The Formula 4 championships of Denmark and Italy get underway this weekend. Formula Scout highlights 10 drivers to keep an eye on across the country-hopping European series in 2021
Italian Formula 4 has an incredible 37 cars set to form the grid of this weekend’s season opener at Paul Ricard in… France, including junior drivers of Ferrari and SMP Racing and teams from seven different nations. It’s arguably the most competitive series at this level, although United States and Japanese F4 do have similar-sized entry lists, and normally produces some of the most exciting racing and exciting Formula 1 prospects in junior single-seater racing.
There’s a mix of experience and exciting rookies there, and Formula Scout will be in the paddock to see who starts the season on top. At the same time there will be racing in Demark with a decent split of F4 and Formula 5 cars in a series that had a lot more attention on it due to Juju Noda’s presence there last year. That’s despite the series having previously used its association with Renault to award prize Formula Renault Eurocup tests and be a platform for the likes of Mercedes-AMG F1 junior Frederik Vesti and reigning USF2000 champion Christian Rasmussen.
Missing out on our final list of drivers to watch, but still likely to feature at the front are Jesse Garrasquedo and William Wulf in Denmark, and Joshua Duerksen (Mucke Motorsport) and Kirill Smal (Prema) in Italian F4.
Several of the drivers at Paul Ricard are focused on ADAC F4 as their primary programme this year, and we’ll focus more on them when their season starts at the Red Bull Ring in June, but among their ranks and not mentioned in the list below are Nico Rosberg’s protege Taylor Barnard (BWR Motorsports) and Vlad Lomko (US Racing).
Sebastian Montoya COLOMBIA Prema
2020: 11th in Italian F4, 17th in ADAC F4
A certain amount of hype comes with a name like Montoya, and that loomed over much of the Colombian’s karting career when he was also affiliated to the Ferrari Driver Academy.
That changed when he moved into cars last year, as there was even more attention on some of his rivals and that allowed him to embed himself nicely into Prema and the training facilities he has available to him in Italy almost under the radar.
Not getting a single podium from 26 races (even in rookie classifications) in F4 last year was disappointing given he was at Prema, but his consistency netted him 11th in the Italian F4 points and that was in line with expectations against 43 rivals.
He’s now the driver expected to lead Prema’s charge in the series, and pre-season testing suggests he’s up to it. He was fastest on the first test at Paul Ricard and third fastest on the return trip last week, was second fastest at Mugello and fourth at Monza. The exception to his frontruning pace was Mugello, which is certainly not Prema’s best track and was also a test heavily impacted by snowy conditions.
A friendly paddock persona and a good relationship with his team-mates should work in his favour too for success in 2021. The Italian F4 title may be too much of an ask against some big names from rival teams, but it’s clear a huge gain has been made by Montoya in the off-season and he’s ready to challenge at the front along with team-mate Smal.
There’s a dark horse in Prema’s line-up in reigning Danish F4 champion Conrad Laursen, whose pre-season hasn’t been stellar at all but clearly has pace given he beat Noda and part-timer Sebastian Ogaard to a title in his first year in racing.
Leonardo Fornaroli ITALY Iron Lynx
2020: 9th in Italian F4 (1 fastest lap), NC in ADAC F4
The highest-placed returnee to the Italian championship visited the podium once in 2020, but the ambition of Iron Lynx and the technical partnership it has had with Prema means what was possible mostly as a one-car team last year should be trumped by the achievements of its three drivers this year.
Fornaroli’s association with the team began in 2019, the year he came third in the Andrea Margutti Trophy for OK karts, when he was one of five drivers selected by the Automobile Club d’Italia (ACI) for its annual Supercorso Federale assessment – in cars operated by Iron Lynx – alongside fellow 2020 F4 rookies Gabriele Mini, Dino Beganovic and Francisco Pizzi.
He was one of only three to finish every race of the 2020 Italian F4 season, resulting in a substantial haul of 108 points, and the ability to stay out of trouble is hugely beneficial when there are cars all around you in a packed field.
Fornaroli qualified third on his debut, and improved on that to make it onto the front row at Monza late in the season, but was otherwise not a standout in qualifying and he has to work on that to have any chance of gunning for the 2021 title. Encouragingly, he was fastest of the 40 drivers that turned up for last week’s Paul Ricard test.
His team-mates are FIA Women in Motorsport Commission’s Girls on Track Rising Stars programme winner Maya Weug and series returnee Pietro Armanni.
Tim Tramnitz GERMANY US Racing
2020: 4th in ADAC F4 (1 win), 24th in Italian F4
Tramnitz was the top rookie in ADAC F4 in 2020 and he will be favourite for the overall title there this year. He’s not sure if his Italian F4 presence will go beyond Paul Ricard, but if he features at the front then US Racing will be inclined to bring him back.
Right now he’s the most likely candidate to be Germany’s next F1 driver and if he does come out on top against his team-mates then he will have really proven himself at this level even if he doesn’t become champion at home or win abroad in F4.
His pace in testing has been very impressive, including going fifth quickest at Paul Ricard last week. US Racing’s team bosses Ralf Schumacher and Gerhard Ungar rate Tramnitz highly, and as he’s still only 16-year-old he’s got many years ahead of him to get even better – and doing more racing in Italian F4 will certainly help with that.
Rather confusingly one of Tramnitz’s sponsors (pictured above) is called Prema. It’s a German company that sells equipment for household interior painting and has nothing to do with the Italian racing team several garages down the pitlane.
Hamda Al Qubaisi UAE Prema
2021: 4th in F4 UAE (3 W, 2 FL) 2020: 25th in Italian F4, NC in ADAC F4
It almost felt like Al Qubaisi underperformed in her local championship at the start of this year, such was the pace she showed at the start of 2020, but all-in-all F4 UAE isn’t a truly representative challenge and she knows its circuits well.
Racing in Italy has been a far bigger challenge, and after a predictably fruitless part-campaign in 2019, where she debuted halfway through the year, Al Qubaisi came on leaps and bounds in 2020. The gains were truly huge in her Abu Dhabi Racing-run car and it was only the ultra-competitiveness of Italian F4 that meant she only scored points twice.
It’s the same problem drivers face in FIA Formula 3 and now Formula Regional European Championship, where being mired in the midfield masks the gains made by drivers and even just brilliant performances to get a position outside of the points.
Al Qubaisi had the pace at times to qualify in the top 10, but rarely put the lap together particularly with the challenge of traffic, and if she’s solved that problem then she can make far better use of her 2021 Prema seat to at least be a points threat every round and especially in the weekends where there aren’t the ADAC F4 interlopers.
Watch out for the slipstreaming contests of the Monza season finale where a maiden podium would certainly be a target.
Ollie Bearman BRITAIN Van Amersfoort Racing
2020: 7th in ADAC F4 (1 W, 1 FL) 10th in Italian F4 (1 W, 1 FL)
Formula Scout has sung Bearman’s praises before while he was driving for US Racing as a rookie last year, and he certainly looked more competitive in the few Italian F4 rounds he contested than his primary ADAC F4 campaign.
The pandemic will decide which series will take priority this year, but realistically of all the drivers on the grid it is Bearman who is the most likely to be a double title threat even with the clashing date between the two championships.
- Scout Report: Ollie Bearman
He was a winner in both in 2020, and was the second best rookie behind Tramnitz in Germany. In Italy he finished 10th in the points despite only contesting 40% of the season, and had the fourth-highest scoring rate.
Bearman has also been a regular pacesetter in ADAC F4 pre-season testing with Van Amersfoort Racing, a team which is already known to be pretty potent at the Italian tracks its driver hasn’t visited yet.
With all factors considered, it looks like the Briton has a higher chance of winning the title that’s further south with Tramnitz and the next driver on this list committed to achieving ADAC glory.
Luke Browning BRITAIN US Racing
2020: British F4 champion (7 W, 6 poles, 7 FL)
The reigning British F4 champion doesn’t have the budget to move further up the single-seater ladder, so is taking his talents to Europe and with US Racing.
Browning was quick to get on the pace in testing in a Tatuus car that has some pretty noticeable differences to the Mygale he’s more used to driving, and despite having two years of F4 racing under his belt he is definitely on the backfoot this year.
That’s not to say Browning won’t be champion though, as he’s already proven multiple times he can get the most out of his machinery.
With the one-car Richardson Racing team he took victory in his first two F4 races (before a penalty took away the second), then signed up to a second season pretty late on last year and made use of a move to Fortec Motorsports to win the title after a dramatic final-race shootout. He’s made some canny career moves on limited budget and ADAC F4 is the latest of those.
Browning’s Esports skills should come in hand for learning the German tracks, and joining the Paul Ricard round will be super valuable real-world experience of the car in racing conditions in the long wait he has until the ADAC season begins.
Kacper Sztuka POLAND AS Motorsport
2020 (karting): 26th in WSK Champions Cup – OKJ, 35th in WSK Super Master Series – OKJ
Polish karting star Sztuka will move up to single-seaters this year in Italian F4 programme with AS Motorsport. So far he’s only confirmed for Paul Ricard, but expect him to be at every round as he’s been preparing for this move for a long time.
The 15-year-old started testing with Slovenian outfit AS in late 2019, and then got back in a F4 car last summer with DR Formula and then with Iron Lynx. At the start of 2021 he began working with AS again and has tested extensively since.
During the first lockdown period of 2020, Sztuka was one of the stars of the junior single-seater Esports scene and once racing was able to restart he competed in junior karting competitions in Italy with Ward Racing.
The highlights of Sztuka’s karting career include 11th in the WSK Final Cup and 22nd in the WSK Open Cup for OK Junior karts in 2019.
AS Motorsport started off as a rallying team in the 2000s, then competed in Formula Renault 2.0 Alps in 2014 but didn’t score points on its transition to single-seaters. It has since spent nearly two-and-a-half seasons in Italian F4 since debuting in 2018, but is yet to score a point there either with the drivers it has fielded so far.
Sztuka is very likely to change that in his rookie season, and looks quick in the wet and dry. While he may not be fighting for podiums, watch out for the battles he gets involved lower down because in Italian F4 every position is well-earned.
Santiago Ramos MEXICO Jenzer Motorsport
2021: currently 3rd in Spanish F4 2020: 16th in Italian F4
It will be Ramos’s third attempt at Italian F4 this year but only his first full season, if everything does go to plan for the Mexican.
He debuted in the series in late 2019 with DR Formula by RP Motorsport, entering three rounds where he spent most of his time fighting for 20th place.
His 2020 return with Jenzer Motorsport also only came in the final months of the year as he missed the first three rounds. This time his results were far more impressive, scoring points in six of the 11 races he contested and ending up 16th in the standings.
While travel restrictions delayed his arrival in Europe last year, his membership of the Escuderia Telmex programme that is backed by Carlos Slim meant he could compete in the final of Ferrari Driver Academy’s inaugural global talent scouting contest at Maranello in October not long after making his Italian F4 return.
He’s back with Jenzer for 2021, and doing select ADAC and Spanish F4 rounds too. His Spanish series debut actually took place at Belgium’s Spa-Francorchamps circuit, and he finished sixth, fourth and third in the three races at the circuit.
For Italy he is expecting to also be a title contender, which is a little confident but not unreasonable as Jenzer is a top team in the series and also has an experience advantage at Paul Ricard having contested past Spanish F4 rounds there.
Juju Noda JAPAN Noda Racing
2021: 11th in YACademy Winter Series 2020: 6th in Danish F4 (1W, 3 P, 2 FL)
Announced just three days before the season’s start, Noda has decided to return to Danish F4 after initially moving to America to race for the Jay Howard Driver Development team.
Noda came sixth in the series last year in her first full season of racing single-seater cars abroad, although full season is a push at that as the COVID-19 pandemic reduced Danish F4 to three weekends of racing. She took pole at all three, and won first time out, but mistakes in other races cost positions that are hard to regain around Denmark’s tight circuits and meant three podiums and two non-scores (one due to a technical disqualification) from nine races compounded her in the standings.
As the Noda Racing team fronted by her former F1-racing father Hideki Noda has said, they have unfinished business there after coming sixth in 2020. The title is a very real possibility.
The context to the brief American move goes back to February, when Noda contested the two-round YACademy Winter Series and came 11th in the points. That built a bit of pressure to perform in US F4, and her series debut began with a free practice-topping performance at Road Atlanta before an unexplained withdrawal that wasn’t followed up upon until the recent news that she is going back to Denmark.
Emerson Fittipaldi Jr DENMARK Team FSP
2021 (karting): 17th in WSK Super Master Series – OK 2020 (karting): 11th in WSK Champions Cup – OKJ
For Noda in 2020, see Fittipaldi in 2021. ‘Emmo’ is the son of two-time F1 world champion and 1989 CART champion Emerson Fittipaldi and is already a F1 junior with Sauber, the entity behind Alfa Romeo Racing.
Like Noda did, he’s tested in F4 cars around Europe to prepare for his Danish F4 debut and the 14-year-old is making use of the series’ lower minimum age limit than its continental series counterparts to enter the car racing fold earlier than rivals.
There’s no prodigy label being applied to Fittipaldi, although he has raced as a protege of Fernando Alonso in karting. In his two years in junior karts he came 11th in the WSK Champions Cup and 16th in the South Garda Winter Cup, and since stepping up to senior karting at the start of 2021 has come 17th in the WSK Super Master Series.
He will be driving for series dominator Team FSP in Denmark, and that’s where the main title contenders will be besides solo entrant Noda. Fittipaldi’s team-mates include William Wulf, who came fifth in the points with a win last year, NACAM F4-experienced racer Jesse Garrasquedo and Noah Stromsted who turns 14 in late July, is coached by former F1 driver Nicolas Kiesa and has links to Campos Racing that may lead to a debut in Spanish F4 in 2022.
Fittipaldi is also already linked to a second series, potentially racing in the Mexico City Grand Prix-supporting NACAM F4 season finale in October.