For the second year in a row, the majority of ADAC Formula 4‘s media attention focused on the Mick Schumacher plight, but it would be his former team-mate Joey Mawson who would come away with the eventual title.
While last season the focus was on how well Schumacher would assimilate himself into racing, 2016 and his move to Prema Powerteam, would see the stakes raised as he looked to fight for the title. Unlike 2015 though, he’d focus on both the German and Italian championships with Mawson putting his sole effort into the German campaign.
From there the stage was set. Having finished third in the standings last season, unable to move up, Mawson was the clear favourite. At 20 years of age, he was one the oldest in the series, but in no means the most experienced. A late start ensured this was only his third championship in as many years.
As for Schumacher, he only had one year in ADAC F4 behind him. A fairly low-key start to his career saw him finish tenth in the points. One overall win, coupled with third place in the rookie standings, behind champion David Beckmann and Mike David Ortmann.
Ortmann himself would also be a feature in this years challenge, picking up 3 wins, ensuring that only six races were not won by the runaway top three. In what was only his second year of car racing, the young German has gone largely unnoticed this season, but has set himself up for a promising career, finishing as the top Mucke Motorsport driver.
Mawson Pulls Ahead
To the surprise of very few, it was the Australian who took the first blood in the opening two races at Oschersleben. A double pole position, followed by two perfect drives to victory. Following him to second in both races was Kim-Luis Schramm, now in his fourth season of ADAC racing.
The excessive grid size had seen the re-introduction of qualifying races. A sprint by the slowest drivers from each stage of qualifying, with those who finished at the back, being unable to qualify for the weekend. The wet weather proved to be a major factor throughout the weekend, with Schumacher eventually recovering to win the reverse grid feature.
As one of the most experienced drivers on the grid, Schramm knew 2016 would be a make or break year and looked on good form, collecting a maiden pole for the second round at the Sachsenring. It mattered little though as he failed to hold of the might of Ortmann, who also powered to the front in race two.
It was the reverse grid race that continued to throw up excitement as Mawson scythed through the field to take his third win in front of Simo Laaksonen and rookie Nicklas Nielsen, who recorded his maiden podium.
By this point in the season, Mawson was pulling ahead, having kept up a perfect podium record. All that would change at the Lausitzring though, with the van Amersfoort Racing driver failing to win all weekend.
A ten car pile up in race one, held up proceedings, with Schumacher taking the honours in the opening two races.
The biggest shock came in the final encounter, with Fabio Scherer taking his only win of the season. It was the only time a rookie would win a race overall all year as the Swiss driver made a tactical switch onto dry tyres, outpacing Ortmann, who also fell behind Jannes Fittje, on the final lap.
The Challengers Hit Back
With the first three rounds having been mostly dominated by Mawson, Schumacher and Ortmann, the remainder of the grid started to find their feet as the grid returned to Oschersleben.
While it was another double win for Mawson it was Thomas Preining who pushed him all the way to the line. Sadly for the Austrian, he was disqualified in the second race, cutting the advantage he had.
It was another controversial reverse grid race that featured a number of safety cars. The final straw was Ricardo Feller, whose landing was heavy enough to call out the medical team. Schramm took his first single-seater win after four years of racing. He was followed by Leonard Hoogenboom and Juan Manuel Correa, for their only podium of the year.
The top three had failed to score any points in the final race and were determined to hit back at the Red Bull Ring, though it was far from plain sailing in the opening race. Priening was once again on form and a year after knocking Schumacher into the barrier, the Austrian took the honours in his home race.
Mawson won the second race as Schumacher failed to score, though it was Laaksonen who took a shock win from reverse grid pole. The Finn held off the Prema Powerteam driver while Mawson collected third to reduce the points lost.
The event also saw the rookie battle regain momentum, with both Nielsen and Juri Vips collecting overall podiums over the course of the weekend. This form would continue into the Nurburgring as the Estonian pulled away thanks to a second place in race two.
Back at the front, it was a weekend dead heat between Mawson and Schumacher with both picking up one win, one second place and a non-points score after a drive through. For Mawson it for an illegal overtake on Richard Verschoor, but for the German, it was after contact with Mawson in race two. Preining thus won the final race.
Mawson vs Schumacher
Going into the final two rounds Schumacher was playing catching up to the illusive Australian, as he had been all season. The last round at the Nurburgring proved the two were more equal than the points had led many to believe.
The series made its first appearance at Zandvoort, as a number of established front-runners struggled to score points in the final two races. Fittje and Nielsen would score in just one more encounters as Schramm would fail to finish on the podium again.
This gave an opportunity for others to capitalise as Lirim Zendeli finally made his strong qualifying pay off with a maiden podium in race two after holding off Schumacher. Elsewhere, Mawson and Ortmann collected championship wins.
Not for the first time this season though, it was the final round that threw up the most drama, with treacherous conditions resulting in the years most unusual podium. A crash between the Prema drivers allowed Kami Laliberte to claim a maiden win with rookies Jonathan Aberdein and Felipe Drugovich claiming their only podium of the season.
39 points separated Schumacher and leader Mawson going into the final round, but a disaster for the German in qualifying allowed Mawson to claim an easy win and the title.
Schumacher had been disqualified, ensuring he’d start from twenty-third, but fought his way back up to fourth. Sadly, a mistake on the final lap as the rain came down saw him run wide and drop to sixth, thus losing any chance at maintaining his hopes.
Race two resulted in another win for Mawson, beating Preining to the flag. A strong final round had allowed the Austrian to clamber up to fourth in the overall standings, as Schumacher won the finale.
Rookies Impress Towards Season End
Once again, it was the rookie battle that kept the fans on their feet throughout the final round, as Nielsen held on, despite a poor Hockenheim event, to clinch the title. His trek to the top was helped by Correa, who failed to score in the final round, as Vips collected a further two wins.
Nielsen and Vips had been the standout rookies of the year, recording six rookie wins each. Vips finished ahead in the overall championship, but it was the Dane who came out on top and carries the title into 2017.
Correa and Drugovich, who finished behind relied on a year of consistent results. Only four races throughout the year, didn’t feature either driver on the rookie podium as they beat out Zendeli in fifth.
The young German was one of the surprise stars of the second half proving himself to be a strong qualifier in the overall races. His pace was often sporadic though, collecting five rookie wins, but just two other rookie podiums.
Behind them finished the one race wonders; Aberdein, who now leads in the winter based UAE F4 Championship, Hoogenboom and Scherer. All had been strong in certain events, though would rarely threaten the points on an average weekend. Scherer’s win at the Lausitzring was his only rookie podium of the season.
Strong Talent Up and Down the Field
In total, 46 drivers entered the championship, with four weekends needing qualifying races due to grid sizes being over 32 drivers. While the top three of Mawson, Schumacher and Ortmann had shown their hand, many others proved that they could be stars of the future.
In fourth place, Preining was the only other multiple race winner. He’d only competed half a season in 2015, but returned with a vengeance and leaves as a member of the Porsche Junior Team, after leading Lechner Racing to success as the highest placed Austrian team.
Schramm, competing for US Racing, would make it five teams within the top five in the championship and will be happy with a win, but may be depressed to still not put in a title fight after four seasons.
Vips’ string of podiums in the second half, pushed him narrowly ahead of Fittje, who had been an outside title hopeful at the start of the season. The German picked up just twenty-seven points in the after the mid-point of the year, but maintained a gap in front of Nielsen.
Ninth overall went the way of Laliberte after his shock win at Zandvoort. Meanwhile, Correa’s tenth ensures he finishes as the lowest placed Prema driver in any category they entered. Behind them, Laaksonen and Drugovich completed the top twelve.
Various other drivers remained strong competitors throughout the year, Zendeli was thirteenth, with Aberdein some points behind. Verschoor’s appearance in two rounds saw him hold on to fifteenth, while Michael Waldherr missed two events and dropped to sixteenth overall.
Rounding out the top twenty was race winner Scherer, Dutch driver Hoogenboom, the underwhelming Sophia Florsch and Job van Uitert, who largely sacrificed the German championship to focus on his Italian efforts.