The ‘mini-championship’ the Ferrari Drivers Academy will host in FIA Formula 2 in 2020

Back in December 2019 Autosport published an article in its subscriber area about the drivers, backed by the Ferrari Drivers Academy (FDA), who will be competing in FIA Formula 2 (F2) in 2020.

Autosport talked about the chances of each driver as well as how the 2020 season could have a fundamental say on whether any make it to Formula 1 and also whether any will eventually partner Charles Leclerc at Scuderia Ferrari in the future. The belief being that Vettel is the more likely to leave the Italian team with Leclerc having done enough in 2019 to secure a new deal with the Scuderia until 2024.

Autosport made some interesting points and although a majority of viewers will be focusing on Formula 1 or other premier series such as the World Endurance Championship, IndyCar or MotoGP and World Superbikes, it is worth following this season’s FIA Formula 2 Championship in some form, if you are able, if only to see which of the five FDA drivers come out on top in a ‘mini’ championship battle of their own. What will make the FDA battle compelling is that the five drivers are all in what should be competitive F2 teams, which opens the possibility of a very close battle developing between the quintet. So who exactly are the five that will be doing battle in 2020?

Guiliano Alesi

Nationality: French

2020 Team: BWT HWA Racelab

2020 Teammate: Artem Markelov

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The first driver is Guiliano Alesi, son of ex-Formula 1 driver Jean Alesi.

He already has experience of the F2 series having made his debut last season with the Trident team. They were nearer the back of the field however Alesi did manage to finish inside the points on six occasions on his way to fifteenth in the championship with a best classified finish of fifth which he achieved at the Abu Dhabi sprint race.

Alesi’s junior formula record includes finishing fourth in the 2015 French F4 Championship before spending three seasons in the GP3 series from 2016 to 2018 where his highest championship finish came in 2017 when he was fifth in the standings.

He will be competing for the HWA team, who have taken over the Arden International F2 entry. They are relatively new to the junior categories, joining FIA Formula 3 (F3) in 2019. Prior to their appearance in the junior categories the team competed in DTM before having a sole season in FIA Formula E. Despite being new to the junior formula HWA have done well, finishing fifth in the teams’ championship in their first F3 season, while also taking Briton Jake Hughes to seventh in the drivers’ championship, claiming one victory and a further three podium finishes during their 2019 F3 campaign.

Alesi will be partnered alongside Russian Artem Markelov, who is very experienced at the GP2/F2 level, having contested in six seasons, claiming a highest championship finish of second in 2017 while currently having won nine races across those six seasons. This should be good for Alesi who can learn a lot from Markelov as well as have a high benchmark to aim for throughout the season.

Marcus Armstrong

Nationality: New Zealander

2020 Team: ART Grand Prix

2020 Teammate: Christian Lundgaard

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Marcus Armstrong (right in above picture) is one of two FDA drivers who will be a rookie in the coming F2 season, having spent the 2019 season in F3 with Prema Racing. He finished the 2019 F3 season in second place as Prema dominated.

Armstrong’s previous notable results in his career include winning the 2017 Italian F4 Championship and finishing second in the 2017 ADAC Formula 4 Championship. He went on to finish fifth in the 2018 FIA Formula 3 European Championship before his 2019 F3 campaign. He also finished third in the 2018 Toyota Racing Series, going one better by finishing second in the 2019 season.

He will be in a competitive team for his maiden F2 campaign as ART Grand Prix have fielded the last two drivers’ champions, those being Nyck de Vries (2019) and George Russell (2018). The French outfit have also never finished outside of the top five in the teams’ championship in the history of the GP2/F2 series. Which makes the New Zealander well placed to be fighting at the front in the coming season.

He will be joined at ART Grand Prix by fellow rookie and 2019 F3 driver, Christian Lundgaard. The Dane is backed by Renault and has experience of competing with ART having driven for them during his 2019 F3 campaign. It is difficult to say whether Lundgaard will be a good benchmark for Armstrong considering they are both rookies, but an internal battle to be the best ART driver could help Armstrong in also beating fellow colleagues in the FDA.

Callum Ilott

Nationality: British

2020 Team: UNI-Virtuosi Racing

2020 Teammate: Guanyu Zhou

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Callum Ilott is in a similar situation to fellow FDA driver, Guiliano Alesi, with Ilott having competed in F2 last season with the Sauber Junior Team run by Charouz Racing System. He finished his 2019 campaign in eleventh in the championship, the highest placed FDA driver, claiming two podium finishes along the way.

Illot’s notable performances in his junior formula career to date include finishing third in the 2018 GP3 series as well as recording a highest championship standing of fourth in the FIA Formula 3 European Championship which he achieved in 2017.

He will be driving for the UNI-Virtuosi Racing team who helped Luca Ghiotto to third and Guanyu Zhou to seventh in the 2019 season, having previously taken Artem Markelov to second in the championsip in 2017.

Since Virtuosi Racing have been running a GP2/F2 team (their debut being in 2015), they have not failed to score a victory during the season, making Ilott well placed to claim his first in 2020.

He will be joined at Virtuosi Racing by Chinese driver Guanyu Zhou who like Ilott will be in his second season in F2. Zhou impressed in his maiden F2 campaign, finishing as the highest placed rookie and securing five podium finishes across the season. Ilott should therefore have strong competition on the other side of the garage in Zhou, who is backed by Renault, especially as this will be the Chinese driver’s second season with UNI-Virtuosi Racing.

All of the above makes Ilott a particularly interesting FDA backed driver to watch as although Mick Schumacher, Alesi and Robert Shwartzman may receive more attention, Ilott has shown both last season and in previous categories that he should not be underestimated.

Mick Schumacher

Nationality: German

2020 Team: Prema Racing

2020 Teammate: Robert Shwartzman

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Mick Schumacher will contest his second season in F2 with Prema Racing having made his debut in the series with the same team last season. He managed a sprint race victory in Hungary during his rookie season, but left a bit to be desired, finishing in the points in only a further eight races across the season.

He has however historically been more competitive in his second season in the junior categories, where he finished tenth and then second in the ADAC Formula 4 Championship and went from 12th in FIA Formula 3 European Championship in 2017 to being champion in 2018 while he also went from finishing sixteenth at the Macau Grand Prix in 2017 to finishing fifth in 2018.

Schumacher also finished third in the 2016-17 MRF Challenge Formula 2000 and second in the 2016 Italian Formula 4 championship.

He is in a team that is certainly competitive in F2 having taken Pierre Gasly and Antonio Giovinazzi to first and second respectively in the team’s first season at GP2/F2 level back in 2016. They followed this up taking Charles Leclerc to the 2017 title before Nyck de Vries finished fourth with Prema in 2018.

Schumacher will be joined at Prema Racing by fellow FDA driver Robert Shwartzman.

Robert Shwartzman

Nationality: Russian

2020 Team: Prema Racing

2020 Teammate: Mick Schumacher

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Robert Shwartzman will be a rookie at F2 level in 2020 as he partners Schumacher at Prema Racing. The Russian having won the F3 drivers’ championship with the same team last season.

Besides his 2019 F3 triumph, Shwartman has also finished third in the 2015 Italian F4 championship, the 2017 Formula Renault Eurocup and the 2018 FIA Formula 3 European championship. The Russian also won the Toyota Racing Series in 2018.

As said when covering Schumacher, Prema have been successful at GP2/F2 level and Shwartzman has shown he can adapt to a series quickly, going by his 2019 season in F3. He has also been racing for Prema since 2018 and is therefore well settled within the team.

It will be interesting to see how Shwartzman performs in comparison to Schumacher with the Russian having been consistent, knowing when to push for victory and when to settle for points on his way to the F3 title. If he can race in a similar way in 2020 he will be a formidable competitor for the other FDA backed drivers and in F2 in general.

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What will add extra intrigue to the FDA battle is that the F2 series will switch to 18 inch tyres in 2020 as well as introduce a few other technical changes to the car. This could therefore be a perfect time for rookies such as Armstrong and Shwartzman to enter the series as the new changes can help neutralise the field slightly, making it easier to make an impression in the coming season.

Any season of F2 is important for a driver’s career as it can make or break their chances of securing a future in Formula 1. What part the 2020 edition will play in helping or hindering the careers of the five FDA drivers will be fascinating to watch as they attempt to increase their reputation and edge closer to a Formula 1 drive in either the medium to long term. It is important to note that there are a limited number of seats in Formula 1 as Esteban Ocon and Nico Hulkenberg have found out to their cost in recent seasons, which adds extra intrigue to the 2020 FDA mini-championship.

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