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Mid-season spotlight

by Peter Allen

At the halfway point of the season, the PaddockScout team takes a look at the drivers making waves in junior single-seater racing so far this year.

Felipe Nasr – GP2 Series
2nd in standings, 4 podiums from 10 races
Felipe Nasr

Photo: Malcolm Griffiths/GP2 Series Media Service

Entering his second season in GP2, Felipe Nasr began the year amongst the title favourites as he returned to the Carlin setup with whom he claimed the British F3 crown in 2011. Last year he was quick but often had to fight his way through from the back – this time he’s been a near ever-present at the sharp end. His consistency has been remarkable, finishing all of the first eight races in either second, third or fourth place. Somehow though, he is still chasing his maiden win in the category. In Bahrain, he came within metres of beating Sam Bird to the sprint race win after a late charge on better-preserved tyres, a particularly impressive trait of his. But with that strategy not having yet worked, he went immediately for the race lead in Silverstone, only to be forced off by Marcus Ericsson, eventually ending his run of consistency with a retirement. He fought back to seventh in race two, actually reducing the gap to points leader Stefano Coletti, who failed to score in either race.

Coletti had been similarly impressive in the opening races, finishing the first eight races in the top six before contact from Fabio Leimer wrecked his Silverstone weekend. Coletti’s three wins may have all come in sprint races, but he’s been up there in qualifying and the feature races too. Driving for the new Russian Time squad, Bird has also won three times and closed the gap to the leading pair with a strong home performance at Silverstone. In fourth and fifth respectively, Leimer and James Calado have some catching up to do. Peter Allen

Stoffel Vandoorne ? Formula Renault 3.5
1st in standings, 4 wins from 9 races
Stoffel Vandoorne

Photo: Renault Sport/DPPI

To anyone that paid attention to winter testing, Stoffel Vandoorne?s performances in his rookie Formula Renault 3.5 season after winning last year?s Eurocup 2.0 title are not a surprise. He was a rival for pre-season favourite Antonio Felix da Costa throughout, and backed up that form in the season opener at Monza with a commanding debut win. He then lost some ground to Kevin Magnussen with just a third place to show for the entire Motorland weekend, followed by a ninth in Monaco after being penalised for crashing under yellows in practice. The first race in Spa was also a struggle, but he came good in race two with a home win to reignite his season. He then followed that with a dominant Moscow weekend that put him back into the championship lead. If he keeps it for the rest of the year, will repeat the achievement of Robin Frijns last year.

Vandoorne?s fellow McLaren junior Magnussen was the top performer of the title favourites through the Motorland, Monaco and Spa weekends, with some superb performances in Spain and Belgium in particular. A penalty for blocking in qualifying meant no points in the first Moscow race, allowing Vandoorne to take the points lead away from him by comfortably beating him to the victory on the Sunday. Felix da Costa has not performed as expected, with just a win in the second Monza race so far. Fourth-placed Will Stevens has put in some good drives to podiums as has sixth-placed Nigel Melker. In between them is Nico Muller, who took his first win in Monaco. Peter Allen

Vittorio Ghirelli
3rd in standings, 1 win from 8 races
Vittorio Ghirelli

Photo: Auto GP

One of the revelations of this season so far has been the emergence of Vittorio Ghirelli. The 19-year old Italian first appeared on the international scene in 2010 when he made the ludicrously large jump from karting to GP3 at age 15. Unsurprisingly against a vastly more experienced field, he was resoundingly beaten, scoring no points. He then repeated that feat the following year. This was followed by another hugely unnecessary jump to the ultra-competitive FR3.5 series for in which he scored?5 points in a rain-affected race. With this in mind, very few people would have regarded him as a title contender for this season – and many people were wrong. A podium at the season-opener in Monza showed that he had learned from his three years against tough opposition. This was followed by another podium in Morocco before a dominant performance at the Hungaroring, where he earned 40 out of a possible 47 points to put himself in the title hunt.

He chased Narain Karthikeyan home at the first race in Silverstone but a mechanical issue that forced him to retire from race two has left him 24 points adrift of first-placed F3 graduate Kimiya Sato and 11 points adrift of second-year Auto GP man Sergio Campana, though he remains very much in the title hunt.? It is likely that Ghirelli will once again be pushed further up the ladder next season – probably to GP2 where he has already tested but perhaps with an Auto GP title he can compete with the very best of the junior racing ladder. Jonathan Wallcroft

Kevin Korjus – GP3 Series
2nd in standings, 3 podiums from 6 races
Kevin Korjus

Photo: Malcolm Griffiths/GP3 Media Service

After a disappointing second season in Formula Renault 3.5 led to a loss of funding from Gravity and the Lotus F1 team, Kevin Korjus was forced into a switch to GP3 with the Koiranen team, with whom he had won the Eurocup title in 2010, preceding Frijns and Vandoorne. Although they had been successful in Formula Renault, Koiranen were new to GP3 and not expected to fight for wins immediately. They proved that wrong in Barcelona though, as Korjus set the fastest qualifying time, only to be penalised for ignoring yellows in practice. After finishing second to fast-starting team-mate Aaro Vainio in the sprint race, he scored a third in Valencia and then took pole for real in Silverstone. Unfortunately a slow start restricted him to second, but he was one of only two drivers to score in all of the first five races and it was enough to move him up to second in the standings. If he and Koiranen have room to improve, they could be a potent force in the title chase.

Korjus might not have won yet, but six drivers have done so from as many races. Pre-season favourite Tio Ellinas won the season opener but has been strangely quiet since, finishing the following five races in positions four to six. Despite that, being the only driver to score in every race sees him hold onto the championship lead. Conor Daly threatened with a win from pole in Barcelona, but failed to score in Silverstone after a jump start and a collision. Peter Allen

Raffaele Marciello – FIA European Formula Three
1st in standings, 6 wins from 15 races
Raffaele Marciello

Photo: FIA F3

Whilst his main anticipated rival, Pascal Wehrlein, was ruled out of the season early on due to a DTM call-up, that should do very little to downplay just how good the Ferrari Driver Academy’s Raffaele Marciello has looked this year. After a stellar first season, expectations were high, but, coming to Monza, Marciello delivered instantly, taking two wins even with Wehrlein still in the field. While his early-Silverstone form was a bit suspect, with no rivals at all close to the Italian, he found time to rebound and add to his win tally in race three of round two. A terrifyingly dominant performance at Hockenheim followed, after which you wouldn’t be blamed to decree the championship over.

The fourth round at Brands Hatch did awful little to combat those fears, with the Prema boys locking out the top three in every qualifying. Marciello followed Alex Lynn to second in race one, winning races two and three, albeit he was later disqualified from the final race for a tech infringement, through no fault of his own. At Spielberg, however, both Prema and Marciello looked weak, barely managing points whilst main rival, Mucke’s Felix Rosenqvist, swept up all three wins, taking most of the Italian’s gap. Spielberg aside, though, Marciello’s second season in European F3 has been utterly mesmerising. The Italian had always been quick, but also rather reckless – and that second trait now appears well and truly gone. The championship is his to lose and it doesn’t seem very likely that he will. Valentin Khorounzhiy

Marvin Kirchhofer – German F3
1st in standings, 7 wins from 14 races
Marvin Kirchhofer

Photo: formel3.de

There’s little surprise that German F3 rookie Marvin Kirchhofer is currently leading the standings as he is, after all, the reigning ADAC Formel Masters champion. But while not a shock, it is nice to be able to report that the German youngster is living up to the boldest of realistic expectations, having outright dominated a rather strong field with drivers who have had far more experience with the cars. Kirchhofer kicked his maiden season in German F3 off with a double pole and proceeded to win both feature races in rainy conditions, albeit found some difficulty with overtaking in the reverse-grid second race. A similar pattern followed at Spa, although there he only picked up one win, with a notable challenge mounted by his teammate Emil Bernstorff. He didn’t top qualifying at Nurburgring, but enjoyed a marvellous weekend, picking up another win. At Sachsenring, Kirchhofer was untouchable in both sprints, while two bad starts off of pole marred his Lausitz weekend, where he still managed to recover to three podium finishes and, among those, a very difficult win in race three.

His position in the points is already quite flattering, as he leads his two Lotus teammates by over 80 points but Kirchhofer has shown other impressive skills. Not only is he undoubtedly fast, he’s been very consistent, still to record a finish in lower than fourth – and consistency was something that he lacked in his ADAC FM title season. The future is a bright one for Mr. Kirchhofer, and, whichever series he ends up in next year, he will surely be one to watch. Valentin Khorounzhiy

Santagio Urrutia – F3 Open
4th in standings, 1 win from 8 races
Santiago Urrutia

Photo: Fotospeedy

Santiago Urrutia entered the championship as the best rookie in Formula Abarth last year and one of the biggest talents on the F3 Open grid. The Uruguayian was able to match his pace easily with the others right at the beginning of the season in Paul Ricard, as he had the fastest lap in the first race, however, his lack of experience and bad luck caused two big accidents forcing him to retire. Two weeks later, he celebrated his first F3 Open race victory on Saturday, and a second place on Sunday, which put him to the second position in the standings. His dominant performance in Algarve was followed by strong point scoring positions and another podium in N?rburgring and Jerez. The 16-year-old talent is currently fourth, however, even if Urrutia will not be able to fight for the championship, this year proves him to be one to watch in the future.

The current championship leader is Thai Sandy Stuvik, who is the most consistent driver as his worst position has been fifth so far. Perhaps the fastest driver this year is 25-year-old Nelson Mason, who won the Winter Series, and already clinched three pole positions and race victories, however, his chances to be the champion will depend on if he is able to finish more races in the second half of the year than in the first half. 18-year-old Ed Jones is another front-runner of this season, however, if he misses other rounds, just like he did at Paul Ricard, he won’t be the champion. The fifth race winner is F2 graduate Hector Hurst. Other drivers to watch are 16-year-old Alex Toril from Spain and French driver Alexandre Cougnaud. David Gruz

Oliver Rowland – Formula Renault 2.0
1st in standings, 2 wins from 6 races
Oliver Rowland

Photo: Renault Sport/DPPI

Last season, Oliver Rowland joined the likes of Kevin Magnussen, Kevin Korjus and Robin Frijns as the best rookie in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0. Because of this, the 20-year-old driver was expected to be one of the many title contenders, perhaps the biggest one. Only three race weekends have been held so far, but Rowland has finished on the podium in every round. At Motorland, Rowland was only able to get a third place as Matthieu Vaxiviere and Tech 1 were simply unbeatable. In Belgium, nothing could stop him from getting his first win of the season; not his fifth place on the grid, not his opponents, not the rain. The third round in Moscow proved to be a dominant weekend by Rowland with two fastest laps, a race win and a second place. Thanks to this consistent performance, Rowland currently leads the championship by six points.

The field Rowland has to deal with contains several great drivers, however, the only one who was able to match the pace and consistency of Rowland is 17-year-old Pierre Gasly. Lotus-backed drivers, Esteban Ocon and Oscar Tunjo haven’t managed to win a race but they almost always finish in the points. Vaxiviere is the exact opposite with two race victories from Aragon, and only seven points since then. Formula Renault NEC champion Jake Dennis has already finished in fifth position four times, however, he doesn’t have any better than that. In Belgium, Luca Ghiotto and Bruno Bonifacio joined the main pack, but are playing catch up after a slow start. Perhaps the biggest surprise is Russian driver Egor Orudzhev, who already finished second in his second Formula Renault 2.0 race of his career. David Gruz

Matt Parry – Formula Renault 2.0 NEC
1st in standings, 4 wins from 7 races
Matt Parry

Photo: Chris Schotanus

The British dominance of Formula Renault 2.0 NEC continues, albeit this year it is mostly contained to the performances of one man. Caterham’s youngster and reigning Intersteps champion Matt Parry kicked off his maiden Formula Renault campaign with a double pole at Hockenheim – against a big chunk of Eurocup’s top drivers. Whilst not managing to convert either of them into wins, he bagged two podium finishes during the weekend and generally looked very competitive among Formula Renault’s finest. The second weekend of the series was also one full of Eurocup guests, and Parry only secured pole for one of the two races. However, he won them both, completely unfazed by his much more experienced rivals. When the Formula Renault 2.0 NEC regulars finally had the track all to themselves at Silverstone, it was Parry who picked up another two wins.

There have been other NEC regulars who have impressed this year, most notably Parry’s Fortec teammate and fellow Intersteps graduate Jack Aitken. But while Aitken has been good, Parry has been stunning – competitive not just among NEC regulars, but among any of the FR2.0 drivers. His gap of 88 points to the second series regular in the standings means that the title is as good as his already and Caterham best start thinking where they put the lightning-quick Welshman next year. Valentin Khorounzhiy

Antonio Fuoco ? Formula Renault 2.0 Alps
1st in standings, 3 wins from 6 races
Antonio Fuoco

Photo: Fast Lane Promotion

16-year-old Italian Antonio Fuoco is having a very effective first season in single-seaters, leading the Alps championship against much more experienced candidates. The new Ferrari recruit took the championship lead from the beginning with a solid performance at the first round at Vallelunga with a second and first place in race one and two respectively, that coupled with his teammates’ misfortune gave him a very good advantage that just extended after round two in Imola when he emerged victorious on both races.

In the third round in Spa, he continued his very strong form to finish in second place, but was penalised for contact and was demoted to fourteenth place. In race two he put another very good performance to finish third and not lose so much ground in the point standings. Fuoco?s form this season has been very impressive, especially if we compare it to his teammates Bruno Bonifacio and Luca Ghiotto, who already have experience in Formula Renault 2.0 Alps and Eurocup. If he hadn?t received the penalty in the first race, he would have finished on the podium in every race up until now, this trail of form definitely puts him as one of the title favourites. And coming to Monza, he will definitely be motivated to win in his country?s most important circuit. Luis Miguel Martinez

Alessio Picariello – ADAC Formel Masters
1st in standings, 5 wins from 9 races
Alessio Picariello

Photo: ADAC

Alessio Picariello’s first year in ADAC Formel Masters had been rather encouraging, with him taking sixth overall, but it didn’t exactly make him the prime candidate for the title in his second year, as the vastly more experienced Jason Kremer also remained in the category alongside lots of other talents from 2o12. However, three rounds out of eight in and it’s the Belgian who leads, by 48 points no less, and there’s pretty much no reason to say that isn’t deserved or representative.

Picariello’s early season form so far has been staggering. He took double pole at the Oschersleben season opener and ensured there was no contest for the win in the two feature races. He lost out to Kremer in qualifying at his home soil – Spa – but had one over him in both feature races to take another two wins. At Sachsenring, which saw another double pole from Picariello, the number of wins could and should’ve gone to six, but, alas, a drive through in race one deprived him of the lead. In race two, however, marred with lots of restarts, Picariello was pitch perfect, absolutely nailing the art of leading the pack to green flag every time and picking up win five. He is helped out by certain factors, no doubt – lack of a clear rival over the three rounds, good car and team, plenty of experience – and his reverse-grid form has been a bit suspect, but that doesn’t change the fact that Alessio Picariello has put himself on the map this year by being very quick, confident and mighty impressive. Valentin Khorounzhiy

Anthoine Hubert – French F4
1st in standings, 7 wins from 9 races
Anthoine Hubert

Photo: FFSA

Repeating Alex Baron’s French F4 dominance of 2012 seemed like a rather tough task, especially with the introduction of reverse-grid races to the series. Alas, so far it has been proving pretty easy for Baron’s compatriot Anthoine Hubert who has been absolutely unparalleled in the category. Touted as a pre-season favorite, Hubert confirmed the status, taking both feature races wins at the Le Mans season opener. At the city circuit of Pau, where round two took place, he achieved the exact same feat, with only the reverse-grid races going to other drivers. At Spa, Hubert finally sweeped up an entire weekend, taking double pole and winning all three races.

The French F4 grid this year seems rather talented, so it’s quite surprising to see how well Hubert is doing. Anthoine has not lost a single feature race so far and his performance at Spa was absolutely staggering. Three rounds in, Hubert has 2.7 times the points that second-places Simo Muhonen has. The title should be his and a serious promotion beckons for 2014. Valentin Khorounzhiy

Charlie Robertson ? BRDC Formula 4
1st in standings, 1 win from 9 races
Charlie Robertson

Photo: BRDC F4

Robertson has beaten some more experienced competition to take the early initiative in the brand new BRDC Formula 4 Championship. In his first year of single-seaters after winning last year?s Ginetta Junior title, the 16-year-old had a solid but quiet start at the season opener at Silverstone. He then came into his own at round two on the short Brands Hatch Indy circuit that he knows well, scoring three podiums including a win. That left him a position to steal the points lead when Jake Dalton suffered drive-shaft woes at Snetterton. Robertson took a second win of the campaign in race three, only to have it taken away for a technical infringement.

He had still done enough to finish the weekend with a three point margin over Dalton, who starred in the opening couple of rounds with two wins, only for car trouble to deny him points in two of the Snetterton races. F4 has proven to otherwise be a wide-open series, with seven winners from the first nine races. Pre-season favourite Seb Morris has yet to win, but sits third in the points. He led the standings after a consistent showing at Silverstone but was forced to play catch up after a disaster at Brands Hatch. Other drivers to watch and with race wins under their belts are Jake Hughes, Matt Bell and James Fletcher, the latter sixth in the points despite only joining the series at Brands Hatch. Peter Allen

Chris Middlehurst – Protyre Formula Renault
1st in standings, 6 wins from 8 races
Chris Middlehurst

Photo: Jakob Ebrey Photography

After a good debut year last season, Chris Middlehurst has had a dominant campaign so far in Protyre Formula Renault. He was already expected to be a title contender after the winter testing, and he has done nothing but confirm this since then. At the season opener Middlehurst wasn’t the fastest in qualifying, and he didn’t have the best starts, however, he made several great moves and finished first and second in the first two races of the season. At Snetterton he clinched his maiden pole position and took two of the three victories (one of them was given to him by excluding Taranov for unsafe driving), and finished second in the third race. In the third round at Thruxton, Middlehurst was able to improve even more as he took three pole positions, two fastest laps and three race victories. The 18-year-old isn’t really challenged by anyone at this stage of the championship.

His closest rival in the points is Jake Cook, the best of the rookies, who finished in the top three five times. Telmex-backed Jorge Cevallos and Sam MacLeod are the only race winners except Middlehurst, however, MacLeod is really struggling with consistency on his debut year in cars. AirAsia Caterham Development Programme member Weiron Tan and Chinese driver Hong Wei Cao are both having strong seasons, and they can easily get second place in the championship. David Gruz

Dan Cammish ? Formula Ford GB
1st in standings, 15 wins from 15 races
Dan Cammish

Photo: Jakob Ebrey Photography

Cammish returned to Formula Ford after two years away to try and reignite his career, and he could hardly have had a better start. Fellow returnee Scott Malvern challenged him at the first round at Brands Hatch, but when Malvern was unable to continue, Cammish was left unchallenged by a field of rookies. The 24-year-old had finished third in the standings in 2010, and when he joined Formula Renault UK during 2011 he was only outscored by current F3 ace Alex Lynn, GP3 leader Tio Ellinas, Eurocup star Oliver Rowland and Star Mazda champion Jack Hawksworth. Through the Donington, Thruxton and Oulton Park meetings, Cammish started every race from pole and led every lap of every race except the first three of the final Oulton race when Harrison Scott used a jump start to get ahead.

Gradually emerging as Cammish?s nearest challenger, Scott then claimed a pole position at Croft, only to lose out to another start-line gaffe ? this time a stall on the green flag lap. Cammish clocked up another three wins to reach the half-way stage unbeaten, with the title just a formality now. Scott?s slight struggle for consistency means Nico Maranzana is second in the points. Fourth is fellow Argentine Juan Rosso (like Maranzana, part of the same Sergio Rinland-led Velociudad driver development scheme as Eric Lichtenstein), who missed the opening round to injury but promptly scored four second-places over the next two weekends, only to lose momentum at Oulton Park. Peter Allen

Alessio Rovera – Formula Abarth
1st in standings, 3 wins from 6 races
Alessio Rovera


While the 2013 Formula Abarth grid has come up a little short in number, the discovery of Alessio Rovera at all makes up for it in sheer quality. The Italian youngster was not supposed to be as quick as the more experienced drivers on the grid. His background didn’t suggest that he’d be running away with the category. But, come round one, none of that mattered. At Vallelunga, Rovera took double pole and picked up both feature race wins, coming up a little short of making it three for three in the reverse-grid outing. Another double pole followed at Adria and, while a mistake in race one saw him spin out of the lead, he recovered to second at the checkered and went on to win race three.

The young Italian still makes a fair amount of mistakes and often finds lots of difficulty in fighting through the field in reverse-grid races. But, at this point, that really doesn’t matter so much. What matters is that Rovera is straight-up, noticeably, obviously quicker than the rest of the Abarth field. Seeing him on a higher level of racing in 2014 should make for a very intriguing spectacle. Valentin Khorounzhiy