The coronavirus pandemic has put back the single-seater debut of many young drivers who were looking to start their car racing careers in Formula 4 this year. Of the hundreds competing, who are the ones to watch?
There are nine FIA F4 championships that look well prepared to return to action in 2020 with healthy-sized grids and a variety of circuits, in a make-or-break year for grassroots motorsport. The global COVID-19 pandemic has stemmed personal, sponsor and team finances, and has put new restrictions on how F4-hosting circuits can run events.
Formula 1 junior teams are still placing their drivers in the category though, with the expectation that once in the driver’s seat this year will not be unlike any other. Turn up at the circuit, beat the opposition, and go back home (to quarantine).
Here is Formula Scout’s preview of the drivers and championships to watch in 2020.
The ADAC F4 season is likely to be pushed back further by a rise in coronavirus infections in Germany and subsequent hardening down on mass gathering limits, and a number of clashes with the Italian F4 schedule where most drivers also compete could mean that the best on the grid don’t contest the full campaign.
Van Amersfoort Racing is the team with the line-up to beat this year, as it runs reigning F4 United Arab Emirates champion Francesco Pizzi and Red Bull juniors Jak Crawford and Jonny Edgar.
Edgar impressed on his single-seater debut last year in Spanish F4, and his full season in Italy resulted in 10th in the points and two pole positions. His move from Jenzer Motorsport to VAR was purely with the title in mind, given fellow Red Bull junior Dennis Hauger was the star man of both the ADAC and Italian championships last year in one of VAR’s cars.
Crawford comes from America, where he was title runner-up in NACAM F4 and a frontrunner in USF2000 last year. His lack of European experience may hold him back, as with 2020 car racing debutant Pizzi.
Mucke Motorsport has one driver who could topple VAR’s trio over a full season: Joshua Duerksen. The Paraguayan talent made his single-seater debut with the team last year in F4 UAE, where he was title runner-up, and he then had fast but messy campaigns in Europe where he picked up a win in his first weekend but scored too inconsistently.
His team-mates will be fellow returnee Nico Gohler and one of Mucke’s 2020 F4 UAE drivers Josef Knopp.
US Racing, run by former Mercedes-Benz DTM chief Gerhard Ungar and Ralf Schumacher, won all three 2019 titles with the support of famous F1 team Sauber. This year there is no partnership, and its line-up doesn’t look like a title-fighting force with ADAC-backed karter Tim Tramintz, Russian Vladislav Lomko and F4 South East Asia runner-up Elias Seppanen.
French F4 Junior champion Victor Bernier joins R-ace GP for his second year in single-seaters and could be a force at the front, and has F4 SMP runner-up Artem Lobanenko and Israeli Roee Meyuhas as team-mates.
Putting its focus on its home country rather than its parallel ADAC campaign is Prema, which has four drivers that should be at the front in both championships even though all of them are new to cars.
Nicolas Todt protege Gabriele Mini has led the way in pre-season testing, and steps up to F4 after finishing second in the CIK-FIA European championship and the WSK Champions Cup in OK karts as a rookie last year.
Three of his OK rivals from 2019 join him in the team, forming the first all-rookie Prema line-up in F4.
Ferrari junior Dino Beganovic carries the best form over from karting, as reigning Italian and Swedish champion and a frontrunner on the European scene. Sebastian Montoya, son of F1 race-winner and IndyCar champion Juan Pablo, looks best prepared for cars, and Brazilian Gabriel Bortoleto is also a highly-rated talent.
Mucke has a revised line-up, with F4 UAE race-winner Erick Zuniga joining highest-placed returning driver Duerksen.
Bhaitech has also picked a F4 UAE-experienced talent in Zdenek Chovanec, as well as top Danish karter Sebastian Ogaard and experienced returnee Jesse Salmenautio, who was Formula Academy Finland runner-up in 2018. Sauber-linked karter Dexter Patterson – the 2017 world junior champion – is also testing with the team.
While they only scored once each last season, Cram Motorsport’s Andrea Rosso, Jenzer Motorsport’s Filip Ugran and DRZ Benelli’s Francesco Simonazzi all showed flashes of speed in 2019, and Rosso won gold for Italy in the inaugural Motorsport Games F4 Cup. All three have since shown testing pace that may have them fighting for podiums regularly this year.
Antonelli Motorsport has joined forces with Dino Chiesa’s Kart Republic for 2020, and has signed F1 world champion Nico Rosberg’s impressive Chinese karting protege Cenyu Han as its first driver.
The grid so far for French F4 is pretty small, with the FFSA Academy usually leaving witholding its full field until the eve of the first round, but it’s high on quality. Among the title favourites (so far) is Sami Meguetounif, who made one appearance in the series last year and was fifth on his debut.
The French teenager also made a cameo appearance in F4 SEA, where he took three podiums in four starts and looked increasingly comfortable, replicating the preparation that Hadrien David put in prior to winning last year’s French F4 title.
His main rival will undoubtedly be reigning Japanese F4 champion and Honda junior Ren Sato, who won 11 out of 14 races in Japan last year. The Honda junior also made a French F4 cameo, but was far less competitive than Meguetounif’s. On the flip side, he will have Honda’s support abroad this year and has more experience as he enters his third year in cars.
Sato’s compatriot Ayumu Iwasa joins him with Honda support as reigning Suzuka Racing School-Formula Scholarship winner.
Mexican karter Rafael Villagomez could also be at the front as he builds up experience, with a part-time British F4 drive confirmed alongside the French seat he earned through winning the Richard Mille Young Talent Academy shootout.
Other confirmed entries include British karting star Kai Askey, French karter Noah Andy, Singapore-registered racer Romain Leroux and Ukranian Ivan Peklin.
A strong entry has already been attracted for the Spanish championship, which is running under a new promoter that consists of some of the teams.
Praga F4’s Carles Martinez is currently title favourite, as the only returnee from last season and with a few podiums already to his name. Unsurprisingly he’s been setting the pace in pre-season testing so far.
Valdemar Eriksen has been closest to him in testing for Drivex School, and while the Danish F4 race-winner has taken podiums in the MRF Challenge, he did struggle abroad when he contested French F4 last year.
F4 UAE runner-up Lorenzo Fluxa should build on his impressive car racing debut earlier this year by joining up with the expanding Global Racing Service team, as could Spanish karting graduate and Miguel Molina protege Javier Sagrera.
Alongside Eriksen at Drivex is French F4 race-winner Paul-Adrien Pallot, Formula Renault 2.0 racer Augustin Collinot and Swiss karting graduate Lena Buhler, who could be closely matched.
Matching the Spanish team’s might is MP Motorsport, which has five drivers signed up. Sauber Karting prodigy Joshua Dufek will likely lead its charge, and he’s joined by Dane Oliver Goethe, one of the Netherlands’ top karters Kas Haverkort, Frenchman Enzo Joulie and top Spanish karter Mari Boya.
Grid sizes could surpass 30 cars in United States F4 this year, but all the pressure will be on Crosslink/Kiwi Motorsport’s Jose Blanco-Chock as he enters his third season in the championship.
In his rookie season he was sixth in the points with three wins, but only won once last year. During the winter he entered the Toyota Racing Series with Kiwi and looked competitive there too, leaving no excuses for not winning the 2020 title.
His three team-mates are all talents to watch, and can’t be ruled out from mounting title challenges.
Fellow TRS competitor Spike Kohlbecker made an impact in 2019 by finishing second in BRSCC National Formula Ford 1600, Dylan Tavella was consistent but not spectacular on the way to seventh in US F4 last year, and Ronan Murphy is the son of Australian Supercars legend Greg and has FFord experience from New Zealand.
The next highest placed returnee is Jay Howard Driver Development’s Christian Bogle, who won at Circuit of the Americas and came 10th in the 2019 points. Gaining mileage throughout this year year in more powerful cars may assist his efforts.
JHDD has two other drivers who are bound to be at the front in USF2000-experienced Nolan Siegel and Formula Nordic runner-up Viktor Andersson, who has looked very impressive pre-season.
Alliance Racing, one of the other big teams, has a six-car line-up that will probably be fronted by ex-JHDD driver Hayden Bowlsbey, Lucas Oil Formula Car Race Series race-winner David Dalton Jr and F1600 Championship Series racer Ayrton Ori. NACAM F4 title contender Nico Christodoulou currently fills half of DEForce Racing’s considerably smaller line-up.
Of the karting graduates entering US F4, Mexican champion Gil Molina stands out at Jensen Global Advisors, as does 2018 USA SuperNationals X30 Junior winner Jeremy Fairbairn at Primus Racing.
The small Renault-powered series may have more eyes on it than any other as the first to get its season underway, this weekend at Jyllandsringen, and with some high-profile names.
Ogaard will juggle his Italian campaign with a run in his home series for top squad Team FSP, which is also running frontrunning junior karter Conrad Laursen and open-top sportscar racer Benjamin Frislund.
Coming from the same background as Frislund is William Wulf, who will drive for his father’s team.
Japanese team Noda Racing makes its highly anticipated debut with Juju Noda, the 14-year-old daughter of former F1 racer Hideki Noda who has won races in the Okayama-based Formula U17 series in her home country.
Lucas Daugaard will defend his title in the Danish F5 class (back to its original name after being called F4 Lights last year), while 2019 title runner-up Christoffer Christensen steps up to F4 with Mads Hoe Motorsport.
Going up against Daugaard again will be Jacob Bjerring and Line Sonderkov. Mads Hoe, the 22-year-old team boss of Mads Hoe Motorsport who was 2018 F5 champion and was a winner in F4 last year, is expected to step down a category to race alongside his sister Mille Hoe, and is believed to have signed one other driver too.
For some F4 championships, information is light on what is happening amid the coronavirus pandemic. Chinese F4 has been able to reorder its calendar multiple times, F4 SEA has decided to run solely at Sepang (making it more of a Malaysian F4) far later in the year, and SMP Racing’s Russia-based series that replaced F4 North-European Zone in 2019 may not happen at all.
F4 in Japan looks as strong as ever with the FIA championship and older JAF Japan F4, which got underway before lockdown.
Argentinian F4’s delayed first season was due to begin this month but mass gatherings are prohibited in Buenos Aires, while FAcademy Finland and FAcademy Sudamericana (which like F4 SMP are non-FIA) could begin in August.
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