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Motorsport.com's Top 20 junior single-seater drivers of 2018

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Motorsport.com's Top 20 junior single-seater drivers of 2018
Dec 11, 2018, 10:38 AM

In 2018, the junior single-seater scene was full of exciting talent, shown best by Mercedes, Red Bull and McLaren each bringing an F2 star into Formula 1. Motorsport.com ranks the top 20 youngsters of the year.

20. JapanSho Tsuboi, age 23

Japanese F3 champion (17 wins, 19 podiums, 14 pole positions), Super GT podium finisher

Sho Tsuboi, Kuo TOM'S F317 Toyota

Sho Tsuboi, Kuo TOM'S F317 Toyota

Photo by: Jun Goto

Probably best known in Europe as Sophia Floersch’s launch ramp in her terrifying Macau GP crash, Toyota-backed youngster Tsuboi has been busy forging a reputation as one of Japan’s most exciting up-and-coming talents.

Driving for the crack TOM’S squad for a third consecutive season, and finishing as runner-up to Nissan protege Mitsunori Takaboshi in 2017, Tsuboi entered 2018 as heavy favourite for the crown. But few would have foreseen the 23-year-old winning every race bar two.

It seems unlikely we’ll see Tsuboi race in Europe anytime soon, but the fact he tested for top Super Formula squad Inging at Suzuka last week still suggests Toyota has big plans for him. Jamie Klein

19. Italy Antonio Fuoco, age 22

7th in FIA F2 (2 wins, 6 podiums), Italian GT podium finisher

Antonio Fuoco, Charouz Racing System

Antonio Fuoco, Charouz Racing System

Photo by: Zak Mauger / LAT Images

Even despite Sauber's link-up with Alfa Romeo, it has become increasingly hard to see how Fuoco would fit into Ferrari's F1 plans as a race driver – and improving by just one spot on his rookie F2 season in 2018 will have done his grand prix hopes no favours.

Still, there's no denying his sophomore campaign was markedly better than his low-key 2017 debut alongside Charles Leclerc at Prema – and getting so many standout results for newcomer team Charouz despite rather anaemic qualifying form was no mean feat.

His reserve role with the Dragon Formula E team suggests an electric future – especially if Ferrari ever joins – and that would probably be the most agreeable ending to his junior career. Valentin Khorounzhiy

18. Brazil Felipe Drugovich, age 18

Euroformula Open champion (14 wins, 16 podiums, 10 pole positions)

Felipe Drugovich, ART Grand Prix

Felipe Drugovich, ART Grand Prix

Photo by: GP3 Series Media Service

There was some disappointment when Drugovich didn't follow Marcus Armstrong and Juri Vips, his former German Formula 4 rivals who are now F3 stars, and instead moved to Euroformula Open - but the 18-year-old still very much left a mark in 2018.

It was no easy feat for Drugovich to impress, being a priori the most promising driver in the series, but his crushing dominance, with 14 wins in 16 races and second place in the other two, got the job done.

A good confidence boost before he moves on to a bigger championship and likely puts himself on the map as a contender to become the next Brazilian F1 driver. David Gruz

17. United Kingdom Max Fewtrell, age 19

Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 champion (6 wins, 11 podiums, 6 pole positions)

2018 champion Max Fewtrell, R-Ace GP

2018 champion Max Fewtrell, R-Ace GP

Photo by: Renault Sport

In his second year in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 alongside debuting fellow Renault juniors, the pressure was on Fewtrell to assert himself.

His season started off shaky, his round-to-round performances alternating between strong and underwhelming before he strung together a good streak and charged towards the title. While not much separated him and rookie Christian Lundgaard in the end, Fewtrell does now have two championships in three years.

Fewtrell's career progression is a lot slower than that of George Russell, Lando Norris or Dan Ticktum, who he used to dominate the karting scene with, but his slow and steady approach seems to be paying off for now. DG

16. Russian Federation Nikita Mazepin, age 19

2nd in GP3 (4 wins, 8 podiums, 1 pole position)

Nikita Mazepin, ART Grand Prix

Nikita Mazepin, ART Grand Prix

Photo by: GP3 Series Media Service

In a line-up featuring a former BRDC F4 champion, a regular European F3 contender and a returning GP3 frontrunner, Mazepin was the odd man out. His title of world karting vice-champion – second to Norris, no less – was not yet backed up in cars.

It has been now. Winning on his GP3 debut, Mazepin was arguably the strongest ART driver throughout when adjusting for experience. He had mega pace save for a couple of dips and could've been champion save for a couple of unforced errors.

Given his backing, Mazepin has looked a shoo-in for F1, as long as he can clear the superlicence requirement. That looked far-fetched once, but now it seems quite likely. VK

15. Italy Leonardo Pulcini, age 20

4th in GP3 (2 wins, 5 podiums, 2 pole positions)

Leonardo Pulcini, Campos Racing

Leonardo Pulcini, Campos Racing

Photo by: GP3 Series Media Service

Life hasn't been easy in GP3 for teams that aren't ART or Trident, as those two squads have only gaven up three pole positions and five feature race wins since the GP3/16 car was introduced three years ago.

And that's what makes Pulcini's 2018 season with Campos all the more impressive, the Italian comfortably outperforming his teammates and emerging as statistically the best non-ART/Trident GP3 driver for some time.

His performance will hopefully be enough to earn him a chance in F2, but a true top drive there will almost certainly be out of reach once more. DG

14. Netherlands Nyck de Vries, age 23

4th in FIA F2 (3 wins, 6 podiums, 2 pole position)

Nyck De Vries, PREMA Racing

Nyck De Vries, PREMA Racing

Photo by: FIA Formula 2

Succeeding Leclerc at Prema made de Vries arguably the pre-season favourite for the 2018 F2 crown, but things didn’t transpire that way.

There was some bad luck – a pit entry collision with Alex Albon in Monaco, retiring after a puncture in Austria – but also some unforced errors, like his misguided lunge on Russell in Baku, and some other plain mediocre weekends, like in Bahrain or at Silverstone.

De Vries did hit some form in the late summer with back-to-back feature race wins at Hungary and Spa, but another weekend to forget in Monza basically ended any hopes of a late title surge.

Now the Dutchman gets a third F2 chance at ART next season, and it’s one he can’t afford to blow if he still has ambitions of getting to F1. JK

13. Denmark Christian Lundgaard, age 18

2nd in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 (4 wins, 10 podiums, 4 pole positions)

Christian Lundgaard, MP Motorsport

Christian Lundgaard, MP Motorsport

Photo by: Renault Sport

The 2018 Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 season featured a very exciting field, especially with regards to the rookies, and Lundgaard establishing himself as the best of them is a significant achievement.

The Dane was on par with the more experienced Fewtrell from the get-go, and ultimately missed out only due to a disastrous round at Hockenheim - where he non-scored and Fewtrell did the double.

Apart from Hockenheim, Lundgaard was very consistent for a rookie, finishing on the podium in seven of the other nine rounds.

Renault has every reason to keep supporting him, and his stock can rise exponentially if he were to land a top opportunity - for instance replacing fellow Renault-affiliated Anthoine Hubert in F3 with ART. DG

12. Russian Federation Robert Shwartzman, age 19

3rd in European F3 (2 wins, 11 podiums, 3 pole positions), Toyota Racing Series champion, 9th in Macau

Robert Shwartzman, PREMA Theodore Racing Dallara F317 - Mercedes-Benz

Robert Shwartzman, PREMA Theodore Racing Dallara F317 - Mercedes-Benz

Photo by: FIA F3 / Suer

The fact Shwartzman’s late-season upturn in form coincided with that of Prema stablemate Mick Schumacher might lead some to attach a similar asterisk to the Russian’s campaign, but that shouldn’t detract from a very impressive first year in F3.

From Spa onwards, he was a constant presence in the points, and on top of his two late-season wins, he scored three poles and no fewer than 10 fastest laps.

The end result was third in the points, ahead of two significantly more experienced Prema teammates, and a 2019 drive in the new F1-supporting FIA F3 series with the Italian squad. JK

11. Russian Federation Artem Markelov, age 24

5th in FIA F2 (3 wins, 7 podiums)

Artem Markelov, RUSSIAN TIME

Artem Markelov, RUSSIAN TIME

Photo by: FIA Formula 2

Markelov may have been unable to replicate his runner-up position from last with the new-generation F2 car, but the Russian remained as one of the most exciting single-seater drivers to watch.

His apparent qualifying woes quickly put him out of the thick of the title fight, as remarkably he only started three feature races from the top six all year.

That, however, gave him more of an opportunity to flaunt his racecraft, the Russian producing some trademark recovery drives - third from 17th in Bahrain, eighth from 19th in Barcelona and eighth, as a result of a triple overtake on the last lap, from 18th in Spielberg.

A fascinating driver whose departure from F2 will cost the series some of its entertainment value, Markelov's presence will make his next championship - possibly Super Formula - a better place. DG

10. Brazil Sergio Sette Camara, age 20

6th in FIA F2 (8 podiums, 1 pole position)

Sergio Sette Camara, Carlin

Sergio Sette Camara, Carlin

Photo by: FIA Formula 2

After showing promise last year, the former Red Bull junior improved to be a genuine top Formula 2 driver with the new car.

The Brazilian took the fight to his highly-rated teammate Norris, who he was not expected to be on the same level of, despite being more experienced.

Qualifying was Sette Camara’s strongest suit as he started from the top five in seven feature races, but he couldn’t convert them into good results nearly as often as he would have liked, with bad luck and technical issues affecting him more than most of his rivals.

Having now proved he is a frontrunner - and landed a McLaren F1 role - Sette Camara has to go for the F2 title next year should his expected switch to DAMS come through. DG

9. Germany David Beckmann, age 19

5th in GP3 (3 wins, 4 podiums, 2 pole positions)

David Beckmann, Trident

David Beckmann, Trident

Photo by: GP3 Series Media Service

If Norris was the standout talent of FIA Formula 4's first seasons, Beckmann was definitely closer to the Brit than most – proving as much when he shared the Mucke garage with Norris in select rounds in Italy and Germany.

It hadn't exactly gone to plan afterwards, and it wasn't going to plan at the start of 2018 either. But after scoring a meagre 12 points in eight races with Jenzer in GP3, he switched to Trident and almost immediately became the series' form man.

The German is one strong full season away from entering the F1 conversation – and should get there if his post-season outing with ART were to lead to a full F3 campaign. VK

8. France Anthoine Hubert, age 22

GP3 champion (2 wins, 11 podiums, 2 pole positions)

Anthoine Hubert, ART Grand Prix celebrates on the podium

Anthoine Hubert, ART Grand Prix celebrates on the podium

Photo by: GP3 Series Media Service

Unassuming Frenchman Hubert was not most the popular pre-season pick for the final-ever GP3 title, but his familiarity with both the ART team and the Pirelli tyres appeared to give him an edge over more-fancied F3 converts Callum Ilott and Jake Hughes.

Hubert’s title success was built less on outright speed than sheer consistency – he only actually won once all year on the road – helping him to keep clear of the fast-but-erratic Mazepin in the standings. When he wasn’t caught up in incidents not of his making, he was almost always in the top four.

Now the Renault junior driver looks set to a step up to F2 next season with MP Motorsport in 2019, a move that promises to provide the sternest test of his blossoming career to date. JK

7. New Zealand Marcus Armstrong, age 18

5th in FIA F3 (1 win, 9 podiums, 3 pole positions), 3rd in Toyota Racing Series, 8th in Macau

Marcus Armstrong, PREMA Theodore Racing Dallara F317 - Mercedes-Benz

Marcus Armstrong, PREMA Theodore Racing Dallara F317 - Mercedes-Benz

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

Despite having three vastly more experienced teammates, rookie Armstrong showed he is one of the most exciting young talents at the moment by emerging as the strongest Prema driver in the first half of the season.

He left three consecutive rounds with a one-point advantage in the championship, but in the second half of the season he couldn’t replicate the same form.

Still, his fifth place is not representative - and if not for nine retirements, which accounts for nearly one third of the races, he could have easily been the top rookie in second or third.

Regardless, Armstrong did well to establish himself as the top prospect in Ferrari’s Driver Academy. DG

6. Germany Mick Schumacher, age 19

FIA F3 champion (8 wins, 14 podiums, 7 pole positions), 5th in Macau

Mick Schumacher, PREMA Theodore Racing Dallara F317 - Mercedes-Benz

Mick Schumacher, PREMA Theodore Racing Dallara F317 - Mercedes-Benz

Photo by: FIA F3 / Suer

Whether his mid-season breakthrough came from equipment, set-up or personal improvement, in the end Schumacher did what is required of a genuine F1 hopeful in his second year with a team as good as Prema.

His metronomic form in the second part of the year deserves huge credit, especially given the immense amount of talent on display in F3 this year.

The title, coupled with a surname that will help his F1 chances (a fair pay-off for the level of attention he'll have to endure), probably ensures he'll be a grand prix driver before too long – and continuity with Prema in F2 means he could very well be ready by 2020. VK

5. Estonia Juri Vips, age 18

4th in FIA F3 (4 wins, 8 podiums, 3 pole positions)

Jüri Vips, Motopark Dallara F317 - Volkswagen

Jüri Vips, Motopark Dallara F317 - Volkswagen

Photo by: FIA F3 / Suer

While on paper Vips was one of the more exciting rookies of the 2018 European F3 class, he still managed to surprise and impress many this year.

That was because Vips could only put together a budget for the season relatively late, hampering his preparation, and after a quiet season opener he could be easily written off as someone who will spend this year only learning.

Ultimately he didn’t need much time to get to the front, and would end up winning at four different circuits - frequently able to match, and on occasion even outperform, the much-fancied Ticktum within the same Motopark outfit. DG

4. United Kingdom Dan Ticktum, age 19

2nd in FIA F3 (4 wins, 8 podiums, 5 pole positions), Macau winner

Race winner Dan Ticktum, Motopark Academy

Race winner Dan Ticktum, Motopark Academy

Photo by: James Gasperotti / LAT Images

Red Bull junior Ticktum was certainly a busy boy in 2018 – on top of 30 European F3 races, the 19-year-old Briton also took in a pair of Super Formula races and a weekend of F2.

As for his main campaign, it would be fair to say Ticktum’s charge fizzled out in the second part of the year as the Prema steamroller reached top gear. But four wins and runner-up in the points is still a worthy achievement, and the manner in which he dominated the Macau GP was supremely impressive.

If it weren’t for F1’s superlicence rules, it seems likely Ticktum would be joining compatriots Russell and Norris on the 2019 Formula 1 grid.

Instead, the exciting and outspoken young Briton is set for a full season of Super Formula, where he’ll hope to follow in the footsteps of Pierre Gasly and challenge for the title in year one – before moving to F1. JK

3. United Kingdom Lando Norris, age 19

2nd in FIA F2 (1 win, 9 podiums, 1 pole position)

Lando Norris, Carlin

Lando Norris, Carlin

Photo by: FIA Formula 2

It would've been really difficult to believe after Norris’ dominant win in the Bahrain season opener that it would end up the only F2 victory and pole position of his career.

He had his fair share of bad luck during F2’s clutch debacle in the first half of the season, stalling in two feature races from top-three grid slots, but what cost him the title was not keeping up with Russell in the middle part of the season.

In the end, he dropped further back to the point that even podiums became a rarity, but he still delivered top-five finishes consistently.

For a prodigy like Norris, 2018 has been somewhat of a reality check, with F2 the first championship he couldn’t waltz into and conquer right away.

A weekend like Monaco, where he crashed in practice and qualifying and then was penalised for contact in the race, shows that at the age of 19 he can still mature.

But that doesn’t mean his F1 move doesn’t make sense, or that it’s undeserved – he probably wouldn’t have gained a whole lot from another year in F2 and a raw mega-talent like him will find ways to shine no matter how good the 2019 McLaren is. DG

2. Thailand Alex Albon, age 22

3rd in FIA F2 (4 wins, 8 podiums, 3 pole positions)

Alexander Albon, DAMS

Alexander Albon, DAMS

Photo by: FIA Formula 2

From not having a deal for the whole season at the beginning of the campaign to being able to reject a factory Formula E chance because an F1 team wants you, Albon’s 2018 season was the stuff of fairytales.

While rookies Norris and Russell stole the show in 2018, the Anglo-Thai racer looked as capable, if not stronger than both, early on in the year.

He had a near-impeccable qualifying record, and took feature race wins at Baku and Silverstone - but lost around 40 points with an unfortunate clash with de Vries in Monaco, and his car expiring at Paul Ricard, in both cases while he was fighting for a feature race win.

His form dipped a bit as the season ended, but it was clear that in 2018, after a mixed rookie season the year before, Albon was back to the level that saw him come close to beating Leclerc to the GP3 title two years ago.

Hopefully Red Bull, who had him as a junior in 2012, has seen what rewards can be reaped if Albon is given enough time and opportunity. DG

1. United Kingdom George Russell, age 20

FIA F2 champion (7 wins, 11 podiums, 5 pole positions)

FIA Formula 2 Championship for Drivers: George Russell

FIA Formula 2 Championship for Drivers: George Russell

Photo by: FIA

For a second year straight, the reigning GP3 champion became the F2 champion, and so for a second year straight there was no real debate to be had over number one on this list.

Although his win from 12th on the grid in the Baku sprint rivals pretty much any race of Leclerc's title run, Russell's advantage over the chasing pack was not quite as emphatic as the Monegasque's.

Not that you would've expected a repeat – the resurgent ART was still no Prema of the GP2/11 era, and while boosted by the new-car reset, it did not escape the myriad teething technical troubles. So, to not only win but win convincingly in these circumstances was more than enough.

Five years ago, Russell lined up alongside Leclerc - and one Max Verstappen - as one of the brightest newcomers to junior single-seaters. Those latter two have already made a big impact in F1, and while it's taken Russell longer to get here, there's every reason to believe he too will shine in grand prix racing. VK

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