Darshan Chokhani has compiled the list of the Top 10 junior drivers for the 2018 season from three of the closest championships in the road to F1 – F2, GP3 and European F3.
The three championships mentioned in the headline was chosen for this list to present the drivers who are closest to reaching F1 – with some of the drivers in the list already having made it at the top for the upcoming season.
The idea was to add Japan’s Super Formula in the list too but the 2018 winner Naoki Yamamoto and the runner-up Nick Cassidy are quite experienced to be called as a proper junior driver. They both are racing in the Super GT series as well.
In fact, Yamamoto became a two-time Super Formula champion and also collected the Super Gt trophy in 2018. Before moving on to the list, there were several drivers from among F2, GP3 and F3 who couldn’t make it but deserve the mention.
Not going by any order, looking at F2, drivers like Prema’s Nyck de Vries, Russian Time’s Artem Markelov and Carlin’s Sergio Sette Camara did well throughout the season outside the Top 3 finishers in the drivers’ standings.
Camara had a good run despite missing races due to injury. The Brazilian came close to winning races but was unfortunate to get to the top step – he did give the highly acclaimed Lando Norris a good challenge for sure as his teammate.
De Vries missed the bus as he couldn’t finish in the Top 3 this year when last year a Prema driver took the title, while Markelov’s race performances were solid as usual as he used his experience to the fullest whenever there was a qualifying trouble.
Moving on to GP3, it is ART’s Callum Ilott and Campos’ Leonardo Pulcini in the mention list as they couldn’t make it into the Top 10 due to a late surge from Trident’s David Beckmann. Pulcini’s performances were commendable considering the car he was driving.
He was consistently in the Top 10 and ended as the first non-ART driver in the Top 5. On the other hand, Ilott finished third in a ART – it seemed like two-part year for the Brit where he looked solid but not enough to topple his lesser hyped teammates.
Finally, from European F3, Prema’s Marcus Armstrong was the sole driver who couldn’t make it to the Top 10. The Kiwi was in a close fight with teammate Robert Shwartzman but the Russian’s consistency helped him win the battle for Top 10.
Here’s the Top 10 of the 2018 season in ascending order:
10) David Beckmann (Germany)
Series: GP3 | Team: Jenzer/Trident | Position: P5 | Win: 3 | Podium: 4 | Pole: 2
Beckmann had a rough last few years after starting off well in 2015 in the Formula 4 series. The two years in European F3 did not go as per the plans and it looked like the struggle would continue in GP3 as well when he started in 2018 with Jenzer.
But then came the turnaround – the German switched teams in Round 4 at Hungaroring and he was immediately on pace to finish fourth and seventh respectively. In the very next round at Spa-Francorchamps, he claimed his first victory.
He continued his fine run and from 12 points in the first four rounds, he went on to score 137 in all to end up fifth in a superb way which helped him to earn a place in the Top 10 junior drivers of the year. Not only he adapted quickly but found sound rhythm as well.
In fact, he leapfrogged all of the other Trident drivers Pedro Piquet, Giuliano Alesi and Ryan Tveter, who started the season with the Italian outfit and scored the most wins for the team in 2018 in just 10 races he competed in.
9) Robert Shwartzman (Russia)
Series: European F3 | Team: Prema | Position: P3 (Rookie Winner) | Win: 2 | Podium: 11 | Pole: 3
As mentioned above, it was a close call between Shwartzman and Armstrong for a place in the Top 10 but the Russian made the cut on the basis of his consistent performances and also winning the rookie trophy against 14 others including the Kiwi.
The Ferrari Academy Driver did not start his rookie season on a commanding note. It was Armstrong who did that and was leading the series at one point but the Kiwi’s performances started to dip and in all, he had nine DNFs to Shwartzman’s only two.
Even if it was not a commanding first half, Shwartzman was always consistent with points finishes, his run of podiums and win in the second half showed the dominating factor in what can be termed as a complete season where everything clicked for him.
Looking at the stats, in the last nine races, the Russian had eight podium finishes which included two wins while Armstrong had only one podium finish. The results were enough for him to take away the rookie honours despite stiff challenge from Juri Vips.
8) Nikita Mazepin (Russia)
Series: GP3 | Team: ART | Position: P2 | Win: 4 | Podium: 8 | Pole: 1
Like his title rival, not many had Mazepin in their favourite list to win the championship. The Russian did not have the best of time in the two seasons he had in European F3 and came into GP3 to certainly prove a point that he can perform and deliver too.
He started off in the best way possible to win on debut and carried the momentum all-through the season with three more victories – including winning the last race of the year. But it was too late by then for the Russian in terms of title.
While he performed well, the lack of consistent podium results held him back in the title fight against teammate Anthoine Hubert. But then, after two troubled years, Mazepin can be proud of what he managed this year and certainly deserves the accolades.
7) Juri Vips (Estonia)
Series: European F3 | Team: Motopark | Position: P4 (P2 in Rookie) | Win: 4 | Podium: 8 | Pole: 3
Even though Vips couldn’t win the rookie title or finish ahead in the main drivers’ standings, the Estonian still managed to out-perform the rookie winner Shwartzman to at least end up in front in this Top 10 list.
While all the hype was around his teammate Dan Ticktum, Vips managed to come out of the Brit’s shadows throughout the year and make a point for himself – which has now earned him a place in the Red Bull Junior Team.
After winning the ADAC F4 title last year with Prema beating Armstrong, the Estonian couldn’t find a place with the Italian outfit in its F3 set-up – with the team choosing to go with the Kiwi – which left Vips with no choice but join Motopark.
The German outfit has been there and thereabouts and so it was indeed a difficult task to show his credentials. But fortunately for Vips, the team found the right balance in the season which helped the Estonian and Ticktum to shine through.
After slightly a slow start, Vips brought his A-game in Norisring where he took his first win. Although he couldn’t score as many podiums but he did leave an impact in the championship in terms of his performances.
6) Anthoine Hubert (France)
Series: GP3 | Team: ART | Position: P1 | Win: 2 | Podium: 12 | Pole: 2
Even with a solid year in GP3 with ART in 2017, Hubert wasn’t the favourite to win the championship in 2018 but the Frenchman’s experience counted in the season where consistency eventually decided the fate.
Hubert had only two wins to his name against title rival Mazepin’s four but the former’s 10 podiums outside those wins was the difference as the latter could only score four more podiums outside his race victories.
The consistency from the Renault junior was such that he only finished thrice outside the Top 5 in the total of 18 races, while had just one retirement – that too after winning the title in the last race – and one disqualification.
5) Lando Norris (Britain)
Series: F2 | Team: Carlin | Position: P2 | Win: 1 | Podium: 9 | Pole: 1
It was tough call to put Norris in fifth place in the list behind the names you are to read about but the standard the British driver has set for himself, the performances and the results did not show in 2018 even though he was second in the F2 standings.
The McLaren F1 driver came in as a hot favourite against another contender George Russell but the latter ended up on top. Norris started off supremely with pole and a win but that was it for him in terms of wins and poles in 2018.
For a top dog like Norris, he is expected to deliver more than just the a win and a pole in 20 races. His race performances were on top mostly with some exciting moves but he had troubles with his starts all-through which threw him in the deep water.
There is no doubts to his talent and ability but this year he didn’t do full justice to it – even if we take into account the car issues which in the end, everybody dealt with. Having seen his dominance in the past years, he fell short this year overall.
4) Dan Ticktum (Britain)
Series: European F3 | Team: Motopark | Position: P2 | Win: 4 | Podium: 8 | Pole: 5
Choosing for fourth and third was another big call with Ticktum and Mick Schumacher in the fight but the former lost this battle as he did for the European F3 title as well because of the latter’s fightback in the season and some fine performances.
The picture at the start of the 2018 season looked hugely different with Ticktum looking the likely person to take the title away and probably promoted to a F1 race seat by Red Bull in Toro Rosso in 2019 – the talks of which eventually affected his performances.
The time when the rumours rose, Ticktum was doing well in the lead while Schumacher struggled but then the latter picked up with the former going downhill. It was the round at Spa-Francorchamps where Ticktum started to lose the plot slowly.
The Brit could only add one more win and two more podiums post Spa when compared to Schumacher. He did put up some exciting performances still as he tried to fight back but in overall terms he fell short by few points even with the majestic Macau GP defence.
3) Mick Schumacher (Germany)
Series: European F3 | Team: Prema | Position: P1 | Win: 9 | Podium: 14 | Pole: 7
As mentioned above, it was a close call to decide between Ticktum and Schumacher but the latter won the fight by few points in his favour. The German – in his second year – did not start off well and it seemed like another long season.
But the turnaround at Spa-Francorchamps and what happened afterwards was commendable from the German with a streak of race wins and podiums. Not only it was the car with the right set-up but something clicked in Schumacher’s driving too.
The German did not make many mistakes when Ticktum faltered sometimes. In the end, he out-performed his rival to win the title by a good margin. Even though his Macau performance did not prove to be the best but a fifth place was still a respectable finish.
2) Alexander Albon (Thailand)
Series: F2 | Team: DAMS | Position: P3 | Win: 4 | Podium: 8 | Pole: 3
Even though Albon did not win the F2 title and also finished third in the drivers’ standings, the Thai racer performed excellently throughout the season in a car which wasn’t the best especially against its rivals like Prema, ART and Carlin.
After a moderate season with ART in 2017, Albon put up a good fight with DAMS in 2018. At one stage, the Thai racer did not have a drive for 2018 but DAMS helped him with the seat and he returned the favour with some stellar performances.
Until the last F2 round, Albon was in frame to win the title unlike Norris whose chances diminished before that round itself. It seemed like he had second place in his bag but for the mixed final round where Norris managed to overtake him.
His performances in the 2018 though earned him two top contracts in two championships including F1 – he had initially signed for Nissan in Formula E but a late call by Red Bull means he will get to live his F1 dream with Toro Rosso in 2019.
1 ) George Russell (Britain)
Series: F2 | Team: ART | Position: P1 | Win: 7 | Podium: 11 | Pole: 5
With the performances he has had this year, there is no doubts on Russell to be ranked as the best junior driver of 2018 across the the four big championships. The Mercedes junior was supreme in the year despite the issues with the car in general.
The pre-season talked 2018 as the ‘Battle Of The Brits’ with the hype for Norris already in the game. But by the end of it, Russell had the flag in his pocket to take the F2 title away and force Williams to hire him for the 2019 F1 season.
Russell drove smartly all year and made up for the losses due to the issues with the car in the best way to keep himself ahead of his rivals. He always looked like a complete driver – ready for the F1 challenge – even mentally to be given the top position.