Home Featured Formula Scout Top 50 Drivers of 2020: 10-1

Formula Scout Top 50 Drivers of 2020: 10-1

by Formula Scout
Presenting the final part of our countdown: The top 10 junior single-seater racers of 2020 according to the Formula Scout writers

10. Victor Martins

Up 7 • Led returning ART to Formula Renault Eurocup glory 

It’s a credit to Martins that he comes out of 2020 with his reputation enhanced. Some of the thanks can also go to Oscar Piastri for winning the FIA Formula 3 title a year after he had pipped Martins to the Formula Renault Eurocup title by 7.5 points. That just made it even clearer that Martins should have been on the F3 grid too.

Unwilling to make that happen, Renault dropped Martins from its academy, leaving him to spend a third season in the Eurocup. The chance to do so came with ART Grand Prix, which was returning to Formula Renault and whose bosses had already been guiding his career for some time.

Things didn’t start brilliantly, but Martins found a particularly devastating run of form in the middle of the season, taking six wins in eight races. Rival Caio Collet was usually not far behind, and suffered some awful luck near the end of the season especially, but Martins had the edge overall.

When he had the pace Martins usually made the most of it, and when he didn’t he was very good at keeping his nose clean. After finishing 10th in the first race at Monza (after contact from Franco Colapinto), he never finished outside the top five for the rest of the season, and only once outside of the top four.

While the team’s engineers knew what they were doing, Martins was also key to ART’s instant success – his two team-mates made just three podium visits between them over the season.

His reward ought to be a place in the team’s F3 line-up for 2021, but it remains to be seen whether anyone can make the sums add up.

9. Logan Sargeant

Up 41 • F3 qualifying king just fell short in title fight

The highest-placed American driver on this list was given the tools to do something special against such a stacked field. For a while, it looked as if he was on course to do just that.

Sargeant was perhaps a little bit under the radar coming into the season compared to his less experienced (but title-winning) Prema team-mates but an excellent run of form – namely in qualifying with three successive pole positions – meant he became the driver to beat.

In the end, he was beaten – and even beaten into second by this year’s breakout F3 star. But the speed he showed and run he put in justifies a spot in this top 10. It is easy to forget just how well Sargeant was performing earlier in the season.

One race one win and race two win looks somewhat lacklustre given Sargeant’s outright speed and the fact that he was with the all-conquering Prema. But his performances were a little better across the board than that, even if he was perhaps only fourth or fifth-best when it came to the races.

He was showing very good racecraft – an area where he had been criticised previously – at Monza before crashing into team-mate Frederik Vesti, and also at Mugello after a difficult qualifying and a grid penalty for his infraction at Monza.

Ultimately, the title slipped away through no fault of his in the decider, but the speed he showed in the space of just 11 weeks of racing was impressive regardless.

8. Felipe Drugovich

Re-entry (17th in ’18) • F2’s surprise package took three wins in rookie campaign

Although there were little doubts over Drugovich’s talents, considering his demolition of the 2018 Euroformula Open field and part in the 2017 ADAC F4 title fight, few people expected him to be challenging for wins in his maiden F2 campaign – particularly with a team that had only ever won two sprint races since it joined the second tier in 2013.

Not only did Drugovich challenge for and win races, but he also dominated them too – right from his debut weekend at the Red Bull Ring when he converted reversed-grid pole position into a comfortable first F2 victory.

Having already qualified on the front row on debut, he proved he wasn’t just a driver who could only bag good results in sprint races when he took pole position during the second Silverstone weekend. He felt he should have won the Barcelona feature race which went instead to his MP Motorsport team-mate Nobuharu Matsushita, but he did go on to win the sprint race.

Spa marked his lowest point of the year as he and Matsushita collided at Blanchimont, another contributing factor towards unrest within the team that threatened to derail Drugovich’s solid rookie year.

Drugovich firmly put his season back on track with a fourth-place finish in a crazy Mugello race, and he earned his first-ever feature race victory in the first race in Bahrain. This led to praise from F2 rival Callum Ilott, who called on F1 teams to watch him closely. 

He took third-place one week later to secure ninth in the drivers’ championship, and he was confirmed as Ilott’s replacement at Virtuosi for 2021. Based on the evidence of his stellar rookie F2 year, Drugovich has to be among the title favourites next year.

7. Christian Lundgaard

Up 1 • Renault junior was a rapid title threat as F2 rookie

Renault may have felt underwhelmed at the end of Lundgaard’s 2020 season, but his final championship position of seventh belies how strong a force he was for most of his rookie F2 campaign. After all, he was sitting third in the title race with three rounds to go.

It was at the fast, flowing circuits where Lundgaard impressed the most. At Silverstone – a track he was previously keen to express his dislike for – he notched up a brace of second places across the two weekends. At Spa he recovered exceptionally to gain 10 spots in the sprint race. At Monza he took a superb double podium that went under the radar. And at Mugello he was outstanding, taking pole position, controlling the feature race until a safety car compromised his strategy and taking a dominant sprint race victory.

These were all outstanding drives, and that doesn’t even cover his sprint race win in the second Red Bull Ring round where he brilliantly hounded Dan Ticktum for the win.

Lundgaard was a regular feature in scraps at the front, was entirely on top of the highly-rated Marcus Armstrong in the same team, became Renault’s de facto top junior prospect and remained in the title hunt in F2 with just a few races remaining.

Not a bad year for someone who was locked up in a hotel earlier in the year and missed pre-season testing…

6. Robert Shwartzman

Down 5 • Won more F2 races than anyone else even as title bid faded

Last year’s number one pick ends up sixth on our list this year after a less consistent and generally less impressive F2 year than his title-winning FIA F3 campaign in 2019. However, that’s not to say Shwartzman wasn’t brilliant at times in 2020.

He began with a solid opening weekend and followed that up with a maiden F2 win in only his third attempt, and in horrendously tricky weather conditions. Then he won the Hungarian feature race by over 15 seconds as he made the most of an alternative strategy.

It can’t be forgotten that these early victories came off the back of personal tragedy following the death of Shwartzman’s father in April.

At this point in the season, it seemed likely that he could repeat his 2019 feat of winning the title in his rookie campaign. However, this soon unravelled as Prema and Shwartzman’s pace dipped across the two Silverstone rounds. This was compounded by his team-mate Schumacher wiping him out of victory contention of the second sprint race.

Qualifying was a struggle, with Shwartzman’s only front-row start coming at Barcelona, and he converted this into a second-place finish which turned out to be his final feature race rostrum appearance of the year. He comfortably won the Spa sprint race after Roy Nissany and Dan Ticktum collided and he enjoyed another smooth run to victory in the Bahrain sprint race.

The 21-year-old Russian often had the measure of his more experienced team-mate and looked at one stage like he could leapfrog Schumacher into F1. His title charge and 2021 F1 chances quickly diminished, but he’ll be a force next year even with a talented new team-mate alongside him…

5. Oscar Piastri

Up 11 • Excellent racecraft was key to becoming FIA F3 champion

Coming off the back of a narrow title-winning campaign in Formula Renault Eurocup and being with the obvious team to beat,  Piastri took a methodical approach to the FIA F3 title that paid off handsomely. It was very similar to the approach a driver with a much more famous surname took in a higher-up championship with the same result.

It certainly wasn’t in qualifying where Piastri made his mark – not placing higher than third all year – and it’s not as if he went out and won more races than anybody on his way to the title.

All in all, there was very little that massively stood out about the Renault junior’s year. But that is somewhat paradoxical as it is probably what helped him to take the crown.

Well-documented DRS issues aside, Piastri had his fair share of poor luck this year. But he kept his head down and delivered the points when it mattered the most, and he played the points game masterfully in a frantic 18-race duel with friend Logan Sargeant and ART’s Theo Pourchaire that lasted just 11 weekends.

If it was done with more style or more ease, Piastri would be higher on this list. But, in the grander scheme of things, is that what matters? Three points or 30? A title is still a title, after all.

He was very fortunate to win on debut in Austria after contact on the opening lap, but his win from fifth in Spain was masterful. A stellar double podium in Hungary and an exemplary recovery drive at Monza were also two absolute highlights.

4. Theo Pourchaire

Up 21 • Nearly snatched FIA F3 title after mastering step up from F4

No leap seems too big for Pourchaire after a hugely impressive rookie FIA F3 campaign in 2020. He struggled throughout this debut weekend, but it only took him a week to recover and he claimed his maiden FIA F3 victory in just his fourth race.

Although he benefitted from a collision between Jake Hughes and Liam Lawson, he took the win in style and he then made it back-to-back victories by winning the first Hungaroring race in tricky conditions.

The first of four races at Silverstone would be the last time he wouldn’t finish in the points before he went on 11-race scoring streak that propelled him into championship contention.

While title rivals Logan Sargeant and Oscar Piastri were busy tripping up at Monza, Pourchaire was simply mesmerising. Before becoming one of nine drivers hit with a penalty, he stormed to his maiden FIA F3 pole by almost half a second. In the races, he took a pair of second-place finishes – one via the gravel trap – which showcased his box-office racecraft.

Pourchaire was able to blow open a two-driver title fight and two third-place finishes at Mugello left him just three points shy of the crown.

He completed destroyed his two ART Grand Prix team-mates, fellow rookie Alexander Smolyar and the returning Sebastian Fernandez – both capable of brilliance on their day but made to look average by Pourchaire’s excellence.

He’s earned a well-deserved promotion to F2 with ART GP next year, which will provide the biggest leap of his career so far. He’s shown he’s more than capable of overcoming experience deficits and his two race weekends of F2 experience with HWA Racelab should lay a solid foundation for another impressive rookie season.

3. Callum Ilott

Up 15 • F2 runner-up was the fastest driver in a competitive field

When all things are considered, Ilott was arguably the fastest driver of all in junior single-seater racing in 2020 – especially across one lap.

Flair and flamboyance was paralleled by frustration and fumbles in an intense fight that should otherwise have gone the way of this particular Ferrari junior.

In qualifying sessions in F2 this year, Ilott’s speed was usually magnificent, sometimes mesmerising, occasionally utterly devastating. His five poles in 2020 equals that of the previous two champions, and the gap he had with the Virtuosi package was sometimes several tenths – a term that doesn’t sound a lot but is meteoric in junior single-seater racing.

His race drives were often exquisite too. His charges from the very back at Silverstone and Monza after stalls were among some of the finest drives across junior racing in 2020, and his dominant victory in the second Silverstone round was brilliant. He can’t be faulted in his inherited victories in Austria and at Monza too – he was in the right place at the right time.

But vital errors really hurt his title bid after he was the self-confessed favourite early in the season. Spinning away a strong result on one particular occasion, contact with other cars, and an off-par weekend at Spa massively dented his hopes. Good positions were also wasted when his tyres faded or a safety car compromised his strategy.

When on form, Ilott is simply unbeatable and a delight to watch, and his talent warrants more than just a test role in F1 – as good an opportunity as that is when it comes with Scuderia Ferrari. But these weekends were not frequent enough this year to win the F2 title – or to appear any higher in this list.

2. Mick Schumacher

Up 28 • F2 championship success earned eagerly-anticipated F1 drive

For the second successive year, the F2 champion has to settle for second on our list, and once again that’s not meant as any disservice to an incredible title-winning campaign. Let’s not forget, Schumacher and Prema endured a miserable 2019 together, amassing just 53 points together and falling well short of expectations.

Disappointment seemed to follow them into the early stages of the 2020 season, as Schumacher skated off the road and out of second place in the first race of the season. His fire extinguisher then denied him a podium in the second sprint race and an unexpected strategy twist cost him a probable victory at the Hungaroring. That weekend did mark Schumacher out as one of the title challengers, but by no means the favourite.

Things went from bad to worse at Silverstone as he collided with his Prema team-mate Shwartzman, an incident he immediately apologised for to his Prema team. He survived a wobble at Barcelona to come away with his fourth podium of the year – but the win still eluded him.

The third triple-header would cement Schumacher as both the title favourite and in prime position for F1 graduation. He took a double podium at Spa and followed it up with an all-important maiden feature race victory in the Monza feature race.

Schumacher couldn’t have timed the win any better, one day after he binned his car in the gravel in qualifying, and with his main title rival Ilott stalling in the pits whilst battling with him for the win.

This win was impressive but his Sochi feature race win a few weeks later was the clear highpoint of the season. It was a victory which left Schumacher in prime position ahead of the final two rounds in Bahrain. It also marked his fourth double podium of the year – the most for a GP2/F2 champion since Stoffel Vandoorne in 2015.

He showed his supreme race management and defensive skills in the first Bahrain weekend as he limited the points lost to Ilott, even though he lacked the pace he showed in previous weekends like Monza and Sochi.

His title-clinching weekend was messy but he did what was necessary to claim the F2 crown ahead of his well-deserved step up to F1 next year.

As impressive a job as Schumacher had done to put himself in that comfortable position, he was undoubtedly helped by Ilott suffering a similarly poor final weekend. He made lightning-quick race starts all season, which helped to compensate for his (and Prema’s) lack of qualifying speed.

It was an expertly managed title campaign, where Schumacher made mistakes but recovered well to minimise the points lost and delivered when it mattered most.

1. Yuki Tsunoda

Up 21 • Red Bull-Honda protege landed F1 drive with spectacular rookie F2 campaign 

Top F2 rookie, third overall in just his second year of European racing and a step up to Formula 1 with AlphaTauri. It’s not been a bad year for Yuki Tsunoda.

It’s that inexperience that made the Honda and Red Bull protege’s season look quite so special. The progress he has shown in the past 20 months or so has been utterly outstanding, and he was the driver to beat in each F2 race as the season came to a conclusion. He only came 15 points shy of taking the crown in such a strong field, with a Carlin outfit that was perhaps not the strongest against the likes of Prema and Virtuosi.

His season started appallingly too by committing the cardinal sin of motor racing and slamming into the back of team-mate Jehan Daruvala in the very first race. Perhaps more costly was his spin in Bahrain 1 qualifying. But every F2 driver had their fair share of mistakes this year, with cars that were more difficult to handle and the most bizarre calendar anyone could anticipate.

A win should have come early in the year as he superbly swam in abysmal conditions in Austria only to be denied by radio issues. He rectified that by inheriting victory as the Prema pair collided at Silverstone. A further win came at Spa after forcing Nikita Mazepin over the limit of what was considered acceptable defence.

Bahrain was exceptional too – he charged from last to sixth in the feature race on the GP loop, should have fought for the sprint win if not for a puncture, and put in the best weekend performance of the whole season on the outer loop with pole, feature win and second in the sprint behind Daruvala.

Excellent in attack, brilliant in defence, outstanding in qualifying, devastating race pace and an upward trajectory that doesn’t seem to be halting any time soon are all qualities that will really put him in a good position to be the top rookie in F1 with AlphaTauri next year and, quite possibly in the future, Japan’s best F1 driver of all time.

The Formula Scout Top 50 Drivers of 2020 has been compiled by Bethonie Waring, Craig Woollard, Elliot Wood, Josh Suttill and Peter Allen. Click here to view the rest of the list.

The team discusses the debates and the decisions behind the Top 50 in the latest episode of the Formula Scout podcast.  You can listen to the podcast here, and also find it on Breaker, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Pocket Casts, RadioPublic, Castbox, Apple Podcasts and Spotify.