The third part of PaddockScout’s countdown of the junior single-seater stars of 2014 feature frontrunners from GP2, GP3 and European F3 as well as F4-level champions of France, Germany, Britain and Italy.
30. Lasse Sorensen
Denmark – age 18
French F4 champion
The younger brother of FR3.5 and GP2 race winner Marco, Lasse Sorensen became the latest winner of the French F4 Championship in 2014, and the first foreigner to triumph since Stoffel Vandoorne. Two years of experience in Danish Formula Ford helped his cause, but still had to see off second-year driver Felix Hirsiger and Lotus/Gravity protege Dorian Boccolacci.
His start wasn’t spectacular, as he finished second in the main races at Le Mans and Pau as karting graduates Joseph Mawson and Boccolacci starred, but the points gained meant that two triple victories – achieved with a reverse grid for the second race of each weekend – at Val de Vienne and Nogaro gave him a healthy margin. That was enough to seal the title with his seventh win of the year at Jerez. An eighth victory followed at Paul Ricard, and he ended up with a tally of 387 points to Boccolacci’s 238.
Like each French F4 champion before him, Formula Renault 2.0 is the obvious next move for Sorensen for 2015. Like his brother, budget issues may well be an issue in his career ahead unless he can get some help from Saxo Bank too, which would be great to see.
29. Jimmy Eriksson
Sweden – age 23
Fourth in GP3 Series
The 2012 German F3 champion put a nightmare rookie GP3 campaign – in which he failed to score a single point – to star in 2014. A switch from Status to Koiranen saw him become immediately more competitive, and and three podiums from the first saw races made him the closest rival to Alex Lynn at that early point of the season.
He further enhanced that position by halting Lynn’s Saturday winning run and denying him a home victory at Silverstone. His challenge began to fall apart the very next day though, triggering a race-ending collision and earning himself a grid penalty for Hockenheim. He scooped another sanction in Germany, lacked pace in Hungary, and has his Spa weekend wrecked by a first-corner crash caused by a rival. He bounced back to get another win from pole at Monza, but the Koiranen car’s great pace was proven by the arrival of Dean Stoneman in the final two rounds, and Eriksson couldn’t match the Briton.
It’s debatable whether Eriksson – who has now competed at F3/GP3 level for five years – is really a top line talent, but his record this year cannot be sniffed at either, and he has earned the opportunity to prove himself at the next level. At the same time, he carried the Sebastien Loeb Racing car to victory on his ELMS debut at Estoril, so sportscars may be a tempting alternative focus for 2015.
28. Arthur Pic
France – age 23
Seventh in GP2 Series
Pic had never quite taken to Formula Renault 3.5 in his three-year spell in the category, not helped by a move to a new team for his third campaign. But the Frenchman, younger brother of Charles, certainly made a positive impression in his rookie GP2 season in 2014, even if Stoffel Vandoorne made the move between the two series to look relatively straightforward.
Because while that is true, Pic proved himself to be a rival for Vandoorne on one-lap pace towards the end of the season. Lining up with the returning Campos team – with the benefit of family friend and former Addax engineer Philippe Gautheron – Pic was consistent rather than spectacular early on. But his five top-six finishes from the first six races was impressive as others like Vandoorne and Raffaele Marciello failed to stay out of trouble, and put him a lofty fifth in the standings. After a mid-season blip, he claimed a maiden win in the Hungaroring feature race thanks to the right strategy, was second to Vandoorne in Monza, and tied with the Belgian for pole in Sochi before claiming a third podium finish in the Abu Dhabi finale.
Pic’s taken the sensible move of staying with Campos for 2015, and while a title bid might be a tad overambitious, there’s no reason why he can’t move up the standings if he maintains his late-season pace.
27. Jake Dennis
United Kingdom – age 19
Ninth in FIA F3 European Championship
As a rookie in the FIA F3 European Championship, Dennis was upstaged by Esteban Ocon and Max Verstappen, but in such a competitive series, he still did well to make the podium on three occasions and he even held sixth spot in the standings until a rough time over the final three rounds dropped him to a slightly undeserved ninth place.
Dennis struggled at the opening round at Silverstone as his fellow newcomers shone, but he quickly turned things around and at the third event in Pau he capitalised on previous track experience to get two fourths and a third. Further rostrum visits came at Spa and Spielberg. At the end of the Austrian weekend he had taken eight top-six finishes in 12 races, and sat sixth in the points, just one place behind Antonio Fuoco. But his best results from the final nine races were sevenths, and he failed to score in five of those.
His highs weren’t as highs as some of the other rookies, and he lacked a little consistency, but was probably better on that front than Fuoco, hence beating him to P3 in the official rookie standings. There’s nothing wrong with a learning year, and as the only top ten finisher looking likely to return to the series next year, he’s been recruited by Prema to claim their fifth straight drivers’ crown. No pressure, then…
26. Mikkel Jensen
Denmark – age 19
ADAC Formel Masters champion
Finishing tenth in the 2013 standings, Jensen wasn’t an automatic title favourite upon his return for 2014 up against a number of higher-placed drivers, but a switch of teams from Motopark to Neuhauser worked wonders for the Dane and he was the driver to beat from the get go after winning the season opener at Oschersleben.
A similar victory followed at Zandvoort, but then failed to win at Lausitz and saw his lead over 2013 runner-up Maximilian Gunther drop to just two points. That would be a one-off though, and he won at least once at every remaining meeting, took three double victories and a total of ten wins on his way to becoming the seventh and final ADAC Formel Masters champion – following the likes of Daniel Abt, Richie Stanaway, Pascal Wehrlein and Marvin Kirchhofer – before the category adopts F4 regulations next year.
Jensen is backed by the appropriately named Formula Racing, who are actually the racing arm of the Danish Ferrari importer and compete in the ELMS with Jan Magnussen. Their plan is to get him into Formula 3 next year, and he has been testing with both Mucke Motorsport and Van Amersfoort over recent weeks. Either would be a good place for this latest great Dane.
25. Antonio Giovinazzi
Italy – age 21
Sixth in FIA F3 European Championship
After a learning year in F3 in 2013 with Double R that saw him finish runner-up in the British series and end the season as a regular scorer in Europe, the 2012 Formula Pilota China champion moved onto Carlin thanks to his Indonesian backing. His campaign took a long time to get going, but once it did he was a frontrunner and two-time race winner.
He claimed a P2 finish at Hockenheim, but the first half of the season was otherwise a bit of a disappointment, and things had got particularly bad by round seven in Moscow. But his troubles there were attributed to a damaged chassis and troublesome engine, and both were changed in time for Spielberg. He was instantly propelled to the front on a competitive weekend for Carlin, claiming two pole positions and what should have been two wins, only to lose the first for a safety car infringement. His second win followed a fortnight later at the Nurburgring, before further podiums in Imola and Hockenheim.
Financially supported by the father and sponsors of his long-time team-mate Sean Gelael, the ‘Jagonya Ayam’ gang all look set to move onto Formula Renault 3.5 next year, where Giovinazzi will have the ability to shine from the off.
24. George Russell
United Kingdom – age 16
BRDC F4 champion
Fourth in Formula Renault 2.0 Alps
Formerly a double European champion in junior karting, Russell made the step up into single-seaters in 2014 and ended the year with the BRDC F4 title, a win in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 and the prestigious McLaren Autosport BRDC Award on his mantelpiece.
The main focus of his year was BRDC F4, where he signed with the same Lanan team that took Jake Hughes to the inaugural title in 2013. He led the championship from his double win at the opening round at Silverstone, claiming subsequent wins at Brands Hatch and Oulton Park. His next three rounds were tough though, and saw him lose the points lead with one round to go. Russell fought back superbly though, winning the very last race of the campaign to triumph in the title race. In a parallel FR2.0 Alps programme with Koiranen he finished a creditable fourth overall despite missing a round due to illness, and then switched to Tech 1 for a guest appearance at the Eurocup finale at Jerez and beat champion Nyck de Vries to win the second race.
At that point, a full assault on the Eurocup was the plan for 2015, but after a fine prize GP3 test in Abu Dhabi and winning the big Autosport prize (beating competition that included McLaren-affiliated Ben Barnicoat), he’s now got his eyes on European F3 with Carlin. It seems that Russell has a potentially huge future ahead of him.
23. Antonio Fuoco
Italy – age 18
Fifth in FIA F3 European Championship
Giovinazzi’s fellow Italian Fuoco pipped him to fifth spot in the FIA F3 European Championship and did so as a rookie, which would usually be a fine effort in such a competitive series. But the Ferrari protege, who won the Formula Renault 2.0 Alps title as a car racing newcomer in 2013, was well beaten over the season by Prema team-mate Esteban Ocon.
Things had started pretty brightly for Fuoco, joining Ocon as a race winner on the opening weekend at Silverstone. But he failed to kick on from there, with his next few weekends being interrupted by incidents, notably failing to score a single point in Pau after a crash early in the weekend. At the Hungaroring he twice finished second to Ocon, but these sort of results were too often surrounded by bad days. He hooked up a good run of form through the Moscow, Spielberg and Nurburgring rounds, inheriting his second and last win when Giovinazzi was penalised in Austria, but ended on a bum note with an exclusion and a hand injury for a clumsy crash with Dennis at Hockenheim. The ability is there, but there’s plenty of refinement to be done.
The obvious thing would have been for Fuoco to continue in F3 next year as the title favourite, but a surprise move to GP3 is now on the cards after testing with top teams Carlin, ART and Koiranen in Abu Dhabi.
22. Lance Stroll
Canada – age 16
Italian F4 champion
The karter that Ferrari signed up to their Academy when he was just 11 made his graduation into single-seaters in 2014, firstly in the Scuderia’s in-house Florida Winter Series and then in the brand new Italian F4 series. After a solid start in the former, he then took the latter by storm, wrapping up the title in just over three months, at age 15.
After podiums and a pole position in Florida – overshadowed by Max Verstappen’s wins – Stroll hit the ground running when the F4 season got underway in June, winning the opening race. Another six wins would follow over the next four rounds as he claimed the title at a canter with two rounds to go. The only driver to consistently challenge him on track was Prema team-mate and experienced racer Brandon Maisano, who at 21 was too old to score championship points, but Stroll stood up well against the Frenchman, no slouch as an ex-FDA member and Abarth champion. Like any entry-level series full of single-seater rookies, it’s hard to judge the quality of the opposition, and in the FDA and Prema, he had some big advantages over his rivals and that caveat has to be placed over his dominance.
With a billionaire father and some clear talent, F1 will only be a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ for Stroll. It’s been a fantastic start to his car racing career, but next year he will make the bold step up from being the first FIA F4 champion to the FIA F3 series, and that will be the big test of whether or not he is the real deal.
21. Raffaele Marciello
Italy – 20
Eighth in GP2 Series
Together with his McLaren counterpart Vandoorne, Ferrari protege Marciello was one of the big rookie names in GP2 this year as the 2013 European F3 champion. He certainly had a tougher time, but managed to make quite an impression too. His highs were spectacular, but simply consistently bringing in the points proved to be a struggle.
He failed to score a single point in the first three rounds, affected by incidents and mistakes despite having the pace to always qualify inside the top eight. Things then came together at Spielberg when he delivered a magnificent pair of third places. With some momentum he then claimed pole at Silverstone, but retired from both races after a car fault and then contact. He was thwarted in Hockenheim by a temperature-related pitstop stall, and in Hungary by speeding in the pitlane – on both days he had the winning strategy and the pace. That solitary win at a sodden Spa was superb as he hunted down and passed local hero Vandoorne, but at Monza it was back to disaster and he would make the podium just once more, in Sochi.
It’s no exaggeration to say that Marciello could have won four straight feature races in the middle of the year, and thus been at least fifth in the final standings. He had more than his fair share of bad luck but often in GP2, as Palmer and Vandoorne showed, a bit of maturity can keep you out of trouble. Only 20 today (Wednesday), Marciello is pretty young for a GP2 frontrunner. Another year is needed, but when the speed is there, just a little bit of experience should turn that into results.