Photo: Renault Sport/DPPI
The first part of our five-part expanded end-of-season ranking, as we try to highlight the drivers who impressed the most across all the various different categories in junior single-seaters…
50. Hannes van Asseldonk
Netherlands // age 20
Second in Toyota Racing Series // Ninth in British F3 // Third at Masters of F3
Van Asseldonk began 2012 off the back of an unexpected but promising fifth in last year’s Macau Grand Prix. He boosted his stock further with an impressive campaign in the Toyota Racing Series in New Zealand at the start of the year, winning three races and finishing second overall as easily the best of the ‘tourists’.
There were high hopes then for his British F3 campaign with Fortec Motorsport, but it was a frustrating season. Hindered slightly by a lack of knowledge of the British tracks, he was unable to match F3 rookie teammates Alex Lynn or Felix Serralles. Suffered from more on-track incidents than most, but did score plenty of top fives even if he only made the podium once all year.
He did shine at the non-championship Masters of F3 on home soil at Zandvoort, qualifying fourth and finishing third. Back at Macau he was showing his talent again by running fifth, before he crashed out on lap two. A European F3 switch is the aim, possibly with Prema with whom he raced at Macau and previously won races in Formula Abarth.
Season highlight: That Masters performance, proving his British F3 results were not a fair representation of his ability.
49. Jordan King
United Kingdom // age 18
Fifth in Toyota Racing Series // Second in Formula Renault NEC // 13th in Formula Renault Eurocup // Leading MRF Challenge
Another driver to start his year early down-under, the highlight of King’s Toyota Racing Series campaign was his victory at Taupo, where he was the top scorer across the weekend. He returned to Europe for a second year of Formula Renault, contesting both the Northern European Cup and the Eurocup. In the NEC he was a consistent podium finisher on his way to the runner-up spot, though he’ll be disappointed to only manage one win and finish the year behind rookie Jake Dennis.
His participation in the Eurocup was hampered significantly by six retirements from the 14 races, making a high ranking in the ultra-competitive series even harder. From the races in which he did make the chequered flag, he managed a third place at the Hungaroring and a fifth at the Nurburgring.
A second-place and win from the two MRF Challenge races at the Indian GP, up against the F2 champion, a GP3 race-winner and other more experienced racers were a great reminder of the former karting star’s potential. He’ll keep competing in that series over the winter as he chases his first series title, before making a step-up for 2013. Formula 3 looks the most likely destination for the son of a supermarket boss.
Season highlight: The MRF weekend allowed him to impress in front of the F1 paddock, against two drivers who’ve tested F1 machinery this season.
48. Eric Lichtenstein
Argentina // age 18
Third in Formula Ford GB
Lichtenstein began 2012 as something of an unknown when he began in British Formula Ford, with his only real single-seater experience having come in a handful of Formula Pilota China appearances last year, in which he did nothing to make a significant impact. He was immediately at the front in Fords though, taking two wins in just his second weekend at Brands Hatch.
Another double victory came at the Nurburgring, and the second of those wins was the first in a remarkable eight-race winning streak. Sadly a similar run of results from category veteran Antti Buri in the first half of the year put the title out of reach, and a non-classified finish in the last race of the season denied Lichtenstein second place in the final standings. His Nurburgring triumphs made him the winner of the fourth EuroCup event of the season, repeating the feat he had achieved two weeks earlier at the Masters of F3 weekend at Zandvoort.
Signed up as the first member of a driver development scheme created by Velociudad, a company developing a Formula 1 circuit in his home country, Lichtenstein is confirmed to make the step up to GP3 next year with Carlin. He’s already impressed in testing, with Trevor Carlin saying “he could be a real revelation next season.” And there’s a man who’s worked with some top young drivers down the years.
Season highlight: His second straight treble victory, at Silverstone, forcing Buri to wait until the season finale to be able to wrap up his crown.
47. Nick Cassidy
New Zealand // age 18
Toyota Racing Series champion // 24th in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0
After some promising appearances in Europe in 2011, Cassidy began 2012 by underlining his potential and dominating the Toyota Racing Series on home soil, also winning the season finale – the New Zealand Grand Prix. After his impressive testing debut with Fortec at the end of last year, Cassidy signed with the British squad to do the Eurocup Formula Renault.
Cassidy made an encouraging start at Motorland, qualifying ninth and fifth in the highly-competitive series and picking up a fifth place finish in race two. However, Spa and the Nurburgring were very difficult weekends, and after that the decision was taken to cut short his campaign and regroup ahead of 2013, with the focus still fully on Europe despite a race-winning stint in V8s back home during his break.
He returned to Europe for the first post-season GP3 test at Jerez with the Status team, finishing up seventh overall and in the top seven in three of the four sessions. We have our fingers crossed that he can secure the budget to race in GP3 next year and perhaps follow in the footsteps of fellow Kiwi Mitch Evans. And don’t rule out him claiming a second straight TRS title at the start of the year, just like Evans did.
Season highlight: The TRS season finale at Manfeild, wrapping up the title in race two and then winning the Grand Prix in race three.
46. William Buller
United Kingdom // age 20
Fifth in Formula 3 Euro Series // 15th in GP3 Series
Buller embarked on a double programme of Formula 3 and GP3 in 2012. Entering the Euro Series with two years in British F3 behind him, he quickly made an impression, claiming pole at round three at the Red Bull Ring and winning the second of that weekend’s races, also from pole. In the first race next time out at the Norisring he was the first classified finisher after Daniel Juncadella’s exclusion, although thanks to some stupid stewarding neither he nor anyone else were actually awarded the win. A further win came at Zandvoort, where he was still in title contention, but unfortunately he was uncompetitive in the last couple of rounds. Like teammate Carlos Sainz he was often restrained by the competitiveness of his Carlin-run Dallara-Volkswagen package.
While his F3 campaign was largely positive, Buller’s maiden GP3 season was disappointing on the whole. Despite topping the Valencia test that came two rounds in, he failed to really get on top of the car and made the points just five times out of 16. Did demonstrate his driving ability however with the drive of the season, from last to first on slicks on a damp Sunday morning at Silverstone.
The son of a property developer and the owner of the Rockingham circuit, Buller has the budget for the next step, be it GP2 or Formula Renault 3.5 and knows teams in both series.
Season highlight: That Silverstone win. Yes, he was on the right tyres, but a lesser driver wouldn’t have coped with the tricky, changing conditions.
45. Felix Rosenqvist
Sweden // age 21
Fourth in Formula 3 Euro Series // Second at Macau Grand Prix
Rosenqvist started 2012 as the pre-season favourite in the F3 Euro Series, although that changed when Juncadella confirmed he would be returning for another year. The first weekend at Hockenheim saw him fighting at the front as expected and claiming three podium finishes, but he then endured a pretty torrid run of four meetings with just one podium finish.
Victory at Zandvoort – the scene of his unexpected Masters triumph last year – marked a turn around, with another win following at Valencia before he won twice from pole position at the season finale at Hockenheim. He then carried that form onto Macau, where only Antonio Felix da Costa in deadly form prevented him from ending his year with a win in the biggest race of the season.
Although it ended well, Rosenqvist will be overall disappointed with his season, in which he played second-best to rookie teammate Pascal Wehrlein much of the time. Nonetheless, after three years in F3 machinery in Germany and Europe it’s time to move on, although his future plans seem uncertain at present. He’s looking at Formula Renault 3.5, but hasn’t been testing post-season, partly thanks to Macau lengthening his campaign.
Season highlight: ‘Best of the rest’ behind class-of-one Felix da Costa at Macau.
44. Tom Blomqvist
United Kingdom // age 18
Seventh in Formula 3 Euro Series // Fifth in German F3
A struggle to raise funding over the winter led to late confirmation of Blomqvist’s plans for 2012. Volkswagen signed him up to race in the F3 Euro Series, placed with the ma-con team who were new to the series and had missed out on all of the winter testing. Therefore things were tough to begin with, but a breakthrough podium came in round three at Spielberg. Blomqvist and the team improved as the year went on and finished the year having claimed seven top five finishes from the last ten races, including a third place in the opening race at Valencia behind Raffaele Marciello and Daniel Juncadella.
His finest performance with ma-con however came at the British F3 weekend at Spa, also a round of the FIA European F3 Championship and therefore full of Euro Series regulars, with second place in the wet. In another late deal, Blomqvist was recruited by Eurointernational to contest selected rounds in German F3, where he had raced full-time in 2011. He won five races from 15 starts, outscoring everyone else over the course of those five weekends including dominant champion Jimmy Eriksson.
Blomqvist finished the year with a respectable mid-field performance at Macau in Eurointernational’s first weekend with the F312 chassis. The Anglo-Swede is set to do the full European Championship with the Italian team next year.
Season highlight: Second place in the wet at Spa behind fellow son-of-a-world-rally-champion Carlos Sainz Jr.
43. Carlos Sainz Jr
Spain // age 18
Ninth in Formula 3 Euro Series // Sixth in British F3
Sainz entered F3 from Formula Renault this year with plenty of pressure, and not just because of the famous name. Previous Red Bull Juniors who had trodden that path had all found success, and things looked good initially for Sainz when he won twice in horridly wet conditions at Monza to take the British points lead, and claimed a double pole and two second-place finishes in the Euro Series opener at Hockenheim.
Things disintegrated after a second place at Pau, with just one podium from nine British series races, while he never again finished in the top three in the Euro Series, getting caught up in collisions often of his causing in seemingly every weekend in addition to lacking the pace that was expected of him. Did remind everyone of his raw talent though with more stunning wet drives to victories at Spa and Snetterton in the British series. He enjoyed a strong Macau week speed-wise, but a poor launch to the main event let him down before a decent comeback drive.
It seemed as though 2013 would be a case of either another year of F3 in Europe or a step up to Formula Renault 3.5 if Red Bull thought he warranted it (he’s been very quick in testing just recently). However, reports now suggest he will be doing GP3 next year instead. Wherever he ends up, there will be big pressure on him to convert his raw ability into solid results.
Season highlight: His Monza performances in extremely difficult conditions. You don’t go well in the wet without some talent behind the wheel.
42. Nicolas Costa
Brazil // age 21
Formula Abarth European Series and Italian Series champion
Costa came out on top in the three-way battle for this year’s Formula Abarth crown with Luca Ghiotto and fellow Brazilian Bruno Bonifacio. Things were pretty even early on with all three having claimed two race wins apiece from the trips to Valencia and Hungary, with Costa holding a narrow points advantage. An average weekend in Mugello was followed by two wins in Misano, leaving Costa and Bonifacio tied at the halfway stage.
Costa then had a dreadful weekend at the Red Bull Ring that left him playing catchup. But two victories and a third at the penultimate weekend at Vallelunga saw him come from third place in the standings and 20 points off the lead to head the standings by 17 points going into the Monza finale. It wasn’t the most straightforward of weekends but Costa came through with fewer bruises than his rivals and claimed both titles.
He then went on to enjoy an encouraging debut GP3 test with Marussia Manor at Jerez, finishing two of the four sessions in the top four. He’d do well to get a deal there for 2013 if he can, although you’d imagine Italian F3 is also amongst the options.
Season highlight: That Vallelunga weekend, which more than rescued his title hopes.
41. Fabio Leimer
Switzerland // age 23
Seventh in GP2 Series
Leimer started 2012 as one of the favourites for the GP2 title after his victory in the season-ending non-championship race at Abu Dhabi last November, but it wasn’t to be. The pace was often there and was amongst the best qualifiers over the course of the season, but he failed to turn that into a single race win all year.
There were opportunities though – he led the first race in Bahrain until picking up a penalty for ignoring yellow flags while he was leading comfortably from pole in the Silverstone washout until the safety car came out when he was still to make his mandatory pitstop. Then at Hockenheim he would have one had Johnny Cecotto not started on slicks on a drying track and therefore gained the win when Leimer and the rest had to switch tyres. Ended the year with a good double podium at Singapore after some fine overtaking.
Having had a DTM test with BMW it seems Leimer could be looking at other opportunities for 2013, but if nothing comes together he could easily return to GP2 and kept his eye in by testing for Racing Engineering at Jerez today.
Season highlight: That pole in the soaking wet at Silverstone. It was all going swimmingly (like the pun?) win the race too until the safety car caught him out.
Look out for the remaining four parts of our countdown over the next few weeks.