Kicking off our 10th annual countdown of the junior single-seater drivers whose performances have impressed our writers the most over the year
50. Hunter Yeany
New entry • New American star emerged by winning US F4 title
There was a range of experience on the United States Formula 4 grid this year, but in the dry and the wet it was usually Velocity Racing Development’s rookie Hunter Yeany who was quickest once the cars went racing.
He started his year in two of the USA’s F4 winter series, and he claimed a pole and three wins from his two rounds of warm-up action with VRD. A title campaign in the country’s FIA championship looked on the cards.
The season began with six podiums in a row, four of which were wins and one which ended up being a non-championship result due to the shortness of the race. After one anomalous sixth place, he was then on the podium again for the next eight races – including a triple win at Sebring.
Such was his dominance, against a field that was big on numbers but perhaps lacking in depth, that he was able to skip the season finale. The title had already been won, and he instead moved up to Formula Regional Americas.
His debut weekend in Regional Formula 3 machinery at Circuit of the Americas was impressive in a 13-car field also varying in quality, as he picked up an eighth, a sixth and then a fourth place that was earned through an audacious overtake on three cars at once. He will be title favourite in the series next year unless a proven F3 star from Europe turns up. Incredibly, Yeany – whose goal is Formula 1 – is still only 15 years old.
49. Louis Foster
New entry • F3 rookie won in British championship and on Euroformula debut
Just like in British Formula 4 the year before, Foster kept himself in title contention all the way through to the final round in BRDC British Formula 3, and the rookie once again looked ready to head up to the next step by season’s end – which he did in Euroformula.
That’s not to say he mastered the challenges of British F3, as he could have scored more in reversed-grid races with a bit more aggression at the wheel, but there’s a solid reason why Foster got better the bigger the car he was in.
“My expectations were quite high,” Foster told Formula Scout. “I know with my style of driving that as I go up through cars that have got more aerodynamics or more aero grip, I tend to do better in them just because of how I drive. I was expecting top three at least [in F3].”
The Double R Racing driver came just short of that goal. His tally of wins and poles was bettered only by the champion, but his total number of podium visits was lacking and he pointed to “a few ‘mares” in the middle of the season that led to that.
However it was actually Foster’s late-season form, after debuting in Euroformula, that formed a podiumless run. Getting his brain around the change in speeds seemed to work brilliantly one way – he took victory in just his second Euroformula race and made the podium again during his seven starts – but didn’t help when moving to slower machinery.
48. Christian Rasmussen
New entry • Unbeaten streak set up USF2000 title success
Rasmussen is the first driver in almost a decade not driving for Cape Motorsports to clinch the USF2000 crown. The Jay Howard protege was invincible in the first chunk of his second season – taking six wins on the bounce – at this level. Already third in the 2019 standings, budget limited him to returning in search of the scholarship on offer to the champion.
A mid-season wobble allowed others – namely Reece Gold and Eduardo Barrichello, son of Rubens – to close in to within striking distance. He admitted to Formula Scout after wrapping up the title that he needed this wake-up call. Set-up issues at Indianapolis and mistakes at Mid-Ohio cost him much of his advantage, which was slashed to just three points over Gold at one stage.
He rebounded strongly, however, and was still able to wrap up the championship with a round to spare with a near-perfect weekend in a rain-affected round at New Jersey.
Where he lands for 2021 in Indy Pro 2000 exactly remains unclear, but he will likely enter into a strong field as one of the favourites for the title.
47. Alexander Smolyar
Down 16 • Should have had a win (or two) as FIA F3 rookie
SMP Racing-backed Smolyar’s rookie FIA Formula 3 season was somewhat overshadowed by his ART Grand Prix team-mate Theo Pourchaire’s stunning maiden F3 campaign. However, his season could have ended up very differently had he not been nerfed out of the first race at the Hungaroring, which Pourchaire went on to win.
Smolyar took his maiden FIA F3 pole in horrendously wet conditions, and had confidence in ART’s race pace, but an out-of-control Logan Sargeant swept him out of the race at Turn 1 on the opening lap. The Russian responded the following weekend to take his maiden win in the reverse-grid race at Silverstone, only for the stewards to strip him of victory due to his excessive defence. It was arguably a harsh judgement, given other recent precedents.
The lost win seemed to knock Smolyar’s confidence and he wouldn’t return to the points until three rounds later at Spa-Francorchamps, where he came back to form with a pair of fourth-place finishes. He followed that up with arguably his best drive of the season as he charged from 20th to third in the second race at Monza. He capped off his year with his fourth double points finish at Mugello.
The Formula Renault Eurocup graduate’s season pails in comparison to the lofty heights set by his ART GP team-mate, but Smolyar still deserves some credit for a solid rookie year that should have yielded a couple of victories and will provide a solid foundation should he return to the series in 2021.
46. Clement Novalak
Down 12 • Delivered Carlin its first podiums in FIA F3
The 2019 BRDC British F3 champion Novalak was Carlin’s leading light in a far more fruitful second year in the FIA F3 Championship. Carlin amassed just 14 points in 2019 but Novalak ensured the British outfit tripled that points tally in 2020 and earned Carlin’s first two podiums in the championship.
He scored all but one of Carlin’s 46 points this year and his team-mates were hardly lacking in quality, with the likes of Leonardo Pulcini, Ben Barnicoat, Enaah Ahmed and David Schumacher all taking turns in the third Carlin entry.
Novalak’s season started strongly with a well-earned podium in the second race at the Red Bull Ring. He was the first to benefit from F3 reversing the top 10 – instead of top eight – finishers from the first race, but he held his own against three experienced series returnees to secure third place and his and Carlin’s maiden FIA F3 podium finish.
He returned to the podium with a commanding drive to third place in the second Silverstone race, but arguably his best drive came in the first race at Barcelona. He qualified in an excellent sixth place and converted that into fourth place in the race.
He struggled across the final triple-header, with the lowlight of his season coming at Monza when he had incidents with both of the championship protagonists in successive races. This – along with an underwhelming Mugello weekend – ended what was an otherwise impressive rookie FIA F3 season on a sour note.
The solid post-season testing pace he showed with Trident shows he could be a strong contender in 2021, but he has also been linked to a dual programme in Formula 2 with the team now that the two championships will run separate calendars.
45. Jehan Daruvala
Down 40 • Ended tough F2 campaign with victory
A broken knee hampered him before the Formula 2 season, a faulty engine and subsequent loss of confidence held him back during it, and now we wait on Red Bull’s Dr Helmut Marko to see if Daruvala will have to deal with any further shocks before 2021.
The Indian rookie set the pace in pre-season testing at Bahrain, but it wasn’t until the paddock returned to the circuit for its season-ending back-to-back rounds in the desert that he got to demonstrate that pace again. He claimed his first podium in the feature race on the Grand Prix layout, then led the way impressively in the title decider on the Outer loop. Unsurprisingly the focus was on the drivers behind.
It’s hard to say if Daruvala’s sixth season in cars was his strongest – he made the most of being at Prema in FIA F3 last year – but it definitely showed improvements on areas he was weak at in 2019. This included qualifying, where he was fifth fastest on average, and his tyre management skills.
The introduction of 18-inch rims to F2 did give the rookies an equal playing field, and Carlin team-mate Yuki Tsunoda (a fellow rookie and Red Bull junior) made great use of that. So while Daruvala did do a good job as a rookie, to score only 40% of what Tsunoda did from race results alone did not make it look so. Experience should count for more in 2021, and if he remains at Carlin as expected then his end-of-year form suggests a title challenge is possible.
44. Lorenzo Colombo
Up 2 • Salvaged difficult Eurocup return with late hat-trick
If there was any justice, Colombo should already have graduated from the Formula Renault Eurocup before he returned for his third season in the category in 2020. Without the funds to move up he instead reunited with Bhaitech, a team he knew well from his Italian F4 days.
Colombo’s season started in a bleak fashion at his home circuit of Monza, with a 13th place and a non-finish, and things hardly improved in round two at Imola. It was actually when team and driver left their homeland that their form picked up, with second place in the next race at the Nurburgring – although that was something of a false dawn for the middle part of the season.
By late October, his year seemed to just be getting worse when he was forced to miss the Spa-Francorchamps races because a routine COVID-19 test had caused him serious nose bleeds.
Perhaps now at peace with his misfortune, Colombo was a much-improved force when he returned, beginning with pole position for the first of the Formula 1 support races at Imola – although a first-lap trip through the gravel meant he finished the race in third.
He saved his best for last though, winning the second race at Hockenheim from pole and then dominating at Paul Ricard for the second year in succession. Over the last three rounds, he went from eighth to fifth in the standings and provided a reminder of his quality, and can surely take at least some of the credit for turning the Bhaitech package into a winning one by the end of the season.
43. Igor Fraga
Down 8 • TRS title earned Red Bull status, before FIA F3 struggle
Igor Fraga’s 2020 was more up-then-down rather than up-and-down. The Brazilian defeated defending Toyota Racing Series champion Liam Lawson to the crown to kick off the year in style. His championship-winning campaign was aided by his knowledge of the Regional F3 car, but it was still impressive considering he’d never raced on any of the New Zealand circuits.
This led to Fraga earning Red Bull junior driver status as he prepared for his maiden FIA F3 campaign with Charouz Racing System. He began the season with a spirited charge from last on the grid (30th) to 16th, but he had to wait until the second Silverstone round to earn his first point of the season.
Fraga earned Charouz’s best qualifying result of the year at Monza with a seventh-place (post-penalties for nine drivers), and he overtook championship contender Logan Sargeant to move into sixth place in the early stages of the race before technical issues dropped him to 24th.
He was also wiped out of the Hungarian reverse-grid race earlier in the season by eventual race winner Bent Viscaal whilst he was running in a points-paying position. It was a move which cost Viscaal his maiden FIA F3 victory and Fraga some valuable points.
It’s telling that all three of Charouz’s original line-up left the team before the final round, and Fraga deserved better than the measly one point he picked up. While an early debut with Hitech GP was denied at Mugello, he can hope for much better with the team in 2021.
42. Ayumu Iwasa
New entry • Honda junior came to Europe and won French F4 title
Honda only backed two drivers in F4 this year, having usually supported several in the Japanese championship in the past, and both of them ended up racing in France. One was reigning Japanese F4 champion Ren Sato, and the other was Suzuka Racing School Formula champion Ayumu Iwasa.
The hot money was on Sato being the stronger of the pair in Europe, with rookie Sami Meguetounif tipped as the leading French prospect on home soil. Instead it was Iwasa who ended up as the standout driver of the field, winning nine races and claiming six poles on the way to the title. Some of those victories were commanding lights-to-flag successes, while others required him to pass cars to get to the front.
Of the 14 races where the grid was set by the qualifying order, Iwasa was only off the podium once, and his worst result of sixth place came in a reversed-grid race. And that was a result that wasn’t limited by pace, just by Iwasa spending too long fussing with Frenchman Isack Hadjar (the best non-Honda junior across 2020) for position on the shortened version of Paul Ricard.
While Iwasa’s Honda backing will prevent him from becoming a Formula 1 junior with Renault like his predecessors as French F4 champions, rumours swirl that he may instead join Red Bull’s books for 2021.
41. Zak O’Sullivan
New entry • Came agonisingly close to British F4 crown as single-seater rookie
Tipped as many people’s favourite for the 2020 British Formula 4 crown, O’Sullivan entered his first year in single-seaters with high expectations on his shoulders. Though he didn’t quite have enough to take the title in the end, his performances throughout the year proved he was continuing Carlin’s tradition of bringing talented drivers into single-seaters.
Right from the off, O’Sullivan was at the front of the field, picking up his first British F4 victory in just the second race of the season. He didn’t have as many spectacular performances as his title rival, but O’Sullivan’s consistency despite his inexperience in the car impressed.
His race one victory at Croft late in the year was one of his standout performances of the year, combing a great start, clean overtakes and strong defending to take the win.
Under normal circumstances, O’Sullivan’s victory in the final race of the season would have earned him the title. Rain meant the race was red-flagged early and, given the tight nature of British Touring Car weekends, would not resume. Half points were awarded, leaving O’Sullivan just four points behind eventual champion Luke Browning.
It’s easy to say O’Sullivan lost the title due to that decision, but his season wasn’t without faults of his own. Just the race before, O’Sullivan overtook team-mate Christian Mansell under yellow flags. Though he finished the race second on the road, ahead of Browning, he was handed a two second penalty and demoted to fourth. However, such mistakes were rare and O’Sullivan’s natural talent undoubtedly made him one of the most impressive drivers of the season.
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.