The EuroFormula Open championship saw another thrilling season in 2016, with Leonardo Pulcini taking a deserving title after a strong year for the up and coming Italian racer.
After switching to Campos Racing, Pulcini was the man to beat from the start, with seven victories coming his way, but it was not just about the Italian in 2016, with several other drivers showing good speed and great potential along the way.
Pulcini started the year with a victory in the opening race of the weekend at the Portuguese circuit of Estoril and took further wins at Spa-Francorchamps, Paul Ricard, Silverstone, the Autodromo Nazionale Monza and the Circuito de Jerez, with his title triumph coming with two races of the season to spare.
Whilst often not the fastest driver during qualifying, Pulcini’s race craft was often spectacular, and the fact it was round eight when he first failed to finish on the podium was a testament to his speed and control behind the wheel. It was an optimistic move on Colton Herta that prevented that run continuing at Silverstone, but he was fighting for the podium when the incident happened!
The season can be summed up by his performance at Monza, with a great fight with Ferdinand Habsburg, his main championship rival for much of the season, ending with the Italian walking away with a double race victory.
Couple into that a further six podium visits, and it is clear that Pulcini was the dominant driver this season, and followed Vitor Baptista as series champion.
Habsburg and Herta Stand Out
For Habsburg, who coupled his season with Formula Renault 2.0 in 2016, it was a year where the young Austrian driver showed great potential of his own. Racing for the small Drivex School team, he took a maiden victory at Paul Ricard and continued the battle with Pulcini until Jerez, before securing second in the championship himself with his second win of the year at the Circuit de Catalunya.
It was an extremely consistent season for Habsburg, with ten other visits to the podium himself alongside his two wins, and this is made even more impressive when for much of the year he was driving in a one-car team. First Nikita Troitskiy and then Vasily Romanov joined him towards the end of the season, but Drivex was certainly Habsburg’s team.
Another driver to star during the year was Herta, who raced for series debutants Carlin. The young American took a while to find his feet, but a pole position and a first podium at Silverstone started his great run, and from there on in he was always fighting at the front. He took four wins along the way, including an impressive double at the Red Bull Ring and a win at both Jerez and Catalunya, and finished a comfortable third in the standings.
There were two other race winners in 2016, with Antoni Ptak being the biggest surprise of them all. The Polish driver was on fire at Silverstone, taking his first podium finish with third place in race one, before taking victory in Sunday’s second race, but he would not stand on the podium again all season, and dropped to sixth in the championship standings as a result.
The other was Jack Aitken, who starred in the two rounds he raced in during 2016, winning race two at Estoril and again in race one at Spa-Francorchamps before leaving the series to focus on his primary GP3 Series campaign. Like Ptak, Aitken raced for RP Motorsport, and despite only running four races finished eighth in the championship standings.
Best of the Rest
Diego Menchaca was not at the same level as Campos Racing team-mate Pulcini during 2016, but the young Mexican was still able to climb onto the podium four times, although he could not better third all season long. He was a consistent points scorer, but his lack of challenges at the very front of the field cost him in the final standings, and he finished a distant fourth.
There was a lot of hope that Damiano Fioravanti could bring the form he ended 2015 with into 2016, but for one reason or another, the RP Motorsport driver endured a tough season, taking five podiums but finishing only fifth in the standings due to inconsistency along the way.
For RP, a team who had won the first two EuroFormula Open titles with Sandy Stuvik and Baptista, to have their first driver finish fifth in the standings was not what was expected in 2016, although Fioravanti was able to better all of his team-mates including race winner Ptak and Thai driver Tanart Sathienthirakul.
Tatiana Calderon raced the opening two races of the year for Teo Martin Motorsport before making the switch to RP Motorsport for three of the final four rounds. The Colombian raced in EuroFormula Open when her GP3 Series commitments allowed, and took a podium finish at the Red Bull Ring in her first outing with RP.
Despite missing three rounds, she finished ninth in the standings, while Igor Walilko completed the top ten despite ending his campaign with Fortec Motorsports after the fourth round of the year at Silverstone having finished inside the top ten in all eight races.
Troitskiy’s two race stint with Drivex School was a great experience for the SMP Racing-backed Russian, and it culminated in a pole position and a podium finish in race two at Monza.
Two wild card entries showed great speed for Teo Martin Motorsport towards the end of the season, with Harrison Scott finishing on the podium in Jerez and Dorian Boccolacci doing the same in Barcelona. Boccolacci actually finished first on the road in race one in the season finale, but a time penalty for causing a collision with Herta relegated him to third.
Pulcini on the Rise
It could be said that there were three standout drivers in 2016 in Pulcini, Habsburg and Herta, and there is no reason why not to think that all three have a bright future ahead of them, but there are no doubts who the deserving EuroFormula Open champion is. Pulcini was just stunning throughout the season.
Watch out for this young, likeable Italian, he might just be the driver that his country have been crying out for in recent years.