Juri Vips will race in Formula 3 for a third year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and the 2020 Formula Regional European Championship title is his to lose. Who could deny the Red Bull junior this season?
After a tricky first season absolutely dominated by Prema, Formula Regional European Championship already has a more competitive-looking grid for its second run and has attracted a big name in Formula 1 target Juri Vips.
The Estonian, who was Macau Grand Prix runner-up in 2019 and finished fourth in the FIA’s lead F3 series for the last two years, still aims to race for Team Mugen in Super Formula this year but is having his plans disrupted by travel restrictions.
“I was stuck in japan for two months after the pre-season test there in March, then finally I flew home and have been there ever since,” Vips told Formula Scout.
“Honestly no, I just don’t think it benefits anyone to have such a long break from racing,” he said of if the longer off-season has been of help ahead of his rookie SF season. He will be back in action in FREC first, with the KIC Motorsport team.
“I think I should be fighting in the front in this series, [Prema’s Gianluca] Petecof was quick at the tests.
“I have no idea [how many rounds I will do]. The first two for sure, FREC is a plan B for me in case I cannot enter Japan.
“I guess driving anything is nice after such a long break but the cars are so different that I don’t think it prepares me in any way for SF.”
One of SF’s rule changes may be beneficial in light of Vips’ in experience (he made one start in 2019), with plans to shorten races and eliminate a significant part of the strategic element of the series.
“Generally some of the teams had better race pace [in SF] so the fact that the races are shorter and no pitstops is definitely a bonus!”
Vips points to the experience of his competitors as the hardest part about racing in SF, but is unfazed that he will be up against other Red Bull-supported talents in Japan.
“I don’t care about who else is in the Junior program or affiliated to the brand. Dr [Helmut] Marko’s expectations are perhaps a little extra motivation if anything is.
“Obviously SF would be much harder but I think it’s still possible to win [both titles].”
FREC delivers the same amount of FIA superlicence points to its champion as the considerably more difficult SF, and when the 19-year-old turned up to FREC pre-season testing he immediately set the benchmark on pace, and made his title favourite status even more pressing – even if he does miss races once free to travel to Japan to start his rookie SF season.
Vips doesn’t have to win the title in either series to gain the superlicence he needs to claim an F1 seat with AlphaTauri next year, whereas many of the drivers around him in FREC will be hungry to show him up to get themselves on the F1 radar.
The supertime calculation from pre-season takes each driver’s fastest time from the five tests (Mugello, Misano, Imola, Misano and Monza), and shows them as a percentage of the absolute fastest pace that was set by Vips. The percentage can be used to calculate the spread of a grid on a circuit where the pole lap is 1m40s, with each percent representing a second.
Gianluca Petecof Prema
2019: 2nd in Italian F4, 5th in ADAC F4
Gianluca Petecof was undoubtedly fast but a little too furious in 2019 – his second year racing in both ADAC F4 and Italian F4. He sprinted into an early Italian F4 points lead with four race wins in the opening three rounds, but failed to win again and was convincingly beaten to the title by Red Bull junior Dennis Hauger.
Petecof won the first race in ADAC F4 too but didn’t repeat the triumph, although he did finish as the highest of Prema’s four drivers with fifth place in the standings. The Brazilian was caught up in a number of incidents across both series and should have taken more than three wins in 41 races last year.
He was outshone by rookie Roman Stanek, who was set to join Prema as a team-mate to Petecof in FREC before ending up in FIA F3. This somewhat clears the way for the Brazilian, whose biggest two rivals may be another ex-F4 adversary in team-mate Arthur Leclerc, and KIC’s Vips. If he can sustain a title fight with the duo – or at the very least emerge as lead Prema driver – he should emulate the path of Prema’s 2019 FREC line-up and graduate to FIA F3 in 2021.
The pre-season tests marked him out as Prema’s leading asset but if he does start the season strongly, he needs to avoid the subsequent winless streaks that he suffered in F4 last year.
Patrik Pasma KIC Motorsport
2019: 10th in FR EurocupThree years in British Formula Ford 1600 and F4 provided a solid basis for a solid if unspectacular Formula Renault Eurocup season in 2019 for Pasma. He stood on the podium just once, but finished a respectable 10th in the standings.
He’ll have the benefit of driving alongside and learning from Red Bull junior Juri Vips at KIC, the Finish outfit which – with FIA F3 driver Jake Hughes at the wheel – showed its potential with three podiums at last year’s Mugello round.
He can also lean on the FREC experience of his other team-mate, compatriot Konsta Lappalainen, and he should prove a much more realistic team-mate to beat than the highly-rated Vips.
Pasma was the third fastest 2020 FREC driver in pre-season testing, and with his year of regional F3 experience in Eurocup last year, he could prove to be a regular thorn in the side of a couple of the Prema drivers throughout the season.
Arthur Leclerc Prema
2019: 3rd in ADAC F4
Ferrari F1 star Charles Leclerc’s younger brother Arthur arguably boosted his public profile in Esports during the lockdown period just as much as he did during his 2019 ADAC F4 campaign. That was a season that was impressive but in which he was ultimately outshone by his US Racing team-mates Theo Pourchaire and Roman Stanek.
Both have graduated to FIA F3, leaving Leclerc with a brilliant opportunity to raise his stock with a title challenge in FREC’s dominant outfit. Like Petecof, he won just once in ADAC F4 but was far more consistent than his now-team-mate.
He’s traded Sauber backing for Ferrari junior status over the winter but he’ll need an impressive year to establish himself as Ferrari’s brightest prospect outside of its Formula 2 quintet. Especially considering the strength of Prema’s Ferrari Driver Academy-filled Italian F4 line-up.
Petecof and second team-mate Oliver Rasmussen have far more F4 races under their belts than Leclerc, but the Monegasque teenager has more than enough potential to come out on top in the intense intra-team fight.
Oliver Rasmussen Prema
2020: 11th in TRS 2019: 7th in Italian F4, 12th in ADAC F4
French-born Danish teenager Oliver Rasmussen doesn’t have the racing CV or pre-season pace of his two leading Prema team-mates, but he’s proved to be an occasionally rapid racer in F4 over the past two years. His first Italian F4 pole came at Misano last year, the venue of this weekend’s season opener, but that race was canned due to poor weather conditions.
When he did get to start at the front in the replacement race at Imola, he could only convert it into a fourth place finish. A couple of late-season podiums left him seventh in the points, but he was far behind team-mate Petecof in both F4 series.
Prema promoting Rasmussen to its FREC line-up is a good demonstration of the faith the Italian outfit has in the Dane. His F3 debut came in this year’s Toyota Racing Series, and two podiums were earned on his way to 11th in the standings.
His pre-season suggests he’ll be the third-best Prema driver, but a maiden car racing win, a top-five place in the points and getting the better of Williams F1 junior Jamie Chadwick would mark a successful season.
Pierre-Louis Chovet Van Amersfoort Racing
2019: 23rd in Euroformula
Van Amersfoort was set to run F4 graduate Alessandro Famularo alongside Chovet, but the Venezuelan’s name dropped off the entry list just days before the season’s start and it leaves VAR in the unwanted position again of running one car.
The experienced Dutch outfit is accustomed to that experience, as it ran current FIA F3 driver Sophia Floersch in the series last year. But it was open about the frustrations of running fewer cars, especially against Prema’s dominant four-car line-up, and its 2019 pre-season was very limited as it hastily joined the series after the demise of Formula European Masters.
Its lack of preparation showed when Floersch was over three seconds off pole position for the opening race at Paul Ricard. She failed to stand on the podium all season, although the team did earn two at Barcelona when Red Bull exile Dan Ticktum made the first of two appearances in a third VAR car.
Chovet will be hoping to turn around VAR’s fortunes but his previous racing record and his pre-season test pace suggest it will be a difficult season. The French F4 race-winner didn’t complete a full season in either of the years he was in entry level single-seaters, then his graduation to Euroformula with RP Motorsport in 2019 ended up being for less than half of the season and a total mess as the team swapped engine suppliers then dropped out after an uncompetitive start.
Chovet has shone though. When he was 15, he won in only his third weekend in single-seaters and finished just behind Arthur Leclerc in his first full-time campaign in 2018, despite missing one of the rounds.
Expect Chovet to be joined by a second VAR entry later in the season, but before then it’s difficult to see the team standing on the podium with four Prema drivers and an over-qualified Red Bull junior.
Jamie Chadwick Prema
2019-20: 4th in Asian F3 2019: W Series champion, 14th in Asian F3
The inaugural W Series champion steps into the all-conquering Prema outfit for what is effectively her third successive campaign in a championship that uses the Tatuus F3 T-318 chassis. Chadwick was a worthy W Series champion but with two wins in six races, it was a controlled rather than dominant title victory.
She followed her title success with an Asian F3 campaign. It began with struggles, but an impressive final two rounds elevated her to fourth in the points. This was initially set to be a prelude to a defence of her W Series crown – now offering superlicence points and two races on the F1 support bill – but after the season was cancelled she landed herself in FREC with Prema in place of Stanek and with some mighty financial backing.
Her pre-season test performances have appeared lacklustre at best though. She was 17th fastest on average of the 21 drivers that tested. and definitively the fourth best of Prema’s line-up. Considering her level of experience in the car and Prema’s performance in the series last year, Chadwick’s golden opportunity will leave will her little space to hide. A top-five place in the championship may seem impressive to the casual viewer, but feeder series fans and teams will know that’s the minimum to be achieved or expected with Prema rather than a considerable achievement.
The rest of the grid
KIC’s line-up is completed by the previously mentioned Lappalainen, son of team boss Petri and the only driver from FREC’s inaugural field to return. He claimed one podium on the way to 11th in the 2019 standings, behind part-time team-mate Isac Blomqvist, with his move up to F3 following a 2018 in which he had won the F4 North European Zone title.
The year before that he was second in the FR1.6-based Formula Nordic, and he needs to put his increasing experience to good use now. His testing pace put him on par with Chadwick, which is an encouraging sign depending on interpretation.
DR Formula by RP Motorsport – which ran Igor Fraga to four wins and third in the driver’s championship in 2019 – will be running two drivers in need of a successful 2020 campaign. Italian driver Emidio Pesce, 18, started 26 races across Italian and Spanish F4 last year but earned just one-point across all of them, and is confirmed for the full 2020 season.
He’s been a quiet revelation in pre-season testing, and will be partnered by ex-Fernando Alonso protege and late entrant Brad Benavides at Misano. The American suffered a miserable 2019 campaign with Alonso’s Eurocup outfit, after showing great promise during his karting career, and finished no higher than 13th before the Drivex School-run team sat out the final two rounds due to budget issues.
US Racing helped Fraga’s current FIA F3 team-mate David Schumacher to fourth in last year’s points but has no drivers signed up for Misano after Spanish karting graduate David Vidales switched to Eurocup and won both races on his debut single-seater weekend.
The 12-driver grid for the opener is completed by single-car entries for Monolite Racing and Gillian Track Events. The former has won two FIA Central European Zone F3 titles with Andrea Cola, as well as last year’s F2000 Italian Trophy and is moving over to FREC with the 21-year-old. He was several seconds slower than Vips in testing, so will be aiming for small points.
French F4 race-winner Gillian Henrion will drive for his family-run team, which also makes its debut in the championship, and will have an even greater hill to climb than Cola given his and his team’s inexperience.
The grid should swell beyond the initial 12 entries, just as the 2019 field incrementally grew from its starting point of 10 cars. Vips will be hoping the field becomes big enough for him to earn the full amount of superlicence points the series is supposed to offer.
He’s unable to control the grid size, but what he can do is make sure he triumphs against the might of Prema – no easy task even for someone with his considerable talent.
You can also enjoy this feature in podcast form (recorded prior to Famularo’s series exit). Click below to listen, or head to Breaker, Google Podcasts, Overcast, RadioPublic, Pocket Casts, Castbox, Apple Podcasts and Spotify.