Now in its third season, the Italian F4 Championship remains a leader in the FIA Formula 4 category. As of 2016, they’ve become the first F4 series to produce a Formula 1 driver with the announcement of 2014 champion, Lance Stroll to the Williams Martini Racing team.
While Stroll’s progression is unusual compared to most junior drivers, it’s notable for all the competitors in this years championship that the top step can be reached within the coming years.
As for 2016, it was once again a story of one man and his two title chasers. Marcos Siebert, now in his second season of the series, having finished fifth in 2015. The 20-year-old has been racing single-seaters since 2011, but with his first major title coming in arguably the worlds most competitive F4 championship, a strong future is surely on the horizon.
Narrowly missing out, as he did in the German series, was Mick Schumacher. Two runners-up trophies will not go down well with the highly rated son of the seven-time world champion. A move to Formula 3 is bound, but will lack that decisive title moving forward.
Completing the trio was Mexican rising star, Raul Guzman. After a spotty run last season, the DR Formula racer seemed to finally find his form as he begun the season as Siebert’s closest competitor.
In reality though, it was the Argentine who never relinquished his lead. Similar to Joey Mawson in the German counter-part, it was a foreigner from the southern hemisphere that took the European glory, as Italy remains a key battle ground for young racers, now not just in karting, but also in open-wheel racing.
Guzman and Baiz Start the Season in Style
With forty plus drivers expressing their interest for the championship, a new format was introduced with the weekend building up to a final encounter. Like in ADAC Formula 4, qualifying would be split into two groups, though, uniquely for the series, three qualifying races would be held.
Each driver, split into one of three groups, would compete in two races with grids based on their qualifying times. The top 32 would then progress to the final race with grid places determined on points scored. The system was used to give each driver a fair amount of track time.
A win and second from Guzman in the qualifying heats would have given him the prime position into the final round, though it would be Schumacher on pole. The German driver had beaten Guzman to the line in the one heat they were together, before going on to beat Job van Uitert convincingly in his second race.
Schumacher would also set the fastest lap, though it would be non of the top three that eventually took the chequered flag as Siebert ended the weekend in style. A shockingly quick start from Juri Vips had seen him quickly dispose of his team-mate before claiming second.
Guzman would complete the podium as Schumacher and van Uitert completed the top five. While not in the appropriate order, the top five for the Misano final went to finish in the overall top five for the year.
The second round, at Adria, was run in the same format, as Mauricio Baiz, Guzman and Siebert each picked up a heat victory. This was a perfect opportunity for all three to extend their presence at the top of the championship, with Van Uitert and the Prema Powerteam drivers not present at the weekend.
The eventual finale win went the way of Baiz, putting the Venezuelan truly into the title battle, though a retirement for Guzman earlier in the weekend, put Siebert atop the standings.
Schumacher Makes up for Lost Time
Schumacher and a number of others had been forced to miss the previous round due to commitments in ADAC F4 and a lack of logistics between the locations. The decreasing championship numbers also saw the format reversed to the traditional three races, with the third encounter offering fewer points, down to eighth, due to it being a reverse grid event.
Baiz and Guzman had proven themselves to be unlikely contenders in the early rounds, but a single points finish from each allowed Siebert and Schumacher to battle it out in the main events.
The Argentine and the German each won the races they started on pole for, following each other over the line. It would be Schumacher who’d come out on top having beaten Siebert in the tantalising reverse grid event which Mick’s team-mate; Juan Manuel Correa took the win.
Correa himself would continue his form into Mugello, qualifying on pole for both main races, winning the first encounter from his more experienced team-mate.
The weekend though mostly belonged to Giuliano Raucci. A third and a first made up for a podium-less 2015, while a reverse grid victory salvaged Siebert’s weekend.
The biggest championship winner though turned out to be Guzman, scoring 25 points and moving back into second overall.
Rookies Treated as Equals
With the season now more than half completed, a number of new faces would rise to the foray. Baiz, Joao Viera and Ye Yifei, who had all picked up podiums, cut their year short due to budget or further commitments, allowing the rookies to show their hand.
Artem Petrov, after spending the first half of the year out of the top ten, recorded a podium at Vallelunga, though sadly would not score championship points as he did not own a local racing licence.
Another win, alongside two further podiums, saw Schumacher continue to close the gap on Siebert, who was now more focused on consistency rather than results. Elsewhere, four rookie wins in a row saw Vips retake the rookie championship lead.
Going into the second Imola round all eyes were still on Siebert and Schumacher. Guzman had picked up his third and final win last time out as he fell back during the trip to the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari.
The top two took a pole position each, but a jump-start from both proved to be decisive. Neither scored points with van Uitert taking victory in race one and two.
The second encounter proved to be even more decisive for the championship as Siebert ran wide in the first turn, as Schumacher was punted out by Diego Bertonelli. The German’s retirement saw him lose precious points to Siebert.
With the top four out of the line light, failing to score any points, Marino Sato took a surprise win in the reverse grid race, making up for a disastrous 2016 thus far.
Siebert Hangs on for Italian Glory
The top three could all still claim the crown going into the final race, but the advantage was clearly with the Argentine star. He had 25 points over Schumacher and 35 over Guzman.
A shock pole position from Sebastian Fernandez was quickly lost after first corner drama allowing Schumacher to build an easy lead. Both of the Prema’s rivals had started outside the top nine, but neither were prepared to roll over, putting in champion’s drives back up the order.
Both would find themselves stuck behind Lorenzo Colombo in second, but, after a failed attempt by Guzman, Siebert made his way past. The Mexican would eventually join his rivals on the podium, with all three contenders collecting trophies.
The result meant Guzman was now out of contention and all but a miracle would stop Siebert. That chance came in the second encounter when Schumacher, while battling for the lead, broke his front wing.
Schumacher was forced to pit, handing the title to Siebert, who cruised home in fifth.
Back up front, a race long battle for the win saw Fernandez recover from another mediocre start to record his first ever victory in front of Guzman, while Vips in third, also secured the rookie title.
Vips would go on to win the final race of the year in front of Schumacher. The result ensured the German hung onto second in the title battle as Ian Geoffrey Rodriguez picked up his first podium in third.
Fight for Best of the Rest
The season may have been settled by Siebert, but it was the midfield battle that proved to be the breeding ground for a number of unexpected faces.
Behind the top three, Job van Uitert, off the back of his glorious double win at Imola, was best of the rest. He had decided to focus on ADAC F4 early in the year, but ensured his lost points were no issue as the season started to draw to a close.
On top of his Italian endeavours, the Dutch driver won the Pre ’90 class at the Formula Ford Festival and was regularly on pace with Jenzer Motorsport team-mate Siebert despite being two years younger.
Elsewhere, Vips, on top of his crown, finished as the highest place rookie with 140 points, just 3.5 less that van Uitert in front and ensuring that he’ll be a clear favourite for the championship next season.
Sadly for Correa, he once again finished as the lowest place Prema driver, but it was a season of highs and lows for the American. While he only managed fourth in the rookie standings, he picked up three overall wins, more than any of his first-year rivals combined.
Despite being listed as the Italian series, the championship regularly attracts a lack of local support. The dwindling involvement has made Simone Cunati‘s first year exceptional by comparison. He may have missed the final round but three podiums will hold him in good stead heading into 2017.
Below him was DieGi Motorsport‘s only representative; Raucci. The Brazilian greatly improved from his 2015 performance, picking up three podiums, just like Baiz, who fell to ninth as he didn’t race in the second half of the season.
The top ten was rounded out by the French F4 champion, Ye Yifei, ensuring that only three of the top ten drivers competed in every round, with a different nationality represented for each driver.
In total, 48 drivers competed over the course of the year, with 34 of them scoring points, more than any other F4 championship around the world. In the end, Prema beat Siebert’s Jenzer to the teams title with 439.5 points, while Fabienne Wohlwend won the Women’s Trophy as the sole participant.