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Formula Scout’s 21 drivers to watch in 2021

by Formula Scout
Formula Scout previews the racing seasons ahead with 21 junior single-seater drivers that we think will be winning races and being talked about during the remainder of 2021

Theo Pourchaire FRANCE 17y/o
2021: Formula 2 with ART Grand Prix   2020: 2nd in FIA Formula 3 (2 wins)

Photo: Formula Motorsport Limited

Sauber protege Pourchaire has the opportunity to break records with his full-time step up to Formula 2 this year, and he is expected to excel at this level. Just how quickly he does is the big question.

Making his F2 debut with the struggling HWA Racelab team at Bahrain just over three months ago should be an advantage as not only does the season start at the same circuit but he has experience of being mired in the pack. With three races per weekend now, and two of them using reversed grids, most of the action is going to be in the midfield and knowing how to race a F2 car may count for more than race pace in the early rounds.

Being at ART Grand Prix could be a blessing or a curse, as the French outfit is undoubtedly a top team but has often struggled to propel both of its drivers to high places in the standings. Last year it ran rookie Christian Lundgaard to two wins and seventh place in the points, but fellow FIA Formula 3 Championship graduate Marcus Armstrong struggled to 13th.

With Lundgaard remaining at the team, and Pourchaire stepping up from an FIA F3 campaign with ART GP that so very nearly ended up in title success, it means the working relationships are already in place on both sides of the garage for success to occur. And the way Pourchaire took to F3 straight from Formula 4, what’s to stop him doing it again at the next step?

Felipe Drugovich BRAZIL 20y/o
2021: F2 with Virtuosi Racing   2020: 9th in F2 (3 wins)

Photo: Virtuosi Racing

MP Motorsport has been a very occasional winner in the second tier of single-seaters since joining GP2 in 2013, but the signing of 2018 Euroformula champion Drugovich last year turned it into a surprise victory threat on multiple occasions.

The Brazilian rookie, who endured a dire 2019 in FIA F3, won on just his second start and had a pole position on just his fourth attempt. It was the team’s first ever at this level, and Drugovich ended the season with the fifth highest start position on average and was fourth fastest on qualifying pace.

It was his racing that was even more impressive though, especially in the final two rounds at Bahrain, and it was how he earned many of his feature race points while MP didn’t really have the car to compete at the front.

Moving to Virtuosi Racing for 2021 should rid of him of any car-related performance concerns – hopefully no team will be struck down by the unreliability that plagued last season – and with Guanyu Zhou as a team-mate he’s got a handy amount of experience on the other side of the garage to learn from once again after being partnered with veteran Nobuharu Matsushita in 2020.

We also already know that Drugovich is incredibly comfortable at the front, both from his dominant Euroformula campaign three years ago and his three F2 wins as a rookie. Could he deliver the first title to Norfolk in a decade?

Liam Lawson NEW ZEALAND 19y/o
2021: DTM with AF Corse, F2 with Hitech GP   2020: 5th in FIA F3 (3 wins)

Photo: Hitech GP

The most interesting part of Lawson’s 2021 will be how he fares with the transition to sportscar racing in the restructured DTM in a AF Corse-run Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo. Results there will no doubt influence his Formula 1 trajectory with Red Bull, but he will also contest a full campaign in F2 aftet two years in F3 and it’s an opportunity he’s been eager to get his hands on.

Lawson beat team-mate Yuki Tsunoda in Euroformula when the two Red Bull juniors were put together at Motopark in 2019, and also did an impressive job as an FIA F3 rookie at the same time. That Tsunoda then got promoted to F2, and was then firmly beaten by Lawson again when they were team-mates in the Toyota Racing Series, must have left a sour feeling.

So Lawson spent a second year in F3 and moved to Hitech GP. He won the second race of the season, but a title challenge wasn’t forthcoming with early season set-up woes, a Red Bull Ring clash and then suspected engine issues at Barcelona. He added two more wins to his tally and a first pole at Monza with a cool performance, as faster drivers were penalised, and while his 21-point margin to champion Oscar Piastri wasn’t huge, at no point was Lawson really a title contender.

As in all the series he’d raced in previously, he was one of the more exciting to watch wheel-to-wheel and it didn’t always go to plan. But when it worked it was superb, and his style should be more efficient in the higher downforce machinery of F2.

And with ex-F1 driver Alex Albon and Super Formula champion Nick Cassidy as team-mates in DTM, he’s got a gateway to a huge amount of knowledge that he could exploit to send himself definitively to the front of Red Bull’s F1 queue for 2022.

Devlin DeFrancesco CANADA 21y/o
2021: Indy Lights with Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport, currently 3rd in IMSA LMP2   2020: 2nd in Indy Pro 2000 (2 wins)

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway

European racing didn’t always treat DeFrancesco superbly when it came to results, but the 2017 Spanish F3 champion’s move back to the North American scene last year – after originally signing up for a third season in GP3/FIA F3 – was not only sensible but also successful for the former Chip Ganassi Racing protege.

Proven IndyCar outfit Andretti Autosport expanded down the single-seater ladder into Indy Pro 2000 last year after the cancellation of the Indy Lights season, and DeFrancesco was picked as its driver for a revival of the alliance with George Steinbrenner IV that ran Colton Herta to second in the 2018 Indy Lights points.

That same combination will go back into Indy Lights this year, after DeFrancesco picked up two wins and the title runner-up spot in IP2000. He got to start his very first race from pole after a rival was excluded, and in the first half of the season was almost always fighting near the front. His title challenge was undone at Mid-Ohio, but he’d already proven himself in the series.

With experience of higher downforce machinery in FIA F3 and prototype sportscars (from annual Daytona 24 Hours starts), the knowledge of American circuits, a full 2020 racing programme and a direct continuation of the team he worked with last year it means DeFrancesco is actually a title favourite for Indy Lights in 2021. There will be rivals and team-mates with series experience, but most have spent a year on the sidelines and arguably the seat to have is the one DeFrancesco possesses.

Kyle Kirkwood USA 22y/o
2021: Indy Lights with Andretti Autosport, currently 15th in IMSA GTD  2020 (sportscars): IMSA with Vasser Sullivan Racing

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Kirkwood’s rate of progression up the Road to Indy ladder to date has been astounding. The 22-year old has, quite simply, obliterated the opposition and took four championships in three years across junior categories in the United States.

He was firmly tipped to be the standout driver in Indy Lights last year, but the championship did not run as a result of factors deriving from the COVID-19 pandemic and he instead found himself racing prototype and GT sportscars in IMSA – the latter in a Lexus fielded by 1996 CART champion Jimmy Vasser and James Sullivan.

Despite having his progress stunted, and facing a far stronger field compared to what was expected last year, Kirkwood is still likely to be the driver to beat – after all, he has failed to win just nine of the 30 races he’s started on the RTI to date and has proven to be supreme on whatever type of circuit he is racing on.

He is with what is likely to be the strongest team in Andretti, and will almost certainly be the strongest candidate out of its main team of three drivers with DeFrancesco in the Steinbrenner offshoot.

If he is able to find himself in the sort of decimating form that he used to storm to his previous titles – by smashing in a large numbers of race wins on the bounce – any expectation that he will have a challenge for the crown will be quashed pretty early on. And what’s more, he’s back in the Vasser-Sullivan Lexus for IMSA’s endurance races this year.

Alex Peroni AUSTRALIA 21y/o
2021: Indy Lights with Carlin w/ Jay Howard Driver Development   2020: 10th in FIA F3 (2 fastest laps)

Photo: Alex Peroni

Peroni’s journey to recovery after his horrifying shunt at Monza in 2019 showcased a level of resilience that will put him in good stead over in the United States with Carlin and Jay Howard Driver Development in Indy Lights.

He hurled performances out of an unfancied Campos Racing entry in FIA F3’s incredibly stacked field last year – all on circuits that arguably don’t suit the Australian’s driving style.

It is the streets where he has showcased brilliance in the past – winning in Monaco in the Formula Renault Eurocup in 2018 and on the streets of Pau the year prior. The street circuits over in North America are very different from the winding European ones, but the skillset required remains similar.

Peroni will run with Carlin, which returns to Indy Lights after three years out to focus on its move into IndyCar.

The introduction of the halo cockpit protection device for 2021 means that the unfamiliarity will be less of a disadvantage to both, especially as they’ve already got experience from F3 of the raised centre of gravity the halo brings, and may prove to be a surprise package this year against title-winning opposition on this ladder (and in Formula Regional Americas).

Of course, he will also need to adapt to the undulating road courses – which largely differ to those used in Europe – and also to the ovals. But he was showing strong progress last year which means that this transition is more than doable.

Jonny Edgar BRITAIN 17y/o
2021: FIA F3 with Carlin   2020: ADAC Formula 4 champion (6 wins), 4th in Italian F4 (2 wins)

The media-shy Edgar is yet to truly find his confidence behind a microphone (Red Bull can work on that), but he’s more than got confidence behind the wheel and that was evident from the off when he made his single-seater debut in April 2019.

A double pole and three podiums on his Paul Ricard debut in Spanish F4 with Jenzer Motorsport was mightily impressive, and while he couldn’t turn that pace into a win in Italian F4 or his two ADAC F4 appearances, he was up against a grid that featured drivers who are now in F2 and feature elsewhere on this list. And Red Bull was quick to secure him a top seat for 2020.

Edgar’s double programme with Van Amersfoort Racing in 2020 was full of incredible moments, from his insanely good racecraft in the ADAC F4 season opener at the Lausitzring to his excellent wet-weather Imola win and the high pressure showdown between himself and team-mate Jak Crawford, also a Red Bull junior, for the ADAC F4 title as Oschersleben.

That he did claim the German crown means eyes will be on if he can replicate Pourchaire in following that up with an immediate transition to the front of the field in FIA F3. Being at Carlin suggests that could be difficult, as the British team has struggled over the past two seasons, and single-lap pace didn’t seem to come to him straight away in post-season testing.

The race pace was certainly there, and some private testing in an old GP3 car will have done him good too. There’s a hope that Red Bull follows the success it had with Tsunoda by putting Edgar in Euroformula too.

Frederik Vesti DENMARK 19y/o
2021: FIA F3 with ART Grand Prix   2020: 4th in FIA F3 (3 wins)

Photo: Formula Motorsport Limited

He’s now on the books of the Mercedes-AMG F1 team, and that means nothing less than the title will be expected of second-year driver Vesti in FIA F3 this year, especially after coming close as a rookie in 2020.

On average Vesti was the 11th fastest driver in qualifying last year, and Prema team-mate Logan Sargeant took three poles to his one. It was no ordinary session that Vesti topped at the Red Bull Ring, with so many flag interruptions, and the story was similar in the race that followed as he only received half-points for victory after rain shortened the action.

But look at race pace, and Vesti was a clear margin ahead of everyone else much in the way he was in his title-winning season in Formula Regional European Championship the year before. Two pointless weekends at the Hungaroring and Barcelona led to him spending much of the season in sixth place in the standings before two wins in Italy lifted him to fourth.

Staying at Prema was the plan for this year until Mercedes came on board, with team principal Toto Wolff nudging Vesti towards Lewis Hamilton’s old team ART GP to partner Alexander Smolyar and racing returnee Juan Manuel Correa.

Prema has swept the titles so far in the series, but ART GP made improvements over the 2020 season that made it at least a match to the Italian team on some weekends. The absence of Monza in the shaken up calendar means qualifying at the front (or not quite at the front with the new reversed grids) will be more important than ever, with the seven circuits not exactly the easiest to overtake on. Vesti will have to up his one-lap game if he’s to become champion.

Jak Crawford USA 15y/o
2021: FIA F3 with Hitech GP   2020: 2nd in ADAC F4 (5 wins), 6th in Italian F4 (2 wins)

Photo: Miguel Reis Photography

Everything’s in place for Crawford to be the United States’ next F1 driver, with his feet firmly under Red Bull’s table and being one of the few Americans to successfully transition to European racing after the start of their single-seater career.

Crawford also has age on his side – he turns 16 the week before the FIA F3 season opener – so despite having every performance watched by Dr Helmut Marko he’s actually got far more leeway to take his time to get up to speed than the other Red Bull juniors.

But his first runs in an F3 car immediately cast away any doubts that he won’t be able to hack it in the F1 support paddock as he was simply rapid. He was 14th fastest in the two-day post-season Barcelona test, the top F3 rookie by some way, then in the follow-up test at Jerez he came into his own with the Hitech team.

On one-lap pace he was fourth fastest, just 0.295 seconds off the benchmark pace at a twisty and technical circuit, and he was best of anyone on race pace with an advantage of 0.1895s per lap over the next best driver on simulated race runs. The drivers just ahead and behind him on those two measures are some of the title favourites, which is a very good sign.

Test showing doesn’t mean everything, but Crawford more than proved he could put his pace into practice in F4 last year. On his debut weekend he bettered Edgar in qualifying, took another three poles across the year, and won seven races across the ADAC and Italian championships. His first win in Italian F4 was earned at the Red Bull Ring with a memorable double pass that took a whole sector of the lap to complete but demonstrated brilliant maturity and skill.

That he couldn’t match VAR team-mate Edgar’s final race charge in Germany and as a result lost the title shouldn’t be a mark against him, because Crawford was one of the coolest characters in the paddock and never looked under pressure. A trait that will serve him well alongside Red Bull stablemate Ayumu Iwasa and former Sauber junior Roman Stanek at Hitech in F3.

Victor Martins FRANCE 19y/o
2021: FIA F3 with MP Motorsport   2020: Formula Renault Eurocup champion (7 wins)

Photo: Clément Luck / DPPI

It will be a fresh challenge for Martins in 2021 as the returning Alpine junior partners his Formula Renault Eurocup title rival Caio Collet at the same team in FIA F3 at MP – an outfit seeking a climb up the ladder in a congested field.

A much-needed first car racing title arrived last year in the Eurocup, but the strength of the top teams in FIA F3 means that it is usually a struggle for those within the midfield to stand out and that is where Martins and his team is expected to stand.

The jump from Regional F3 to FIA F3 is not as large as from other championships, almost to the point where it is seamless for some, so his three seasons of experience at that level should allow him to be on pace relatively quickly – which could be important in securing a decent points haul come the end of the season.

Martins’ qualities as a driver mean that it shouldn’t be quite as straightforward as a struggle for the reigning Eurocup champ with MP in ’21, even if the team is off the ultimate pace.

That he is partnered with Collet, and the confidence that Alpine has placed back in him in its overhaul of what was the Renault Sport Academy puts a lot of pressure on the young Frenchman. It should be an environment that he can thrive in, and the benefits should be fascinating to see.

Dennis Hauger NORWAY 17y/o
2021: FIA F3 with Prema   2020: 17th in FIA F3, 7th in Formula Regional Europe (1 win)

Photo: Formula Motorsport Limited

Only coming 17th in his first season in FIA F3 may not sound like much reason to put Hauger in the list of title contenders for 2021, but there is much more to consider.

It is fair to say that last year was tough for the 2019 Italian Formula 4 champion – especially as he had no answer for Red Bull stablemate Liam Lawson at Hitech. All 14 of Hauger’s points came at the Hungaroring and he rarely troubled the top 10.

This season, however, he joins Prema – the absolute standout team in the championship since its inauguration in 2019.

Despite there being strong opposition elsewhere in the field, the expectation will be that Prema will be the outfit to beat once again this year. It’s got previous with signing a driver not being outstanding in their first FIA F3 campaign and then turning them into a title contender; it happened last year with Logan Sargeant rebounding with a championship challenge.

It won’t be an easy task for Hauger though – especially with Ferrari junior Arthur Leclerc occupying one of Prema’s cars and new Mercedes recruit Frederik Vesti among the strong opposition elsewhere. But the expectation will be for a title challenge to come from Hauger in 2021.

Gabriele Mini ITALY 15y/o
2021: FREC with ART Grand Prix   2020: Italian F4 champion (4 wins), 10th in ADAC F4 (1 win)

Photo: ADAC

Mini’s manager Nicolas Todt is convinced ART GP is the place to be in FREC this year rather than Prema. It’s a brave bet in light of Prema’s domination of the past two seasons, but the tide is starting to change and no talent other than Mini would be more likely to end the team’s total ownership of series title.

The maturity of the Sicilian during his first car racing campaign was astonishing to see, but unlike others whose off-track attitude marked them out early in their careers, Mini made the results on track match and straight from the off too.

That’s harder than you’d think in the packed grids of Italian F4, even though Mini was driving for a top team in Prema, but he was extremely well prepared for the step from karting and you would think he could have made the same impact had he debuted in Regional F3 rather than F4.

Now we get to see how he will do in a higher category, after five wins, 11 poles and a title from his single year in F4, and Mini actually goes into March with less test mileage than some of his rookie rivals. There are plenty of opportunities before the season begins to make himself comfortable with the car, and he will still probably be fastest of the category rookies.

Several drivers have contested Asian F3 in preparation for FREC – Mini wasn’t old enough – and they will most likely be quickest out of the blocks when the season begins. If Mini does get overshadowed by them early on, in addition to the far more experienced drivers, then he just needs to focus on being on their pace by the season’s second half to ensure he still gets rookie classification honours.

David Vidales SPAIN 18y/o
2021: FREC with Prema, 13th in Asian F3   2020: 6th in FR Eurocup (2 wins)

Winning on your single-seater debut is rarely seen outside of F4, so for Vidales’ much anticipated first racing appearance to actually deliver on the feverish potential was brilliant to see last summer on the Formula Renault Eurocup’s trip to Imola.

He did it with JD Motorsport, a team with a long history in the championship, and taking victory and fastest lap from pole position in his very first race and then a follow-up victory and fastest lap in his second set a high, high bar for him to match.

The racecraft rustiness unsurprisingly showed itself soon after given his inexperience, but he still claimed six podiums from his first seven races. The return trip to Imola was messy and he missed out on points in race two at Spa races, and he dropped from third to sixth in the points in the final run of races. Somehow that felt like a disappointment just 18 races into his career.

Remember, even Max Verstappen had just a single win at the F3 level by this point in his rookie year in cars.

There’s no rush though with the career of Vidales, a protege of the late Adrian Campos, and he stays in Regional F3 for a second year by joining Prema in FREC. To warm up for the upcoming campaign he contested two Asian F3 rounds with the team, and was once again immediately in the zone and soon on the podium. Based on his scoring rate he would likely have finished in the top five in the standings, amongst the FIA superlicence points-chasing F2 drivers, had he done the full season.

In FREC he goes in as title favourite, and it really is only a matter of time before he says yes to an offer from an F1 junior team.

Ian Rodriguez GUATEMALA 20y/o
2021: FRegional Americas with Newman Wachs Racing   2020: 13th in FREC (1 win)

Photo: ACI Sport

It may have taken 28 races for Rodriguez to win a race in Italian F4, and he didn’t win again in his next 31 starts, and his five years in the entry-level category didn’t exactly shout future F1 quality.

But his spell in IP2000 with RP Motorsport in 2019 was quietly impressive, with five top-five finishes, two podiums and a fastest lap from eight starts. That wasn’t enough to keep his racing career going though, until last November.

Rodriguez teamed up with his old friends at DR Formula by RP to race at Imola, with one test under his belt in the Tatuus T-318 Regional F3 car. He started his motorsport return by going just 0.021s slower than Ferrari junior Arthur Leclerc in the in-season test at Imola the week before Imola, then topped the two days of free practice at the circuit.

He was denied pole for his first race back by 0.054s, but the poleman then failed to start the race and Rodriguez won on his F3 debut. It was no fluke, as he followed it up with a second place from fourth on the grid in race two, and then a spin limited him to ninth in the final race of the weekend. The team’s best result of 2020 prior to the weekend had been seventh.

As Rodriguez comes from Central American nation Guatemala, there are a lot of interested eyes on him as this is a country that hasn’t had a single-seater prospect as serious as this since mid-2010s Euroformula racer Andres Saravia.

The 20-year-old now heads back to the American racing scene to compete in FRegional Americas, and there’s every chance he could win the title against opposition with similarly little F3 experience. His Newman Wachs Racing team also looks like the place to be, as previous series powerhouse Global Racing Group focuses its efforts on a move into Indy Lights.

Zak O’Sullivan BRITAIN 16y/o
2021: BRDC British F3 with Carlin   2020: 2nd in British F4 (9 wins)

Photo: Kokoro Performance

Despite coming so close to taking the British F4 title, O’Sullivan was eager to put behind him the devastating end to the 2020 season.

By the time he joined Formula Scout for a special episode of the podcast at the end of the year, he was already focusing on 2021 and his move up to BRDC British 3.

He may have missed out on the title, but O’Sullivan was the standout performer on the 2020 British F4 grid. Only a few small mistakes – and a badly timed rain shower – cost him the title. All this against a more experienced rival in the form of Luke Browning.

O’Sullivan came to single-seater racing with a wealth of experience in karting with some very impressive professional outfits, which meant he quickly felt at home at Carlin. There was definitely some pressure being with the team last year, but he was able to keep calm under the circumstances and reached a remarkable level of consistency.

Staying with Carlin will undoubtedly be the right decision for O’Sullivan for his move up to F3. Like in F2, Carlin looks like it could be the team to beat in British F3 this year, and he’ll look to follow in the footsteps of Kaylen Frederick to get that first title locked in with the boys in blue.

Tom Lebbon BRITAIN 15y/o
2021: BRDC British F3 with Elite Motorsport   2020 (sportscars): Ginetta Junior champion (5 wins)

Lebbon comes into 2021 with just over one year of car racing under his belt and already with a title to his name.

The 15-year-old became the first rookie to be crowned Ginetta Junior champion since Nigel Moore achieved the feat in 2007, after already impressing by winning the series’ scholarship and then starring in the single-weekend Winter Series at Brands Hatch at the end of 2019.

He now makes the jump up straight into BRDC British F3, continuing with the team he made his car racing debut with as Elite Motorsport also begins its journey into single-seaters.

There are definitely cases of drivers successful in Ginetta Junior who aren’t quite up to scratch when it comes to single-seaters, but it has become a starting point for many successful young drivers in recent years.

The consistency Lebbon showed in 2020 (two spells of seven consecutive podiums) will undoubtably be useful, as British F3’s reversed grids mean being able to climb through the field is as valuable for earning points as being able to qualify well.

The step up to F3 will be another new challenge, and he’ll be against drivers with much more experience not only in single-seaters but in car racing as a whole.

Lebbon showed good racecraft in his first year in car racing and, although the amount of contact he’ll be able to get away with will be much slimmer in single-seaters than in the action packed Ginetta G40s, that will undoubtedly come in useful.

Of course, staying with Elite will also be invaluable. Though not experienced in British F3, the outfit more than knows how to win titles in motorsport and turn young talents into future superstars.

Tim Tramnitz GERMANY 16y/o
2021: ADAC F4 with US Racing   2020: 4th in ADAC F4 (1 win)

Photo: ADAC F4

German karting graduate Tramnitz had a really impressive first years in cars in 2020, although it went slightly under the radar as it lacked the drama or standout performances of some of his rivals.

At the US Racing team run by former F1 driver Ralf Schumacher and ex-DTM man Gerhard Ungar, Tramnitz picked up a win and five other podiums in ADAC F4 against a grid that was mostly more experienced than he was.

On eight occasions he topped the rookie classification, and he scored 82 points more than his team-mate Ollie Bearman who was the next best rookie in the standings.

What made Tramnitz’s performance worth remembering in retrospect is he didn’t have the benefit that almost everyone else did of gaining extra mileage by competing in Italian F4 alongside until after his ADAC campaign was complete, and the four points he scored from his two races there at the end of the year put him ahead of several other highly rated rookies.

Staying with US Racing for 2021 is a brilliant decision against a very competitive looking ADAC F4 field, and he’s highly rated by his two team bosses, so it should be a great year ahead for the 16-year-old.

And it will do him no harm to add some more Italian F4 appearances too.

Enzo Trulli ITALY 15y/o
2021: Spanish F4 with FA Racing by Drivex, F4 UAE champion (4 wins)   2020 (karting): 13th in WSK Super Master Series – OK

Photo: F4 UAE

Trulli’s F1 race-winning father Jarno is enthusiastic to see his son rise into F3 like he did early in his own career, and we shouldn’t rule out the possibility of him racing in either FREC of the F3-level Euroformula before the end of this year.

But the Italian’s car racing career only started less than two months ago, and for now he’s committed to a campaign in Spanish F4 with Drivex School in the colours of Fernando Alonso.

The preparation for Spain was joining Cram Motorsport in F4 United Arab Emirates, and Trulli won his first race out of karts. He then won three more times, and his consistent run of podiums inbetween set up a thrilling title showdown.

Despite missing a race in the final round, Trulli came out on top over Xcel Motorsport rival Dilano Van’t Hoff by one point after holding off the Dutchman for third place by a few tenths of a second in the Dubai Autodrome title decider.

Qualifying is something he has to work on, as he didn’t add a first pole to his CV while in the Middle East, and if he can find a way to make an appearance in Italian F4 with Cram then getting the most out of qualifying on a packed track will be crucial.

Van’t Hoff will front MP’s charge in Spanish F4, with Sebastian Ogaard set to provide a stern challenge at Campos Racing and Praga F4’s Quique Bordas also likely to be fighting for wins against Trulli. It promises to be a brilliant watch this year.

Dilano Van’t Hoff NETHERLANDS 16y/o
2021: Spanish F4 with MP Motorsport, 2nd in F4 UAE (5 wins)   2020 (karting): 10th in WSK Super Master Series – OK

The biggest rivalry of 2021 in junior single-seater racing seems to have already begun, after Trulli and Van’t Hoff fought for the F4 UAE title in thrilling style.

It was the Dutchman who got to the front first when it came to qualifying, but he immediately blew his chance of a win on his debut by stalling and it was Trulli who came through for victory in the opening race of the season.

Van’t Hoff struck back by winning the next two, and did the double again in round two. He only picked up one more win after that, with a technical disqualification and additional penalties costing him dearly as the fastest driver in the championship.

He took an incredible 13 poles out of 15, and set fastest lap in half of the races, making his title loss all the more jarring.

However he has a chance at redemption in Spanish F4, joining the MP team that absolutely dominated in 2020 and has a pool of eight drivers at present to pool data from for the upcoming campaign. That means Van’t Hoff’s going to be at the front straight away, and there are some interesting prospects that could provide internal battles in the Dutch team.

The second chapter of Trulli versus Van’t Hoff will probably be for title honours, but who’s to say they won’t bring their rivalry into a higher category before the end of 2021.

Maya Weug SPAIN 16y/o
2021: F4   2020 (karting): 12th in WSK Euro Series – OK, 17th in CIK-FIA European Championship – OK

Photo: Ferrari

Ferrari is yet to announce which F4 series its new protege Weug will be racing in, but it will make sure she has the best equipment possible where it can.

Back in 2016, she beat SMP Racing junior Kirill Smal and Mercedes F1 junior Andrea Kimi Antonelli to win the WSK Final Cup for 60 Mini karts and beat both again in WSK’s Night Edition. A year later she moved up to junior karting, where the highlight of her rookie season was qualifying second for the X30 Junior element of the British Kartmasters Grand Prix.

Everywhere she’s raced she’s been up against pretty much the best at her respective level of karts, with her senior graduation in 2019 coming as a Birel ART factory driver and with the backing of the Richard Mille Young Talent Academy.

She made headlines during her second season when a clash with Antonelli in the CIK-FIA World Karting Championship final resulted in a broken leg for her rival, and meant it was her European championship exploits that marked her best results, with 12th in WSK’s Euro Series and 17th in the CIK-FIA European championship for OK karts.

Weug also did a few tests in single-seater machinery, which no doubt helped her on track in the FIA Women in Motorsport Commission’s Ferrari Driver Academy-affiliated Girls on Track Rising Stars programme. Combined with her off-track skills, Weug won her 2021 seat through the FDA-organised shootout – but she would likely have been in F4 this year regardless.

Abbi Pulling BRITAIN 17y/o
2021: British F4 with JHR Developments   2020: 6th in British F4, two races in FR Eurocup

Photo: Jakob Ebery Photography

JHR Developments keeps knocking on the door of the title in British F4, and it will be Pulling who will leading its charge in 2021 after a rookie season spent with the team where she picked up four podiums and was unlucky not to get more.

There are some names to watch out for across the grid, particularly reigning Formula Nordic champion Joel Granfors at Fortec Motorsports, but with an influx of rookies it means Pulling is the standout sophomore with a title shot.

Pulling will be racing under the guidance of W Series race-winner and former GP3 racer Alice Powell – a partnership that quickly proved its worth last season when results started to improve after Powell came onboard – and also has race and test experience in Regional F3 cars she can now use to her advantage too.

Another aspect of Pulling’s position in the series is that she was one of only a few full-time entries last year that completed the season without picking up penalty points. Being a clean racer helps banks points, but there’s still a gap in the ultimate pace that Pulling needs to overcome to be turning that into fighting for wins if the standard of the grid is similar to 2020.

Winter testing has resulted in Pulling understanding “a lot more about how the car reacts”, suggesting she could turn this season into a race-winning one.

Written by Bethonie Waring, Craig Woollard & Elliot Wood

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