We reach the penultimate part of our countdown of the most impressive drivers across junior single-seater racing in 2021
20. Tim Tramnitz
New entry • F4 runner-up in both Germany and Italy with nine wins
In any other year, Tramnitz’s second season in Formula 4 would have been rightly heralded as outstanding. He added five wins in his home ADAC series to four in the Italian championship to secure the runner-up spot on both sides of the Alps. Only one other driver won more than twice across the two series. Unfortunately for Tramnitz that driver was Ollie Bearman, who took an incredible 17 victories.
Tramnitz started the year impressively, with two wins and a second place in the Italian opener at Paul Ricard. By the time he returned to Italy after skipping the following Misano round to focus on his home series, Bearman was in the middle of his stunning summer winning streak. Tramnitz took two more wins at the Red Bull Ring, one a brilliant drive back through the field in the wet, but had too much work to do to haul in Bearman’s massive points lead. Nevertheless, his consistency as well as his pace still saw off a strong field for second place despite missing two of seven rounds.
After a difficult opening to the season in Germany, he rebounded strongly at Hockenheim (twice) and the Sachsenring, winning four times to get back in title contention. Once out front he was often simply untouchable. But his starts let him down too often, prompting the occasional questionable defensive chop across an opponent.
Formula Regional seems to be the most likely destination in 2022, and Tramnitz has already tested for R-ace GP and ART GP post-season. And continued success for this personable Hamburger would be a massive boost for German single-seater motor racing.
19. Hadrien David
Re-entry (37th in ’19) • Frequent frontrunner claimed second in FREC
Reinvigorated by the switch to R-ace GP, David proved to be Gregoire Saucy’s most consistent season-long challenger in the Formula Regional European Championship, securing the runner-up spot at the final round.
David went into the season with plenty to prove having been unceremoniously dropped by Renault/Alpine having netted a solitary podium finish in a poor 2020 Formula Renault Eurocup campaign. Though he only took two victories, one of which was inherited after Saucy’s disqualification, he did take another seven podiums and was on the pace everywhere.
Despite being the second-fastest qualifier (on average just 0.18% slower than 8-time pole sitter, Saucy), Monza was surprisingly his only pole position of the year. But he made perfect use of it as he executed a flawless lights-to-flag victory. At Monaco, where R-ace was simply invincible, he had to watch his team-mates take the plaudits after failing to convert his free practice pace into a front-row start.
There was plenty of ill-fortune: three times losing out on points finishes after first lap incidents. In a formula where passing is at a premium, he twice put in mesmeric drives after being forced to start at the back. In Barcelona, a track hardly renowned as an overtaking paradise, he climbed up to 12th from 34th, while at Paul Ricard he got up to tenth after starting from the pit-lane.
With his career momentum restored, there are now whispers of renewed junior academy interest. But without the budget to match his undoubted talent, a second season in FREC, rather than a merited graduation to FIA Formula 3, seems on the cards for 2022.
18. Frederik Vesti
Down 7 • ART switch in FIA F3 yielded fourth place again
Vesti’s move from Prema to ART Grand Prix for his second FIA F3 season might have been against popular wisdom but it wasn’t surprising as he moved under the guidance of the Mercedes-AMG Formula 1 team, and the combination still seemed a potent one heading into the season – given that he and ART’s Theo Pourchaire had been the form duo at the end of 2020. It proved surprisingly difficult for the two parties to recreate that form together, particularly the storming race pace.
After a low-key start in Barcelona, it looked for a while like Vesti could yet be a serious thorn in Dennis Hauger’s side in the championship fight. Pole position for round two at Paul Ricard was wasted when he slipped back through the order in a wet race, but he made up for that by beating Hauger to victory in race three at the Red Bull Ring, where the Prema driver had otherwise looked untouchable.
It quickly fell apart thereafter, though. For the second year in a row, Vesti suffered a nightmare at the Hungaroring with a hydraulic issue forcing his retirement from race one, while his qualifying form also began to collapse – not helped by a DRS issue in Zandvoort. It was only in the final race of the year in Sochi that he returned to the podium on a Sunday with a great drive to split Trident’s top two.
He might not have often had the speed he wanted, but it was hard to fault anything about Vesti’s driving and he was super-consistent, missing out on points in only three races. His new backer will have expected a better championship challenge, but a move up to Formula 2 with ART still looks on for 2022 after a full three days of testing.
17. Richard Verschoor
Re-entry (33rd in ’19) • Impressed in round-by-round rookie F2 campaign
For the second year in succession, MP Motorsport took on a very impressive F2 rookie. Sadly, that successful relationship was severed before the season’s conclusion. Regardless, Verschoor had done plenty enough to impress this year.
The team didn’t quite have the same spark about it as it had in 2020 when they were taking wins from well down the order and having a few shock pole positions, but Verschoor had the ability and the knack to always be there or thereabouts, lurking at the fringes of the top 10 ready to pounce when the time was right. With F2’s funky format in 2021, this brought Verschoor into play quite regularly and he looked totally at home in the championship, the quietly-forgotten fourth super-rookie across the year.
Where Verschoor’s situation differed from many, however, was that he was racing not knowing if he would be in the car in the following round, and yet he was still delivering great drives. The vast gaps between events helped Verschoor have time, but despite a win at Silverstone holding off Marcus Armstrong and Dan Ticktum, his seat was eventually bought out.
Injury to Enzo Fittipaldi allowed Verschoor back onto the grid for the finale, and he showed exactly what he’s about by taking Charouz’s best feature race result of the year at the only time of asking. This guy deserves to be in F2 full-time in 2022 without the worries of budget.
16. Clement Novalak
Up 30 • Netted third in FIA F3 with consistent campaign
In a year where the format demanded consistency, Novalak was more consistent than anyone in FIA F3. His tally of 12 top-five finishes was unmatched even by champion Hauger.
If anything his sheer consistency hurt him, because he qualified between fifth and seventh for the first six rounds, then second for the finale, and thus never benefitted from the grid being reversed for the first race of the weekend.
He was usually moving forwards in the reversed-grid races – only Hauger and Victor Martins were better at that – but never quite enough to win. He only twice started a race even in the first two rows: Zandvoort race two, where he was passed for the lead by Martins late on, and Sochi race three where he couldn’t find a way past team-mate Jack Doohan to win despite Trident’s efforts to engineer a safe switch while it sweated over securing the teams’ title.
Doohan demonstrated the peaks that a Trident-run car was capable of and Novalak couldn’t quite unlock the same turn of speed – which came as something of a surprise given he seemed to get more out of a midfield package during their rookie seasons in 2020. But Novalak’s points were crucial to the team dethroning Prema and third overall in FIA F3 is still an achievement to be proud of in his fourth year of car racing as he steps up to F2.
15. Logan Sargeant
Down 6 • Brought Charouz F3 team forwards with podiums and a win
It’s rare in motorsport that a driver has a title run with the standout team in a championship, only to move to the least successful team on the grid for the following year. It’s even rarer for such a scenario to take place in the junior categories.
Normally, that would be a total career killer, yet Logan Sargeant concludes 2021 with his reputation enhanced to the point where he’s an entirely-deserving F1 junior with Williams. Irrespective of his extensive experience, that’s pretty good going.
Sargeant produced some absolutely brilliant drives with the unfancied Charouz outfit this year in FIA F3 and was regularly there causing headaches for his old team Prema, as well as the other outfits that are proven winners in this championship.
The progress just kept coming and coming and by round three had taken the team’s first F3 podium, only to then lose it as one of nine drivers to get pinged for track limits. He was back on the rostrum in each of the next rounds, culminating in a superb reversed-grid race win at Sochi, before following that up with a fine fourth in the season finale to take him over 100 points and ensure he finished ahead of two of the Prema drivers in the standings.
For comparison, Charouz scored just five points in total in 2020. With Sargeant’s leadership, they scored 127 this year. A one-off F2 run followed in Jeddah with HWA and next year he gets a great full-season chance with Carlin.
14. David Malukas
New entry • Narrowly defeated in Indy Lights title duel
Malukas had all of the tools at his disposal to come out on top of a ferociously competitive Indy Lights championship in 2021 and came up slightly short. Regardless, the progress he has made and some of the drives he produced this year really impressed.
Driving with his father’s team HMD Motorsports, Malukas was able to push the Road to Indy’s GOAT, Kyle Kirkwood, to a final-race showdown at Mid-Ohio. He came out of the blocks quickly, but it was towards the middle of the year that he was able to really find his form. On an oval, he was outstanding, winning both of the races on one at Gateway.
During that run, he asserted himself as the one to lead the teams’ title push, ultimately coming up just shy despite top fours in all of the races in the second half of the season. If not for an incident in the opening race (with Kirkwood, funnily enough), then the outcome of the title race could have been slightly different.
Regardless, Malukas showed growth this year, filtering out many of the mistakes that hindered him in the past, and proving he is ready for a seat in IndyCar with Dale Coyne Racing w/ HMD next year. Coyne has field some strong rookies in recent years too, namely ’21 champ Alex Palou and a certain Romain Grosjean…
13. Gregoire Saucy
New entry • Unexpectedly dominant FREC champion
Eight wins gave Saucy the inaugural post-merger FREC title by a comfortable 68 points. To say that his dominance was a shock would be an understatement. Even the driver himself could not put his finger on the precise reason.
Saucy clearly revelled in the ART Grand Prix environment, gelling perfectly with his engineers to extract the most from the car/engine/tyre combination. He was the first driver to master the peaky Pirelli tyres in qualifying, enabling him to take eight pole positions.
- Season review: No secret ingredient in Saucy success
Aside from a nightmare weekend in Monaco, he was never far from the front. Indeed, race one at Valencia was the only other race where he didn’t finish in the top 10. When not leading from lights to flag, he skilfully kept his nose clean in the crowded midfield.
Having never won a race in his single-seater career, once he took the chequered flag at Imola he could hardly stop winning, taking seven straight on-track wins either side of Monaco. He lost a win at Paul Ricard for a minor technical infringement but gained another at the Red Bull Ring after Colapinto’s track limits time penalty.
The unassuming Swiss believes his experience will prove an advantage as he steps up to FIA F3 with ART. Having just turned 22 he is hardly an “old man” but he will be up against far younger rivals. Yet as he himself argues, it is the results which count, and with the fastest overall lap time from the three-day post-season test at Valencia, another very strong season should not be discounted in 2022.
12. Juri Vips
Up 17 • Brilliant in Baku, unlucky elsewhere in first full year of F2
After a disrupted 2020, Vips was given the luxury of a full season in F2 this year. Unfortunately for him, it wouldn’t be smooth sailing.
Reliability problems plagued the Red Bull junior throughout the season. He was often the fastest man on track, but that would all be for nothing when issues with the car itself appeared. His season should have gotten off to a strong result in Bahrain, but gearbox problems denied him those results. He would later complain of a persistent gear changing issue that wasn’t resolved until late in the season.
The two victories Vips did claim in Baku, including one in the feature race, were both standout performances that should have launched a championship challenge. Partially due to reliability problems, that championship challenge would never come about, and he could only manage sixth.
Despite the problems, he comfortably beat team-mate Liam Lawson, who also praised Vips’ abilities and highlighted his data as helping him to his maiden pole position in Azerbaijan.
When it came to F1 silly season, Vips played little part, though that said more about the number of drivers Red Bull is trying to place at the moment than it does about Vips’ ability in and out of the car.
11. Dan Ticktum
Up 11 • Was one of F2’s form drivers even as F1 hopes evaporated
There was the lingering suspicion that the Carlin package was capable of more in F2 this year, but Ticktum’s feature race podium tally was only bettered by Oscar Piastri and Guanyu Zhou and he was the third-highest scorer in sprint races.
The racecraft wasn’t up to Ticktum’s usual high standards, and a collision in Baku not only had collateral damage for his rivals but also undid a weekend where his pace could have earned him a dominant win and put him in contention to finish in the top three of the championship.
He did get a win on Monaco’s streets, inherited from a Lawson disqualification, and went on a brilliant charge to win the first Sochi sprint race. Clearly street circuits are still his forte, and he’s now found the budget to move to Formula E.
Ticktum had the fifth highest qualifying average across the F2 season, and was fifth on laps led and feature race points. It was race pace where he was more often top of the table, able to look after his tyres over a stint better than his rivals and particularly at the start of the season. That dropped in Jeddah, where Carlin was off the pace, but some strong overtakes meant he scored in all three races.
The Formula Scout Top 50 Drivers of 2021 has been compiled by Alejandro Alonso Lopez, Bethonie Waring, Cian Brittle, Craig Woollard, Ida Wood, Peter Allen and Roger Gascoigne. Click here to view the rest of the list.