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Who to Watch: 2020 Formula Renault Eurocup

by Elliot Wood

Photos: Xavi Bonilla / DPPI

The second season of the regional Formula 3 era of the Formula Renault Eurocup could be even bigger and better than the first, despite the coronavirus. Elliot Wood runs through the drivers to watch in 2020

It may have only been Formula Renault in name last year, as it gave up its own category of single-seaters to join the growing number of regional Formula 3 series, but the Eurocup was as competitive as ever and is still a very attractive championship with a Renault Formula 1 junior role and (a likely) FIA F3 Championship drive in 2021 as reward for the champion.

It’s not just drivers chasing Renault’s support that have signed up to race in the Eurocup, with F1 juniors from Mercedes-Benz and Sauber and a whole team bearing Fernando Alonso’s colours.

The series was one of the quickest to respond to calendar disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, and has a 10-round schedule that will visit seven countries and has already guaranteed several in-season tests too.

Perhaps most exciting of all is the improvements made to the series’ technical package over the winter. A partnership with lubricant supplier Castrol will help get more power out of the engine, something many asked for last year, and Hankook’s 2019 rubber is retained while new even faster compounds are development ready to debut at the season finale.

Read our analysis of pre-season testing, which provided some intriguing trends, here.

As this feature went to press, it was confirmed that Kush Maini has had to drop out of his R-ace GP drive due to budget problems.

Victor Martins ART Grand Prix
2nd in pre-season testing (100.243%)   2019: 2nd in FR Eurocup

Victor Martins came ever so close to the 2019 Eurocup title, and he needs to make sure his budget isn’t put to waste this year.

The Frenchman is a popular figure in the paddock, and there will be people rooting for him to regain the Renault F1 support he lost at the end of last season when he was pipped to the title by current FIA F3 leader Oscar Piastri.

Piastri was the strongest qualifier on the grid in 2019, taking nine poles with MP Motorsport, and his one-lap pace looks like it’s going to be as formidable as ever based off the returning ART Grand Prix team’s testing form.

While he wasn’t showing off on race runs at Valencia in testing, Martins is a driver who won two races in a stacked field as a rookie and claimed six wins at five different circuits last year. His race management skills should be better than as he enters a third campaign in the series, preventing the instances where he outclassed the field in qualifying but ended up being beaten in the races.

His mistakes ended up being costly ones when they did occur, but the 19-year-old showed he could handle the pressure when it came to the tense Abu Dhabi title decider with Piastri. If he doesn’t go one better in 2020, where does he go?

Lorenzo Colombo Bhaitech
5th in pre-season testing (100.510%)   2019: 4th in FR Eurocup

Another third-year driver with eyes on nothing less than the title,  Lorenzo Colombo was firmly shaded by his MP team-mate Martins for much of last season. He made fewer mistakes, but didn’t unlock race-winning pace at all circuits.

The alterations to the calendar caused by the coronavirus pandemic, including the additions of Imola, Magny-Cours and Zandvoort, may play in Colombo’s favour as they come at the expense of circuits he has traditionally struggled at.

A return to the Bhaitech team that ran him to race wins in Italian Formula 4 may also come as a bonus, and is sure to be a combination that can be on it from the word go, especially in the compressed segment of the calendar running from September to November.

The debuting Bhaitech only claimed three podiums last year, but with Martins also taking a risk with his team choice it should mean the rivals will be battling each other on track, and the pace of the Italian team in testing has been very encouraging.

Neither driver or team looks fastest on one-lap pace, which is unsurprising, but stint data from pre-season paints a picture where Bhaitech could be one of the teams to beat in races. Admittedly the interpretations of that data depends on how representative an eight-lap run is of races that will last 20 laps or more, but it was still a show of improvement by Bhaitech.

It’s still down to 19-year-old Colombo to up his game though if he is to turn his underdog past into a title-winning future.

Caio Collet R-ace GP
1st in pre-season testing (100.000%)   2019: 5th in FR Eurocup

Photo: Dutch Photo Agency

Despite only making it onto the second step of the podium once, while Colombo took three wins, Caio Collet very nearly beat the Italian to fourth in the points last year.

The 2018 French F4 champion ran with Renault support at R-ace GP in 2019 and was the class of the rookie field, and staying at the title-winning team (while also retaining his Renault backing) should give him an advantage for this year.

Collet has already spoken about how the combined efforts of R-ace’s 2020 line-up could put it ahead of the field, and scoring more than both of his new team-mates put together last year suggests he will be the lead man.

The Brazilian certainly got stronger as the 2019 season went on, in all areas of his driving, and will probably be Martins’ closest opponent when it comes to qualifying this year. His pre-season looked very tidy, and it will be no surprise if he’s another who is rapid straight out of the box and able to keep that rhythm going through an intense season.

There’s evidence already to suggest that, as the 18-year-old was the only driver to finish every race last year and had a scoring run matched only by Martins, and he can take encouragement in that Piastri won the title after a winless first season.

Ugo de Wilde Arden
10th in pre-season testing (101.036%)   2019: 7th in FR Eurocup

By ending its F2 operation for 2020, which was the core of the team for two decades, Arden has to make its often struggling Eurocup squad its priority for this year.

Sebastian Fernandez and Alex Quinn demonstrated on occasion in 2019 that Arden could genuinely be a match to R-ace GP and MP, and it will be Ugo de Wilde’s responsibility to show that again.

The 17-year-old graduated from French F4 to the Eurocup with JD Motorsport last year, and won his first ever race at Monza. While the win was fortunate in some senses, it was more that the form that enabled him to be at the front petered off after the first two rounds and was more often than not trumped by his team-mates.

More than half of his season’s tally of points came in the first four races, when many teams had yet to understand the set-up demands of the Tatuus T-318 car and JD perhaps got lucky at first, but as a result we know that de Wilde can do well with a car that’s well dialled in and at the faster end of the grid.

The season starts at Monza again, which will give him a confidence boost, and he knows he’ll be Arden’s lead driver if Quinn’s 2020 contract lasts no further than the opening two rounds in Italy.

Petr Ptacek R-ace GP
7th in pre-season testing (100.796%)   2019: 8th in FR Eurocup

Sauber, the company behind the Alfa Romeo Racing F1 team, has chosen to support 17-year-old Petr Ptacek this year and it’s easy to see why despite the Czech’s fairly bland career CV to date.

Ptacek made his single-seater debut at the end of 2017 in F4 United Arab Emirates and was quick to pick up podiums, then in 2018 finished an impressive fifth in Italian F4 with Bhaitech, took a first car racing win in Spanish F4 and also shone in an ADAC F4 cameo.

He started 2019 with a learning campaign in the Toyota Racing Series, then stuck with Bhaitech for a move up to the Eurocup. A podium came in just his third race, but it was in the second half of the season where he really showed improvements and rose to eighth in the points. During summer he also wowed at Suzuka on his Asian F3 debut.

A return to TRS with the R-ace GP-supported MTEC Motorsport team at the start of this year resulted in a very solid fifth in the points, and he was a match for team-mate Collet across the season. TRS’s adoption of a very similar regional F3 car means these results can be insightful for the Eurocup season, and Ptacek’s habit of grabbing points could put him in the thick of it.

Hadrien David MP Motorsport
18th in pre-season testing (101.810%)   2019: French F4 champion, 7th in F4 SEA

The reigning French F4 champion doesn’t appear to have fully gelled with the step up in machinery yet, but it’s fine if he uses his second season in car racing as another learning year. Just as long as he does enough to retain Renault’s support.

Knowing three of the upcoming circuits from his French F4 experience will help his learning curve, but having two fairly inexperienced team-mates who are not down for the full season will not, and it will be a big challenge to match Collet’s 2019.

David should be aiming to score points in every race in the second half of this season as he clearly has solid race pace, and any podiums would definitely be a bonus. His two appearances in the more aero-heavy ADAC F4 may also help with circuit knowledge and preparation, but it will no doubt be a tough opening two weekends for the 16-year-old.

For David to win a race this year it would be quite the feat, but with MP Motorsport’s proven pace and the wealth of experience and resources at hand through Renault he should end 2020 in a fighting position for 2021.

Paul Aron ART Grand Prix
4th in pre-season testing (100.476%)   2019: 3rd in Italian F4, 7th in ADAC F4

Paul Aron was one of the most impressive single-seater rookies in 2019, and it makes sense that the Mercedes F1 junior has decided to step up to F3 rather than spend a second year racing in F4.

The Estonian, a winner in ADAC and Italian F4 last year, has no competitive mileage in F3-level machinery but had an encouraging pre-season with ART Grand Prix that suggests he could be a frequent podium threat and is most likely to be the series’ rookie champion.

Having Martins as a team-mate will be hugely useful in finding the car’s limits at many of the returning circuits, but also getting up to speed faster than the opposition on the additions to the calendar. More than that, Aron may well be one of the leading drivers at Zandvoort due to his ADAC F4 experience there.

Having not raced in any of the winter series, such as Asian F3 or TRS, could stand the 16-year-old at a disadvantage given the length of time he’s been out of the cockpit and his own experience compared to the likes of Martins and Collet.

The last drivers to reach F1 under Mercedes’ patronage made winning starts to their time in F3. Is Aron able to do the same?

Mikhael Belov M2 Competition
3rd in pre-season testing (100.313%)   2019-20: 11th in Asian F3   2019: 4th in Italian F4, 8th in ADAC F4

Photo: ADAC/Gruppe C Photography

SMP Racing protege Mikhael Belov could have been in the title favourites bracket if he was with R-ace GP or MP Motorsport, but fronting a current one-car effort at M2 Competition will makes things very hard in a condensed season.

The 18-year-old won the Formula Academy Finland title in 2018 in his second season of F4, then contested dual campaigns in Germany and Italy last year. He took a race win with R-ace on the way to eighth in the points in an incomplete ADAC season, and racked up multiple podiums to come fourth in Italian F4 with Bhaitech.

On his F3 debut in Thailand earlier this year he bettered the likes of Yu Kanamaru and Nikita Mazepin, and followed that up with some imperious laptimes in Eurocup testing. While his drive was only announced last week, his pace had long marked him out as one to watch.

Using consecutive eight-lap runs as a rough estimation of an average race pace, Belov was by far the fastest and his best times were taken from a run that actually lasted 16 laps and was heavy on traffic. He was also the quickest driver outside of the two French teams ART and R-ace, and M2 being able to focus all of its efforts on just his car could well be an advantage.

One other factor that may support Belov’s hopes: he looks like one of the best of the field in wet conditions.

The part-timers (for now)…

MP Motorsport’s Franco Colapinto could win both of this weekend’s races at Monza, such has his pre-event test pace been, but the Argentinian can’t really be considered a title threat if he is not be able to run the full season.

He is confirmed for at least five of the 10 rounds, and may rack up mileage in other series, so it would silly to rule him out of victory contention in any of those events. On his two Eurocup appearances last year as a single-seater rookie he was fighting in the top 10, and also looked rapid when he turned up in Euroformula. Definitely a one to watch.

Similarly, his MP team-mate Joey Alders goes into the season after really turning heads over the last 12 months and also looking strong in Monza testing. He won the FR2.0-spec FR Asiacup title last year and started 2020 by beating F2 and F3 stars in Asian F3 to be champion there too. That used the same car and gave him more recent race mileage than anyone else, but he’s only confirmed for the Eurocup season opener and seeking budget to race beyond that.

Arden has signed Alex Quinn to substitute for travel-restricted Jackson Walls for rounds one and two, and he should definitely be scoring a lot of points after taking podiums in a mid-season debut on unknown tracks last year. He could potentially replace Alders at MP after that, or stay with Arden for as long as his budget allows if Walls can’t get to Europe.

Manor Competition has three cars entered for this season, but the revived British team only has two drivers signed. Amaury Cordeel had a difficult rookie season with MP, which is a parent team of sorts to Manor, but looked confident in testing and is most likely to do the whole of 2020 with the Fernando Alonso-branded Manor team.

His Dutch team-mate Tijmen van der Helm, 16, is already a winner in TRS and confirmed he will do the full season as this feature went to press.

 

2020 Formula Renault Eurocup calendar
Round Circuit Date
1 Monza, Italy July 10/11
2 Imola, Italy July 25/26
3 Nurburgring, Germany September 5/6
4 Magny-Cours, France September 12/13
5 Zandvoort, Netherlands September 26/27
6 Barcelona, Spain October 10/11
7 Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium October 23/24
8 Hockenheim, Germany November 7/8
9 Paul Ricard, France November 14/15
10 Yas Marina, United Arab Emirates November 27/28