The second Formula Regional European Championship season was just as light on entries as 2019 was, but it wasn’t short of noteworthy drives. Formula Scout runs through the best of each round
Despite the small grids and varying quality in teams and drivers, FREC once again delivered some of the most entertaining moments in junior single-seaters this year, while also frequently producing the kind of borefests that you know the result of after qualifying. Changing weather was the ingredient needed this year to spice up the action, and it no doubt helped that the title was fought over by two Ferrari proteges with immense followings and great respect for each other on and off track.
Those two Prema drivers didn’t run away with the title though, as many had feared, and the championship fight went right to the final race.
Where it all kicked off in August, and where the rust really showed for the drivers after a longer off-season than usual.
Qualifying built up the anticipation though, as Arthur Leclerc – younger brother of Ferrari Formula 1 driver Charles – took a triple pole by the closest of margins. The biggest gap he had was in Q1, where he was 0.060 seconds faster than Ferrari stablemate and Prema team-mate Gianluca Petecof. In Q2 he was just 0.034s up on KIC Motorsport’s Formula 3 returnee Juri Vips, and on second-best laptimes the advantage over Petecof was a tiny 0.010s.
Leclerc was slow off the line in his first F3 race though, and Petecof ended up battling with fellow Prema driver Oliver Rasmussen for the lead. It was Rasmussen who prevailed, while Leclerc, Petecof and Vips all collided.
Petecof pitted, Vips fell down the order and Leclerc retired, before Vips also retired after getting too close to Prema’s fourth driver Jamie Chadwick. Through two safety car interruptions, Rasmussen held on for his first single-seater win.
KIC Motorsport’s Patrik Pasma finished second, and some stern defending from Chadwick earned her third place over Petecof. That was the highlight of the season for the W Series champion, who only finished in the top five once more.
Leclerc made up for his retirement by dominating race two, with a 4.772s victory margin over Petecof in second and a massive 15.806s gap back to Rasmussen in third. He then finished second to Petecof in the final race of the weekend, after another slow start, and Prema secured another podium lockout while fourth for Vips brought him up to seventh in the points.
Star of the weekend: On dint of scoring the most points, possibly Petecof. But Rasmussen exceeded expectations to shine too, and Leclerc immediately showed a turnaround in qualifying form after it had been a weakness in Formula 4.
Paul Ricard continued to set the tone for much of the early-to-middle phase of the season, with jabs and blows being dealt between Leclerc and Petecof alone in the title scrap.
A messy first lap from many of the drivers including polesitter Leclerc in the first race almost left Vips, who at this point was poised to race in Formula 2, in the fight for the lead.
Petecof had to fight his way past Vips to consolidate second and limit the damage done but Leclerc was unstoppable on his way to victory. Pierre-Louis Chovet, meanwhile, was able to battle past Vips to take Van Amersfoort racing’s first podium of the season. His mentor, 2013 GP3 Series runner-up Facu Regalia, made his single-seater return with a guest appearance and was on the pace pretty much straight away.
In race two Petecof bounced back, resisting pressure from Leclerc throughout and making it impossible for him to force a way past. Chovet and Vips went at it again over third, this time with Vips coming out on top in a scrap that went to the final moments of the race.
Meanwhile, Chadwick crashed into DR Formula by RP Motorsport’s Emidio Pesce down the order and ended their races.
In race three Petecof fluffed the start to allow Leclerc and Vips (who started fifth) past, although the latter was powerless against Leclerc. As it turned out, Vips’ brakes were actually applied all race and it was massively costing him on the straights.
Petecof was therefore able to come back past Vips and follow Leclerc home once more to leave still with the points lead.
For Rasmussen, it was a strugglesome weekend with numerous off-track moments and a best result of fourth.
Star of the weekend: Leclerc and Petecof were at their very best, while Charles Leclerc watched on, but credit is due to Vips for twice dragging a car with no right to be up the order onto the podium.
Red Bull Ring
Red Bull Ring was Petecof’s strongest round of the campaign, and in the first race in particular he made an impact.
It finished as a Prema 1-2-3 – something we have come accustomed to in the lower tiers – while the fourth car driven by Chadwick spectacularly crashed on the opening lap with KIC’s Konsta Lappalainen.
Petecof was able to survive the safety car restart that resulted from that and convincingly beat Leclerc, while Rasmussen held off pressure late-on from Pasma and Chovet. Category debutant Nico Gohler finished in sixth for KIC.
Rasmussen rebounded from his Paul Ricard struggles with a win in the second race in Austria, after passing Petecof on the opening lap. Petecof beat Leclerc to second to extend his points lead, while VAR’s debutant Alessandro Famularo was sixth.
Petecof had to be forceful in the third and final race of the weekend against his team-mates on the opening lap but, remarkably, all three leading Prema drivers avoided any significant errors and were able to continue.
Once again, the trio locked out the podium – Petecof, Leclerc, Rasmussen. That was despite surviving a pair of safety car restarts – including late on. Famularo improved to fourth, and Chadwick made her last top-five appearance in fifth.
Star of the weekend: Petecof was undoubtedly the driver to beat at the Red Bull Ring, and he was under pressure too as he had yet to find the budget to continue beyond the next round. That funding was secured a few weeks later before Mugello.
Leclerc needed to respond to his team-mate’s growing lead, and he did so emphatically and crushingly at Mugello.
The pair’s stronghold on poles was ended by Rasmussen in a wet qualifying session for race one, but it was Leclerc who was the standout driver in the tricky conditions.
The prowess the Monegasque showcased in race one was incredible. He made his way into the lead spectacularly past Rasmussen early on, albeit under yellow flags for the beached car of Andrea Cola.
That gave Leclerc a 10-second time penalty. Not that it mattered, because he finished over 20s ahead of a returning Vips, with Rasmussen and Petecof close together in third and fourth.
In the second race, Leclerc started from pole on wet compound tyres on a drying track. He and his team-mates then opted to pit, leaving Chovet leading before he too pitted once rain began to fall once more – forcing everyone back onto wets.
Bizarrely this left the family-run Gillian Henrion, whose bad luck across the season beggars belief, in the lead. Before long, he had pitted and Chovet returned to the front – almost a lap up on Leclerc – before a full-on storm covered the circuit and brought out the safety car once Cola had beached once again.
The storm was brief, and brought those who made the extra stop such as Leclerc back with the pack. In the remaining few laps he charged his way up the order, thrived once more in the wet, then after passing Chovet pulled out a gap of 15 seconds in just two laps to take a dominant win, as Chovet and Petecof counted their losses on the bottom two steps of the podium.
Mugello’s third race was a tad more straightforward, but Leclerc found himself having to resist pressure throughout from Petecof, who he now led in the points. Rasmussen was third in another Prema podium lockout, a feat not achieved again.
Bizarrely, halfway into the season, that would also be the last time the two Ferrari juniors won a race.
Star of the weekend: Leclerc was simply unbeatable at Mugello, and his route to the triple win was similar to the crazy yet stunning path Frederik Vesti took to achieve the feat in mixed weather at the Hungaroring on his way to the 2019 title.
Pasma was brilliant at Monza and became the first major threat to Prema’s stranglehold on FREC by beating Petecof in a straight fight to take his and KIC’s first win.
Leclerc and Rasmussen had their own duel over third, with the former coming out on top.
The title advantage went back to Petecof in race two despite finishing sixth, as both he and Leclerc had scruffy races. Leclerc’s car went up in smoke before he could redeem himself, while Chadwick this time crashed into Gohler.
It was Rasmussen who restored Prema’s pride, winning in a thrilling duel with Lappalainen, and with Chovet close behind.
Leclerc was on pole for the third race but faded to sixth, leaving Pasma and Petecof to fight it out front once more. A massively enthused Pasma won again ahead of Perecof, and Lappalainen also got another podium finish.
Rasmussen was fourth, almost losing out to Chovet after a mistake at the first chicane.
Star of the weekend: Pasma hasn’t had it easy in his car racing career so far, but on his day he can be pull big results out of the bag and he did just that in Italy. Prema’s quartet being messier than usual can explain their race losses, but for Pasma to claim a double pole too to end the team’s unbeaten run in qualifying too was quite the feat.
Red Bull junior Dennis Hauger joined the fray with VAR for Barcelona, and it didn’t take long for him to have a beneficial impact to the team – Chovet claimed its first pole before Hauger added two more in the second qualifying session.
This weekend, however, turned out to be the point of the season where Rasmussen returned to the title fight.
Chovet stalled entirely and Hauger was slow off the line in race one, allowing Rasmussen through to win ahead of Leclerc. Hauger finished third and Chovet recovered to seventh, while 2019 FREC regular Matteo Nannini replaced Cola at Monolite.
Not long after, it was announced during F1’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola that the Formula Renault Eurocup – which was supporting F1 that weekend – would be ended after 2020 and FREC would adopt its Renault power supply for 2021.
Back on track at Barcelona, Rasmussen outdid VAR’s drivers again at the start for a second win of the weekend, although this time he did complete the podium behind him, while Leclerc and Petecof had to work hard to finish fifth and sixth.
VAR got its reward in the weekend’s final race. Chovet vaulted past a slower-starting Hauger at the start, held off Petecof into the opening corner – allowing Hauger back past the Brazilian into second – then set fastest lap after fastest lap as he romped to victory. Petecof was third, and Leclerc took fourth ahead of a charging Rasmussen.
At this point, just 19 points separated the top three, but it became abundantly clear that the big points were no longer guaranteed to go the way of the previously invincible Prema.
Star of the weekend: He got fitted for his seat at the circuit, hadn’t even seen the car until free practice, then was at the front straight away and gave VAR “the thrill back” with his performances. After a tricky time in FIA F3, Hauger reminded everyone of his brilliance and why Red Bull has him on its books.
DR Formula appeared at Imola with Ian Rodriguez – an ex-Indy Pro 2000 racer who is the equivalent of an old friend of the team – and he impressed in the pre-event test. Formula Renault Eurocup’s Nicola Marinangeli also joined in KIC’s third car.
Rodriguez would go and continue that form into the weekend proper by qualifying second on his debut and then inheriting the first place starting spot as Rasmussen – who took pole in Q1 – failed to start due to gearbox woes.
Resisting pressure from Hauger and then Leclerc, and then Hauger again, Rodriguez was able to come through and take a very surprising debut victory. Hauger was second ahead of Leclerc, and with Petecof struggling to eighth it meant the tables were turned once again in the title race.
Leclerc should have been on course to win the second race of the weekend from pole to extend his new points lead, but a sensor issue forced him into retirement from the lead and this handed Pasma victory and Petecof the championship lead.
Rodriguez, who had done no racing in 2020 prior to the weekend, finished the race in second place.
Pasma followed that success with another excellent win – beating Leclerc on merit in the third race. He had a safety car restart to deal with after Henrion spun off on fluid left by a problem from his own car, but he was imperious.
Leclerc brought the gap to Petecof back down to two points after the latter finished fourth. He would have been fifth had Rodriguez’s sensational weekend not come undone with a spin from third place.
Star of the weekend: Rodriguez was only in the series for one round, but his three races in F3 were well used.
Just 10 cars turned up to race at a cold and wet Vallelunga after a free practice crash for Cola ruled him out.
Rasmussen, who still had a narrow shot at the title, swept the pole positions while a drive belt failure that led to an engine fire put Leclerc last on the grid for all three races.
Hauger brilliantly took his first F3 win in the damp conditions of race one as several cars faltered – including Leclerc when he hit Chadwick.
Pasma and Rasmussen added to their podium tally in second and third, Petecof grew his lead in fourth, and Leclerc came a penalised sixth. Rasmussen was then dealt a cruel blow as the worsening weather meant race two was called off, and at 31 points behind Petecof it meant he was out of title contention heading into Sunday’s season finale.
Leclerc needed to charge through the pack and to beat Petecof by six points to clinch the title. But he was too eager to make progress quickly on a track that was still wet in the decider, and his title hopes ended with a spin into the gravel. With fifth, Petecof took the title, and Rasmussen showed what could have been by rounding out the year with another win – the only Prema driver to make the top step in the second half of the season.
Star of the weekend: Rasmussen could have won race two had it run, and the weather may have left him as champion if his team-mates had slipped up. However conditions was just too tricky to be raced in, and so the Dane was denied a shot at the lucrative triple win. That he matched Leclerc on points and for the most wins in 2020 was impressive, but it meant he lost out on the title runner-up spot on second place countback.
FREC stats rundown
|12||Emidio Pesce||DR by RP||4x7th||4x8th||0||2.3||50|
|13||Ian Rodriguez||DR by RP||1||1x2nd||2||15.0||45|
Additional reporting by Elliot Wood