Missing out on a top ten position but making part four of the PaddockScout Top 50 for 2014 are a couple of star Formula Renault 2.0 rookies, the best Eurocup pair, and a couple of frontrunners each from GP2, GP3 and European F3.
20. Richie Stanaway
New Zealand – age 23
Eighth in GP3 Series
This year, Stanaway was handed a return to single-seaters for the first time since a back injury sidelined him early in a Formula Renault 3.5 campaign in 2012. After a year in GTs, the Kiwi secured a deal to compete in GP3 – where he won on his debut at Spa in 2011 – with the Status team. He showed no signs of rust, racing with the very frontrunners from the start of the campaign.
In the top four in all of the first four races and twice on the podium, Stanaway then claimed victory in the reverse grid race at Silverstone. He then went on to get a Saturday win in Hungary from pole position. Now the closest rival to early pace-setter Alex Lynn, Stanaway maintained that position through the Spa round despite Lynn getting the better of him in a fight for the race two win. His season fell apart after that though, adding just four points to his tally in a final six races blighted by incidents, mistakes and car errors. He might not have maintained it throughout the season, but his earlier form certainly deserved better than eighth. He further proved his abilities when able to return to FR3.5 for the Lotus team, at Spa, when Matthieu Vaxiviere injured his back, claiming a podium finish in his second and last weekend in Moscow and increasing the team’s competitiveness.
It would have been good to see the Gravity-managed Stanaway get a full season in FR3.5 next year, but financial realities make that seem unlikely. There’s no doubt he deserves a full-time professional and competitive drive in something.
19. Ben Barnicoat
United Kingdom – age 17
Formula Renault 2.0 NEC champion
One of the group of European karting superstars that stepped up into single-seaters for 2014, Barnicoat might not have been as ambitious as his old rival Max Verstappen in his choice of series, but still took on a lot of more experienced drivers in Formula Renault 2.0 NEC, and he impressively topped them all to claim a title usually won by more seasoned single-seater racers.
Collecting some solid points in the first couple of rounds as relative veterans picked up the big results, the Racing Steps Foundation-supported ace came into his own in the middle of the year, finishing second in the first race at Hockenheim and winning the second. Further second places came at Spa and Assen before the second victory of his campaign at Most. A couple of fourth places under pressure at the final round at the Nurburgring was enough to get him over the finish line. He didn’t win the title through being the class of the field every weekend, rather an impressively consistent approach that saw him finish 11 of the 15 races inside the top six.
Rather than be sucked into following his success with a big step up, next year Barnicoat will follow previous RSF drivers with an assault on the extremely competitive Eurocup, where another great season will just increase the reputation of this McLaren-linked Brit even further.
18. Charles Leclerc
Monaco – age 17
Second in Formula Renault 2.0 Alps
Another of the crop of ace karting graduates, Leclerc joined his team-mate Barnicoat in contesting his rookie campaign at regional FR2.0 level with the Fortec Motorsports team, but the protege of Nicolas Todt based himself in the Alps series. Up against category veteran Nyck de Vries, the title was out of reach but he did a fine job to secure the runner-up spot.
A double DNF at Imola was hardly the best start, but he soon got a second place in Pau, and was twice on the podium at Spielberg. Then came Monza – a below-par weekend for de Vries – where Leclerc won both races. That moved him up into the runner-up spot, which he held on to with a pair of seconds at Mugello and more points in Jerez. Perhaps his most impressive performances though came in guest appearances in the Eurocup. At the Nurburgring he was fifth and then second, and he collected another pair of seconds in Hungary. Only three drivers were therefore on the podium more frequently during the entire season.
After that rookie season, Leclerc has the makings of a single-seater superstar. While an assault on the Eurocup title is possible, the step up to F3 may be more suitable for this former Verstappen-rival, and he has been testing with several teams there. There’s little doubt he could handle that jump next year.
17. Lucas Auer
Austria – age 20
Fourth in FIA F3 European championship
Auer failed to improve in terms of championship position in European F3 this year, but he did in all other areas, taking more points, podiums, wins and claiming a pole position this time. His switch from Prema to Mucke was always going to be a gamble, and it probably prevented him fighting for the title as planned, but he was still able to show his talents.
Mucke seemed in deep trouble on the opening weekend in Silverstone but in Auer’s hands at least, they quickly turned things around, with the Austrian winning from pole in the very next race at Hockenheim. Intrestingly, all three of his victories came on German soil, having to wait until the Nurburgring in August to add his second and then winning the final race of the season at the end of a triple-podium weekend. During the middle of the year he was a frequent podium visitor, and in all he got at least one top five finish from every weekend, showing he always on the pace even if he was too rarely leading the field. Macau was one the got away. Having had the beating of more experienced team-mate Felix Rosenqvist all season, he let his chances slip when the team was at its most competitive, and was forced to settle for second.
Still, that wasn’t a bad way to end his time in F3. While Auer has sensibly dipped his toes into sportscars lately, it’s important that the nephew of recently-departed FIA single-seater chief Gerhard Berger can make the next step on the ladder, with Formula Renault 3.5 seeming most likely.
16. Dennis Olsen
Norway – age 18
Second in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0
Olsen might have finished up with fewer than half the points of the champion, but his runner-up position in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 was still some achievement given it was his first season at that level, up against drivers in their third campaigns there. Third in the NEC in his rookie car racing season in 2013, it didn’t take long for Olsen to emerge as a rival to Nyck de Vries.
It took him only until round two at Spa to notch up his first victory, followed by a second place in race two, overtaking poleman de Vries on both occasions. By the time he claimed his second triumph at the Nurburgring, he was into second place in the standings, and only 30 points behind de Vries at that stage. But in a slightly disappointing end to the season, he failed to take home any more silverware – even though he did finish second on the road at Jerez prior to being excluded for a technical infringement. Although he only scored three podiums, points in all but three races was enough to hold onto second from experienced campaigner Alex Albon. Being consistently at the sharp end was tough against such experienced opposition, but Olsen was the class of the field on his day.
A step up to Formula Renault 3.5 appears to be on the cards for 2015 after Olsen spent all five days of official post-season testing with the Strakka team, although nothing is confirmed yet. Long-time links to Red Bull have not yielded a formal Junior Team spot so far, but that sort of opportunity would be fully deserved.
15. Mitch Evans
New Zealand – age 20
Fourth in GP2 Series
Evans’ second season in GP2 was a big improvement on his first, with the 2012 GP3 champion now getting to grips with the category following an off-season switch from Arden to Russian Time. With the operation undergoing a big restructuring over the winter it wasn’t an ideal move, rather enforced by his limited finances, but with Evans they became a competitive force by mid-season.
The first couple of rounds were tough as iSport – who had replaced Motopark in running the cars – re-adapted to GP2 after a year out, with moments of strong running hampered by struggles with tyre wear. But Evans used his usual brilliance around Monaco to kick-start his campaign with a second place, and back-to-back feature race wins followed at Silverstone and Hockenheim. Out-pacing Jolyon Palmer during pitstops in Britain and out-playing the Briton and Stoffel Vandoorne on strategy in Germany showed he’s not just a quick driver, but that he also has the maturity needed to win big at this level. Consecutive feature race podiums in Monza, Sochi and Abu Dhabi made him one of the form men again at the end of the year after a slight blip. When you consider that Palmer got a 68-point head-start over him in the first two rounds, Evans could have been runner-up with a better opening run.
Given that, returning with Russian Time in 2015 would make sense for both parties, but with Vandoorne back too, winning the title will be tough. Still, an improved, consistent front-running campaign would hopefully be enough to secure Mark Webber’s protege the big opportunity his ability deserves, even though F1 looks difficult in the current climate.
14. Marvin Kirchhofer
Germany – age 20
Third in GP3 Series
After his back-to-back domestic titles in his first two single-seater years, 2014 was Kirchhofer’s opportunity to shine on the big stage, and in an ART GP3 seat, he could hardly have a better tool beneath him. A home win at Hockenheim aside, his campaign had seemed a little underwhelming at the end of August, but he finished with a flourish and almost claimed the runner-up spot.
He started well, showing great pace that probably should have yielded more than his three fifth-places from the first two weekends, and he finally grabbed a well-deserved maiden podium at Silverstone. His pole, victory and fastest lap in Germany was great, but that was followed by a nightmare five-race barren spell, with a collision on the Sunday at Hockenheim leading to a penalty that really punished his lack of pace in Hungary, before he literally threw a great chance of victory at Spa into the wall on the formation lap. His recovery from this extended rough patch was brilliant though, claiming five consecutive podiums. A clutch issue denied him a sixth in the Abu Dhabi finale and the chance to snatch second in the standings, but he still fought back to 11th from the pits when nobody else could overtake. The only disappointment of his run-in was that he couldn’t add a second win, with not even a dominant pole in Abu Dhabi being enough to stop the Stoneman steamroller. Still, given his inexperience at this level compared to the two men that beat him on points, third place was still a great effort, and he can do better with some polishing.
Kirchhofer’s 2015 plans are still appear to be up in the air to the outside world, but he’s good enough for a competitive seat in GP2 or Formula Renault 3.5. It’s a shame really that Mercedes has already got itself a fast German youngster…
13. Tom Blomqvist
United Kingdom – age 21
Second in FIA F3 European Championship
Yes, this was Blomqvist’s fourth year in Formula 3, but for the first time he got a seat in one of the top teams, and he showed that’s what he had deserved all along. After stints on the books at McLaren and Red Bull, it was the boss of KFC Indonesia and father of fellow racer Sean Gelael that came to his rescue and got him into a Carlin-fettled car under the Jagonya Ayam (‘tasty chicken’) banner.
He won the first race of the season, but wasn’t a match for the form of super-rookie Esteban Ocon during the opening rounds, even though he added further wins in Pau and Hungary. He became further overshadowed by the rise of Max Verstappen, which coincided with a rough patch of his own. But Blomqvist was the form man in the final four rounds, taking single wins at Spielberg, Imola and Hockenheim and a total of ten podiums from 12 races, enough to beat 2015 F1 driver Verstappen to second place. Regardless of his experience, simply rivalling Ocon and Verstappen in the way that he did proves he’s no slouch. When the three races in which he had to take ten-place grid penalties for an engine change early in the season (which included two lost poles) are discounted, he matched Ocon’s points haul.
Blomqvist is now set to step up to Formula Renault 3.5 with the Jagonya Ayam crew, most likely remaining with Carlin, and he could be the man to make them a competitive force in that series once again.
12. Felipe Nasr
Brazil – age 22
Third in GP2 Series
After finishing fourth in GP2 last year, Nasr had hoped to avoid the trap of being stuck in the series for more than two seasons and get an F1 seat for 2014, but he had to settle for a Williams third driver role and another crack at the feeder series, sticking with the familiar Carlin team. Doing that, he really needed to claim the title to impress, but he failed in that regard.
The Formula BMW Europe and British F3 champion had somehow not won a race in his first two campaigns, but quickly got that monkey off his back in Barcelona in May, and more victories soon followed at Spielberg and Silverstone. Still playing catch up to the more consistent Jolyon Palmer at this stage, real doubts over his credentials arose after Hungary, where he failed to convert his first and only GP2 pole and was defeated by his rival in combat in both races. He responded brilliantly at Spa, notching up his fourth win and cutting the gap from 43 to 32, but a lacklustre Monza weekend saw him outscored again despite Palmer coming from the back of the grid. Title race lost, he then couldn’t hold off the charging Stoffel Vandoorne, conceding the runner-up spot to the Belgian on the final weekend.
In some ways, it didn’t matter. Nasr had already secured a 2015 Sauber F1 seat with relative ease after Banco do Brasil offered to help the beleaguered team in return for their man in the cockpit. They could have picked many less talented drivers. But rather than going in with the reputation as a future star that he had gained on the F1 support bill in his first year in cars, he will instead be tagged with the status of ‘pay driver’. The natural ability’s always been there, but the complete game still isn’t, and that’s a shame.
11. Nyck de Vries
Netherlands – age 19
Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 champion
Formula Renault 2.0 Alps champion
De Vries had been the form man in the Eurocup in late 2013 (against Gasly, Rowland and Ocon) after his second season in the category had started strangely quietly, so when he returned for a third season in Formula Renault 2.0, there was little the former karting prodigy could do other than dominate.
He claimed the Eurocup crown with more than twice the points of anybody else, and won nine of 14 races on his way to the Alps title. But things were not quite as convincing as those numbers might suggest. He won the Eurocup opener at Motorland, but failed to win any of the next five despite three pole positions in that time. With two rounds to go he had only won twice despite his 48-point advantage, but silenced any doubts by securing the crown with a commanding double win at Paul Ricard before another maximum points haul in Jerez. He might not have won as often as predicted, but with 12 top-fours from 14 races he was the only man to get near the front on anything like a regular basis. In Alps he had a couple of off weekends, but at four other rounds he claimed a double pole/win/fastest lap in a field where his nearest regular competitor was a car racing rookie.
In some ways, 2014 seemed a little pointless when McLaren protege de Vries was clearly capable of stepping up, but it gave him experience of closing out title campaigns and performing under pressure before he moves into the big ranks. And in 2015, Formula Renault 3.5 with DAMS, following Kevin Magnussen and Carlos Sainz, is certainly the big time. Winning the title as an FR2.0 graduate is going to be difficult, but he needs to be a consistent frontrunner at least.