Home Featured Formula Scout Top 50 Drivers of 2021: 30-21

Formula Scout Top 50 Drivers of 2021: 30-21

by Formula Scout
Continuing our countdown of the junior single-seater drivers who impressed the Formula Scout writers the most in 2021

30. Ayumu Iwasa

Up 12 • Red Bull/Honda junior raced well on step up to F3

Red Bull and Honda junior Iwasa was a quietly impressive rookie in FIA Formula 3, especially when considering the enormous leap up from French Formula 4 he took this year (albeit via a relatively quiet Asian F3 campaign at the start of 2021).

It wasn’t as explosive as, say, Theo Pourchaire’s debut in 2020, but with a lack of experience across its driver line-up the Hitech GP package wasn’t really capable of fighting with the frontrunners on a regular basis.

Iwasa highlighted across the year that he has plenty to work on, which is true, but there was underlying potential showcased when looking beyond the simple numbers. Twelfth in the points and a reversed-grid win (which he inherited) and podium from convenient grid positions doesn’t necessarily justify such a high ranking, but ultimately Iwasa was regularly in the top 12, sometimes higher, and looked like the most consistent and comfortable direct F4 graduate this year.

When in those race situations, he was more than capable of holding his own against far more experienced opposition, as he showcased superbly at Spa-Francorchamps and Hungaroring when he was in a great position at the front. It didn’t phase him. Red Bull Ring, Paul Ricard and Sochi were also generally very, very solid weekends. He’s now poised for another similarly huge step up to Formula 2 next year, and it will be curious to see how he adapts there.

29. Christian Rasmussen

Up 19 • Made it back-to-back titles with Indy Pro 2000 crown

Two Road to Indy titles in as many years is a very decent return for Rasmussen after he stormed to the Indy Pro 2000 crown at the first attempt. What’s better is that it was not just he that stepped up this year, but with the Jay Howard Driver Development outfit he ran with last year too.

Of all the RTI title bouts this year, IP2000 had the most open, but Rasmussen was generally the strongest driver throughout. Denied a win on the opening weekend due to a time penalty, he started notching up the wins pretty quickly, clawing back an early points deficit to stay in the title hunt against stiff (and more experienced) opposition.

Not even a massive accident at Road America could derail the Dane, and he emphatically bounced back to win at the same track the next day, as part of a run of six wins from eight races. A tough weekend at New Jersey Motorsports Park kept the title open, but bouncing back to win the season’s penultimate race at Mid-Ohio pretty much sealed the title. By just starting the next day’s race, he completed what only a handful have achieved by taking back-to-back titles on the RTI ladder.

28. Alexander Smolyar

Up 19 • Second year in F3 had reversed grid wins and main race podiums 

The format in FIA F3 this year meant it was very difficult for drivers to put together something close to a perfect weekend, and that was certainly true for Smolyar. After a brilliant start to his second season with a win in race one, a collision in the second race meant he couldn’t really make the Barcelona weekend his.

Then there was Paul Ricard and a victory in a race that really showed brilliant racecraft. Even without the win, it would still have been one of his standout performances of the year. After the race he said he was “unsure” if the charge could be repeated, and it would turn out that scepticism would be right as he struggled to move forwards in the following races.

There would be no more wins for Smolyar, but he did have a string of solid results mid-season that could have led to a late title charge, including podiums in back-to-back main races on Sundays, but luck was not on his side in the end. A collision he was deemed to have been at fault for left him with front wing damage in Zandvoort, then a puncture and a spectacular collision at home in Sochi brought a disappointing end to his season that was at risk of finishing early had the calendar concluded at Circuit of the Americas instead.

Smolyar compared well to his highly-rated ART Grand Prix team-mate Frederik Vesti and there’s a lot more to come from him wherever he races next.

27. Dilano van’t Hoff

New entry • Karting graduate dominated Spanish F4 after UAE near-miss

What a year 2021 was for Dilano van’t Hoff. It was one that started very early, as he competed in F4 United Arab Emirates. The young Dutchman was only just kicking-off his car racing career, but that didn’t stop him from performing straight away.

In his debut weekend, he took all three pole positions and claimed the victory in two out of the four races. After that, he scored three more wins and several podiums, allowing him to lead the standings. However, a difficult last round in Dubai Autodrome where he had two penalties denied him the title against fellow rookie Enzo Trulli by just a single point.

In spite of the bitter ending, van’t Hoff’s inner speed was undeniable as he took 13 poles out of a possible 15. Such strong form over one lap continued into Spanish F4 where he took 13 poles out of 21. Race results were very positive as well, and he dominated the season with 10 wins and six further podiums. And while his MP Motorsport team enjoyed an advantage from the sheer number of cars it deployed, van’t Hoff’s numerous team-mates scored just one win between them all season.

The Spanish F4 champion then ran mid-pack in Formula Regional European Championship outings with MP at the end of the year but he will certainly be one to watch going forwards.

26. Michael Belov

New entry • Won twice in FREC after joining mid-season

Having missed out on a FIA F3 berth, Belov had no alternative but to step back down to FREC to continue racing in 2021. After missing the first three rounds, he belatedly joined the field at Paul Ricard as a non-points scoring wildcard entry for JD Motorsport. Immediately taking two second place finishes with a team which failed to score a point all season was remarkable.

By the next round Belov had switched to G4 Racing (consisting mostly of staff from his 2020 Formula Renault Eurocup team Bhaitech), and stayed there for the rest of the season as he was now eligible for points.

At Spa he was in scintillating form, fastest in both practice sessions, taking pole for and then dominating race one, held in treacherous conditions, with fastest lap in the bag too. In race two he charged to fifth from 11th on the grid. His second win came at Valencia Ricardo Tormo, again dominating from start to finish. He fought for victory at Mugello with Prema’s resurgent Paul Aron, narrowly losing out after a late safety car.

Had he been eligible for points at Paul Ricard, his seven-round campaign would have netted 152 points, enough for sixth in the standings. When Belov was present, only champion Gregoire Saucy and Hadrien David outscored him, the latter by just two points. Unsurprisingly, he scored all G4’s points, lifting the Barcelona-based team to sixth in the teams’ standings. His plans for 2022 remain unclear, but he has done some FREC testing for CAP Racing. With a full season he would undoubtedly be a strong title contender.

25. Jak Crawford

Down 10 • Was Euroformula’s best driver alongside rookie FIA F3 campaign

Crawford is bound for a seat with Prema in FIA F3 in 2022, after Dennis Hauger’s results convinced Dr Helmut Marko that it was worthwhile placing Red Bull juniors at the team, and it won’t be a surprise if he repeats his title triumph.

Like Hauger, he spent his rookie F3 season with Hitech GP after excelling as an F4 sophomore with Van Amersfoort Racing. The team did have a fast car, and Crawford could have put it on the front row at Paul Ricard before a mistake. The team’s race pace was strong too early on, and he twice scored points. He struggled at the Hungaroring, where he also had a nightmare weekend in Euroformula after taking pole, but his pace was evident everywhere and it was often traffic in qualifying that hampered him through the rest of a F3 weekend.

With far fewer cars on the Euroformula grid, the way was always clear for Crawford to take pole (bar one round) and he frequently converted that into victory in not only his first season in the Dallara 320 but with Motopark’s tricky-to-master car set-up and while switching over to the F3 car. Not many drivers have shown themselves able to manage both. Had he contested the full Euroformula season, which he couldn’t due to not turning 16 until after the first two races and then prioritising clashing F3 rounds, he would no doubt have been champion.

24. Zak O’Sullivan

Up 17 • Unstoppable as British F3 became GB3

O’Sullivan’s form in his rookie GB3 campaign was superb throughout and utterly devastating at its best, and he clinched the title in equally bizarre circumstances as those in which he lost the British F4 title last year.

Either way, the Carlin driver upped his game this year and was comfortably the strongest driver and seems set for a logical step up to FIA F3, following in the footsteps of the likes of Clement Novalak and Kaylen Frederick.

O’Sullivan was so consistently strong in the two ‘normal’ races of the weekend in the first half of the season to the point where he never finished off the podium in them. He was also regularly picking up more positions in the fully reversed-grid races than his rivals too.

His strongest weekend ahead of clinching the title was the first visit to Donington Park where he took a brace of wins. Standing trackside, through the ‘commitment’ corners, it was visible that O’Sullivan just had that extra edge over the rest of his opposition.

Despite any setbacks that came his way, he didn’t lose focus and stayed on top of a tough-to-manage championship superbly. It was no surprise then that he took the title with seven wins and with a points gap of 154, with 35 available for a win in a normal race. The way it was wrapped up was determined by the size of the finale entry list, with its publication securing him the crown ahead of qualifying.

23. Isack Hadjar

New entry • Impressed in FREC to land rookie title and Red Bull backing

Monaco was undoubtedly the defining moment in Hadjar’s rookie FREC season. The series’ crown jewel event returned after a year’s interlude and Hadjar’s R-ace GP squad was in a class of its own all weekend. By topping his qualifying group, he assured himself a front row start for both races, which he impressively converted to a win and a second place. Overnight he had “arrived”.

Hadjar stepped up from French F4, having taken third place in his sophomore season. Potential was already shown in the Tatuus T-318 in Asian F3 at the start of 2021 though, with five podiums from nine starts.

Immediately on the pace in FREC, he took a podium second time out at Barcelona. However, he would struggle to regain his Monaco speed, particularly in extracting the maximum in qualifying, and mid-season was rather eclipsed by his team-mates.

However, it all came together again at Monza for the season finale. Hadjar followed home race winner David in race one, before picking up the pieces to take his second win in racw two after the Prema duo of David Vidales and Dino Beganovic had eliminated each other. Victory wrapped up the rookie title by a comfortable 44 points from Mini.

This was very much his breakthrough year, having been rather in team-mate David’s shadow through much of his junior career. Marko was also impressed, and an official announcement of his entry to the Red Bull Junior Team is expected imminently. With it, he will progress to FIA F3, almost certainly with Hitech, with whom he tested at Valencia.

22. Paul Aron

New entry • Led Prema FREC effort and took third in points 

After a poor season in the FRenault Eurocup with ART Grand Prix, Aron rejoined Prema, where he had shone as a F4 rookie in 2019, for a crack at FREC. His title challenge seemed to be on track after finishing in the top four in the first five races.

But there was a mid-season slump for Prema, with it unexpectedly struggling with the set-up of the car on the new-for-2021 Pirelli tyres. Aron was instrumental in working with the engineers, and team manager Ralf Aron (his older brother) to get to the bottom of Prema’s travails.

By season’s end, he had established himself as very much the team leader and outpaced a highly rated team-mate in Vidales. He was a committed team player too, exemplified by his obvious pride in the progress of his other team-mate, rookie Beganovic. Working with Prema and the Mercedes-AMG Formula 1 junior programme, his professionalism in and out of the car is evident (while also being one of the most fun drivers in FREC’s paddock).

At the penultimate round at Mugello he was simply untouchable, taking two poles and two wins, to put him in with a chance of snatching the title runner-up spot going into the Monza finale. Though he was ultimately unable to overhaul David, third place in a very competitive field was a just reward.

On talent alone, a move up to FIA F3 should be beyond doubt. Yet, despite being one of four drivers to join Prema for the post-season test at Valencia, Aron appears likely to be the one still standing when the music stops. If he does stay with Prema in FREC for a third year at this level, he will be clear title favourite and look to reap the harvest of his 2021 development efforts.

21. Caio Collet

Down 8 • Alpine junior had solid rookie FIA F3 season

Collet produced a fine rookie FIA F3 campaign that flew somewhat underneath the radar at times in 2021, but there were flashes of something extremely special that makes him an almighty threat for the title in 2022.

When conditions got tricky, or when things got a little bit more frantic than usual, it was usually the Alpine junior who was the one to get his elbows out and really showcase the best of what he’s about. He didn’t quite have the sustained highs of MP Motorsport team-mate (and former FRenault Eurocup title rival) Victor Martins, but scored just as many points in Sunday’s main races, and Collet is one of a few drivers who certainly deserved a win this year but didn’t get one.

Not quite being in the best positions for the grid reversal made his job a bit tricky at times. That was only exacerbated in the second half of the year, with an impressive run of six races either in fourth or fifth, hence why he slipped a bit under the radar later on while maintaining solid form. His form also fluctuated with that of MP’s, for both better and worse as the year progressed.

Collet proved himself as a true racer’s racer in 2021, producing some of the most exhilarating driving of the year, and has the ingredients to go far better in 2022.

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.