Home Formula 4FAcademy Finland Scout Report: Tuukka Taponen

Scout Report: Tuukka Taponen

by Roger Gascoigne

Photos: ACI Sport

Tuukka Taponen is a karting world champion and a Ferrari junior finding his feet in Formula 4. Roger Gascoigne spoke to him to find out more about the journey that has taken him from Finland to Maranello

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Finnish karting world champion Tuukka Taponen was in no rush to make the step up into single-seaters. However, having now joined their ranks he is clearly not planning to hang around, despite a tough start to the Ferrari junior’s first full season in Formula 4.

“I started karting when I was two years old,” he says, when father Marko, himself a racer in jokkis, a particularly Finnish form of low-cost rallycross, “decided to buy me a go kart, and since that I have done a lot of laps in karting.”

Taponen was hooked immediately. “He never said ‘I don’t want to go,’” his mother, Satu, remembers. As a boy, Taponen could be found watching “his father’s jokkis videos or other motor sport instead of children’s stories,” she adds.

His competition debut came at the age of five at the Vihti karting track, close to his hometown of Lohja, some 60km to the west of Helsinki. The talent was immediately obvious as “I won the race, my first race.”

The Taponen family criss-crossed Finland in their camper van to support Tuukka’s racing. And success came quickly – in his rookie season in 2017, he won the Finnish championship in the Raket 95 class before moving up to the national OK Junior series the year after.

Under the tutelage of experienced karter-turned-team owner Jussi Kohtala, who had taken a young Valtteri Bottas to karting success domestically and internationally, from 2019 to 2021 he was unstoppable in domestic competitions, winning three Finnish titles in successive years.

But his sights were already on competing abroad and so, “when I was 11 years old, I started to do international races.”

After a few tentative outings in 2017 and 2018, Taponen stormed to an unexpected win on his European Championship debut at Angerville in 2019, winning four out of five heats and dominating the final (pictured below).

Photo: FIA / KSP Reportages

Next time out, at Genk in Belgium, he suffered “a technical issue in qualifying, so I needed to stop the car which made the rest of my race meeting difficult,” fighting through the order from 63rd to 18th.

“It was a big surprise to win the first European Championship race,” Taponen admits. “Even for the rest of the 2019 season in Europe I had good speed all the time but lacked a bit of experience, though I still finished fifth in the European Championship in my first proper year.”

Racing for Kohtala, “was fun,” he says, looking back. “I was, of course, getting experienced but the speed was every time on the top, to be honest. Now, when thinking back, it was also a bit special to be with a small Finnish team against some big factory teams.”

For 2020, however, he switched to the Tony Kart works team but had to settle for third in the final European Championship junior standings behind his current Prema team-mates, Arvid Lindblad and Ugo Ugochukwu, although he went one better in the World Championship at Portimao.

Despite the exceptional results, Taponen felt that the year “wasn’t really promising. I had quite a lot of technical issues that year.”

Twelve months later it all came together at the world championships at Campillos, Taponen storming through the field in the OK class final in wet conditions to win the world title, “which no other Finn had done ever before,” he adds proudly.

“In qualifying I did a small mistake, and I was really like a bit worried about that. I needed to start from the fourth row of the grid. It wasn’t ideal at all.

“We had the speed all the time. And we got good material for that race. Luckily, I was able to do a really good tyre management on that race weekend. We were able to put perfect setup for the final and was easy to drive and obviously, everything was perfect.

Photo: FIA / KSP Reportages

“I knew the speed was all the time top five, maybe not the fastest one. But the race weekend before that that we did was like preparation for the World Championship.”

His performances won over an even more sceptical group, his schoolteachers. Initially, as his mother explains, his teachers were not too supportive of Taponen’s extracurricular racing activities, “but when he won the world championship they were cheering for him and saying ‘go race’. They were then big fans.”

Having turned 15 in October 2021, Taponen could have made the decision to follow karting rivals Andrea Kimi Antonelli or Lindblad straight into cars at the earliest opportunity but chose to continue in karting for 2022, alongside an extensive testing programme.

“We discussed this also with many different people, but for me, some drivers go really fast forwards and if they do a good result they need to of course, go [another] step forward and maybe [there] is a big chance that at some point you can’t be at the same level as some other drivers because they are older than you, they are doing second year.”

In order to get more racing experience and to come into single-seaters fully prepared, “we decided to stay in karting, be more ready for this year and do a good amount of tests before. Also we needed to find money for that.”

He tested with Prema, Campos and Iron Lynx, but “our main target was to be with Prema Racing. I didn’t want to even think about any other teams.”

Thanks to his Tony Kart connections, he was selected by the Ferrari Driver Academy to participate in the 2021 Scouting World Finals.

While Ferrari ultimately plumped for the more experienced Ollie Bearman and Rafael Camara from the exceptional group of young talents assembled that year, Taponen was “happy for really good job that I did on that scouting camp.”

Photo: Ferrari

In any case, he had already taken the decision “to be in karting one more year” but he had left a very strong impression with Ferrari: “They said they’re gonna keep an eye on what I will do next season.”

For 2022, Taponen combined another season in the OK class with what ultimately proved to be a more limited campaign on KZ shifter karts, although he still managed an impressive ninth in the world championship.

He fell just short of retaining his OK world championship at Sarno, although still took a third top-two finish in three years, but overall felt the season “was once again really good.”

He finished sixth in the European Championship and third in the WSK Euro Series, despite only competing in one of the two events.

“The speed wasn’t all the time the best, but it was good enough every time and I was really good in racing. So, I was experienced against some other drivers and I was able to use it. I was really smart every time and I was driving so I think that was the key for good results.”

This time around, a place in the FDA was never in doubt, after “they invited me straight to world finals and I won it,” despite again competing against drivers with significantly greater single-seater experience.

As a boy he admits he wasn’t a died-in-the-wool Ferrari tifoso: “To be honest, I was quite neutral. I wasn’t like, really fan of anything but, of course, Ferrari is a really legendary brand and it was our first option [to go] into some Academy.”

“Now I’m together with FDA and it’s really good,” he smiles. “They’re pushing us really much on the FDA inside Maranello. It is really good to have that kind of coaches that are able to push us more.”

“We do a good amount of physical and mental training, also some media activities, a lot of different stuff,” he says, with “some Italian lessons as well.”

Photo: Kaisa Jalava

There was never any likelihood of Taponen ending up anywhere apart from Prema for his first full season in cars, and his dual F4 campaign in the United Arab Emirates and Italy was duly confirmed in December 2022.

While much of the media, and Ferrari itself, reported that he was making his single-seater debut in the opening F4 UAE round in Dubai, this was not in fact the case.

In 2021 and 2022 Taponen had entered three rounds of the Formula Academy championship back home in Finland, remaining unbeaten in all seven races he competed in.

After taking a double victory on his debut at the Kymiring in August 2021, he returned with the newly-established Koiranen Kemppi team to score a hat-trick on his next appearance ten months later at the Botniaring.

Another double in August 2022 at Alastaro rounded off his learning experience and maintained his 100% record.

“It helped me,” he says, “but to be honest, you can’t really call it a race because there are three or four cars on track and the [difference in the] level of drivers is quite big. But it was more having fun and making some laps again with the old F4 car.”

While the less pressured environment in Finland helped him “realise how big the car is,” and allowed him “to work on driving,” the step to the second-generation F4 car and the level of competition in Italy was a big challenge.

With his karting record and an intense testing schedule behind him, much was expected of Taponen in the UAE where he ran in the colours of the Mumbai Falcons team, operating with technical support from Prema, particularly when he topped pre-season testing in Dubai.

Even so, testing is one thing, a race weekend against more experienced rivals something else. Despite losing ground with a poor start in race one in Dubai, he came away with two second places and third in the early standings.

Photo: F4 UAE

“From my opinion, it was a bit surprising that I was able to set the good lap times immediately in the first practice of the year, of the season,” he admits. Not unsurprisingly, inexperience cost him a little in the races, leaving him with some “question marks” on how to “stay on the top with that pace.

“It wasn’t easy but immediately I improved for the next race [in Kuwait] and I improved a lot during that season in UAE,” he says.

The first weekend of the Kuwait Motor Town double-header netted another podium, but when the series returned three days later, he claimed his maiden win in second-generation F4 with a superb drive in race two, passing Ugochukwu and fellow Ferrari junior James Wharton in the process.

“It was a good feeling,” he says of the win, “I started in third place and overtook both my teammates. The speed was good. I was again improving all the time [which] was the key for winning.

“I didn’t improve that much the pace compared to the others but was just more experienced [in] racing situations.”

The highlight of his campaign came next time out back in Dubai as he headed both qualifying sessions and went on to take a hat-trick of victories, putting him within six points of Wharton ahead of the championship finale at Yas Marina.

“It was getting quite hot, so it was important to manage the tyres, not to push too much and was quite easy to be in the front. Of course, some safety cars helped me again to cool down the tyres a little, and just to be calm, to not do any mistakes.”

Ultimately, he had to settle for second in the championship after a disappointing weekend in Abu Dhabi ended with him and Wharton coming together in the final race, eliminating both drivers.

Taponen is philosophical about losing out on the title and says that both he and Ferrari were more than satisfied. “Our target was to improve. P2 in the championship was really good, a rookie win [comfortably beating Lindblad by 100 points]. I was still fighting until the last race but then I had a small accident. I was happy for that result, it was really good.”

Photo: F4 UAE

Taponen explains that he had had “no targets” from Ferrari ahead of the F4 UAE championship. “The most important thing was to learn and after the championship, all of the FDA guys were really happy with my result.”

Taponen has renewed his rivalry with Lindblad, Wharton and Ugochukwu in his primary campaign for this year, Italian F4, as all four line up together in a formidable Prema squad. Taponen is not phased by the tough competition: “Last year I did a really good amount of testing with the team at the end of the season and I did a really good improvement. And then this season what we did in UAE, although on different tyres.”

“I think I was able to be at their level already there, so why not also here in Italy, or even better.”

While the FDA has not set any specific “results expectation for me but, of course, I will do my best and they want me to do a best as well.”

Even though “the progress hasn’t been so good, to be honest,” he says that Ferrari “does not give me any pressure. They just say they want to see any improvement and decent results.”

Taponen has set himself a target of “winning the championship or at least [finishing in the] top three.”

After flying again in pre-season testing ahead of the start of the Italian championship, the opening round at Imola proved something of a trying experience as a poor qualifying left him scrambling for points in the races.

But he wouldn’t have to wait long for his maiden Italian victory, dominating from pole to win the opening race at Misano next time out.

Unfortunately, he has not been able to repeat that Misano victory, “for many different reasons,” he says.

“It is not at all as we expected,” he admits. “We thought the speed is going to be similar as it was in the winter championship in UAE. It’s been much more difficult for many different reasons and also some crashes that I have not able to avoid, but I just need to do my best and I think that’s enough,” he told Formula Scout just before the summer break.

Frustration at lack of results has, he believes, led him to start overthinking his racing and overdriving the car.

“Sometimes when you look at data or video you try to copy someone who is slightly faster and it makes driving more difficult. I try now to not overthink too much and just drive because it feels like, I’m trying to look at the data as much as possible. I’m trying to improve but sometimes it’s just not easy,” he concedes.

His frustration was evident at Spa-Francorchamps where he had a disastrous qualifying session, leaving him “speechless” after not finishing in the top six in any of the three races. “It’s feeling really difficult, and luck hasn’t been on my side as well. We need to analyse what’s the problem at the moment because, I know that we can be fast!”

But a strong performance at Paul Ricard, where he took two podiums and a fourth to climb back to fifth overall in the standings, brought a smile back to his face and left him feeling more positive for the season run-in.

And with the championship regulations allowing a driver to drop their five worst results, “everything is still open. We have two rounds left and it will be for sure a better rest of the season.”

He is enjoying “the preparation that we do before races [which is] much more than in karting. Normally in karting we just do a track walk and in F4 you do a sim, you look at some videos, some data, or you work on the setup already before you hit the track first time.”

“I’m learning all the time. And it’s always funny to see onboards from the different drivers and the different approach in the corners.”

“For me, the speed is really on the top, so we don’t need to worry about that. We need to just try to do the best and make sure everything is correct every time we go to the track.”

That he has the pace is surely not in doubt. While karting successes do not always translate into single-seater glory, three top-two finishes in karting’s world championship and his early F4 results demonstrate that he will bounce back from these early setbacks.

Having mapped out a clear career path via Formula Regional in 2024, FIA Formula 3 in 2026, Formula 2 in 2028 and Formula 1 in 2030, the quietly-spoken but determined Finn is a young driver in a hurry.


Age 16
D/O/B October 26, 2006
Country Finland

Car racing
2023: 2nd in F4 UAE (4 wins, 2 poles, 2 fastest laps), currently 5th overall in Italian F4 (1 win, 1 pole) and 2nd in rookie standings; 10th in Euro 4

2022: 2nd in CIK-FIA World Championship – OK and 9th in CIK-FIA World Championship – KZ, 3rd in WSK Euro Series – OK, 4th in WSK Super Master Series, 6th in CIK-FIA European Championship – OK, 12th in Champions of the Future – OK
2021: 1st in CIK-FIA World Championship – OK, 1st in WSK Open Cup – OK, 4th in Champions of the Future – OK, 4th in WSK Super Master Series – OK, 4th in WSK Champions Cup – OK, 6th in WSK Euro Series – OK, 9th in CIK-FIA European Championship – OK, 1st in Finnish championship – OK
2020: 2nd in CIK-FIA World Championship – OK-Junior, 3rd in CIK-FIA European Championship – OK-J, 4th in WSK Open Cup – OK, 5th in WSK Euro Series – OK-J, 13th in WSK Super Master Series, 1st in Finnish championship – OK-J
2019: 5th in CIK-FIA European Championship – OK-J, 18th in WSK Final Cup – OK-J, 33rd in CIK-FIA World Championship – OK-J, 1st in Finnish championship – OK-J
2018: 13th in FIA Academy Trophy, 17th in Rotax Challenge Grand Finals – Rotax Junior, 3rd in Finnish championship – OK-J
2017: 1st in Finnish championship – Raket 95