Find out who makes the penultimate section of our list celebrating the best junior single-seater drivers of this year
20. David Vidales
New entry • Took Formula Renault double on stunning car racing debut
It was hard to find a more impressive single-seater debut in recent times than Vidales winning both races on his Formula Renault Eurocup bow at Imola. Especially when you consider that his switch from a planned Formula Regional Europe campaign came so late that he had already missed the first round of the season.
To some degree, the Spaniard lucked in by finding a berth with JD Motorsport, which looked super-strong on a track that rival teams hadn’t visited for many years. Team-mate William Alatalo scored his only two podiums of the season that weekend too.
But Vidales proved Imola was no fluke by scoring four more podiums over the following five races. They weren’t wins, but beating both Victor Martins and Caio Collet in a Eurocup race this year was a big ask for anyone, and he was the closest driver to them in the standings at the midway point.
Everything fell away a little bit for Vidales over the second half of the season. Nowhere was that clearer than on the return to Imola for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix weekend, when Vidales and JD didn’t get close to repeating their form from July. He got taken out at the first corner of the first race, then took Collet out on lap one of race two.
He was generally involved in a bit more contact than most, but that’s understandable for a driver who didn’t have a season or two of more frantic Formula 4 racing under his belt. More importantly, he impressed Prema enough to become its first FREC signing for 2021, making him a favourite for the newly-merged series.
How history is repeating itself for Spain’s Formula 1 hopefuls
19. Gianluca Petecof
New entry • Survived budget fears to claim Formula Regional Europe title
Even if Petecof had run out of budget mid-season as many feared, he still would have come fifth in FREC such was his early form. The results may have tailed off once that extra sponsorship was secured, but he still won the title and was the strongest of the full-time drivers on the grid.
All four of his wins came in the first nine races, and either by a small margin or a substantial one he was the driver to beat in the opening three rounds at Misano, Paul Ricard and the Red Bull Ring. Five poles in a row demonstrated his single-lap prowess, and his race pace was very strong too.
The racecraft that had made him such a tricky rival to beat wheel-to-wheel in F4 wasn’t as aggressive as it used to be, but he didn’t have to really use it until his Prema team stopped being the dominant force in FREC. At that point you do wonder if Petecof needed to bring back some of his Schumacher-style ability in combat, but what he’d toned down there had made him a more rounded driver more capable of picking up results.
It wasn’t until the second half of the season that he finished a race lower than fourth, and he was one of two drivers to score points in all 23 races. Once his highly-rated team-mate Arthur Leclerc tried to put his mark on the title, Petecof responded calmly to just pick up more points and reduce any advantage his fellow Ferrari junior had pulled out.
Inside the F3 title fight belonging to Ferrari’s F1 juniors
18. Franco Colapinto
Up 27 • F4 graduate came third in both TRS and Eurocup
Although he had a couple of outings while he was winning the Spanish F4 title in 2019, Colapinto could rightly be considered the best Regional F3 rookie in both the Toyota Racing Series and Formula Renault Eurocup this year.
Driving in TRS for Kiwi Motorsport with engineering backup from Eurocup squad MP Motorsport, Colapinto was a contender from the beginning, finishing second to Liam Lawson in the feature race at Highlands. His only win came from the front row of a reversed-grid encounter, where he had to fend off Lawson, but he went on to score six straight podiums over the final two rounds. Finishing third overall, he was closer to champion Igor Fraga’s points tally than he was to fourth-placed Yuki Tsunoda.
While his trip to New Zealand was supported by Toyota’s motorsport-mad Argentine division, the budget for the Eurocup was harder to come by, especially as he hadn’t secured a seat before the coronavirus pandemic took hold. But his management at Bullet got him onto the grid in time for the first race at Monza, and he won it.
He also came third in race two, but MP seemed to lack an experienced leader at times and the season was almost into its second half before Colapinto was back on the podium. But make the podium he did in each of the final six rounds, including a victory at Spa, and he was never outside the top four in the last three events.
Still only 17, Colapinto clearly has the talent to go a long way. He just needs the funding to match.
17. Nikita Mazepin
Re-entry (14th in ’18) • Big step forward in F2 made F1 move possible
Even before behaviour described by his 2021 team as “abhorrent” – which is not reflected in his position on this list – Mazepin was continuing his reputation as an ultra-aggressive driver who sometimes went too far beyond the limits.
So often he did this, he was approaching a race ban by the time his second and final Formula 2 season concluded. His defensive antics in the final round in Bahrain, in particular, did not go down well with the masses or the stewards.
He also fell foul of the first rule of motor racing at Mugello – don’t crash into your team-mate. Funnily enough, that came after a superb victory the previous day when he lead a Hitech GP one-two with Luca Ghiotto just behind.
For all of the on-track controversy and the criticism, there were some stellar performances from Mazepin in 2020. After a major loss of confidence in a miserable campaign with ART last year, it took him just three rounds to find his way onto the podium for the first time. The next race weekend, he was an F2 winner and in the title mix.
Those two wins in feature races, as well as two P2s in feature races and two P2s in sprint races, were the obvious highlights but Mazepin put in some fine drives that went somewhat under the radar too – eighth at Monza from the back and charging from midpack to sixth in Spain among such drives.
It is pretty clear why he was given the nod for Haas next year when more-deserving drivers are available, but he went and earned the superlicence he needs and did so rather emphatically in the end – not even requiring the generous handful of points he received for coming third in Asian F3 at the start of the year.
His strong year, however, has been entirely overshadowed by his behaviour away from the racetrack, and that will continue to be the case for quite a while yet.
16. Jonny Edgar
New entry • Won ADAC F4 title under considerable pressure
Taking up the plum Van Amersfoort Racing drive vacated by Dennis Hauger following a learning season in 2019 put the pressure on Red Bull junior Edgar to achieve transalpine F4 success this year, and he lived up to that expectation very well.
He laid down a marker with his double win in the opening ADAC round – after rookie team-mate Jak Crawford beat him in qualifying – and could have made it a hat-trick, as he was leading race three too before rain triggered a pitstop and then a red flag.
Edgar maintained his early points advantage for most of the season and duly claimed the title at the final round.
That’s simplifying things somewhat, because he actually had to overturn a deficit to Crawford in the very last race. But while he could easily be criticised for picking up costly damage in two fractional misjudgements while racing his rival in the final two rounds, he deserves enormous credit for the way he picked himself up and charged from seventh to second in the deciding race to grab the title.
But for the months lost to lockdown, which condensed the calendar and led to two date clashes, Edgar would have been able to fight for the Italian title too. As it was, he still came fourth and scored at a rate that would otherwise have made him runner-up.
15. Jak Crawford
New entry • Red Bull recruit shone in first season in Europe
For 15-year-old Crawford, his first season as a Red Bull junior and his first in Europe meant 10 months away from his native United States, living with his Van Amersfoort Racing team in the Netherlands all the way from March before the first lockdown hit until just before Christmas.
He certainly made the most of that time, pushing team-mate Edgar all the way to the final race in their fight for the ADAC F4 title, taking five wins there plus another two from non-clashing rounds of the Italian series.
Crawford came to Europe as well prepared as possible for a driver so young, with experience in both USF2000 and NACAM F4, but still had to learn a new car, new tracks and a different culture. But he wasted no time putting down a marker and claiming a double pole position for his European debut.
Understandably, there were some points lost and some missed opportunities to win early on. But in such an intense schedule, it was only a matter of weeks before Crawford found his stride. He impressively kept Edgar within sight and was in a position to capitalise when his rival tripped over him twice in the run-in.
Crawford might not have found a way forward in the crucial deciding race, but there were also many standout moments in races in Germany and also in Italy, where he fighting for wins on three out of his five appearances.
The potential is clear as he gets ready for an expected move to FIA F3 with Hitech for 2021 – with a finale in his home state of Texas to look forward to.
14. Gabriele Mini
New entry • Well-fancied karting graduate delivered Italian F4 crown
Mini’s karting pedigree, his Nicolas Todt patronage and his speed in early F4 tests made him the most eagerly-anticipated newcomer to single-seaters in 2020, and the first Italian to drive for Prema in six seasons of F4 justified his billing as he became the first native to be crowned Italian F4 champion.
A triple pole position on his debut at Misano maybe set the bar a little too high for what was to follow, as Mini was never dominant. But he was the championship’s only consistent frontrunner, putting a low-key second round at Imola to one side. On his return to the same circuit for the penultimate round three months later he achieved his best set of results: a win and two second-places enough to wrap up the title with a round to spare.
Mini also scored points in every race except one, when he was rear-ended from the lead at Monza, which is quite an achievement in such a hard-fought series made up of inexperienced drivers.
It’s that way in which the 15-year-old from Sicily managed his championship campaign so effortlessly, rather than his outright speed, which really stood out. Not that there was much wrong with his speed either, as he showed when he went to Germany and beat VAR’s Red Bull juniors at the first time of asking.
That there’s an expectation for Ferrari to sign Mini to its academy is understandable, but it’s safe to say that Maranello will be well aware of his talents. Todt is not one to rush his drivers more than is necessary, and a likely move up to Formula Regional next year with ART rather than with Mini’s compatriots at Prema will help to give him a more rounded experience as he climbs the ladder.
13. Caio Collet
Up 29 • Challenged a more experienced opponent for Formula Renault crown
Collet was in a fairly unenviable position this year: Tasked as a Renault junior with beating a driver who had been let go by the manufacturer because he finished second in the championship the year before.
In the end, he couldn’t do it, but there should be little shame in coming second to Victor Martins given that Collet is a year younger and a year less experienced.
His year didn’t exactly start well. He looked quick when the Toyota Racing Series began, but too many crashes took their toll and left him seventh in the standings. Then he was one of the Renault junior drivers forced to spend two weeks quarantined in a Tenerife hotel after a training camp.
Once the Eurocup season finally got underway, all of that was quickly forgotten about, and Collet took his opportunity to grab his first win at Monza and become the early championship leader.
In the middle of the season there was a run of five races in which Collet and Martins locked out the top two places. That Collet only won one of those hurt him in the championship, but the margin between the pair was usually much smaller than the one back to third place – most strikingly at Zandvoort.
Collet continued to challenge with his wins at Imola and Hockenheim, but he was thwarted by retirements through no fault of his own in the other races on those weekends. The resulting final margin of 44 points was unfair on Collet, who deserves to keep his Renault ties for a move up to FIA F3.
12. Liam Lawson
Up 8 • Made a valiant effort against Prema juggernaut in FIA F3
Given what some of his FIA F3 rivals were able to achieve as rookies in 2020, Lawson’s season might be considered disappointing, but that’s unfair upon reflection.
At Hitech GP’s home circuit of Silverstone, Lawson proved what he could do when he had the car underneath him, defending stoutly from Oscar Piastri to win race one on the first weekend and finishing third one week later. A week after that he beat Logan Sargeant to second in Barcelona.
He could conceivably have been leading the championship by then. In the Red Bull Ring double-header, Hitech struggled in qualifying on a circuit that’s kind to tyres, but on both weekends Lawson recovered well into the points in race one before fighting for victory in race two. After sealing the deal on the opening Sunday, a small misjudgement wiped himself and Jake Hughes out seven days later.
He should have scored strongly at the Hungaroring too: he went from 11th to fourth at the start of race one before his engine blew up, and was fighting his way from the back and towards the points in race two when it failed him again.
Lawson was very strong in wheel-to-wheel combat – perhaps too strong at times, which cost him points at Monza. It was another difficult qualifying at Mugello that ultimately cost him fourth in the final standings though, despite the salvaging of another Sunday win.
Fifth place didn’t reflect that he was a consistent threat to Prema while single-handedly leading the Hitech effort. After a year that had started with him conceding his Toyota Racing Series crown to Igor Fraga, the end result might have been enough for Lawson to receive the dreaded phonecall from Helmut Marko, but all things point to a deserved step up to F2 next year with Hitech, forming an all-Red Bull line-up with Juri Vips.
11. Frederik Vesti
Up 8 • Finished very strongly in FIA F3 after mid-season dip
Vesti went missing in the middle of the FIA F3 season, effectively ending his championship bid, but he finished the year so strongly that he scored more points on Saturdays than any other driver – even though one of his three wins only counted for half-points.
As he had feared following winter testing, qualifying would prove to be Vesti’s downfall – although a similar weakness didn’t stop team-mate Piastri winning the title. Slowest of the Prema trio in qualifying for round one at the Red Bull Ring, Vesti made gains a week later to claim pole, only for the race to be cut short by the weather.
He was unlucky to be taken out by contact in both Hungaroring races, costing him championship ground on what was Piastri’s strongest weekend. A technical problem at Barcelona – where he was already running outside of the points anyway – left him 60 points adrift of the lead going into the final triple-header.
Vesti’s race pace was stronger than anybody’s, but he was far less effective than Piastri at making up positions. Or at least that was the case until he arrived in Italy and won race one at Monza from ninth on the grid, then at Mugello from third. By this point, he was undoubtedly Prema’s strongest driver – it just came a little too late.
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.