Frederic Vasseur realised a long-held dream of having his own Formula 1 junior team this year, with Sauber F1 officially supporting drivers from Formula 2 down to karting.
Its most successful branch has been in ADAC Formula 4, where linking up with US Racing has resulted in three titles.
Leading the team’s quartet of drivers was reigning French F4 Junior champion Theo Pourchaire, whose primary source of inspiration is four-time F1 world champion Sebastian Vettel.
Having stepped up from senior karting to F4 aged just 14 last year, Pourchaire had little choice but to stay at that level for another season in 2019, and opted to test himself in a new series and a new car rather than stay in his homeland and compete for the outright title.
Pourchaire went into the Sachsenring season finale with a one-point lead over Red Bull junior Dennis Hauger. Just three races prior he had a 68-point cushion over the Norwegian, but a clash with fellow Sauber junior Arthur Leclerc, a stall and a lap-one spin at Hockenheim undid nearly a season of hard work.
Under extreme pressure, he was able to take a double pole at Sachsenring – but once again made a poor launch in race one on a greasy track surface. He importantly remained ahead of Hauger, winner of the previous three races, and for much of the race they were entwined in a podium battle.
Pourchaire won that on-track dice, and the pair gained plaudits for their close-yet-clean racing. In race two they fought again, and this time Pourchaire won the race outright.
A predictably bad start in the reversed-grid title decider hampered Pourchaire, with Hauger leaping up the order and into a provisional championship lead. A handful of luck, as well as a key overtake, brought Pourchaire back ahead and he claimed the title by one point in dramatic style. A post-race disqualification extended that lead, but didn’t lessen the drama.
“It was a super weekend,” summarises Pourchaire, pointing out it was the only weekend where he picked up three podiums.
“The starts were difficult, [and] I think the other Van Amersfoort Racing guys [Hauger’s team-mates] didn’t help me a lot in race three because they blocked me a bit at the beginning. But then I managed to catch the front and my team-mates helped me. I was a bit nervous before the race. I was leading by 14 points…
“My highlights were both of my Nurburgring wins. Winning race two by six seconds, which was really good. [And] I learned a lot this year – how to manage the tyres, how to fight – because the championship level was really high with Dennis and my team-mates.”
Leclerc is nearly three years older than Pourchaire but made a similarly positive impression as an inexperienced rookie in French F4 last season, with a lack of funds having limited him to just one full season during his karting years.
As the younger brother of Charles Leclerc, the creation of the Sauber Junior Team provided him with the opportunity to step into a more competitive series. He doesn’t just have an F1 team scrutinising his performances, as he’s also part of Venturi’s Formula E team.
Taking his sole win in the German Grand Prix support race at Hockenheim, Leclerc often spoke during the season of not maximising his pace, and certainly threw away big points hauls more than once. His Sachsenring weekend was a classic example of that, and in race three he came from all but last to finish third. Like Pourchaire he was also no stranger to poor starts, but usually had the pace to charge through the order.
“When I look at my season I see a big improvement from my side as a driver, and the team as well,” Leclerc says. “In Oschersleben [round one] I wasn’t really good, qualifying P13 or something. After that I improved on qualifying, then in races really improved as well.
“I made mistakes, which didn’t help for the title because I missed quite a lot of points when I had the pace to do some good things.”
Of all the Sauber junior line-ups, it was the F4 squad that truly seemed to have Vasseur’s mark stamped on it, and completing a trio of French speakers in the four-car line-up was Alessandro Ghiretti.
Although he arrived with promising results from Asia in particular, he ultimately struggled to match the achievements of his team-mates and would have to make to do with a trio of podium finishes and sixth overall.
Just one place behind Leclerc in the standings though, and in contention to be in a similar position in the Italian series, was Roman Stanek.
The Czech karting graduate has been a revelation, with incredible one-lap pace. That translated into six poles in Italy, and three wins across the two championships on the rare occasions a race weekend went to plan for him. He also won the ADAC rookie title and might have done the same in Italy had he not missed one round.
Sachsenring happened to be his weakest qualifying performance of the year, but by then Stanek able to cleanly make his way up the order in a race just like his team-mates.
He credits such a performance at Hockenheim – going from ninth to second – as a highlight but thinks “the best is yet to come”.
|Name||Theo Pourchaire||Arthur Leclerc||Roman Stanek|
|D/O/B||August 20, 2003||October 14, 2000||February 25, 2004|
|2019||ADAC F4 champion (4 W, 6 P, 2 FL)||3rd in ADAC F4 (1 W, 1 P, 2 FL)||4th in ADAC F4 (2 W, 2 FL), currently
5th in Italian F4 (1 W, 6 P, 1 FL)
|2018||French F4 Junior champion (1 W, 1 FL)||5th in French F4 (2 W, 1 FL)|
|2018||7th in CIK-FIA European – OK|
|2017||3rd in South Garda Winter Cup – OK||10th in South Garda Winter Cup – OKJ|
|2016||French champion – OKJ||3rd in South Garda Winter Cup – Mini ROK|
|2015||French champion – Cadet||15th in WSK Night Edition – 60 Mini|
|2014||French champion – Cadet||KRA champion|