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Podcast: How might junior series be looking without COVID-19?

by Craig Woollard

Photo: Joe Portlock / LAT Images / FIA F2 Championship

The postponement of the regular junior single-seater seasons due to coronavirus has led to some large ‘what if?’ questions. Formula Scout speculates who could have been on top in May 2020 in a normal world

While it is impossible to give a conclusive answer as to how each championship in motorsport would look without coronavirus’s intervention, the hypothetical title fights that may have transpired still make for a fascinating topic to look at.

There are some series that were set to begin with a clear title favourite in 2020, while there were others that had a fair few competitors in the frame for success and where the new tracks on rescheduled calendars may have changed the picture. Some championships have gone in to this year with a complete reset, making it very difficult to judge who would have the upper hand.

Formula Scout has selected a number of series to focus on the ?what if? scenario. In this discussion between Craig Woollard and Elliot Wood, some series were agreed upon easier than others. The political landscape of the ladder is also an interesting situation. Now, due to the impending economic catastrophe, other issues may be put on the backburner while the cost factor becomes the important story in years to come.

Do you agree, or disagree with our scenarios? Get in contact with your own thoughts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Listen to the podcast?below, or visit Breaker,?Google Podcasts,?Overcast,?Pocket Casts,?RadioPublic,?Castbox, Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Formula 2 ? very mixed grid means no clear title favourite

The testing analysis put several names towards the top that. Late returnee Luca Ghiotto (with new team Hitech GP), new Red Bull recruit Jehan Daruvala (Carlin) and Williams-backed Dan Ticktum (DAMS) all starred, and Daruvala may well be emerging as a surprise title leaders in the early races, putting his name firmly in the hat for a 2021 AlphaTauri seat.

However, the nature of the series often means that being the fastest isn’t a guarantee of success. There is a new variable for 2020 in the all-new 18-inch wheels, and new Pirelli tyres designed around them, which could shake up the order up a bit. With a Renault seat now up for offer, Virtuosi Racing’s Guanyu Zhou would likely be upping his game, while ART Grand Prix’s Christian Lundgaard might just be getting his name mentioned more around the F1 paddock.

Whether the driver market anarchy would have occurred at this point or not, is up for debate. Had Sebastian Vettel got off to a stellar start, would his Ferrari exit have been decided as early? Would Daniel Ricciardo have left Renault for a revitalised McLaren anyway? For the purposes of this, we are assuming that seats are definitely already up for grabs at Renault, at AlphaTauri (as ever), and at Alfa Romeo Racing over a retiring Kimi Raikkonen and potentially ousted Antonio Giovinazzi.

Five Ferrari juniors are in F2, and one with a familiar surname topped this pack in testing. Giuliano Alesi was best on race pace with new team HWA Racelab, continuing his strong end-of-2019 form. Fellow famous name Mick Schumacher and Virtuosi’s Callum Ilott are both drivers who need big second years, but Robert Shwartzman’s honesty about Prema?s testing suggests leading the points might be unlikely for Schumacher and himself at this point. In fact no Ferrari junior may have won a race.

Jack Aitken, who starred with Campos Racing in 2019 and is now Williams’ Formula 1 reserve driver, may well be driving better than ever but off-season team changes could be denting his title hopes already.

Photo: Joe Portlock/FIA F3

FIA Formula 3 ? Prema far ahead, ART and Hitech chasing

Despite the drivers admitting to struggles, Prema found itself firmly top of the timesheets in pre-season testing. The team has two strong rookies in Formula Renault Eurocup champion Oscar Piastri and Formula Regional European champion Frederik Vesti, and the latter could be on top of the opposition at this point of the year. Sophomore team-mate Logan Sargeant would be keeping him honest, however.

Hitech?s Liam Lawson, who would be hungry to rebound after missing out on a second Toyota Racing Series title, could be the best-placed to challenge the leading team. There may be surprise reversed-grid race two winners, and Lawson’s overtaking ability means he could take one or two, but the titles heading in Prema’s direction could be a forgone conclusion by now.

W Series ? Total uncertainty after one round

W Series? second season would have had only one race so far ? at Russia’s new Igora Drive circuit. Jamie Chadwick predictably got off to a flying start at Hockenheim last year, but that’s not a given this time.

The circuit layout bares some resemblance to Assen, where Emma Kimilainen won in 2019, while Alice Powell charged up to miss out narrowly on victory in the reversed-grid non-championship race.

However, it is a totally open field. The likes of Marta Garcia or one of the new six drivers could start off with victory, and Chadwick is going to have a more challenging second title campaign than her first.

Super Formula ? Yamamoto back on top

Assuming no major hiccups for either, Honda’s lead man Naoki Yamamoto may be edging Toyota’s Nick Cassidy ? who had an unusual off-season. While they would likely be atop the points, several young drivers could have been appearing on the podium.

F1 juniors have a mixed history in Super Formula, and Formula Scout predicts Juri Vips would be performing well at Team Mugen – but whether that’s enough for Red Bull’s intentions is another matter. He’d have Red Bull reserve driver Sergio Sette Camara at B-MAX Racing with Motopark putting the pressure on him within the Honda camp, along with Nakajima Racing’s exciting young line-up of Tadasuke Makino and Toshiki Oyu.

The two local talents could be putting themselves in contention for a Honda-powered seat at AlphaTauri with some strong results, but Kondo Racing’s Toyota protege Sacha Fenestraz – the reigning SF Lights champion – could be the top rookie.

Road to Indy ? Experience wins twice, one rookie star

Andretti Autosport’s Kyle Kirkwood, who has won an incredible number of races in the past three years, enters Indy Lights as a title favourite off the back of Indy Pro 2000 title success. At this point of the season, the Freedom 100 (worth more points as an oval race) would have just been run, and HMD Motorsports’ returnee Santiago Urrutia would be the likely points leader due to his experience. Robert Megennis (Andretti) and Toby Sowery (Belardi Auto Racing) would surely feature highly for the same reasons. However, Kirkwood may be be able to find momentum that would take him to the title.

IP2000 may already be led by Exclusive Autosport?s rookie Braden Eves, the reigning USF2000 champion, but DEForce Racing?s Parker Thompson is like Urrutia and has an immense amount of winning experience to lean on in his third title attempt.

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway

USF2000 remains a bit more jumbled by May. Jay Howard Driver Development?s Christian Rasmussen is the highest-placed returning 2019 driver, but Pabst Racing, Legacy Autosport, EA and Cape Motorsports all have talented drivers on their books who would be in the mix. Cameron Shields, Prescott Campbell, Reece Gold and Josh Green could all be fighting at the front

Formula Regional Europe ? Prema?s drivers fighting it out

Prema was the team to beat in FREC’s inaugural season, and that seems unlikely to change. In this scenario, Formula Scout predicts Roman Stanek would be currently just on top. His team-mates would fill out the top four, with Arthur Leclerc battling closely and Gianluca Petecof and Oliver Rasmussen not far behind.

Formula Renault Eurocup ? Martins and Aron battling hard

Only a couple of Eurocup rounds would have occurred by now, and 2019 runner-up Victor Martins would be stronger than ever with rapid-looking returning team ART. However, he wouldn?t be having it easy as Mercedes-Benz junior Paul Aron would push him hard as his team-mate. R-ace GP’s trio of Caio Collet, Kush Maini and Petr Ptacek shouldn’t be far behind.

Euroformula ? Total reset makes it impossible to judge

The new Dallara 320 car, and continuing to be an open-engine formula, makes all Euroformula predictions very tough. Any one team or driver could find the sweet spot in the Winter Series, and have carried it in to two very circuits that start the season.

Paul Ricard and Pau would have been run at this point. Motopark’s Cameron Das shone under the radar at Pau last year, and a repeat performance in this weekend’s rain could put him in the title lead. Ex-Renault junior Yifei Ye, also coming across from FIA F3, would probably be the driver pushing him hardest.

Other F3 series standouts

Dario Cangialosi would be strong in Formula Regional Americas, while the emphasis on consistency make BRDC British F3’s picture unclear. Douglas Motorsport’s Kiern Jewiss could be in a tight scrap with Carlin?s Kaylen Frederick at this early stage.

Formula 4 standouts

Many of the Formula 4 championships would only be one round in, and with so many single-seater rookies it’s difficult to predict. If Fortec Motorsports’ Luke Browning repeated his early 2019 form, he could be beating Carlin’s drivers in British F4.

Biggest political stories of 2020

While the current political story is obvious, in the hypothetical non-COVID-19 scenario the ongoing ramblings in Euroformula and F2 about who’s fastest and why would be the big talking point in the paddock. How well Euroformula would be getting on with its Balance of Performance would be under scrutiny, as well as how Europe’s third-tier single-seater series co-exist.

Surprise star of 2020 so far

Daruvala and Lundgaard make up the choices in this discussion. Both would be emerging from the left field as contenders for F1 seats with impressive F2 performances in their rookie campaigns, against some mighty opposition.