When the European F3 season gets under way this weekend at Silverstone, the 35-strong field will be full of potential stars of the future. Jamie Klein casts his eye over the most exciting prospects.
In its third season back as a fully-fledged FIA-backed series, the European Formula 3 championship could boast some of the finest talents anywhere in single-seater racing in 2014.
As well as DTM signings Tom Blomqvist and Lucas Auer, not to mention the GP3-bound champion Esteban Ocon, the most obvious example of this was Max Verstappen, snapped up by Red Bull to race for Toro Rosso in F1 this season off the back of six successive race victories mid-season at Spa-Francorchamps and the Norisring.
Now the search is on for the next potential F1 star, and there are a number of youngsters in this year’s Euro F3 field who have already shown more than the occasional glimpse of the talent necessary to succeed at the very top.
Leclerc one to watch
If testing times are anything to go by, Monaco’s Charles Leclerc, managed by none other than Nicholas Todt, has to be considered one of the favourites.
The 17-year-old, driving for the Van Amersfoort team that Verstappen drove for in 2014, has been consistently on the pace all winter, having taken no time at all to adapt to the step up from Formula Renault 2.0.
George Russell, last year’s BRDC Formula 4 champion, and the Red Bull-backed Callum Ilott, graduating straight from karting, have also proven rapid in testing, but both young Brits will have their work cut out to beat Carlin stablemate Antonio Giovinazzi, the highest placed driver in last year’s standings to stay on in 2015.
Runaway Formula Renault BARC champion Pietro Fittipaldi has meanwhile easily been the most impressive of Fortec’s drivers over the winter, while the top two from last year’s ADAC Formel Masters series, Mikkel Jensen and Maximilian Gunther, both racing for Mucke Motorsport, have also both tested well.
Ferrari’s young hotshot
Despite a more subdued winter showing, also worth watching out for is Ferrari protégé Lance Stroll, who dominated the Italian F4 series in 2014, his first season of car racing, before going on to take honours in the New Zealand-based Toyota Racing Series earlier this year.
The 16-year-old Canadian lines up alongside three strong team-mates at the reigning champion Prema Powerteam squad – ex-Ferrari Academy driver Brandon Maisano, former Formula Renault 2.0 NEC champion Jake Dennis, and the ultra-experienced Felix Rosenqvist.
Entering his sixth season at F3 level, 23-year-old Rosenqvist will arguably serve as the benchmark by which all the newcomers will be measured.
If any of them can overcome the shortfall in experience in comparison to the Macau Grand Prix-winning Swede, you can be fairly certain that they, like Verstappen, will be placed on the fast-track to F1.