the 26-year-old looks set for another return to Japan for 2020.

23. Marino Sato

New entry
Won Euroformula Open title with unexpected ease

Risk adversity is an uncommon thing to say about a racing driver, but a point of application led to former FIA European F3 backmarker Sato becoming a dominant EF Open champion.

Sato was set for a third European F3 season before his Motopark team switched championships, and similar switches elsewhere led to arguably the strongest EF Open grid in the championship’s 18-year history.

The Taki Inoue protege’s first win came in race two of the season opener, but it did little on its own to dispel his previous reputation. His second win, a lights-to-flag success at Hockenheim, came from his first pole and fastest lap and put him in the points lead.

There was no looking back from there, unless it meant cutting the risk factor, and there were six successive wins before Sato skipped the Silverstone round to make his F2 debut with Campos Racing. He gelled well with that car, but not the tyres, and after a quietly impressive first full race weekend at Monza, his performances tailed off.

Returning to EF Open was a tricky task, especially when his first race back was in near zero visibility, but Sato wrapped up the title with ease at Barcelona and added another win in a slipstream fest at Monza. His season highlights were when he upped the risk factor, whether it be in his stunning Spa pole lap, his Hungaroring starts or his Monza overtakes.

Further reading
How to win a F3 title: Marino Sato breaks down his breakout year

22. Yuki Tsunoda

New entry
Honda and Red Bull protege shone in first European season

Three F4 campaigns in Japan as a Honda junior culminated in claiming the manufacturer’s first FIA F4 title there, and Tsunoda’s reward was a dual campaign in FIA F3 and EF Open with Jenzer Motorsport and Motopark respectively, complete with a place on the Red Bull Junior Team.

His European debut in EF Open began with a second place finish and a crash with team-mate Liam Lawson. His FIA F3 debut was even better, with two top 10 finishes in an even higher quality field.

The strong results continued in both series, with EF Open initially the more successful of the two. Tsunoda took a win at Hockenheim and three fastest laps, the latter coming in an incredible charge from 10th to third at Monza.

His racecraft at the Italian circuit had already been proven in FIA F3, where he took his first race one podium from sixth on the grid, and brushed off a clash with Jake Hughes and pressure from several drivers on a drying track to win a thrilling race two.

That capped some remarkable progress with a Jenzer team that lacked any experience among its drivers, with Tsunoda at first struggling in qualifying and then charging towards the points, before he qualified third at Spa and took second in race two.

Swapping between the two championships and their different cars proved as much of a hindrance as it was a help in terms of experience. It was clear he was still learning when it came to his Macau debut with Hitech, which he finished in 11th after a number of incidents. If he does step up to F2 next year, he’ll be in at the deep end once again.

Further reading
Scout Report: Yuki Tsunoda

21. Dennis Hauger

New entry
F4’s fastest driver was Italian champion and narrowly beaten in Germany?

A heavy dose of bad luck was the only thing that stopped Hauger becoming the first driver to win both the ADAC and Italian F4 titles this year, and he should have scored in excess of 20 wins.

When Hauger was at his best, he was often struck down by mechanical problems or penalties, and it was only in the second half of the Italian season that he had an uninterrupted run, and ended up winning eight of the last 10 races.

Some of these wins were a case of keeping his head cool while others didn’t, but on occasion he could be brilliantly dominant.

This was the problem in Germany, where from the off he couldn’t get a break. He topped qualifying for the season opener but had to start from 11th. He climbed to third, but he spun in race two and clashed with Gianluca Petecof in a race three charge.

He was denied a double win at the Red Bull Ring by a penalty, and finished race three down in 21st due to damage. Being on the wrong side of a tyre gamble, and Petecof, led to further misery at Zandvoort. A piece of debris caused his car to shut down while leading at the Nurburgring, putting him 68 points behind Pourchaire. Total domination of four of the last six races brought him one point short of the title before penalties were applied to rivals.

F4 regulations delayed Hauger’s F3 debut, and in his two EF Open races at Silverstone he qualified third and finished fifth. A combination of more EF Open and FIA F3 could be on the cards for 2020.

Click here to view the rest of the 2019 Top 50