Home Featured The most experienced drivers in the second tier of single-seater racing

The most experienced drivers in the second tier of single-seater racing

by Ida Wood

Photo: Formula Motorsport Ltd

At the British GP, Roy Nissany became the most experienced driver ever in the second tier of single-seater racing. He is yet to get a taste of racing at the top level, but did other F2 long-timers make the step up?

Formula Scout went through the history of second-tier series across the globe, considering the evolutions of series like European Formula 2 which turned into International Formula 3000 and was later replaced by GP2 (which rebranded to F2 six years ago), the USAC Mini-Indy Series which is now known as Indy Nxt, non-championship bouts across the globe contested by the stars and teams of Formula 1’s main feeder series, and many more championships.

With results from the 1960s and 1970s proving hard to verify via online research, old magazines needed to be consulted for certain races to find out who were the entrants who made the start and were either outside the points-scoring positions or retired. Equally, mentions of non-starters were key for making sure there were accurate lists from that period.

Then there was the tricky situation of Japan. Super Formula now sits alongside F1, IndyCar and Formula E at the top level of single-seater racing. But it used second-tier machinery until an overhaul for 1996 turned it into Formula Nippon. While it is an easy distinction to make that every race prior to then counted towards a driver’s second-tier CV, the conundrum of the 1996 campaign was that only one chassis was built to FNippon’s regulations, and the rest were F3000 cars running Japanese engines and with modified bodywork. In today’s terms, an F2 car with different aesthetics (note Brad Pitt’s upcoming F1 movie) does not turn it into a top-tier single-seater car. But if it’s entered into a top-tier series, surely the driver at the wheel has contested a top-tier race…

We’ll revisit that argument again later down this list, which looks at the 10 most experienced drivers in the second tier:

=9. Fairuz Fauzy MALAYSIA 133 races
GP2 (62 races): 5pts   GP2 Asia (14 races): 1 win, 3 podiums, 25pts   FR3.5 (57 races): 1 win, 2 poles, 10 podiums, 181pts   Top tier A1GP (22 races): 1 win, 2 podiums, 57pts

Photo: GP2 Media Service

After the Malaysian Grand Prix’s induction on the F1 calendar in 1999, it was only a few months before a Malaysian driver reached the pinnacle of single-seaters. Alex Yoong made it into SF, F1 and CART in the early 2000s, and Malaysian investment remained in F1 through the next decade, helping more drivers from his country embark on international racing careers.

Fauzy was the next big hope for the nation in open-wheel cars, although his results in Britain’s Formula Ford, Formula Renault and Formula 3 championships did little to suggest he would one day race in F1.

But when he arrived in GP2 in 2005 with a turquoise car sponsored by Malaysian petroleum company Petronas, who supplied fuel to the Sauber F1 team, it was clear he had the backing to make it to the top.

His rookie GP2 season with DAMS was lacklustre, with four top-10 results but no points under the sporting regulations of the time, but the week before the season finale he was already making his top-level debut as he represented Malaysia in the new nation-based A1GP series. He would be called up again by A1 Team Malaysia three years later, and won the 2008-09 season opener in treachorous conditions at Zandvoort. In the next race he was second, and finished third at Algarve.

Such results initially proved harder to come by back in the second-tier series. A points-free GP2 season in 2006 was followed by a Formula Renault 3.5 campaign in 2007 where he got a pole and three podiums but could only score seven times.

At the start of 2008 he joined the new GP2 Asia series, and won in treacherous conditions at Sentul. This time it wasn’t rain, but rather the track literally falling apart and cars driving through dust clouds (which led to overheating engines). A return to FR3.5 beckoned after that, and remarkably Fauzy came second in the 2009 standings with a win and four other podiums.

That and his A1GP form made for perfect timing as the Malaysian-owned Team Lotus joined the F1 grid in 2010 and he was signed as its reserve driver. But they released him from his contract at the end of the year and Fauzy returned to GP2 and FR3.5 for 2011. One podium from 32 races that year was not enough to keep him on the single-seater map.

=9. Luca Ghiotto ITALY 133 races
FR3.5 (17 races): 26pts   GP2 (22 races): 1 win, 4 podiums, 111pts   F2 (94 races): 6 wins, 2 poles, 24 podiums, 609pts

Photo: Carl Bingham / LAT Images

Ghiotto put his name on the map by winning on the iconic Pau street circuit in FR2.0 in 2013, and from there he stepped up to FR3.5 where his name swiftly disappeared from the map as he came 17th in the standings with three points finishes.

So Ghiotto stepped down to the third tier of single-seaters in GP3 and made an immediate impact with pole on debut. His full season in the series resulted in five wins and second in the standings, so when he returned to the second tier in GP2 for 2016 there were raised expectations once again.

His first season with Trident went arguably as well as it could with a team often mired in the midfield, as Ghiotto was a regular scorer in the feature races but usually only a podium contender in the reversed-grid sprint races. His first win in one of those came in the penultimate round at Sepang.

Ghiotto became super consistent in his second season with Russian Time, only twice in 22 races finishing outside of the top eight and scoring in more races than anyone else. But with a single sprint race win and six other podiums he could do no better than a distant fourth in the standings.

Russian Time did win the teams’ title, but Ghiotto then moved on to Campos Racing (who had been ninth in the teams’ standings) for the 2018 F2 season and he could only muster three podiums from the year. His next team switch was more canny, joining the debuting Virtuosi Racing and kicking off their partnership with a pole and a win at Bahrain.

Three more wins and four second places followed and Ghiotto fought for the title. He now had nothing more to prove in F2, but also no money to go to F1. So Hitech GP, another debuting team in F2, called upon his services for 2020.

Ghiotto reckoned the team had “twice as much work” to do as others and later expressed regrets about staying in GP2/F2 for a fifth year, despite winning in his fifth race with the team. But it was his lowest-scoring season yet and left him in no better career position than he was at the end of 2019. A cameo with DAMS at Monza last year brought Ghiotto up to 133 starts.

8. Johnny Cecotto Jr VENEZUELA 137 races
GP2 (117 races): 4 wins, 3 poles, 10 podiums, 306pts   GP2 Asia (6 races): 3pts   FV8 3.5 (6 races): 1 win, 1 podium, 42pts   F2 (8 races): 1 podium, 16pts

Johnny CecottoThe son of the 1975 350cc motorcycling world champion, F1 driver and DTM star of the same name, Cecotto – like Fauzy – was somewhat of a state-funded talent as shown by the rear wing in the above picture.

Although he was driving second-tier machinery in just his second year of car racing, it was previous-generation F3000 machinery in the Euroseries 3000 series that had been inherited the cars made redundant by GP2’s creation.

In total he made four starts there before his career in contemporary second-tier single-seaters began with the final two GP2 rounds of 2009. He also did the GP2 Asia season opener in November with Trident, and stayed with the team for a full GP2 season. Cecotto was inconsistent and only scored once, a fourth place in the Monaco sprint race. A sign of things to come.

In 2011 he went points-free in GP2 and GP2 Asia, then a move to reigning champion team Addax for 2012 resulted in being mired in the midfield once again until he rocked up to Monaco and claimed pole position. He converted it into victory in the feature race, but then spun and caused a multi-car pile-up on lap one of the sprint race. Cecotto had a reputation for being a driver as likely to cause chaos as he was to get a strong result, and the Monaco weekend was the epitome of that.

Next time out in Valencia he had a nightmare weekend, but then he turned up to Silverstone and qualified and finished second. Following that was Hockenheim, where he could only qualify 18th but then used local knowledge to choose slick tyres on a wet track in the feature race. He assumed the lead when everyone else chose to pit, then made his own compulsory pitstop and won by nine seconds.

The rest of Cecotto’s GP2 career followed a similar pattern, and it was hard to tell over that time if he improved as a driver. He claimed Monaco pole again in 2013, and duly crashed out on lap one of the feature race. Even worse, stewards punished him for the incident by barring him from entering the sprint race.

That podium-free season was followed by his most competitive one in 2014. At Barcelona he could only qualify 16th, but was seventh after a chaotic opening lap of the feature race. He led by lap eight, and it only took two laps following his pitstop to return to the front and take a convincing win. At the Red Bull Ring he took pole and won the sprint race, and three further podiums put him fifth in the standings.

Cecotto drove for four teams over the next two years in part-time campaigns, and won in Formula V8 3.5 in 2016 as the RP Motorsport team sought to use his experience. Once he had proved they had a winning package, he was out of the door.

His time in the second tier ended with three rounds in F2 in 2017 before he was replaced by the next man on this list.

7. Sergio Canamasas SPAIN 138 races
FR3.5 (33 races): 1 pole, 1 podium, 69pts   GP2 (91 races): 2 podiums, 76pts   F2 (14 races): 21pts

Sergio Canamasas

Photo: Alastair Staley / GP2 Media Service

Like many Spanish drivers in the 2000s, Canamasas went straight into his national F3 championship for his first year in single-seaters. After three seasons and three podiums, he then stepped up to FR3.5 in 2010 with Interwetten Racing.

The team lacked performance, and so did Canamasas, with a best finish of 14th in his rookie season. A switch to the BVM-Target alliance for 2011 produced significantly better results, with a pole and a podium coming at the Hungaroring. Consistent scoring meant Canamasas finished eighth in the standings, behind a roster of future racing superstars.

But it wasn’t until Canamasas’s fifth year in GP2 that his total points tally in the series surpassed what he scored in a single year in FR3.5. It was a 27-race wait for Canamasas to score his first GP2 point – he managed to get excluded from a qualifying session before that for deliberately forcing a driver off-track – but nine races later he was on the podium.

In an impressive weekend in Monaco in 2014, Canamasas used an undercut strategy to rise from 12th to fifth in the feature race and in the sprint race he jumped from fourth to second at the start and then held his position to the end of the race. Through the rest of the season, Canamasas scored twice and got disqualified once for dangerous driving and causing collisions.

In the Monza sprint race he had a lap one collision with Adrian Quaife-Hobbs by cutting the Ascari chicane, and that led to two other cars colliding at almost 200mph. He later collided with Rene Binder and Raffaele Marciello, in consecutive corners no less, before getting shown the black flag.

Canamasas went through three different teams in 2015, but he got another Monaco podium from ninth on the grid in the feature race – thanks to a rival being penalised – and followed that up with a fourth place. At the next round an apparent dispute between himself and MP Motorsport meant he didn’t take to track and then he lost his seat with the team.

He found berths at Team Lazarus and Hilmer Motorsport for the rest of the season, and managed to score points once. In 2016 he stayed with one team, but lost his Carlin seat for one round. Canamasas rounded off his time in the series with an incomplete 2017 campaign where he switched teams after four rounds. Impressive longevity.

6. Artem Markelov RUSSIA 141 races
GP2 (66 races): 1 win, 3 podiums, 151pts   F2 (75 races): 8 wins, 14 podium, 417pts   Top tier Super Formula (5 races)

Photo: FIA Formula 2

In stark contrast to Canamasas’s route around the paddock, Markelov’s first 100 starts in GP2/F2 were all with the same team.

The Russian Time outfit that Markelov became synonymous was established with the engineering support of German team Motopark, which Markelov had driven for through his first three years of car racing in ADAC Formel Masters and German F3, but by the time he reached GP2 in 2014 the operation was actually being run by iSport International, and later by Virtuosi.

It took a while however for Markelov to get up to speed in GP2, scoring once in his rookie year, but he slowly and steadily improved as he gained more experience and built a reputation of being a clever strategist with good tyre management skills.

The first podium arrived in his sophomore season, then the first win – a feature race success in Monaco – coming in year three. His fourth campaign was his most complete, kicking 2017 off with victory at Bahrain that required a perfectly executed one-stop strategy. He won four more times that year and was championship runner-up to Charles Leclerc.

Markelov was very much like the Sergio Perez of GP2/F2, and although he won three times in 2018 in the new F2 car and became a Renault F1 test driver, his peak had already happened and he needed to find another series to show off his talents.

That opportunity came in Super Formula in 2019, but he struggled to leave an impact and instead became one of the go-to substitutes in F1’s primary feeder series. He got called up for three rounds that year, then made a full-time F2 return in 2020 as the debuting HWA Racelab team sought to utilise his experience. He only scored twice that year, and hasn’t appeared since.

=4. Kunimitsu Takahashi JAPAN 142 races
Japanese F2000 (13 races): 3 wins, 1 pole, 8 podiums, 139 points   Japanese F2 (58 races): 1 win, 5 podiums, 236 points   Japanese F3000 (71 races): 4 podiums, 59pts   Top tier: F1 (1 race)

Photo: Minoru Kobayashi

Takahashi made his first appearance in single-seaters’ second-tier with a single race in Japanese Formula 2000 in 1975.

He made four starts in 1976, earning his first podium and points, then in ’77 was championship runner-up as he won three times and only missed out on the podium once in eight races. Takahashi actually scored more points than anyone else, but the regulations included dropped scores and his supreme podium-finishing consistency actually cost him the title.

The series switched to using F2 cars in 1978, and Takahashi took what would be his last win in the season finale. The next year he could only make the podium twice, then he endured three podium-free seasons.

In 1983 he returned to form with two podiums, but then went on another three-year run of failing to get a top-three finish.

Takahashi remained on the grid when the next big shift came as the series adopted F3000 cars, but over the next eight cars only got four more podiums. In 1991, now a remarkable 51 years old, he failed to qualify twice and he went three seasons without scoring a single point.

But in 1994 he bowed out in style with two eighth places and then a podium. That season he raced against a driver who was just one year old when he made his series debut.

=4. Julian Leal COLOMBIA 142 races
FR3.5 (34 races): 1 podium, 22pts   GP2 (102 races): 4 podiums, 177pts   GP2 Asia (4 races)   GP2 Final (2 races)

Photo: Julianlealweb

Leal had plentiful experience of old F3000 cars by the time he debuted in FR3.5 in 2009, and aside from a podium at the Hungaroring his average finishing position that year was 17.9. And that was with Prema, a team now known for dominating junior single-seaters.

His second season resulted in the same number of points, 11, but collected in three different races. Once again his season was mostly populated by low finishing positions or retirements.

For 2011 he made the sideways step to GP2, and remained in the series for close to five seasons. He made his debut in the Dallara GP2/11 in the two-round GP2 Asia series, with a best finish of 17th, then in the main series got two top-10 finishes in his first year but scored no points as both were in sprint races.

It took 36 races in the car before Leal broke his points-scoring duck, and despite scoring nine points in 2012 he still finished outside of the top 20 in the standings.

The next year he moved to Racing Engineering, and Leal did get two sprint race podiums. But the team was far more competitive than that, shown by team-mate Fabio Leimer scoring three times as many points and winning the title.

Eager to still prove himself, Leal signed with Carlin for 2014 and he made the podium in each of the first two races. He sat second in the standings after four races, but then only scored four times in the remaining 18 races and dropped to 10th in the standings. Team-mate Felipe Nasr scored more than three times as many points as him.

Leal remained with Carlin for 2015, but after reaching 100 races in the main GP2 series he announced his ‘retirement’ from it and missed the last three rounds of the season.

=2. Davide Valsecchi ITALY 161 races
FR3.5 (32 races): 1 win, 4 podiums, 80pts   GP2 Asia (33 races): 4 wins, 1 pole, 11 podiums, 116pts   GP2 (96 races): 7 wins, 3 poles, 17 podiums, 331pts

Photo: GP2 Media Service

A champion, at last! And more than that, a double champion! Valsecchi was never consistently a frontrunner in GP2, but he managed to win two titles.

Two years in FR3.5, with the return of a win and three other podiums, preceded Valsecchi’s five years in GP2 where he started every single race run using the series’ cars in that time period.

He started off in Durango, contesting the Asian and the main series in 2008 and ending the year with victory on home soil in the Monza sprint race. A win and three other podiums in GP2 Asia over the winter made the combination a dark horse for 2009, but ultimately Durango was not competitive enough and Valsecchi only scored three times, but did get a podium.

As soon as the season ended he moved to iSport, and he dominated the Asian series. Victory, two second places and then another two wins in the first five races all but secured him the title with three races to go, and he scored almost twice as many points as the championship runner-up. But once again that form didn’t quite translate into the main series.

He got a pole and a win on the series’ two Asian tracks, but was not a victory threat on any of the European circuits. His first feature race win in the main series came after 59 starts, and was a standout moment from a 2011 season spent with a debuting AirAsia team that was mostly learning rather than performing.

Finally it all came good for Valsecchi when he moved to DAMS in 2012. They had mastered the Dallara GP2/11 in its first year of use, and so started the season as the team to beat. Valsecchi delivered, taking three wins and a second place in the first five races on his favoured tracks in Asia, then once everyone caught up to DAMS’ pace in Europe he had a points lead to control.

He went from having a 37-point margin to falling behind Luiz Razia mid-season, and only regained the lead at the penultimate round. Valsecchi still became champion by a handy 25 points.

=2. Kazuyoshi Hoshino JAPAN 161 races*
Japanese F2000 (15 races): 7 wins, 13 poles, 13 podiums, 211pts   Japanese F2 (59 races): 12 wins, 17 poles, 38 podiums, 653pts  Tsukuba Champions Race winner: 1 pole   European F2 (4 races): 3pts   Japanese F3000 (82 races): 19 wins, 9 poles, 36 podiums, 356pts   Top tier: F1 (2 races)   SF (10 races): 1 win, 1 pole, 4 podiums, 31pts

Photo: Lola Heritage

Now known for running Team Impul in Super Formula, Hoshino is one of the all-time greats of Japanese motorsport but most of his years as a driving powerhouse came when his country’s top single-seater series used second-tier cars.

He first raced in Japanese F2000 in 1974, making the podium on his debut, and won the title in ’75 with four poles, two wins, a second and a third from four starts. Hoshino kept on going like that for years to come.

There were two wins from two starts in 1976, seven poles from seven attempts in ’77 as he became a two-time champion, and in the first F2 season in ’78 he added another title. Hoshino was runner-up in each of the next five seasons, and also won the Tsukuba circuit’s Champions Race for F2 cars from pole in 1979.

The first winless season was 1983 (which was also the first with his own team), and there wasn’t another until 1992. Hoshino was champion of the inaugural Japanese F3000 season in 1987, as he won four races in a year for the first time.

In 1990 he won six of the season’s 10 races to oblierate the opposition, and the year after was racing and beating Eddie Irvine and Michael Schumacher aged 44.

Although 1992 was a bump down to earth with two points finishes and one race he didn’t qualify for, Hoshino bounced back in 1993 with his sixth title in Japan and did so on victory countback against Irvine with two wins to his one.

Hoshino retired in 1996 with another impressive campaign that included a win and a pole. That was the first year of FNippon, and there were a contingent of Reynard 96Ds built to the series’ rules as it became a top-level series. But drivers were also allowed to race using their F3000 cars, and Hoshino did just that.

After a lot of deliberation, the Formula Scout team concluded that Hoshino’s ’96 season counted towards his time in the top tier of single-seater racing, and therefore alongside his starts in F1 (a series which was once open to F2 cars).

1. Roy Nissany ISRAEL 162 races
FR3.5/FV8 3.5 (53 races): 4 wins, 1 pole, 14 podiums, 417pts   F2 (109 races): 1 podium, 42pts

Photo: Formula Motorsport Ltd

The above decision means that earlier this month at Silverstone, Roy Nissany broke the record to become the most experienced driver ever in the second tier of single-seaters.

The Israeli only has one podium from his 109 starts in F2 to date, and only two top-five finishes in total. But he’s not totally unproven at this level, as from 2015 to ’17 he raced in FR3.5 (and latterly FV8 3.5) and in his second season there picked up three wins and three poles with the Charouz Racing System team. He also won a race with RP Motorsport in 2017.

Seven years on from FV8 3.5 and Nisany is driving for Charouz again in F2, with two ninth places in sprint races being the highlight of their reunion in what is so far a points-free season.

That’s a stat that Nissany has avoided until now, having scored at least one point in every year he has spent in F2 prior to 2023. In total he has 14 points finishes to his name, with eight of those coming in 2022 while driving for DAMS.

Nissany made his F1 test debut with Sauber while still in F3, where he had a best finish of sixth from 63 starts, and he then drove for Williams in 2019 post-season testing. After that he was signed as a test driver, and over the next three years got handed six free practice outings before leaving the team.

If Nissany sees out the 2023 F2 season, and stays on the grid for 2024, there’s a chance he could reach 200 races at this level.