The 2020 Formula 2 season is halfway done, and as the number of Formula 1 race seats remaining dwindles, the F2 championship battle is heating up as the drivers aim to prove their mettle to F1’s head honchos. Most of F1’s current batch of young superstars were funneled through F2: Charles Leclerc and George Russell both won the series as rookies, while Lando Norris and Alex Albon finished second and third behind Russell in 2018. Under its previous guise as GP2, the feeder series was a crucial stepping stone for six-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton, World Champion Nico Rosberg, and others.
Most drivers excelling in F2 already have ties to an F1 team as a member a driver academy, which has become crucial to locking down a seat in F1. Several of F1’s midfield teams effectively operate as junior teams, helping younger drivers grow accustomed to F1 before they jump to the top teams to battle for championships. Drivers without a connection to an academy have fewer options, while those with that relationship have a clear path into F1. Here are the top ten drivers in the 2020 F2 championship, and what they need to do to reach the pinnacle of motorsport.
Callum Ilot UNI-Virtuosi Racing 121 points
After placing a solid eleventh in his rookie F2 season in 2019, Ilot has started strong in 2020, leading the championship by 18 points after six races. At the opening round in Austria, the 21-year old inherited the victory after Guanyu Zhou suffered mechanical issues, and he took a second feature race win at his home race in Great Britain after starting on pole position. During the Hungarian sprint race, with most drivers struggling with degradation, Ilot pitted from the lead, securing second place and nearly catching back up to Luca Ghiotto. Consistent point finishes—with four fifth places, including an epic recovery after stalling on the grid—has allowed Ilot to maintain his championship lead. But converting his qualifying performances will be crucial down the stretch: he dropped to eighth after starting on pole in the Hungarian feature race and slid to fifth after starting on pole in the Spanish feature race. As a member of the Ferrari Young Driver Academy, Ilot is likely eyeing a seat at Alfa Romeo, with neither Kimi Raikkonen or Antonio Giovinazzi confirmed for 2021. However, with Ferrari’s program full of young talent and Ilot in his second F2 season, winning the championship is his best bet for a chance in F1.
Robert Shwartzman Prema Racing 103 points
Shwartzman, another member of the Ferrari Young Driver Academy, is Ilot’s closest rival for the championship and an opportunity at Alfa Romeo. Notably, the 20-year old is a rookie in F2 after triumphing in Formula 3 last year. The Russian star has already taken two feature race victories: the first came at the Styrian feature race after qualifying sixth, while the second was a spectacular display of race craft and tire preservation at the Hungarian feature race. Starting in 11th, Shwartzman, on the alternate strategy, blitzed up to sixth at the start before running long on the medium tires and switching to the softs as the rest of the field struggled on worn mediums, winning by 20 seconds. Shwartzman also has two other podiums, and missed out on a sprint race victory in Great Britain after contact with teammate Mick Schumacher on the last lap wrecked his front wing. However, Shwartzman needs to find some consistency if he wants to challenge Ilot, finishing outside the top ten four times in the last six races. If he can secured the title, Shwartzman will likely move up to Alfa Romeo. Even if he finishes second to one of his Ferrari Academy stablemates, he still has a shot: if one of them replaces the aging Raikkonen, Shwartzman could still step in for Giovinazzi, who has struggled in his two F1 seasons.
Christian Lundgaard ART Grand Prix 87 points
Lundgaard finished a decent sixth in F3 in 2019, but the Danish youngster, at 19-years old, has impressed so far in F2. He won the Styrian sprint race and followed that up with two podiums in Great Britain. However, he has floundered lately, failing to reach the top ten in the last three races, and he is likely rueing some earlier mistakes which cost him valuable points. He suffered a puncture in the Hungarian feature race while fighting Ghiotto for fourth, and after running as high as fifth in the second British sprint race he pushed the tires too far and one disintegrated. Even with his admirable performance thus far, Lungaard, a Renault junior driver, has his path to F1 next season blocked, with Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso already signed to Renault for 2021. Lundgaard might be better off finishing this season second or third: F2 champs cannot return to the series the following year, so winning the championship would put him a tough position while a strong result would let him challenge for the title in 2021 and set him up for a Renault drive in 2022.
Yuki Tsunoda Carlin 82 points
After a slow start to his rookie F2 campaign, Tsunoda has been on a roll, scoring in five of the last six races. The Japanese 20-year old, ninth in F3 last year, won the second British sprint race after Shwartzman and Schumacher came together, and swept around the outside of Lundgaard at Stowe on the final lap to swipe third in the first British feature race. The Red Bull junior could be doing even better had he not lost power during the Austrian sprint race or been sent spinning at the start by Ilot in the first British sprint race. While he’s 39 points off the lead of the championship, an excellent second half could put him in contention for a title, and in turn for a spot at Alpha Tauri, Red Bull’s junior squad in F1, where Daniil Kvyat has just two points to Pierre Gasly’s 14 and neither driver has signed a contract for 2021. Otherwise, expect Tsunoda to return next year for another run at becoming F2 champion.
Mick Schumacher Prema Racing 79 points
Schumacher handily won the Formula 3 European championship in 2018, but the German couldn’t live up to the expectations of his father’s legendary family name in his first go at F2 in 2019, with just one win and no other podiums leaving him 12th in the standings. While the top step of the podium has eluded the 21-year old so far this season, he has racked up four podiums and only finished out of the points three times, missing out on a fifth podium after the fire extinguisher erupted in his cockpit during the Styrian sprint race. Schumacher likely regrets his clumsy move on Shwartzman at Silverstone which gifted Tsunoda the victory, but his form has been superb and he is well situated to finish the season strong. As the third Ferrari junior in the top five, however, Schumacher has his work cut out for him if he wants to join Alfa Romeo next year. His last name can only take him so far, especially if he gets beaten by his rookie teammate Shwartzman, and staying for a third season of F2 could spell the end of his F1 aspirations.
Guanyu Zhou UNI-Virtuosi Racing 76 points
Zhou had a stellar first season in F2 in 2019, earning five podiums, a pole position and F2 lap record in Silverstone, and the rookie of the year award. 2020 has been solid, but not as good as he would’ve hoped. The Chinese driver missed out on his first F2 win at the opening race in Austria when his car lost power, but he has achieved three podiums, including a dazzling drive to second on the alternate strategy at the first British feature race, where he started eighth and made up several positions in the closing laps. However, as part of Renault’s driver academy and one of their test drivers, Zhou’s chances for an F1 seat next season look slim . Losing out to Lundgaard, who is two years younger, would likely scupper his chances at a Renault drive for 2022. Zhou needs a strong second half to stay in the good graces of his F1 bosses, and must avoid mistakes such as the spin which cost him fourth in the first British sprint race, the poor start from third in the Hungarian feature race, and the tire woes which dropped him to 14th last time out in Spain.
On the Cusp
Nikita Mazepin, 21, sits just one point behind Zhou, having won the first British feature race and placed second on the alternate strategy in Hungary after qualifying 16th. After finishing a disappointing 18th in his maiden F2 season in 2019, seventh in this year’s standings is encouraging, but without a direct link to an F1 team, the Russian’s journey into the top tier will be tricky.
While he stumbled in F3, finishing a dismal 16th, Felipe Drugovich, 20, is impressing as a rookie in F2, securing sprint race victories in Austria and Spain and a pole position in Great Britain. While the Brazilian isn’t yet linked to an F1 driver academy, his strong results this season could put him on the radar for a potential race seat in 2022, should his skillful performances continue.
Louis Delétraz, 23, lies ninth in the standings of his fourth F2 season, having scooped two podiums in sprint races this year. While a driver who has been in F2 for as long as Delétraz has normally missed his chance at F1, the Swiss driver is currently in a test and reserve role for Haas. Since Delétraz is already integrated into the team, he would be a safe replacement for Kevin Magnussen or Romain Grosjean, but the free agency of drivers with years of F1 experience, like Nico Hulkenberg, makes the jump to F1 unlikely for Delétraz.
Just two points behind Delétraz, in his first full F2 season, is Dan Ticktum, 21, who won the first British sprint race by a mere three tenths of a second and scored podiums in the Austrian and Styrian sprint races. Ticktum has a tumultuous past, earning a two-year ban after passing the entire field under yellow in order to crash into a rival in a 2015 MSA Formula race. However, he has salvaged his career and joined the Williams Racing Driver Academy. With both seats at Williams filled for 2021 and the British driver nearly 60 points off the championship lead, Ticktum is likely hoping a superb 2021 F2 result to boost him to a 2022 Williams drive.
All photos courtesy of Formula Motorsport Ltd (©Formula Motorsport Ltd).