Feature: Feeder series review - ART attack
Motorsport Week reflects on Formula 1's feeder series' in 2018 - FIA Formula 2 and the departing GP3 Series - as ART Grand Prix delivered champions in the form of Williams-bound George Russell and Renault affiliated youngster Anthoine Hubert.
FIA Formula 2
Formula 2 entered a new era in 2018 as it welcomed a revised package, including a turbocharged engine, following seven years with the GP2/11. A litany of mechanical problems with the car – the most prominent being a difficult-to-master clutch – dogged the championship for a disappointingly large chunk of the campaign but when it all shook out the three standout drivers finished atop the standings, all justifiably earning their promotion to Formula 1 for 2019.
Mercedes-backed George Russell stepped up to Formula 2 as the reigning GP3 Series champion and soon emerged as the favourite, with his Azerbaijan pace capturing the attention of the paddock. Russell should have won the Feature Race but a misjudged move from Nyck de Vries wrecked his chances and meant he was only 12th – though nonetheless triumphed in the Sprint Race from that position. Wins followed in Spain, France and Austria while elsewhere he bagged the points where he could. A messy weekend in Monaco was a black mark but even that was forgivable as he entered the weekend with zero experience of the circuit, his practice time wrecked by an engine glitch. He finished the campaign 68 points to the good and with seven wins under his belt, sealing the title in style with an emphatic drive in Abu Dhabi. He was the class act of the field and his stature grew round-by-round.
Fellow Britons Lando Norris and Alexander Albon (who races under a Thai license) spent much of the year hanging onto Russell’s coattails while exchanging positions in the standings. Norris’ full-time debut could not have gone much better, romping to victory from pole in Bahrain, but it proved the high point of a strangely subdued season. Norris was superb in the Silverstone Sprint Race and his wet-weather drive in Budapest was extraordinary, but race management at times was questionable – with Carlin irritated by his approach in Austria – while tyre preservation was not his forte. He has secured the McLaren seat that he was targeting but finishing a distant runner-up, having arrived in Formula 2 riding the crest of a wave, meant 2018 was a slight let down. In comparison to his opponents Albon was scrapping to even be on the grid and his full-time deal was only confirmed after three rounds, by which time he had proven his ability with a string of fine performances. Four wins and three pole positions meant he catapulted himself into title contention but Russell proved too formidable an opponent and the championship remained out of reach. Nonetheless, Albon’s performances caught the eye of Red Bull, which extricated him from a planned Nissan Formula E deal and signed him to Toro Rosso.
Outside of the F1-bound top three there were some strong performances. McLaren young gun Nyck de Vries linked up with Prema but tyre wear often proved a problem and the issue reared its head through the year. Early clashes in Azerbaijan and Monaco were also costly. But the Dutchman scored a win in France and was on form to take Feature triumphs in Hungary and Belgium, recovering to finish just 17 points behind series runner-up Norris. He will race for ART next year. 2017 runner-up Artem Markelov re-appeared with Russian Time and his campaign was largely spent recovering from difficult qualifying displays, as he didn’t gel with the F2/18 as he did with the GP2/11. The highlight was a three-on-one move in Austria that netted him reversed-grid pole, from which he won, and a second Monaco Feature Race win in three years. Sergio Sette Camara fared well against Norris at Carlin and took eight podiums without reaching the top step – one bizarre statistical anomaly of the season. He also missed Monaco after sustaining a hand injury in qualifying. Antonio Fuoco was there or thereabouts for series newcomer Charouz and bagged two Sprint Race wins, the first of those a stunning 1-2 for the team around the streets of Monaco.
Luca Ghiotto’s switch to Campos yielded a handful of podiums while Nicholas Latifi’s preparations were dealt a blow by a pre-season illness, and his form improved during the second half of the year. Deletraz’s campaign was a mixed bag – a pair of podiums and some points – while Renault-backed Jack Aitken started encouragingly but faded dismally, taking just three points finishes after Monaco, his plight accentuated by the achievements of team-mate Russell. Ex-F1 racer Roberto Merhi hung around and scored a couple of podiums, while Honda-backed Tadasuke Makino impressed on occasion – most notably when he delivered a stunningly unexpected win in Italy, mastering the alternative strategy to rise from 14th on the grid. The other driver to triumph was Maximilian Gunther, who held off a charging Russell to give Arden a home win, though he departed before the end of the year once his Formula E future was sealed.
The nine-year GP3 Series came to an end in 2018 with confirmation that it will be replaced by FIA Formula 3 in 2019. The series’ swansong was a mixed bag, with a smattering of entertaining races, and a worthy – if not exceptional – champion in the form of Renault-affiliated Anthoine Hubert. The Frenchman won only twice but was a consistent performer, and that ultimately gave him the edge over the impressive Nikita Mazepin. Four-time victor Mazepin had one too many setbacks but did enough to seal graduation to Formula 2. Callum Ilott was a tad erratic and his season tailed off just as it looked as if he was about to kick on, but he did enough to take third overall. Campos’ Leonardo Pulcini cut an impressive figure in a series typically dominated by ART, taking two wins and two poles to bag fourth in the standings. David Beckmann was rejuvenated by a mid-season switch to Trident and vaulted to fifth, taking three wins, while Pedro Piquet, Giuliano Alesi and the underwhelming Jake Hughes each triumphed once. Dorian Boccolacci was the other 2018 victor – and he would have had two without a technical-related exclusion – before he stepped up to F2.