Beginning our annual countdown of the junior single-seater racers who have made the strongest impression on our team of writers over the past 12 months
50. Jamie Chadwick
Re-entry (40th in ’19) • Didn’t have it all her own way in W Series title defence
W Series’ two-time champion wasn’t quite as impressive as she was on her way to her first title, but an all-around stronger field may have been behind at least part of that. In the championship she was challenged all the way to the final race by Alice Powell, whose protege Abbi Pulling was also right up there at the end of the year. But Chadwick’s qualifying exploits and ability to recover positions when something went wrong (such as being shoved off-track in the season opener) is what swung the difference in her favour.
To Chadwick’s credit, she rebounded after a miserable 2020 Formula Regional European Championship campaign in the same car to prove why she remains W Series’ strongest and most complete package. She was there or thereabouts at almost every event, and put in a few devastating performances such as in the penultimate race at Circuit of the Americas. On top of that, she’s taken to the off-road Extreme E, a series with precisely zero relevance to W Series, and handled the tricky swapping between the two.
The jury is very much out over how strong W Series’ field truly is, and hopefully several of the more experienced drivers can move on and showcase that in 2022. Chadwick is one driver who should do exactly that, and she’s linked heavily to a FIA Formula 3 seat with one of the British teams.
49. Pierre-Louis Chovet
New entry • Made Zhou work for Asian F3 title, then cruelly lost FIA F3 drive
Winning the Asian F3 title at the start of the year was an important step in Guanyu Zhou landing a place on the Formula 1 grid, since it brought him to within two points of earning his superlicence. He was made to work for that title by the efforts of Chovet, and had to overhaul the Frenchman at the final round. But while Zhou’s commercial backing eased his path towards F1 alongside his performances in his third season of F2, Chovet found himself high-and-dry when his main sponsor dropped him after just one round of his first full campaign in FIA F3.
Chovet had gone into Asian F3 with a year’s experience of the Tatuus T-318 from FREC, but he wasn’t the only one that knew the car, and it was an impressive sequence of wins in his Pinnacle Motorsport entry in the middle of the four-week contest that hauled him above Prema-run F2 winners Zhou and Jehan Daruvala and to the top of the standings. Unfortunately for Chovet, the final round was easily his worst, with relatively poor qualifying results opening the door for Zhou and a penultimate-race collision not helping his cause.
Still, it had been a breakthrough period for Chovet as a team’s lead driver and he headed into FIA F3 with Jenzer Motorsport as one to watch. The opening round in Barcelona was a disappointment but he absolutely didn’t deserve what happened next, when he was ditched on the eve of his home event at Paul Ricard – his sponsor welcoming Johnathan Hoggard into his car instead.
Chovet did actually make it onto the grid for the French round after a positive COVID-19 test for Campos Racing driver Laszlo Toth, but the circumstances were hardly ideal for him to perform. Instead, it’s his Asian F3 wins that should be remembered at the end of the year.
48. Bent Viscaal
New entry • Trident man held his own against F2’s best given the chance
Viscaal has been used to playing an underrated underdog all the way through his junior single-seater career and he excelled in that role with Trident in Formula 2 this year. Initially he had his seat secured only for the opening round in Bahrain, but after a competitive showing there he was able to see out the full season – in a year when many drivers in similar situations didn’t.
F2’s new format provided podium opportunities to those who could qualify their car just inside the top 10, but the trouble for Viscaal was that neither Trident entry proved capable of that all year. Instead he had to battle his way forwards in the races, and in three of the eight rounds he lifted himself into the top 10 in the first race of the weekend to benefit from the grid reversal for race two.
Rather than falling through the order he would then demonstrate the pace and racecraft needed to mix it with the frontrunners, claiming fourth in Baku and, more impressively, second place at Monza and Jeddah, keeping the racy Robert Shwartzman at bay on all three occasions. Feature race progress was surprisingly harder to come by, but Viscaal would deserve the chance to show what he can do with a more competitive package in 2022.
47. David Beckmann
Down 23 • Twice made the F2 podium, then twice lost his seat
Stepping up to F2 with Charouz Racing System after five years at F3 level, Beckmann put in some highly impressive drives before, sadly, financial difficulties curtailed his season.
He looked quick from the off, topping the times on the first day of pre-season testing in Bahrain. His form continued into his first race weekend at the circuit, where he qualified just ahead of Theo Pourchaire in a superb ninth place. The dream start continued with a fine third in the opening sprint race, where he ran comfortably in the leading group from the start.
A poor qualifying left him stranded in midfield in Monaco but he was back on the pace again in Baku. In the second sprint, he executed a clean move to take the lead from Viscaal around the outside before calmly maintaining the position through two safety car restarts. Though unable to do anything about an inspired Juri Vips, he held off Daruvala to take his second podium, putting him 11th in the standings. At Silverstone, he demonstrated his overtaking skills to gain five places in both sprint races.
Unfortunately, that would be his last outing with Charouz as financial concerns around his family business forced his premature departure. However, he was soon back in the series, switching to Campos for the Monza and Sochi rounds, taking his final point in the feature race in Russia. After running for Mercedes-AMG squad Haupt Racing Team in the DTM’s young driver test, his racing future may now lie outside the open-wheel ladder.
46. Gabriele Mini
Down 32 • Adapted well to FREC even though rookie title bid faded
After winning in the Italian Formula 4 championship last season, Mini moved up to FREC with ART Grand Prix for his second year of car racing.
Despite not achieving any race wins, the Italian made the podium four times in what is a highly competitive series. It’s worth mentioning that only two rookies made it into the top 10 in the final standings, with Mini being one of them in seventh place. Only some struggles in the late part of the season prevented him from taking rookie title honours, as the battle with R-ace GP’s Isack Hadjar had been really close for most of the year.
If there are any standout weekends in Mini’s season, those have to be Monaco and Zandvoort. Monaco might have not been the best in terms of results for the Italian, but his determination on his first time on the streets of the principality was something else. He kept his car in one piece throughout the whole weekend, and he finished 10th in both races, ahead of his team-mate and series champion Gregoire Saucy, in what was a very difficult weekend for the French squad. At Zandvoort, he was again superb as he qualified twice on the front row and claimed two podiums on his first time at the very demanding old-school Dutch track.
That the protege of Nicolas Todt was so firmly in Saucy’s shadow might not have been expected pre-season, but 16-year-old Mini was FREC’s youngest driver and five years his team-mate’s junior. In 2022, he will stay in the series with the team and will undoubtedly be in the title fight.
45. Braden Eves
New entry • Bounced back from injury to fight for Indy Pro 2000 crown
There is occasionally a good human story that slips under the radar (particularly in a year as intense as 2021), and Eves provided exactly that this year. An Indy Pro 2000 title contender in 2020, his season was cut short by an incredibly scary accident at Indianapolis Motor Speedway that broke his neck. How he emphatically rebounded from that, essentially picking up exactly where he left off, was mightily impressive. He even won on his return from injury to boot in superb style.
He ultimately came up a bit short, but he pushed Christian Rasmussen (who is proving to be a very fine driver) right to the final round, beating him in a straight fight on Gateway’s oval being a particular highlight, and he finished every race.
What probably prevented a title success was a run in the middle of the year without a podium, while Rasmussen won four times. As he did come runner-up, he misses out on the scholarship money Rasmussen gets for the title and he is still searching for budget to step up to Indy Lights. But he deserves to make that step up, especially after the journey he’s had over the last 15 months.
44. Kiko Porto
New entry • Claimed USF2000 spoils with mid-season winning run
USF2000 in 2021 proved to be a year where experience prevailed, with each of the top six in the standings already having plenty of prior knowledge coming into the year. Of those to come out on top of the typically stacked field in terms of numbers, Kiko Porto was the driver who was fully deserving of the title and a place in this list.
He and DEForce Racing, a team that had never won a title in this championship, took it to the championship’s most successful team Cape Motorsports and a much-improved Michael d’Orlando. There wasn’t too much to separate between the pair across the year, but it was an extra little bit of consistency and decent race management that just helped swing the title in the favour of Porto.
The middle of the season was particularly strong, with five pole positions on the bounce and all four of his race wins coming between May and August. He was able to keep his composure despite d’Orlando notching up his three wins in the same period, and a very strong end of the year for the American meant that Porto had to play the smart game – and he did, clinching the title with a round to spare. A strong, measured approach to a sophomore season that sets Porto up for good things in IP2000.
43. Arthur Leclerc
Down 22 • Was spectacular but inconsistent on step up to FIA F3
The younger brother of Ferrari F1 star Charles Leclerc landed a plum drive with reigning champion team Prema for his graduation from FREC to FIA F3. With the support of the Ferrari Driver Academy to go with the famous surname, expectations were high.
While there were several flashes of his ability, overall the season was a disappointment. With the exception of an inspired weekend at the Hungaroring, he was simply unable to extract the single-lap pace in qualifying to make him a challenger. An average qualifying position of 13.14 cost him dearly, not even giving him the benefit of the reversed grids.
That left him too often needing to pull off some outstanding recovery drives. On race day he showed his speed, on average the sixth fastest on rolling race pace, and his overtaking prowess with some superb moves. At Paul Ricard he came through from 30th to 12th in race one, but his stunning drive from 27th to sixth at the Red Bull Ring was arguably more impressive.
He won two Saturday races, and only the series’ top two stood on the top step more than him. At Paul Ricard, Leclerc converted the reversed grid pole that his recovery drive in race one had earned him and at Zandvoort he was never headed after making a perfect start from third on the grid to drive around both front-row starters through the Tarzan hairpin. A second year with Prema in F3 in 2022 seems likely for what could be a make-or-break season.
42. Felipe Drugovich
Down 34 • Difficult second season in F2 ended on a high note
Given what he’d achieved as an F2 rookie with MP Motorsport in 2020, there were quite rightly high expectations for how Drugovich would go after moving to Virtuosi Racing for year two. But for whatever reason the partnership never quite clicked in results. Unlike Callum Ilott before him, Drugovich found himself in the shadow of team-mate Zhou. His season was peppered with far too many incidents and he frequently struggled for pace – after qualifying third for the opening round he never managed better than fifth thereafter – and he admits that led him to be too aggressive in the mid-pack.
There were no wins but there were a couple of particularly positive weekends, across which he netted all four of his podiums. The first came in round two in Monaco, where he followed Zhou home for second place in race one after a lacklustre qualifying for the team, then made the most of the alternate strategy to climb from ninth to third in the feature race.
Drugovich’s season reached its nadir in September when he failed to score at either Monza or Sochi – the latter after crashing heavily on his way to the race one grid on a damp track and ruling himself out of the rest of the weekend. But, after the lengthy break that followed, he managed to end his season positively and repeated his Monaco podiums in Abu Dhabi. The most positive developments in Drugovich’s year though followed in the days afterwards when his return to MP for 2022 was confirmed and he was fastest in post-season testing with the team.
41. Esteban Masson
New entry • Triumphed in ultra-close and controversial French F4 duel
The Didier Andre protege cameoed in French F4 in 2019 and ’20, already earning himself a top-five result, and he came into this year as champion of France’s junior karting championship.
A friendly face in the paddock, and often looking up to those around him, he was phenomenally fast on single-lap pace and claimed nine poles out of a 14, rivalling the qualifying dominance of previous champions Yifei Ye and Anthoine Hubert.
- Scout Report: Esteban Masson
In races he was always being pushed to the very edge, often by main title rival Maceo Capietto but also Daniel Ligier. The battles with Capietto often got too close, and the title was ultimately decided by a collision between the pair in the last race of the year at Magny-Cours. Capietto was excluded from the meeting, therefore making Masson champion, but the outcome went to court and wasn’t determined officially until recently.
That shouldn’t take away from Masson’s achievement though, as he did lead the points for much of the season anyway and beat Capietto in straight fights at several circuits. However he was also only fourth or fifth fastest at some circuits, but for a rookie season in single-seater racing it ticked all the learning boxes it needed to.
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.