Home Formula 4ADAC F4 The standout Formula 4 drivers around the world in 2020

The standout Formula 4 drivers around the world in 2020

by Elliot Wood
Formula 4 is now well established as the founding ground of single-seaters’ future stars. This year there were drivers across the globe who made an impact in the category, and some are already destined for greatness

There were well over 100 drivers who raced in Formula 4 this year, and the lucky few not only got to win, but got to win big. The coronavirus pandemic first led to Esports competitions cropping up in place of real-life racing, and the F4 rookies were pitched against drivers far more famous and experienced. It ended up putting many of these young drivers on the map before they had even started racing for real.

Then when the lockdown restrictions relaxed and global travel started up again, we ended up with rescheduled calendars and grouped together schedules that resulted in the Chinese F4 championship being the host series of the prestigious Macau Grand Prix and several series making use of alternative circuit configurations to boost the race count.

Before we get into the list of drivers that made the biggest impact internationally (we’ve already covered off the stars of British F4 in their own review), here are the drivers that didn’t quite make the cut…

Winner of the aforementioned Macau GP, Charles Leong showed once again that he’s one of Asia’s top rising talents with victory in his home race. Leong was only a guest driver, as he won the Chinese F4 title back in 2017, but the Macanese driver had only done seven races in Formula 3 in 2019 and budget issues made it look unlikely he would race at all this year.

The inclusion of his home race into the most accessible series for him opened up some doors though, and he turned up to Chinese F4’s second Zhuhai quadruple-header as preparation for the grand prix. He took a double pole and won three of the four races, then was similarly in control in Macau where he took pole, qualification race victory and main race victory too.

Another Asian talent who starred was 2019 Japanese F4 champion Ren Sato, who was sent over to France this year as a Honda junior. While four wins, two poles and six fastest laps sounds impressive, especially for a driver switching continents, it was only good enough for second in the points as he was firmly beaten to the title by fellow Honda protege Ayumi Iwasa. More on him later.

Not far behind Sato in the points come the end of the season was Isack Hadjar, who on his series return won three races.

The champions of the Danish and NACAM series didn’t have the highest calibre of opposition, but Conrad Laursen and Noel Leon still did great jobs to win their respective titles. Leon had his season in Mexico split entirely in two by the pandemic, but was straight back on it once racing resumed, while Laursen was in his rookie single-seater season.

Other top newcomers included Thomas ten Brinke, who immediately turned his world-beating karting abilities into victory-fighting form in Spanish F4 when he turned up mid-season, ADAC F4’s rookie champion Tim Tramnitz, and Prema’s Italian F4 duo Gabriel Bortoleto and Dino Beganovic.

A lot can be said of the high quality of the grid in Italy, although which team you drive for does contribute in some terms to where on the grid you will be, but for Ferrari junior Beganovic to finish third in the points despite early struggles was quite an achievement. He ended up several places up in the standings on the trio of Andrea RossoFilip Ugran and Leonardo Fornaroli, who all looked like they deserved more from their year.

Motorsport Games F4 Cup gold medallist Rosso was firmly in title contention mid-season and had won three races, but he only got one podium after that and slumped to seventh in the points.

Ugran was similar, having been the early title leader until round three at the Red Bull Ring – which he missed due to being unable to travel – and making the podium twice in the remaining four rounds wasn’t enough to stop him falling to eighth in the standings. On the plus side, he took two wins and a second place in a Spanish F4 cameo at Paul Ricard.

Karting graduate Fornaroli drove for the Prema-linked Iron Lynx team and was consistently strong, but never quite fast enough to challenge for the top positions.

Gabriele Mini ITALY Prema
Italy champion, 10th in ADAC – Starts 26 Wins 5 Poles 11 Fastest laps 4 Podiums 16 Points 379 Pts/race 14.6

Formula Scout first encountered Mini in the paddock during round three of the Italian F4 season, and it was almost unbelievable how professional he already was on and off-track. But then we remembered this was a driver who is following the likes of Jules Bianchi and Charles Leclerc as a protege of Nicolas Todt. He’s already preparing for a future in Formula 1.

And yes, Gabriele Mini is indeed quite small. But between graduating from karts at the end of last year to the end of this one, the 15-year-old has definitely grown a lot.

His first weekend in cars is probably the one that stands out the most, as the Prema driver took a triple pole on his Italian F4 debut at Misano and then converted the first of those into a win.

The next time he was racing was actually in the ADAC championship, but again he made the perfect start with a win from pole there too. Despite only contesting two rounds of that season, his four podiums from six races there earned him 10th in the standings.

When he returned to Italy he wasn’t winning everything, and to be fair the second round of the season at Imola really wasn’t Prema’s strongest, but he showed his class again at the Red Bull Ring with a double pole and a second series win.

Further wins came at Mugello and the second visit to Imola, and if he wasn’t rear-ended by Rosso at Monza he probably would have won there too. He was in podium contention for almost every race, against the most high-calibre field anywhere in F4 this year, and he wrapped up the title with a whole three-race round to go.

Francesco Pizzi ITALY Van Amersfoort Racing
UAE champion, 2nd in Italy, 11th in ADAC – Starts 48 Wins 11 Poles Fastest laps 5 Podiums 12 Points 563 Pts/race 11.7

Pizzi made one of the best starts to a single-seater career in modern times when he made his debut in F4 United Arab Emirates, as he won his first four races. A further four wins over the 19-race season was impressive work, but there was one obvious shortfall for the Italian: qualifying.

He rarely started from the front in the Middle East, and when he joined Van Amersfoort Racing for a campaign on home soil it was much the same. Obviously starting on pole in the latter series is harder, as a qualifying session where there is 30 cars on track makes it very hard to find clean air or even just have an undisrupted run before somebody brings out the red flags.

Pizzi admitted it was something he really needed to work on, and it wasn’t just qualifying where the single-lap deficit showed, but he made up for it by simply being rapid in the races. It was he who led the points at the end of the first and second Italian F4 rounds, but the title momentum swung to Mini at the Red Bull Ring when Pizzi’s qualifying disadvantage really took its toll in the points.

A double win and a first pole at Monza brought him right back into contention, but then at Imola he only made the top 10 once in qualifying and that practically sealed the deal for Mini to be champion.

Pizzi was comfortably title runner-up though. There were no other full-time drivers who could reach his peaks, and he fitted right in at VAR. A graduation to Formula Regional European Championship with ART Grand Prix looked on the cards for 2021, but with Mini now set to race there it’s more likely Pizzi will make the step up with VAR instead.

Hibiki Taira JAPAN TGR-DC RS 
Japan champion – Starts 12 Wins 10 Poles Fastest laps 4 Podiums 12 Points 270.5 Pts/race 22.5

The F1 itch remains at Toyota, even though it publicly says it has no interest in the potential future engine formula for the pinnacle of single-seaters, and the driving talents its supporting in Japan aren’t just being lined up for domestic careers.

Taira is the latest of the manufacturer’s proteges to make a splash, in its own official junior team too.

The 20-year-old’s F4 debut came in 2018, in the South East Asia championship, and he picked up three podiums in his first weekend of racing. Despite missing over half of the season, he finished sixth in the points.

A full-time single-seater shot came last year in Japanese F4, where Toyota put him in at its favoured customer team TOM’S. There was only one podium, but spectacular rookie seasons in Japan’s junior single-seater series are a rarity, and he finished in the top five more often than not.

After several years of Honda running its own junior team in Japanese F4, which uses Toyota power, a fairly significant series change came along for 2020 as it pulled out and Toyota slided in with its own Toyota Gazoo Racing Driver Challenge Racing School squad.

Taira was one of four drivers for the team, but in all but one race he was the driver that was contributing to Toyota’s points haul. Across a 12-race season he won 10 times, a winning rate unrivalled since the series’ 2015 creation. The only times he was beaten were the season opener, where after much battling he finished third, and the season-ending race where he trailed rival Reiji Hiraki of Helm Motorsports for pretty much the whole race in second place.

What stood against Taira was the quality at the front of this year’s field was down on the past, not least because of Honda’s absence, although he scored 122.5 more points than his team-mates’ tallies combined.

Hunter Yeany USA Velocity Racing Development
USA champion, 4th in USA Western WS, 4th in YAcademy WS – Starts 20 Wins 10 Poles Fastest laps 7 Podiums 19 Points 400 Pts/race 20

By the end of 2020 there were already starring F3 performances being put in by Yeany, such was the magnificence of his debut season in single-seaters with Velocity Racing Development.

Yeany took to the USA’s non-FIA series to get his first competitive miles in F4, with his debut coming in F4 Western’s Winter Series. He took pole for his very first race, and finished both of the races of that weekend in second place.

An unusual situation prevented him from contesting the next round, but then he found a place at the final round of the YAcademy Winter Series at Homestead-Miami Speedway and won all three races with VRD. It was already looking like he would be one of the stars of the upcoming United States F4 season.

Yeany ended up being classified as the winner of the first race of the season at Mid-Ohio, which had a chaotic conclusion in that its race-shortened distance meant it didn’t count for championship points, and then the Jay Howard Driver Development-run cars were chucked out of the results. Yeany was promoted from third place to victory as a result, then from third to second in race two, after JHDD driver Christian Bogle had been first across the line in both races.

Bogle withdrew from the series after that, leaving Yeany as the title favourite. He won two races at each of the next two rounds, then did the clean sweep of all three wins at Sebring – celebrated by posing with a broom. At a rain-hit Homestead-Miami his winning run ended after a five-second penalty in the final race, but by then the title was already won.

He skipped the season finale to make his debut in Formula Regional Americas instead, where he made an immediate impact, and will race in the Regional F3 series next year.

Ollie Bearman BRITAIN US Racing
7th in ADAC, 10th in Italy – Starts 29 Wins 2 Poles 3x2nd Fastest laps 2 Podiums 5 Points 229 Pts/race 7.9

Like fellow rookie Mini, it was the off-track impression that made Bearman stand out as much as his on-track performances in ADAC and Italian F4, and it actually comes as some surprise that he was so far down the points in both series.

While very timid in wheel-to-wheel combat at first, he was immediately on the pace and that was no surprise given his late decision to move into single-seater racing for this year came after very impressive pre-season test showings.

There were only five podium finishes across the year, two of which were wins, but he was the second highest-scoring rookie in Germany behind team-mate Tramnitz and his scoring rate in his three Italian F4 appearances was the fourth highest in the series – only behind champion Mini and Red Bull-backed second-year F4 racers Jonny Edgar and Jak Crawford.

That Bearman couldn’t convert his pace into results often enough in Germany is something he needs to work on for his expected second season in the category next year, as only 14 times in 10 rounds did he maintain or improve upon his start position with his race result. Either way, an exciting talent for the future.

Kas Haverkort NETHERLANDS MP Motorsport
Spain champion – Starts 21 Wins 13 Poles 12  Fastest laps 10 Podiums 17 Points 383 Pts/race 18.2

Could Haverkort be the next Max Verstappen? His scintillating Spanish F4 form and then seamless move up to the Formula Renault Eurocup mid-season as a car racing rookie suggests the Dutch teenager’s already got what it takes to crack the next level as well as the entry one.

His F4 wins came in all forms, and highlighted all the different sides to his ability. Some were dominant runs from the front, others required staunch defensive work, and the triple win of his first weekend in cars was completed by passing MP Motorsport team-mate Joshua Dufek for the lead.

Even his lowest scoring rounds showed race-winning pace, but the action occasionally got messy and at Jerez he ended up clashing with his main title rival.

While Haverkort wasn’t as dominant as fellow Dutchman Richard Verschoor was in the series’ inaugural season back in 2016, he certainly had a far higher calibre of opposition than was about four years ago, and was pushed forward in his own abilities by the standard of his team-mates.

If there’s areas to improve for Haverkort then it’s probably in the wheel-to-wheel moments, but to be fair to him he didn’t have too many of those when he won so many races from pole.

Mari Boya SPAIN MP Motorsport
2nd in Spain – Starts 21 Wins 3 Poles 3 Fastest laps 4 Podiums 14 Points 272 Pts/race 13.0

The driver who took the battle to Haverkort for the longest, and got the closest to rivalling or beating him on a regular basis, was MP team-mate Boya.

His domestic karting career suggested he would be one to watch, although his international results weren’t always so impressive, and his transition into car racing worked a treat.

He was second to Haverkort in his first race, was quickest in qualifying during round two at Paul Ricard – where the interlopers from Italian F4 were present – and was on the podium at every single circuit.

Boya’s standout weekend was at Motorland Aragon, where he led the first two races from the front and then finished third in the finale. At this point it was still feasible he could beat his team-mate to the title, but a triple win for Haverkort at Jarama next time out sent the crown to the Netherlands rather than Spain.

Since the end of the season he’s been testing in FREC with several teams, although a second year in F4 wouldn’t do his career or his development as a driver any harm – especially if he switches to the ADAC and Italian paddocks.

Jonny Edgar BRITAIN Van Amersfoort Racing
ADAC champion, 4th in Italy – Starts 35 Wins 8 Poles 6 Fastest laps 9 Podiums 17 Points 469 Pts/race 13.4

What was arguably the beat seat in F4 was secured by Edgar for 2020, and he made the most of it by winning the ADAC title and finishing fourth in Italy despite missing two rounds.

His racecraft was sometimes on another level to his opposition, although fellow Red Bull junior and VAR team-mate Jak Crawford eventually caught on to some of his tricks and provided a proper challenge, and the season-opening ADAC round at the Lausitzring was where Edgar’s really left its mark as he took two wins from the opening two races.

He should have won the third race of that weekend too, as he charged from eighth place into the lead. A sudden rain shower prompted a pitstop though and when red flags were waved before he had time to regain the lost positions it meant he finished an undeserved seventh.

At the Nurburgring he was then outshone by the debuting Mini, but won every race he started from pole until it came to the title-deciding Oschersleben round. What would have been his seventh win of the season was denied when slight contact with Crawford led to a puncture, and set up a thrilling final race showdown for the title.

Once again Edgar’s racecraft came to the fore, rising from seventh to finish second and just beat his team-mate to the crown.

In Italy the pair were usually closely matched on pace too, but it was Edgar who got more out of the races to win twice, and in mixed conditions too.

Jak Crawford USA Van Amersfoort Racing
2nd in ADAC, 6th in Italy – Starts 35 Wins 7 Poles 5 Fastest laps 5 Podiums 19 Points 449 Pts/race 12.8

Both Edgar and Crawford would have been deserving ADAC champions, and it was definitely more on a benefit for the two to be paired up with one another in the same team than it was an issue in any way.

Obviously only one driver could come out on top though, and through small margins it was Edgar with his one year more of experience in the Tatuus F4-T014 car.

Crawford was absolutely sublime in qualifying, notching up poles in Germany and Italy, and the 15-year-old was efficient at getting to a race weekend and having a car that would be ready to win rather than still fussing over set-up options after the first or second race of a round. He was also highly praised by his team boss Frits van Amersfoort.

The pressure was at its highest in ADAC’s Oschersleben finale, and the way Crawford set himself up as the title favourite heading into the final race was quite the accomplishment. That he couldn’t rise up the grid in the same way his team-mate did in the finale wasn’t a huge surprise – the reversed grid raced tended to be his weakness throughout the year – and when he and Edgar got too close on track it was mainly because they were so closely matched most of the time.

His first win in the Italian series came at the Red Bull Ring, and was earned in brilliant style. He passed poleman Mini on the rise to Turn 3 on the opening lap, before a late-braking Mini reclaimed the position, then on lap two was running three-wide with Edgar and Mini into Turn 4. The two VAR drivers went either side of Mini, got past him cleanly and emerged still side-by-side heading into the next corners. Eventually the lead was decided in Crawford’s favour, and after further battling and a safety car restart he had to handle, Crawford ended up as the winner.

Ayumu Iwasa JAPAN FFSA Academy
France champion – Starts 21 Wins 9 Poles 6 Fastest laps 7 Podiums 7 Points 371 Pts/race 17.7

Of the two Honda juniors who were sent to French F4 this year, Suzuka Racing School’s single-seater champion Iwasa was expected to play second fiddle to reigning Japanese F4 champion Sato. What actually happened was the reverse, with Iwasa being just that little bit quicker in qualifying and then proving very adept at European-style racing.

Four of his nine wins this year came after being beaten to pole but then being the best in the races. This was particularly evident at the long Spa-Francorchamps, a circuit not bested suited to F4, where Iwasa had his most complete weekend of two wins and a second place.

From Formula Scout’s time in the paddock, it seemed that both Honda juniors already had a decent grasp of French. In English it was Iwasa who could go into more depth, and if he remains racing in Europe next year it’s a skill he will have to improve on if he wants to follow Yuki Tsunoda into F1.

His future plans may be impacted by Honda’s departure from F1 as an engine supplier after 2021, and while his priority is to remain abroad he’s also not against the idea of returning to Japan in higher-class machinery and forging a career at home.

Juju Noda JAPAN Noda Racing
6th in Denmark – Starts 9 Wins 1 Poles 3 Fastest laps 2 Podiums 3 Points 85 Pts/race 9.4

Not even Mick Schumacher’s F4 debut attracted the amount of attention that Noda’s first race in Danish F4 gathered, and the prodigious talent proved why in her first weekend at Jyllandsringen.

The daughter of former F1 driver Hideki Noda was beaten in qualifying by Team FSP’s Laursen, but he set his best lap under yellow flag conditions and therefore had it taken away. This put Noda on pole, and she made a confident start to her first European race. On lap three of 15 Laursen started to draw back in, and they ended up fighting for the lead.

Noda responded to the pressure by claiming back fastest lap, and stretched out a lead of several seconds as the race entered its second half. An error brought that gap back down to just over a second, but she was still comfortably ahead and won.

A podium in the second race was stripped away due to using unregistered tyres, but she responded by finishing fourth in the final race of the weekend. It wasn’t the most spectacular weekend, especially given Noda already had racing experience in F3 machinery back in Japan, but it made headlines across the globe.

Noda was the driver to beat over a single lap, taking pole in the remaining two rounds that ran before the pandemic cut off the end of the season, but her racecraft was patchy and she’d often make mistakes under pressure that – on the short circuits of Denmark – lost her several positions.

As Noda made her debut aged 14, Danish F4 was the top series in Europe she could really race in with her family-run Noda Racing team, and proving herself against the best in ADAC and Italy sadly wasn’t an option until next year. It would be great to see her doing just that, competing against F1 juniors and big-name teams as one of the very youngest on the grid, in 2021.

Further reading
Opinion: Why junior series should embrace Esports again this winter
British F4 season review: Fortec’s Browning wins in closest action yet
The F4 stars who made an impact in FIA F3 post-season testing
The South American nation finally entering the single-seater map
The day Lance Stroll made motorsport history in F4
Opinion: Revisiting the racing versus education argument