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Formula Scout’s Class of 2019

by Elliot Wood
Every year, some of junior single-seaters’ top drivers are handed professional opportunities. Some lead to long-term careers in sportscars, while others try out the more cut-throat world of F1 and IndyCar

Having annually ranked the top 50 drivers in junior single-seater racing since 2011, Formula Scout is now also recognising the achievements of the very best of those who ‘graduate’ into the world of professional racing each year.

Here is Formula Scout’s Class of 2019… Key Wins (W), poles (P), fastest laps (FL)

9. Ukyo Sasahara JAPAN 24y/o
15th in Super GT, 18th in Super Formula, NC in Asian F3 (3 W, 4 P, 1 FL)   2019: Asian F3 champion (8 W, 7 P, 7 FL)

The former Formula Renault star has essentially gone through his single-seater career twice now, with his first taking him up to FIA European Formula 3, and the second starting off in Japanese Formula 4 and concluding in a Super Formula seat.

Admittedly the Red Bull athlete only got his SF chance after travel restrictions prevented Red Bull’s Formula 1 junior Juri Vips from racing, but he was chosen by Team Mugen as the replacement because he was highly rated by team manager Shinji Nakano.

Sasahara had only done three Super GT races with Mugen at this point, with a best finish of 10th, but Nakano had already said his signing was good enough to race in F1 in the future. This came after a 2019 in which as well as winning the Asian F3 title with Hitech GP, Sasahara also became the first winner of the Motorsport Games GT Cup and was Porsche Carrera Cup Japan champion.

That momentum continued into 2020 at first as he returned to Asian F3 as a guest, consistently beating the likes of future Haas F1 drivers Pietro Fittipaldi and Nikita Mazepin.

In Super GT he made the top five in qualifying once, at Suzuka, but wasn’t able to make anything of it after his car lost a wheel just a few laps in. There was redemption next time out at Twin Ring Motegi though as he claimed his first and only podium of the season alongside Hideki Mutoh.

The SF season was far less rewarding, having not tested the Dallara SF19 car before, and in the early rounds he struggled with the series’ soft compound tyre supplied by Yokohama. He progressed a lot over the seven-round season, particularly in qualifying where he ended up with a higher average starting spot than title contenders Ryo Hirakawa and Nick Cassidy, and in the final race at Fuji Speedway he was fighting both of those drivers on track on the way to his first points finish in seventh.

8. Oliver Askew USA 23y/o
19th in IndyCar   2019: Indy Lights champion (7 W, 7 P, 5 FL)   2018: 3rd in IP2000 (1 W, 3 P, 2 FL)

So much was expected from reigning Indy Lights champion Oliver Askew as he stepped up to IndyCar this year with the returning McLaren, a team co-run with Schmidt Petersen Motorsports, but he ultimately failed to deliver.

The Floridian looked at his strongest on the ovals, but he admitted himself that he lacked the consistency needed to make progress race-by-race over such a compressed season with limited practice time due to the pandemic.

Besides qualifying fifth at the Indianapolis Grand Prix, his second IndyCar start, which he then crashed out of, he was usually struggling on one-lap pace and only made the top 10 on the grid again on his end-of-season return in St. Petersburg.

His absence from the previous double-header, also on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course, was a result of concussion he picked up in a nasty crash during the Indianapolis 500 – a race he led for a few laps – two months prior.

Besides the Indy 500, the only other round where he looked capable of fighting at the front like team-mate Patricio O’Ward was the Iowa double-header. In the first race of that weekend he picked up his first IndyCar podium in third place, then in race two he led for 10 laps on the way to sixth place.

His season had begun encouragingly with a ninth place on the Texas oval, ahead of O’Ward, but before season’s end it had already been announced he wouldn’t be retained for 2021 and finishing 16th from 10th on the grid in St. Pete didn’t turn too many heads.

It was a trying season with a few instances of contact with other drivers, but overall nothing to say that Askew doesn’t deserve a second year in IndyCar. It’s a shame then that he is unlikely to be returning to the grid soon.

7. Sergio Sette Camara BRAZIL 22y/o
20th in Super Formula (1 P), 27th in FE   2019: 4th in F2 (2 W, 2 P, 2 FL)   2018: 6th in F2 (1 P, 3 FL)  2017: 12th in F2 (1 W, 1 FL)

Once a Red Bull junior and then a McLaren one too, Sette Camara was snapped up by Red Bull once again as its F1 reserve driver for this year. This came after after signing as Dragon Racing’s reserve in Formula E and courting IndyCar interest, and not long before he took a place in B-MAX Racing by Motopark’s SF line-up. He was going to be in a lot of places in 2020.

Obviously the pandemic stripped back many of those commitments, and his first summoning came in FE’s six-race week-long Berlin season finale in August. He replaced Brendon Hartley in the team’s line-up, and Sette Camara knew he would have to be on top of his game to even match two-time World Endurance champion Hartley’s haul of two points in the first five races.

He was last in qualifying for his debut on the circuit’s reverse layout, and was set to finish 21st before exceeding the maximum limit of 45kWh on electrical energy used in the race and was disqualified as a result.

The next day brought an improved 20th place on the grid, and he came 17th after another driver got disqualified for the same reason as he did.

Reverting to the circuit’s standard layout for the next two races suited Sette Camara far more, having navigated this route on the team simulator before, and he earned the team’s highest starting spot of the 2019-20 season by qualifying 11th for the first of those. His race ended in a multi-car crash though, and he would start from last place the next day.

There was no redemption in the race, but on the very green alternative layout used for the final two races of the season a few days later he made the most of being in the later – and grippier – qualifying groups to qualify ninth twice. He faded down to 15th and 19th in the races, but beat team-mate Nico Muller in both.

Two months later he finally made his SF debut at Sportsland SUGO, after missing the opening two rounds, but it began in embarrassing style for the Formula 2 graduate with a red flag-causing spin in free practice. Sette Camara got lucky to scrape through the first two stages of qualifying, but then stunned the paddock by earning B-MAX its first series pole on his debut.

Having never made a practice start in the car it was no surprise that he lost the lead off the line, but ran in a comfortable second place until the pitstop phase of the race. After his stop, he went just four corners before crashing out on cold tyres. It was a painful end to a very encouraging debut, and his only start in Japan before returning to F1 and FE duties in Europe.

6. Toshiki Oyu JAPAN 22y/o
4th in Super GT300, 6th in Super Formula (1 win)   2019: 4th in SF Lights (1 W), 14th in Euroformula (2 W, 2 P)

If it wasn’t for crashing into his Nakajima Racing team-mate Tadasuke Makino, among others, and often making a mess of race starts in his rookie SF season then Oyu would be far higher up this list. But by professional standards, he was really putting his job at risk with the race-ruining collisions he started his professional career with.

What puts him at number six though is the way he turned it around, with an end of season qualifying average that was third best of the season regulars and a win and a podium that left him sitting handsomely as top rookie in the points by some way.

His breakthrough win from second on the grid at Suzuka, the penultimate race of the season, was inherited after Nick Cassidy had an engine failure but it came after a mistake-free performance for the first time. He then followed that up with a charge from seventh to second at Fuji, proving he could actually race wheel-to-wheel too.

He certainly had the opportunity to beat Sho Tsuboi to victory too, and did attempt a move on the eventual race winner, but to not take further risks in going for the win showed the development Oyu had made over his up-and-down first year in SF.

The Honda junior, who was a winner in Euroformula and Super Formula Lights in 2019, also got parachuted into a seat in Super GT300 – the secondary class of Super GT – with Team Aguri and came fourth in his first campaign in a car with a roof.

Only one other car scored in seven of the eight races, although Oyu’s non-score came through a problem of his own making again. He was fighting for second place with just a few laps to go, and ended up punting the rear of the car ahead. That ripped off his bonnet and led to a fluid leak, as well as a loss of positions, before he brought the car to a stop on the next lap.

5. Sacha Fenestraz ARGENTINA/FRANCE 21y/o
4th in Super GT, 13th in Super Formula   2019: SF Lights champion (8 W, 5 P, 9 FL), 6th in Super GT300 (1 P)

Like Oyu, Fenestraz starred in qualifying as a SF rookie but then had crashes mostly undo his hard work, although often these were Oyu’s fault. In the season opener the reigning SF Lights champion made the front row and after being passed by his team-mate Kenta Yamashita finished third, becoming one of a rare few to make the podium on their debut.

He completed five racing laps in three rounds as he was often hit out, but he had the highest qualifying average of anyone. As his Kondo Racing team’s form started to dip he then finally got a chance to finish some races, although was out after one lap again in the first race of Suzuka’s double-header, and he rose up the order to finish an impressive eighth in the season finale.

The Franco-Argentinian Toyota protege had a better time of it in Super GT, where he was promoted to the top class with TOM’S after starring in GT300 in 2019.

His first three races all resulted in podiums, leaving him and team-mate Yuhi Sekiguchi as points leaders. The success ballast that came from that made his job a whole lot harder in the two rounds after, where he was a pointless 11th and 12th.

Fenestraz fought his way to seventh in round five at Suzuka, bringing him back to within two points of the title lead. A balance issue then left him down in 13th at Motegi, and as one of the title outsiders once more. Third place in the Fuji finale lifted Fenestraz and Sekiguchi up to fourth in the points, but they had the potential to be champions.

Early in the year he also took part in the FE rookie test in Marrakech for Jaguar, and was 10th fastest.

4. Dorian Boccolacci FRANCE 22y/o
5th in Lamborghini ST Europe (2 W, 1 P), 12th in ADAC GT Masters (1 W), 15th in GTWCE Endurance   2019: 14th in F2

Being picked up by three manufacturers in a single year, as well as winning at the Nurburgring 24 Hours, is quite the first season in professional motorsport, and it’s only because F2 graduate Dorian Boccolacci was making his mark in GT3 – which have driver aids and are often set-up to be friendly for gentleman drivers rather than for outright speed – rather than the highest echelon of sportscars which holds back his placing.

You could argue that Boccolacci was up against as tough as opposition as anyone on this list, as he took in programmes in the Intercontinental GT Challenge, GT World Challenge Europe, Lamborghini Super Trofeo Europe and ADAC GT Masters.

His main success came as an official Lamborghini young driver in its one-make series, where he was partnered up with 2012 Italian Formula Renault 2.0 champion Kevin Gilardoni. The pairing won twice together at Barcelona and were fifth in the points.

Audi customer team Sainteloc Racing called upon Boccolacci’s services for GTWC Endurance, which rivals WEC’s GTE Pro class as the top GT racing series in the world, and he did a solid job to come fifth on his debut in the Imola 3 Hours.

He was 10th in the Nurburgring 6 Hours, but returned to the circuit – and its full Nordschleife layout – for its 24-hour race a few weeks later in a Porsche. Boccolacci entered as a warm-up for the Spa 24 Hours, which is a GTWCE round, and he made it through some of the wettest conditions imaginable to win his class in 41st place.

That boosted his confidence for Spa, where he and his Sainteloc team-mates were one of the victory contenders throughout. With two hours to go it was Boccolacci who led the field on a soaking wet track, and a splash-and-dash pitstop a few minutes later only dropped him one spot. His final stop an hour later under the safety car cost him his victory shot though, and he came third best in a four-way fight for fourth that went to the chequered flag.

The 22-year-old’s other campaign was in a Zakspeed-run Mercedes-AMG in Germany, where he was also a winner. Which manufacturer could the Frenchman be on the payroll of next year?

3. Nicholas Latifi CANADA 25y/o
21st in F1   2019: 2nd in F2 (4 W, 3 FL)   2018: 9th in F2 (1 W, 3 FL)   2017: 5th in F2 (1 W, 2 FL)   2016: 16th in GP2

From the outside, it looked like Latifi did everything Williams asked of him in his first year in F1, and team-mate George Russell’s brief promotion to Mercedes showed just how high quality the bar was being set for Latifi to try to match.

He was outqualified for all 17 races, although that was to be expected after Russell did the same to Robert Kubica in 2019 and came close to beating Valtteri Bottas when partnered with him at Mercedes for the Sakhir Grand Prix.

It was a fairly clean season for Latifi, although it wasn’t like he was often in wheel-to-wheel battle due to Williams’ backmarker car, and it was only at the Turkish Grand Prix where he was particularly error prone as he spun off in qualifying and had a race-ending collision.

His only other two retirements weren’t even his fault, with him being one of many caught out by the safety car restart chaos at Mugello’s Tuscan Grand Prix, and then an oil leak ending his Sakhir GP.

He often raced competitively and on three occasions he finished 11th, putting him ahead of Russell in the standings until his Mercedes call-up, but he really needs to get closer to his team-mate on pace if he wants to stay with the team for a third season after 2021. At the same time, in a season as tricky as this one to become a rookie in – while Williams was changing management too – he did a good job in what were the fastest cars in F1 history.

2. Rinus VeeKay NETHERLANDS 20y/o
14th in IndyCar (1 P, 1 FL)   2019: 2nd in Indy Lights (6 W, 7 P, 6 FL), Asian F3 Winter Series champion (4 W, 2 P, 4 FL)

One race into VeeKay’s IndyCar career and the Dutch teenager was already under a lot of scrutiny. In free practice at Texas he crashed heavily and clumsily, ruling him out of qualifying later that day as repairs were done to his car to ensure he could race. His day didn’t improve, as in the race he lost it on the high line and wiped himself and Alex Palou out on the spot.

The 2019 Indy Lights runner-up was able to rebound whenever he faced a low though, and despite qualifying down the field for round two at Indianapolis, he was able to charge his way up the order and finish fifth through some clinical overtaking and defensive work on a circuit his Ed Carpenter Racing team usually wasn’t strong at in its road course form.

He was back in the headlines for crashing at Iowa, although this time it was because Colton Herta rode over his car on a restart and it highlighted how the new-for-2020 aeroscreen cockpit protection device had ensured both drivers emerged alive and unscathed.

Once again he rebounded in fine style. He was the only Chevrolet-powered driver to make the Fast Nine in Indy 500 qualifying, and put himself fourth on the grid as well setting the fastest ‘no tow’ lap on Carb Day. The race didn’t go to plan, as he earned a penalty after sliding into one of his crew members during a pitstop, but his pace with oval specialist ECR had been encouraging and at the Gateway double-header a week later he claimed a sixth and a fourth.

At Mid-Ohio he was a top 10 contender again, then on the return to the IMS road course he took his first pole by a massive 0.7803 seconds. During the first half of the race he fought for the lead with Herta lap after lap, then in the last stint he hunted down his rival and passed him to claim his first podium. VeeKay ended 2020 as IndyCar’s Rookie of the Year and with his seat at ECR already secured for 2021.

1. Nyck de Vries NETHERLANDS 25y/o
5th in ELMS (1 W, 1 FL), 11th in FE, 13th in WEC (1 LMP2 win)   2019: F2 champion (4 W, 5 P, 3 FL)   2018-19: 25th in WEC

Nyck de Vries was headed towards the ultimate journeyman career in junior single-seaters even as he marched towards the 2019 F2 title, but Mercedes-Benz then came calling after using him as its simulator driver and signed him for its foray into FE.

The professionalism that made de Vries stand out at the very start of his time in car racing meant he fitted seamlessly into the F1-esque Mercedes operation and as team-mate to Stoffel Vandoorne there was a shared experience of falling foul of F1 – and especially McLaren’s – politics.

On his debut at the tricky Riyadh street circuit in Saudi Arabia he topped his qualifying group and put himself third on the grid, then drove a strong race to sixth. Besides the top six drivers in FE’s first ever race in 2014, only one other driver has matched or eclipsed sixth place on their series debut, and that was ex-F1 driver Scott Speed way back in season one.

De Vries went from hero to zero in race two of that weekend, qualifying last and then charging up to eighth only to be docked 29s and thrown back to 16th for overtaking behind the safety car and a technical infringement on his car.

In Santiago he again excelled in the race, showing off his racecraft to make it onto the podium – which was then taken away from him by a five-second penalty for using battery coolant that was too cool.

He qualified third in Mexico City, and was running in fifth before a race-ending clash with Virgin Racing’s Robin Frijns that came about after his front wheels locked while using fanboost. A similar software issue led to another driver crashing too.

De Vries just kept at it despite the setbacks, and qualified fourth in Marrakech – the final race before the COVID-19 pandemic. He was running third when he was issued with a drive-through penalty for using too much power during regeneration, and rose back up to 11th place after that.

In Berlin the penalties and crashes kept on coming, overshadowing how brilliantly he had adapted to the series’ unique challenges, but it ended on a high as he completed a Mercedes one-two behind Vandoorne in the final race and gave Mercedes little choice but to sign both drivers for a second season. Expect wins in 2021.

De Vries also excelled in sportscars this year, winning in WEC and the European Le Mans Series in LMP2 machinery. He is now a mainstay in the prototype sportscar paddock, and may well be in contention for a future Le Mans Hypercar seat.