2015 saw the FIA continue to set up a number of national Formula 4 series in an attempt to make the road to Formula 1 much clearer and less costly. Germany proved no exception forming the ADAC Formula 4 Championship. With the success of Germany in F1, it was unsurprising that the series rounded out its inaugural season with 51 different drivers, more than any other F4 series.
With participants from seventeen countries, many had to do a lot to stand out amongst the wealth of talent. However; that’s exactly what three drivers achieved with the main and rookie championship battle being taken to the final round at Hockenheim.
Three Way Fight
Marvin Dienst proved his ability at the first round, after he taking a double victory with little pressure. It was clear that Dienst was already setting himself up to be a contender and was going to use his prior championship experience.
Four drivers moved across from the ADAC Formel Masters series that ran until last year, using a majority of the same circuits.
Joel Eriksson was one of these drivers and was looking to go one better, having finished one place behind Dienst in the 2014 season. A double win at the Red Bull Ring soon highlighted him out as a potential competitor.
The momentum from Austria carried over as Eriksson started a run of wins, having almost dominated in Spa-Francorchamps, building up a comfortable lead. Meanwhile Dienst struggled to stay on the podium.
The Lausitzring would see a shift in momentum as the half way point of the season approached. One driver who will remember the weekend well, is Joey Mawson. A win in the opening race of the weekend followed by two second places would allow him to move into the title fight.
Having already picked up his first win of the season, Mawson would go on to have a championship fight, picking up a reverse grid win in the final three races of the season.
Eriksson was the half time champion, but a win in the final race of the weekend saw Dienst go on nine race podium streak, eradicating the Swede’s lead and proving real consistency and race pace, especially during the reverse grid events.
A win in the first race at Hockenheim gave Marvin Dienst the honour of being the first ever ADAC F4 champion, while a mediocre final round from Eriksson saw him finish only two points ahead of the impressive Mawson.
The Chasing Pack
Only four drivers, from outside the top three picked up race a win, but that didn’t mean there weren’t many involved in battles for the lead. After a tricky start to the season, Robert Shwartzman managed to find his feet at Spa-Francorchamps, picking up a string of three third places.
Another strong round at the Lausitzring saw the Russian picking up six podiums in a row having been denied a race victory after a clash in the closing laps. From there, he managed one of the seasons best comeback drives for the final Sachsenring race.
Shwartzman and Janneau Esmeijer tangled in the opening event seeing them start near the rear in final; An inspired drive saw both finish tenth and ninth respectively, with a rare example of Esmeijer showing pace in the race and not just qualifying.
After finishing third in last years Formel Masters, Tim Zimmermann was one of the favourites for the title, unfortunately a poor year by his standards saw him only pick up three podiums on the way to sixth overall. Team mate Kim-Luis Schramm also saw little improvement over the year and was often marred by poor qualifying.
Michael Waldherr ended the year as the highest placed driver to have not picked up a podium, but two fourth places in Austria saw the young German as an outside contender, he finished eleventh overall having scored only four points at the last round.
Unlike Waldherr though, some drivers improved significantly towards the end of the season. Scoring just eight points in the first half of the season, Marek Bockmann would go on an end of season rampage, even picking up a podium. This, from a driver who’d previously fallen to 26th after starting reverse grid pole for the final race in Spa.
When it comes the rookies (and the series as a whole) one name stood out more than any other this year – Mick Schumacher, who would eventually collect third in the rookie standings, but for a large portion of the season, was the only rookie to have collected an overall win after his final race heroics in Oschersleben.
An injury in Austria saw the sixteen year old miss the final race and go on a two round run of not scoring any points. The driver who collided him, Thomas Preining, would not feature for the rest of the season, falling back from a potentially promising rookie result.
Schumacher finished in third after a resurgence towards the end of the season saw him collect another podium, once again, at Oschersleben. He’s now rumoured to be looking for a seat in European F3.
Despite the focus Schumacher, another was upsetting the competition; David Beckmann had been too young to race in the opening round of the season, but adapted to the series very quickly. On top of an impressive qualifying, he managed to set the fastest lap in his first event, before taking an overall podium in his third race.
He remained a midfield driver for much of the year before a spectacular end of season, saw him claim a win and two podiums, in doing so he managed to finish fifth overall, a talent for the future perhaps.
Another rookie to note was, Mike Ortmann who as the runner up in the Rookie championship despite not showing the form of Schumacher. Meanwhile Jannes Fittje‘s impressive running at the Lausitzring saw him claim fourth.
Rounding out the top five rookies was another one of the “sons-of-greats”. Jonathon Cecotto, son of the former motorcycle champion Johnny. While he showed promising signs early on, he soon fell back, only just finishing ahead of Guan Yu Zhou in the standings.
Flashes of Brilliance
Zhou, a member of the Ferrari driver academy, proved to be one of the early successes. After qualifying well for the opening race he suffered a hit to his form, struggling to pick up points. He made a comeback in Austria and Spa, but soon decided to focus on winning the Italian F4 Championship.A move that was copied by team mate Ralf Aron.
Aron left the opening weekend, second in the championship, but a poor week in Spa saw him also commit to the Italian series. He returned to the grid for the Nurburgring race, which he won, finishing the season in ninth overall.
This ultimately meant he finished behind Lando Norris by 11 points. Despite only competing in three weekends.
Norris managed to stay inside the top five for all his races, only sitting out of the season finale after flipping upside down in race two. The race in question was red flagged and he was classified second.
He wasn’t the only Brit in the field; When he wasn’t competing in BRDC Formula 4, Harrison Newey made time for ADAC. Newey would fail to perform against his teammates, Schumacher and Mawson, ending the year in sixteenth.
Jason Kremer did not start the year, but still scored a tenth place at the Lausitzring. The result gave him reverse pole, but any chance to prove himself soon vanished as his car stalled on the line.
Having finished runner up in Italian F4 last year, Mattia Drudi was a pre-season favourite, but soon left the championship to focus on Porsche Carrera Cup Italia, having collected one podium. While Australian driver Luis Leeds raced in the final having competed in his national F4 series during the year.
What’s over the horizon
The future looks bright for many of the drivers, but more than anything, the series looks set for a strong future as the effective successor of the well-established German Formula 3 Series.
The series is still yet to face its biggest question though, can it survive without Schumacher? There is no doubt that Mick was the headline driver coming into the year and remained so throughout, however; with the German looking likely to move on, what will become of the series.
Of course it wasn’t just Schumacher who was promoted, with Newey and Cecotto also gaining air time as the sons-of-greats. But these drivers won’t stick around for long either. With the new Benelux Formula 4 series coming next year and the true costs being revealed, will we still see grids of over 30 cars in years to come.
Personally, I hope so. For all its foibles, ADAC F4 has proved (to me) to be the most entertaining Formula 4 series this year, with the large grid and hungry drivers, helping to spread the action.