Home Featured Rookies to watch: 2022 Formula Regional European Championship

Rookies to watch: 2022 Formula Regional European Championship

by Formula Scout

Photos: FRECA

There were nine full-time cars in Formula Regional Europe’s first two seasons, and that boomed to 31 last year when it merged with the Formula Renault Eurocup. Now there’s 35, so who are the ones to watch? 

The surprise domination by Gregoire Saucy of the 2021 Formula Regional European Championship left everyone in his wake. A long way behind him in the fight for runner-up spot was R-ace GP’s Hadrien David and Prema’s Paul Aron, both category sophomores, and rather than follow Saucy into the FIA Formula 3 Championship for 2022 they are staying in FREC.

It is of course expected then that this duo will be battling each other for the crown this year, with fellow top 10 returnees Gabriele Mini (ART Grand Prix) and Michael Belov (MP Motorsport) also in the mix. Mini was the second-best rookie in the series in 2021, racking up four podiums but not a win and scoring less than half of the points of team-mate Saucy.

Belov meanwhile missed the first three rounds of that season and joined the grid as a guest driver with JD Motorsport. He finished second twice, for a team that actually went pointless through the campaign, then landed a seat at the ambitious G4 Racing where he claimed two wins and two poles. His scoring rate (including what his guesting podiums would have been worth) was second only to Saucy, and now he’s moved to another race-winning team.

There will be rivalries from within these drivers’ own teams, with Gabriel Bortoleto joining David at R-ace after winning as his team-mate in FRegional Asian Championship at the start of 2022, Ferrari junior Beganovic partnering Aron again at Prema and Mari Boya moving to ART GP after a consistent rookie campaign at Van Amersfoort Racing.

In addition to the top talents from 2021 and those mired in the midfield, there are 22 series rookies who will be debuting at the Monza season opener this weekend. Which ones are likely to establish themselves quickly in a capacity grid?

Listen to our FREC season preview on our latest podcast below, or find it on Breaker, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Pocket Casts, RadioPublic, Castbox, Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Laurens van Hoepen NETHERLANDS ART Grand Prix

Photo: Davy Delien / Pro-photos-sport.com

A FRegional sophomore in truth, although without the FRAC experience that many of rivals have, Dutch racer van Hoepen made his car racing debut in the 2021 Ultimate Cup Series Single-Seater Challenge, driving a Renault-powered Tatuus T-318 car. That means the only adapting he’ll need to do this year is learn the Pirelli tyres after racing on Michelins last year.

Van Hoepen only contested UCS’s second half, after turning 16, and took pole on his debut. He won six races out of nine, went unbeaten in qualifying with opposition including Formula E race-winner Nico Prost, and came third in the standings.

Under the guidance and influence of FE champion Nyck de Vries, van Hoepen has managed to land a top seat in FREC with ART GP. It came about from his own performances too though, as he impressed the team in four of 2021’s post-season tests.

As for what van Hoepen did before his jump to FRegional, he was European champion on Mini karts in 2016 and came eighth in the 2019 CIK-FIA World Championship for OK-Junior karts and the 2020 CIK-FIA European Championship for OK karts. Last year he started shifter karting and came seventh in the WSK Open Cup for KZ2 karts, then started this year by contesting the WSK Super Master Series with Leclerc by Lennox Racing and came eighth in the points.

It will be interesting to see how van Hoepen fares against increased competition in FREC, and whether he will progress with his team-mates or be left behind as has happened before with rookies in ART GP’s FRegional line-ups.

Sebastian Montoya COLOMBIA Prema

Photo: ACI Sport

It’s not just the mid-2000s Formula 1 fan in this writer that feels that Montoya, son of cult racing hero Juan Pablo, could be a dark horse for the title. He was impressive enough in his Formula Regional Asian campaign that included a trio of poles and a brace of wins in a partial season. Had he done the full season, there’s every chance he could have been in the top three positions among drivers currently racing in FIA Formula 3.

While he went win-less in Formula 4, he showcased plenty of potential to be at the front, and a third year of being associated with junior single-seater juggernauts Prema will only help his progress with the stability that comes as a result. On top of his FRAC running, which was curtailed to retain his rookie status in this championship, he also made his sportscar debut in the 12 Hours of Sebring with his father.

Montoya was pretty impressive in that race, and just seems to be going from strength to strength this year. So why shouldn’t he be a contender for strong results this year, particularly if Prema finds the outstanding level of form most would expect it to have in this championship?

Tim Tramnitz GERMANY Trident

Photo: Trident

Tim Tramnitz steps up to FREC from F4, where he was runner-up to Ollie Bearman in the ADAC and Italian series in 2021. In an all-rookie line-up at a team that is new to FRegional, Trident, the learning curve will be steep.

Trident acquired the entry of JD Motorsport but, apart from one engineer, has built its own squad to run its FREC effort and is led by experienced team manager Luca Zerbini. A brief glance at Trident’s achievements in other categories makes it clear that the Italian outfit should not be discounted, even in its maiden season.

Tramnitz showed strong pace in private testing with leading FREC squads R-ace and ART GP over winter, and since signing with Trident has run consistently in the top 10 in pre-season testing. His preparations, however, were hindered by a crash in an F4 test at Estoril, while acting as reference driver, which left him in hospital with broken vertebrae.

The 17-year-old’s pace has never been in doubt over his two years in F4, but his racecraft has occasionally let him down in the heat of battle. In FREC’s ultra-competitive field, his ability to race wheel-to-wheel will be tested more than in the past.

For this year the Hamburg resident will be supported by his national federation’s newly established Motorsport Team Germany academy, and he is one of the country’s main single-seater prospects.

Joshua Duerksen PARAGUAY Arden

Last summer, Duerksen turned up to the Euroformula round at the Hungaroring with the midfield Drivex School team and finished third on debut. Despite that impressive weekend, he didn’t appear again and returned to F4 where his third year in the category with Mucke Motorsport wasn’t going to plan as he was sixth in the Italian F4 standings and 138 points off the lead.

While his form did improve, with two wins, a third place and a fastest lap in the final two rounds, he ended the season with less than half of the points of the champion. It followed a 2020 where he had also been a two-time winner in ADAC F4 and picked up a win as a part-time entrant in Italian F4, where he had won on his second start the year before. As a single-seater rookie he had also claimed five wins en route to second place in F4 United Arab Emirates in 2019.

The lack of big progress in F4 belied the pace of the Paraguayan, and like in that category and Euroformula it looks he has adapted quickly to FRegional too based on his test form so far. Therefore, despite Arden’s mixed form over the past few years, it’s reasonable to expect that Duerksen will be a high performer in his rookie FREC season. It’s just a case of if he doesn’t do enough to then progress on to FIA F3 or back to Euroformula, will he improve much further with a 2023 return?

Esteban Masson FRANCE FA Racing

The reigning French F4 champion has a bigger jump than most to make, with just over a year’s worth of car racing experience and knowledge of just three circuits on the 10-round FREC calendar.

But, with two appearances at Paul Ricard in the preceding years as preparation, he won a single-seater title on his first attempt in 2021 in composed fashion. An all-rookie line-up at the MP-run FA Racing team will no doubt make it harder to be at the front, but it will also make the environment a little more similar to the centrally-run French F4.

Masson’s qualifying form was immense last year, claiming nine poles out of a possible 14, and only once did he finish off the podium when he started from the very front. In that instance, finishing fourth set up a win in the reversed-grid race.

In three reversed grid races he faced what often happens in the midfield battles, which is chaos, and retired twice in incidents with title rival Maceo Capietto. The other time he retired after squabbling with Gael Julien. That doesn’t bode well for FREC given how condensed the midfield is in the series, and how much more difficult overtaking is in the T-318 than in an F4 car, but not all of those previous incidents were Masson’s fault and he can make use of push-to-pass in FREC this year.

Noel Leon MEXICO Arden

Mexican driver Leon comes in with a curious range of experience and success behind him. A double Formula 4 champion in the Americas (in NACAM and United States in successive years) and even a NASCAR title in his homeland. All of this has drafted in Red Bull support for 2022, and an interesting move to Europe and to FREC rather than staying in the Americas.

Consistency was the name of Leon’s game on his way to his title successes, and that is perhaps what many should expect from him this year. A respectable performance would be to get to grips with Europe’s highly different circuits to those he raced on in the US, and to get the upper hand on his fellow Americas-based team-mates Eduardo Barrichello and Joshua Durksen.

Arden’s results in this championship (and in Formula Renault Eurocup) have not been spectacular in recent years, but the team has produced consistent frontrunning results in that time. Should the team be in that mix again in 2022, Leon should be plenty capable of putting himself into the battle for decent points finishes – something that would be impressive with such an experienced and fleshed-out field.

Matias Zagazeta PERU G4 Racing

Photo: G4 Racing

Peruvian driver Zagazeta spearheaded Argenti Motorsport’s title push in British Formula 4 last year and came up just shy of the title after dropping out of contention in the penultimate race of the year. He showcased much of the potential required to be successful in any series – good qualifier, ability to lead from the front, and an ability to make up positions in sprint races. He just wasn’t quite as consistent as title rival Matthew Rees and therefore he came up a bit short. Either way, it was a strong second year after a challenging rookie campaign with Carlin in 2020.

With better consistency – a question mark with G4 Racing – and by getting to grips with these cars quickly, Zagazeta could be in position to spring a surprise or two. FREC’s new regulations mean that we don’t quite know yet what sort of skillset is required to come out on top of this championship, but Zagazeta fundamentally has what it takes to be successful from his side.

Expect perhaps not huge headline results, but a quietly impressive top-10 finish here and there that will fly under the radar, and for him to possibly have the upper hand on his team-mates, who come in with a wide range of experience.

Maceo Capietto FRANCE Monolite Racing

Photo: Monolite Racing

Capietto would have been 2021 French F4 runner-up had he not been excluded from the final round when his title fight with Masson really heated up, with his removal from the weekend’s results the outcome of a clash with his rival.

It was sour way to end a season in which as a total rookie he had won four races and claimed six further podiums, as well as three three pole positions and six fastest laps. He also scored two points from two appearances in Italian F4, which left him not far behind his FREC team-mates Cenyu Han and Pietro Armanni in the standings.

Of all the drivers on this list, Capietto looks the most likely to be the real standout in his team and he is with an outfit that is growing in stature after proving itself in what was essentially club-level single-seater racing before joining FREC in 2020.

His consistency was a standout feature in French F4 prior to his final round disqualification, and he has motorsport pedigree with his father Guilaume the engineering mastermind behind Prema’s current F2 efforts. It took some time for Capietto Jr to raise the budget he needed to make the step up in his driving career, and even if he does excel with Monolite, to be fighting for podiums in 2022 will be a big stretch.

Joshua Dufek SWITZERLAND Van Amersfoort Racing

There’s a winning card in VAR’s desk this year, and it’s engineer Rik Kasius. The Dutchman has been behind the title successes of Dennis Hauger, Jonny Edgar and Bearman with the team in F4, but he’s now looking for a new challenge. So for 2022 he’s moved into VAR’s FREC setup, and will be engineering Dufek through this season.

The British-born Austrian-German driver lives in Switzerland and has raced using that country’s license as well as Austria’s. His Swiss links go further, as he was a junior of Sauber in 2019 during his final year in karting.

He finished fifth in the Italian championship, ninth in the WSK Euro Series and 16th in the world championship that season, and after that stepped into cars with MP in Spanish F4 where he came fourth in the 2020 points with eight podiums.

Last year he switched to the ADAC and Italian series and to VAR, and came seventh in both. There were four podiums in ADAC F4, where he missed a round, and in Italy he had three podiums to his name before a boost in form (coinciding with Duerksen’s) in the penultimate round Mugello as he claimed a triple pole, a win and a second place.

Like F4 rival Montoya, Dufek did the first three rounds of FRAC as preparation for 2022, and scored 12 points for Hitech GP. He is also part of former GP3 racers Kevin Korjus and Matt Parry’s Peak Performance Management driver development stable.

2022 FREC entry list

Team No Driver 2021 (’22)
R-ace GP #16 Lorenzo Fluxa 13th in FRAC (10th in FRAC)
#26 Hadrien David 2nd in FREC (9th in FRAC)
#85 Gabriel Bortoleto 15th in FREC (14th in FRAC)
ART Grand Prix #42 Laurens van Hoepen 3rd in UCS SSC
#46 Gabriele Mini 7th in FREC (4th in FRAC)
#64 Mari Boya 14th in FREC
Prema #3 Paul Aron 3rd in FREC (8th in FRAC)
#18 Dino Beganovic 13th in FREC (5th in FRAC)
#58 Sebastian Montoya 4th in Italian F4, 9th in ADAC F4 (7th in FRAC)
#88 Hamda Al Qubaisi 4th in F4 UAE, 17th in Italian F4 (28th in FRAC)
Arden #10 Joshua Duerksen 17th in Euroformula, 6th in Italian F4
#19 Noel Leon 1st in US F4
#91 Eduardo Barrichello 29th in FREC
MP Motorsport #17 Sami Meguetounif 11th in ADAC F4 (20th in FRAC)
#30 Michael Belov 8th in FREC (12th in FRAC)
#77 Dilano van’t Hoff 1st in Spanish F4, 2nd in F4 UAE (13th in FRAC)
G4 Racing #7 Axel Gnos 28th in FREC
#8 Matias Zagazeta 2nd in British F4, 14th in F4 UAE
#22 Belen Garcia 39th in FREC
#92 Owen Tangavelou 5th in French F4 (31st in FRAC)
Van Amersfoort Racing #11 Levente Revesz 31st in Italian F4 (23rd in FRAC)
#13 Joshua Dufek 7th in ADAC & Italian F4 (18th in FRAC)
#27 Kas Haverkort 16th in FREC
FA Racing by MP #9 Esteban Masson 1st in French F4
#12 Victor Bernier 4th in ADAC F4, 13th in Italian F4
#35 Nicolas Baptiste 24th in Italian F4
KIC Motorsport #21 Piotr Wisnicki 23rd in Italian F4
#28 Francesco Braschi 8th in F4 UAE (22nd in FRAC)
#68 Santiago Ramos 15th in Spanish F4, 22nd in Italian F4
Monolite Racing #5 Maceo Capietto 3rd in French F4, 32nd in Italian F4
#6 Pietro Armanni 28th in Italian F4
#24 Cenyu Han 13th in ADAC F4, 26th in Italian F4
Trident #4 Roman Bilinski 7th in GB3, 17th in British F4
#70 Tim Tramnitz 2nd in ADAC & Italian F4
#72 Leonardo Fornaroli 5th in Italian F4
Race Performance Motorsport #55 Pietro Delli Guanti 18th in FREC