In what is projected to be the final year of use for the Tatuus F4-T014 in Spanish Formula 4, a bumper grid of 28 cars have been attracted for the season opener. Who will prevail from such a packed field of talent?
The popularity of Formula 4 has grown and grown since the FIA’s model for the category was formalised in 2014, and if you look at Italy, Japan and the United States then there are often more than 30 cars competing together in races.
Spanish F4 may not quite fill 15 rows of the grid for its first ever trip to Belgium at Spa-Francorchamps this weekend, and that’s after Drivex School decided to run Enzo Scionti and Enzo Trulli in Euroformula instead, but the championship is more popular and more densely populated with talent than it ever has been before and that’s quite a statement to make when Macau Grand Prix winner Richard Verschoor and Formula 2 race-winner Christian Lundgaard are among the past champions.
Both of those drivers won the title with MP Motorsport, and the Dutch team is fielding an unprecedented nine drivers in the series for 2021. So rather than go for a team-by-team preview, Formula Scout is going to look at which nation could make its way into the history books with a champion after the Netherlands, Argentina, Belgium and Denmark.
Where else could you start? Local knowledge is a hard advantage to quantify in Spanish F4 when many of the drivers are car racing rookies and are seeing the circuits for the first time, but also those circuits are the most visited for winter testing by teams across Europe. So far, the closest a Spaniard has got to the title was when Guillem Pujeu came eight points short in 2018, then 2019 title runner-up Kilian Meyer is the only other driver to get within 100 points of the champion. He was 98 off.
This year’s home candidates are Quique Bordas and his Praga F4 team-mate Daniel Macia, and Campos Racing’s Pepe Marti.
The Praga team is based at Valencia’s Ricardo Tormo circuit that hosts round five of the season, and both of its drivers earned their seats from a shootout at the circuit. In fact, both won the same shootout but karter Macia delayed his entry into single-seaters by a year while Bordas came eighth in the Spanish F4 points last year with one podium finish.
Campos is one of several new teams to the series, and is running a tribute livery for its late founder Adrian Campos who died earlier this year. It’s picked up Marti after he made a splash on his single-seater debut in F4 United Arab Emirates at the start of 2021, and karted before that under the tutelage of Formula 1’s Fernando Alonso who was one of Campos’s first proteges and stars for his team in the late 1990s. Marti was the top rookie in the CIK-FIA World Karting Championship in 2020.
The home of two champions already, there’s a high chance MP will run a Dutch driver to success for a third time this season.
An obvious title candidate among its trio of Dutch rookies is Dilano V’ant Hoff, who like Marti made the move into cars via F4 UAE this year and had a brilliant campaign with Xcel Motorsport that included five wins but left him losing out on the title by one point to Trulli after a technical disqualification in the penultimate round.
It’s a shame he won’t be able to continue his Trulli rivalry, but he’ll likely be involved in lots of battling again if his UAE campaign is anything to go by. His qualifying pace was immense, but race starts often let him down from pole position.
His team-mate Rik Koen is used to a slow-starting car, but not in comparison to his rivals, as he’s spent two years in the Netherlands’ Ford Fiesta Sprint Cup to hone his racecraft and was the 2020 title runner-up. He should find the single-seater switch easier than Emely de Heus, who comes direct from karting and with less test mileage than her compatriots.
Mexico will be represented by four drivers at Spa, but only two of them are set to do the full season. Gil Molina is one of MP’s nonet, and the champion karter arrives in Europe after some impressive first ventures into cars in North America. He did three US F4 rounds in 2020 and scored points on three occasions, while he had a far stronger three podiums – including a win – from his three rounds in NACAM F4. He also raced a F4 car to class victories in Atlantics.
Towards the end of the year he debuted in USF2000 too in St. Petersburg, and claimed a best finish of 13th. He’s already used to working with many different teams, and he’s definitely fast, but being a title contender this year may be too mush of an ask.
Alex Garcia came 23rd in Spanish F4 last year with Global Racing Service, and has moved to Campos for his second season.
Jorge Garciarce and Santiago Ramos are both racing for Jenzer Motorsport but are focusing on Italian F4 and only doing Spa in what is now a traditional trip for the Swiss team to join the championship’s non-Iberian round of the year.
Teo Martin Motorsport, which like Campos is an ex-Euroformula team, has also signed a Mexican in Jorge Campos. He isn’t related to the Campos family, but is part of the team’s academy, however the karter does not appear on the entry list for Spa.
Sebastian Ogaard made his car racing debut in Danish F4 in 2019, and spent last year in the Danish and Italian F4 paddocks. In his two appearances at home he claimed three wins and ended up third in the points, while in Italy his full season resulted in 20th in the standings and just four points finishes. He also did a Spanish F4 round in 2019, and now returns with Campos.
MP has karting graduates Noah Degnbol and Georg Kelstrup in its ranks. Degnbol has came 10th in the Andrea Margutti Trophy and 19th in the CIK-FIA European Karting Championship, while Kelstrup has made his name on the Swedish scene.
Of the four Portuguese drivers to have raced in Spanish F4 in the past, each of them have only entered one round. Two of those come back in 2021, with Guilherme Oliveira returning to Drivex in its FA Racing-branded car and Manuel Espirito Santo joining the MP juggernaut.
Espirito Santo tested with Drivex at the end of 2018, having only been karting for a year, then 11 months later finished eighth on his debut at Barcelona with the team. He then raced in senior karting in Portugal alongside a F4 test programme with MP.
Oliveira’s debut was even better as he finished seventh and fourth in his first two races in 2020, and arrives with a more impressive karting pedigree on home turf. The pair will get to race at Portuguese Grand Prix venue Algarve in July.
FFSA Academy student Lola Lovinfosse was marked out by Formula Scout as a talent of the future while she was in karting, where she came 10th in the 2019 Trofeo delle Industrie and 15th in the 2020 WSK Champions Cup.
Her early years in karts were spent in the French Mini and Cadet scene, before making the move into X30 Junior and Nationale karts. Results immediately improved, before she switched to the OK Junior and then OK classes in 2019. She was also a finalist in the FIA Women in Motorsport Commission’s Ferrari Driver Academy-affiliated Girls on Track Rising Stars programme, and had originally targeted French F4 for 2021 given her FFSA Academy links. Her 2022 aim is W Series.
At Drivex she joins Franco-Israeli Noam Abramczyk, who last year raced mostly in junior karting and starred in France, before making the switch into shifter karts in the KZ2 class.
After appearing in Drivex’s line-up at the 2020 season finale, Max Arkhangelskiy returns to race as the conclusion of a test programme with the team. His coronavirus pandemic-hit schedule meant he only managed to do three race weekends in Rotax Max Challenge Russia around that, having come third in the national Rotax-powered championship the year before.
The little competitive action he’s done of late will put him at a disadvantage, even if one quarter of his racing time last year was spent in F4, but his countryman Vladislav Ryabov might have it even harder as he is Global Racing Service’s only driver for now.
Ryabov raced in karts at the senior level last year, including for the Drago Corse outfit linked to the Super Formula team. His primary programme was also in Russia, and after finishing his season he tested in F4 for the first time.
Rest of the world
Jenzer’s cameoing line-up is completed by Italian Francesco Braschi and Swiss Samir Ben. Braschi is already down for a full season in his home country while Ben is making his single-seater debut after a year spent testing with the team.
Teo Martin will be starting its first races in F4 with Serbian karting prodigy Filip Jenic and late signing Oliver Michl who races with a Hungarian license.
Michl stepped up from junior karting to cars last year, cameoing in the Austrian F4 Cup and then switching to the equivalent Formula Renault Cup where the biggest grid was three cars.
Top Ukrainian karting graduate Alex Partyshev is the fourth driver at Campos, and built his single-seater experience by joining Xcel for this year’s F4 UAE season.
The remaining four drivers on the grid are Morocco’s series sophomore Suleiman Zanfari and American karter Santiago Trisini at MP, Anglo-Thai touring car racer Branden Lee Oxley at Drivex and Irish karting star Alex Dunne who fronts Pinnacle Motorsport’s entry into F4 and also represents Williams in Esports.
Pinnacle has won 15 races in Asian Formula 3 since that series’ inception in 2018, and is entering a single car for Dunne with the support of Motorsport Ireland – which often puts its financial blessing behind rally drivers rather than racers.
Dunne was a star on the British Cadet kart scene before going international with a step up to junior karting in ’18. He came 11th in the world championship as a rookie, and seventh in the European championship in 2019. His first major success was winning the Champions Cup that year, and the Italian scene was where he remained when he moved into OK karts for 2020.
Jenic and Dunne are certainly names to watch over the season, although team inexperience at this level may hold back their ambitions of top results from the off. Both have looked impressive in pre-season testing though.