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Formula Scout’s Class of 2020

by Formula Scout
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 also now recognises the achievements of the very best of those who ‘graduate’ into the world of professional racing each year.

For 2021 there were some honourable mentions who landed either professional drives or reached a top level outside of single-seaters, but then continued their junior single-seater careers at the same time.

Jack Aitken was supposed to spend this year allying his Williams Formula 1 reserve driver duties with a GT World Challenge Europe drive in a Emil Frey Racing-run Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo, but a decision by Matteo Nannini to focus on his FIA Formula 3 Championship campaign meant Aitken ended up replacing him in HWA Racelab’s Formula 2 line-up.

It was a fruitless stint stopped when he broke his back in a crash in the Spa 24 Hours, with a best finish of fourth in his Lambo shared with Formula Regional European Championship graduate Konsta Lappalainen prior to that.

Racing against him in F2 was Liam Lawson, who in a Red Bull-branded AF Corse-run Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo rocked the DTM. He won on his debut, becoming the series’ yongest ever winner aged 19, and was on course for the title until a highly controversial Norisring finale. Also racing in the DTM were Toyota Racing Series race-winner Esteban Muth and former F3 racer Sophia Floersch who also impressed in LMP2 machinery in the World Endurance Championship.

The standout rookie of endurance racing this year was Franco Colapinto, now effectively a protege of G-Drive Racing, and the Argentinian was arguably the fastest driver on one-lap pace in both the Asian and European Le Mans Series in the top LMP2 class. He impressed so much that W Racing Team then called him up to race for it in the Spa 24H, despite having no GT racing experience, and came 22th in an Audi R8 LMS GT3. Later that month he came seventh in the Le Mans 24 Hours’ LMP2 class in a car shared with G-Drive team boss Roman Rusinov and Nyck de Vries, and then his form in FREC went up.

Photo: Jakob Ebery Photography

He ended a disappointing sixth in FREC, and is expected to move up to F3 next year alongside more endurance racing.

Over in Japan there were double programmes in Super Formula and the supporting SF Lights for Giuliano Alesi and Kazuto Kotaka, with SF Lights title runner-up Alesi taking a surprise win from pole at a wet Autopolis while standing in for Kazuki Nakajima at TOM’S. He will now take over the former F1 driver’s seat full-time for 2022.

Ramus Lindh was a frontrunner in LMP3 before landing an Indy Lights drive in the final quarter of the season, and Jorge Barrio was Argentinian Formula Renault 2.0 champion for the second year in a row while also winning Argentina’s second-tier TC2000 tin-top championship.

But none of these names could make the cut, so here is Formula Scout’s Class of 2020… Key Wins (W), poles (P), fastest laps (FL)

10. Charles Milesi FRANCE 20y/o
LM24H LMP2 winner, LMP2 Endurance Trophy winner (3 W), 10th in IMSA Endurance Cup LMP2, 17th in ELMS (2P, 2 FL)   2020: 21st in Super Formula, Ret in LM24H   2019: 9th in SF Lights   2018: 7th in FR Eurocup (2 W, 2 P, 1 FL)

Injury in 2019 and the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 delayed Milesi’s progression into the professional echelons, but three SF starts last year warmed him up well after his 2019 season was curtailed by a broken wrist that required intrusive surgery.

Rather than stick with SF for 2021, Milesi forewent the difficult travel restrictions and he landed a seat in WEC with the debuting WRT in a LMP2 car shared with Ferdinand Habsburg and Robin Frijns.

Despite the line-up’s near-total lack of LMP2 experience, they gelled perfectly and after inheriting victory from their team-mates in heartbreaking style at Le Mans (more on that later) they won both races in Bahrain to claim the class title.

That was a result based on teamwork, but there was also individual magnificence from Milesi who did the last two ELMS rounds with Cool Racing in a Pro-Am car. He took pole and fastest lap for both events, but with a Bronze-graded driver in the car it meant race results were hard to come by. However Milesi still lifted the team to its best results of the year.

9. Kiern Jewiss BRITAIN 19y/o
3rd in Porsche Carrera Cup GB (4 W)   2020: 13th in BRDC British F3 (1 W)   2019: 4th in BRDC British F3 (1 W, 2 P, 2 FL)

One of the most exciting young drivers to watch over the last few years has been Jewiss. He pulled off incredibly bold overtakes on his way to the British Formula 4 title in 2018, sometimes going too far in his rivalry with Ayrton Simmons, but it pushed the envelope for the category in terms of racecraft in the same way Max Verstappen is finding the limits of F1’s sporting rules today.

There was a Ferrari Driver Academy invite for an evaluation camp, and the Autosport BRDC Award even lowered its age limit to encompass the Mark Blundell protege, but the budget simply wasn’t there for a prolonged single-seater career.

He managed to return to his old Ginetta Junior team Douglas Motorsport to step up to what was then called BRDC British F3, but the combination struggled for pace in the first half of the season and meant Jewiss eventually came fourth in the series.

He returned for a second season, or at least the first half of it, and his career was practically revived when he signed with Team Parker Racing for this year’s Porsche Carrera Cup GB and as team-mate to the reigning champion Harry King who had won the title as an official Porsche GB junior.

The series runs on the same bill as British F4, meaning it has live UK television coverage of every round, and that exposure was important for Jewiss. He made the most of it and his team-mate too, winning on just his second start and taking three more victories across the season to come third – not too far off highly-rated champion Dan Cammish – and ahead of King.

8. Ritomo Miyata JAPAN 22y/o
10th in SF, 11th in Super GT   2020: SF Lights champion (12 W, 6 P, 15 FL), 17th in SF, 17th in Super GT

Miyata qualified second on his SF debut last year, as a stand-in driver due to pandemic-enforced absences, and scored points in both of the races he was given the chance to race in by TOM’S. He was clearly something special.

So to get a full-time seat this year with the title-winning team put a fair bit of pressure on the 2020 SF Lights dominator.

He mostly did what was expected of him, scoring in his first eight races before that run came to an end in the season finale with a lowly 14th place finish after a spin and meant he finished two points up on rookie part-time team-mate Alesi.

Miyata’s best finish was fourth and he only qualified in the top three once, but he was consistent. His qualifying average was 6.14, and average race finish was 7.86, with only one outlying result for each. He also had to lead the team on set-up with Nakajima mostly absent, and was usually quicker to make the most of it in qualifying against his team-mates. There just wasn’t the pace to be further forward though.

In Super GT he helmed WedsSport Bandoh’s resurgence, having actually completed his rookie season in the top GT500 class last year. The 2021 season featured two poles and two second places, highlighting Miyata’s one-lap pace, and he chased Naoki Yamamoto hard at Twin Ring Motegi in a performance that really impressed. In both series the results weren’t quite there with his machinery, but TOM’S and Toyota have their faith in Miyata and he’s now landing a top sportscar seat for 2022.

7. Yuki Tsunoda JAPAN 21y/o
14th in F1   2020: 3rd in F2 (3 W, 4 P, 1 FL), 4th in Toyota Racing Series (1 W)   2019: 4th in Euroformula (1 W, 3 FL)

In both the first and final races of the 2021 F1 season, Tsunoda was looking like the real deal. Quick, aggressive, bold, feisty and crafty, he smashed in a couple of outstanding results. Unfortunately, for much of the rest of the campaign, his car was often left smashed up after an unnecessary incident.

Those troubles, and the expected onslaught of criticism that followed, massively knocked the Red Bull junior’s confidence. So bad was it, that he was surprised when he kept his seat for 2022, despite there not really being another F2 graduate on the verge of a step up.

It took him a very long time to rebound, eventually culminating in a fine fourth place in Abu Dhabi (with a mega lunge on Mercedes-AMG’s Valtteri Bottas to boot). The qualifying gap, race pace gap and points gap to flying Frenchman Pierre Gasly in the same car was astronomic across the year as a whole, but there were underlying glimpses that Tsunoda is the same brilliant driver we saw in the past three years in the junior ranks.

But his team on occasion did have one of the fastest cars in F1 this year, and he couldn’t make the most of it.

6. Mick Schumacher GERMANY 22y/o
19th in F1   2019: F2 champion (2 W, 2 FL)   2019: 12th in F2 (1 W, 2 FL)   2018: FIA European F3 champion (8 W, 7 P, 4 FL)

Schumacher looked by far the most comfortable and most consistent of the drivers to graduate to F1.

The Haas VF-21 he wrestled was, frankly, a rather disastrous car but there were glimpses of Schumacher producing a bit of a spark to place it in positions it didn’t deserve to be in a race or two. However, despite looking the most comfortable, he also had some hefty shunts, which goes against him.

Obvious highlights included scraping into Q2 at Istanbul Park and a defensive masterclass at a jumbled up (and damp) Hungaroring, showcasing his ability to pounce when there’s a chance of something. It resembled a bit of his F2 career in a way, just with far better adaptability (one of his key junior weaknesses), and some very fine qualifying performances.

This is a somewhat reserved placement given the up-and-down year, as well as the rubbish machinery at his disposal, but he’s showcasing the ability to build and adapt the team around him as he did with Prema for so many years coming up the ranks and which was noted by others in the F1 paddock.

His fellow rookie team-mate, who does not make this list, was regularly thrashed in qualifying and races.

5. Louis Deletraz SWITZERLAND 24y/o
ELMS champion (3 W), 20th in WEC LMP2, NC in LM24H   2020: 4th in LM24H, 8th in F2 (2 FL)   2019: 8th in F2 (2 FL)

It became a bit of a light-hearted joke during Deletraz’s F2 career that he couldn’t win, with 94 races returning six second places and one front-row start. Before that he took a far more efficient two wins and three poles from 20 Formula V8 3.5 races.

From the previous five years the only instance where Deletraz looked truly spectacular was when he was called up by Rebellion Racing to contest the 2020 Le Mans 24 Hours, looking immediately comfortable in free practice and then running in contention for second place in the race when a worn clutch during his final stint led to several issues and an eventual finish of fourth.

That debut put Deletraz on the endurance racing map, and with no F1 doors opening for 2021 he joined crack GT racing outfit WRT as it started its first venture into prototype sportscars. He ended up sharing a car with Robert Kubica and Yifei Ye.

Deletraz won on his LMP2 debut at Barcelona, and the trio followed it up with a second ELMS win at the Red Bull Ring. Inter Europol Competition then took on Deletraz for a WEC round, and he finished fifth in class, before WRT attacked Le Mans.

He was nominated to qualify the car, and ended up as the second-fastest LMP2. He was in that position after 12 hours of the race, behind the Milesi entry, and the car twice moved into the lead in the morning while Ye was at the wheel. It looked like Deletraz would be a Le Mans winner when on the final lap of the race Ye encountered a throttle sensor issue and the car stopped. Their race was over.

It was heartbreak for the crew, but they then went on to win another ELMS round and the title, guaranteeing themselves another shot at Le Mans next year.

4. Niklas Krutten GERMANY 19y/o
2nd in ELMS LMP3 (2 W), 5th/2nd in Road to Le Mans, 12th in IMSA LMP3 (1 P), NLS BM240i (1 P, 1 FL)   2020: 5th in Euroformula

LMP3 is the F3 of prototype sportscars, and so it wouldn’t usually be considered for drivers ‘graduating’ from junior single-seaters. But like LMP2, sometimes a driver is signed to do a job, which at the same time is a breakthrough opportunity, and from there they establish themselves to make appearances with others in the category.

Krutten landed in LMP3 this year just as an opportunity to continue his racing career, having initially been set to stay in single-seaters after coming fifth in Euroformula, but soon became the star of the category and was a de facto pro by year’s end.

He won his first two races in Europe and only missed out on the ELMS title by a single point, and also contested the Road to Le Mans support races at the 24-hour race, coming fifth and second in the sprint races, then got called up by Zak Brown’s United Autosports team for two IMSA rounds.

Krutten rounded out his season by taking Petit Le Mans class pole, but a crash and a fuel pump failure ruined his race. He also put in two appearances in the NLS series on the Nurburgring Nordschleife, where he shared a BMW with fellow ADD Management client Jake Dennis and finished second in class on debut.

ADD also got Krutten into the Jaguar garage in Formula E’s Berlin finale, and will surely find the 19-year-old even more endurance racing opportunities for 2022. The feedback from the team bosses he’s had so far has also been excellent.

3. Callum Ilott BRITAIN 23y/o
3rd in LM24H GTEAm, 11th in GTWCE Endurance Cup, 38th in IndyCar, NC in Intercontinental GT Challenge   2020: 2nd in F2 (3 W, 5 P)

There was a very embarrassing incident at Indianapolis in the Intercontinental GT Challenge that cost AF Corse victory, but otherwise Ilott looked totally at home in a GT car this year after Ferrari overlooked him for a F1 drive.

Ilott had taken the Indianapolis 8 Hours lead in a dicey battle, going from third to first in one move at a restart, with just over 90 minutes to go. He then looked comfortable out front until with 52 minutes to go he misjudged lapping a GT4 car and squeezed himself against the outside wall. The result was a collision, crash and immediate retirement.

Away from that, Ilott was mostly fast, faultless and formidable. In the GTE version of the 488 he made the Le Mans podium in the GTEAm class, then in the GT3 car he picked up some strong GTWCE Endurance Cup results early on but there was just misfortune after that as team-mate Antonio Fuoco crashed the car at Barcelona.

Alongside his F1 reserve and test driver duties, Ilott was also able to head to the USA to kickstart his IndyCar career. He contested the final three rounds with the returning Juncos Hollinger Racing team, which he will drive for full-time next year.

Ilott qualified a respectable 19th for his debut at Portland, but failed to finish, ended up on row 13 of the grid at Laguna Seca and spun into the barriers during the warm-up session before coming a lapped 22nd, but looked more on the pace in Long Beach before a spin that combining his and team’s inexperience meant his year ended very flatly.

It didn’t look impressive on the surface, but given drivers at bigger teams didn’t go trouble-free either but had more races to show their worth, it was a respectable arrival by Ilott and sets him up for 2022.

2. Sena Sakaguchi JAPAN 22y/o
7th in SF, 14th in Super GT (1 P, 1 FL), 16th in Super GT300   2020: 2nd in SF Lights (4 W, 5 P, 2 FL), FRegional Japan champion (11 W, 8 P, 8 FL), 18th in Super GT, 16th in Super GT300

Despite dominating the Formula Regional Japanese Championship last year and coming second in SF Lights, you would be forgiven for not expecting much of Sakaguchi as he replaced the retiring Hiroaki Ishiura in INGING’s SF line-up.

But he spent 2021 exceeding all expectations. In SF he beat team-mate Sho Tsuboi convincingly, finishing second twice in changing weather and ending up as the second-best rookie in the points thanks to a strong partnership with his engineer Kotaro Tanaka.

He made the top three in qualifying twice, and in a season where the Honda-powered teams tended to have the advantage on one-lap pace it was still an impressive return and he had an average starting position of 7.29 and average finish of 7.14.

Due to travel restrictions he also ended up standing in for Sacha Fenestraz at TOM’S for the first five Super GT rounds. There, once again, he exceeded expectations.

He took pole, led the early running and took fastest lap on the way to third in the very first race of the season, then made the podium again next time out. Once Fenestraz could make it to Japan, Sakaguchi moved down to a Super GT3000 drive but again immediately landed on the podium. Of all the drivers on this list, the one who had the biggest breakout year.

1. Yifei Ye CHINA 23y/o
ELMS champion (3 W, 1 FL), ALMS champion (2 W), NC in LM24H   2020: Euroformula champion (11 W, 12 P, 12 FL)

Thinking better of a post-season SF test, but not having the budget for F2, Ye’s single-seater career came to an unintended standstill after his sublime Euroformula title, but once he got an LMP2 chance he grabbed it with both hands.

He became the first ever driver to win the ALMS and ELMS titles in the same year, should have won Le Mans, and then used his rising stock to orchestrate a move into Porsche Asia Pacific’s line-up and a 2022 GT racing programme.

There was no pre-season testing for Ye before he jumped in one of G-Drive Racing’s Algarve Pro Racing-run LMP2 cars, but he mastered not only the car but the format of endurance racing in the top class and during his stints was outclassing far more experienced drivers.

Ye was signed to Williams Esports and crack sportscar Rebellion Racing to contest last summer’s Virtual LM24H during the first global lockdown period.

The simulated car he used in the rFactor 2-based Esports event was the same Oreca 07 he raced in ALMS, and other appearances in major Esports competitions brought him into contact with people in the real-world sportscar paddock.

That helped him then go from ALMS, where he won his first two races in sportscars, to WRT’s ELMS line-up and the combination of himself, Deletraz and Kubica (both teaching Ye a lot) did the exact same thing with two wins on the trot. Two further wins were arguably lost to ill-timed safety car periods.

Ye was not considered the pro driver in the line-up and so was often looked over for qualifying and the more lucrative race stints, which had some influence on his 2022 contract negotiations and ultimately led to him leaving the outfit once manager Neel Jani used his Porsche connections to push Ye in that direction. Importantly though, every time Ye was in the Oreca 07 he was a driver the other teams had to look out for because of how potent he was proving to be.

At Le Mans he passed Milesi in the night for the LMP2 lead, and he did actually end up at the wheel for the all-important final stint. And so most of the pain was felt by the Chinese when the car turned off on the final lap.

His Porsche move is with one goal in mind: an LMDh seat in 2023 and overall Le Mans victory.

Written by Ida Wood and Craig Woollard