As the sun rises on a new season, the sound of Abarth 1.4L Engines will once again excite the Oschersleben circuit ahead of the third season of the ADAC Formula 4 Championship.
After two years, many of the established figures have moved on, but like any true junior series, the next generation may prove to be just as exciting to watch. Going into the year, the Prema Powerteam will once again be favourites to win the teams title, but testing has proven that the drivers may not go all their own way.
Pre-season testing took place a few weeks ago and despite the expectations of the Italian’s on them, only the returning American of Juan Manuel Correa topped one of the six sessions; consequently, the final one of the two-day run when many had already set their best times.
Correa though will need to prove himself after a disappointing opening Italian F4 Championship round. He, like a few of the ADAC field will run dual campaigns and may be under pressure after scoring just one point at Misano.
Life was better for his teammates though. Juri Vips and new Kiwi recruit Marcus Armstrong who each picked up a podium. Vips though goes into the year as the second highest returning driver after picking up sixth in the standings. The Estonian will be under pressure to challenge for the title as the year carries on.
Providing Prema don’t pull off a spectacular comeback come the opening round, it may leave the door open for a new favourite. Who better to take that mantle than an existing F4 champion.
While the rest of the field were busy testing and training, Jonathan Aberdein was busy winning the UAE F4 Championship with a record 14 victories from 18 races. The South African also topped testing with three of the six sessions being dominated by him.
Continuing his relationship with Motopark could be key to his title challenge this year, as well as his decision not to race in the Italian series. Each of his three teammates; Charles Weerts, David Malukas and Leornard Hoogenboon also had partial campaigns in the UAE series with the latter even winning a race.
Across the garage though, Motopark may not be the only challengers to Prema, with Ralf Schumacher’s co-owned US Racing team putting up strong opposition.
Nicklas Nielsen, who won the rookie title last year with Neuhauser Racing, will move to Schumacher’s outfit as he too looks to claim another single-seater crown. Nielsen beat Aberdein in 2016 and will be hoping to retain his advantage come the start of the season.
Joining him at US Racing will be Fabio Scherer, the only rookie to win an outright race last year, Julian Hanses and the series most-experienced driver Kim-Luis Schramm.
Schramm will be the highest place returning driver, picking up one race win last year. After four years in ADAC cars, the 19-year-old should be expected to stroll to the title, but failed to pressure the top fifteen during any test session. Finishing behind two of his rivals in the MRF Challenge last winter will not help his confidence either.
Nielsen is not be the only Neuhauser graduate though, with Felipe Drugovich now adorning the #1 with Van Amersfoort Racing. The Brazilian will be out to prove he deserves the number and so far has shown signs that he could be fully deserving.
Topping the remaining two other sessions from testing, he was Aberdein’s closest opposition and was denied victory after a racing incident in the opening round of the Italian F4 series. Whether his pace across the border can translate in Germany is yet to be seen.
Drugovich though will also have the pressure to follow in the footsteps of last years champion Joey Mawson, along with his experienced teammate, Kami Laliberte who picked up one win last year. Completing the team will be Louis Gachot and Frederik Vesti.
The Mucke Motorsport team may have gone for a radical change in colour this season thanks to their sponsorship with BWT, but success may be another point entirely.
Sophia Florsch led their testing contingent, finishing one session in second and ensuring she could be a real contender for reverse grid wins, but a title tilt might be just out of the question. Her teammates remained off the pace as well with Lirim Zendeli and Oliver Söderström not making the leaps and bounds they may have been hoping for, while rookie Tom Beckhäuser joins them.
Elsewhere, Neuhauser have brought in the experienced pairing of Andreas Estner and Michael Waldherr. The latter has been racing in the series since its inception but will be hoping that 2017 is the year he can finally collect his first podium and eventual race win.
This in direct contradiction to the teams Austrian rivals, Lechner Racing who have chosen two rookies, Richard Wagner and Mick Wishofer. The rookie battle itself could be an interesting tale this season as Laurin Heinrich and Tobias Dauenhauer enter with independent teams, similar to Dodo Ghattas who joins second year driver Cedric Piro at Team Piro Sport.
Perhaps the biggest rookie battle could be in the Prema team as Armstrong, who’s been racing since 2014 in his native continent makes his entry alongside Ginetta Junior graduate Enzo Fittipaldi.
The pair also lie sixth and seventh respectively in the Italian series and as fellow members of the Ferrari Driver Academy will have big pressure on them to beat Weerts and the other karting graduates that populate the rookie class.
While 28 drivers is down on the total the series has seen in recent years, their size continues to make it the third largest F4 series in the world (after the Japanese and United States.)
The lack of grid numbers are arguably related to the viewership that Mick Schumacher provided over the last two years, but a similar drop in the partner Italian series could suggest a general lack of interest or financial capability for many drivers.
Going into 2017, one round has been taken off, with the second flyaway round being dropped. The only track outside of Germany will be the Red Bull Ring on 10-11 June, but remains at Oschersleben for the opening round.
From there the drivers head to the Lausitzring before their trip across the border and a return to Oschersleben. The final three rounds will once again see the drivers visit the Nurburgring, the Sachsenring and lastly Hockenheim for the traditional season finale in September.
As for the actual title fight, it could be an eight way battle split evenly between the Prema and non-Prema drivers.
Aberdein, Nielsen, Laliberte and Drugovich currently have the pre-season momentum, but will have stiff opposition from Vips and Correa, the latter of which may have already sacrificed their Italian campaign for a German onslaught. Finally, the leading Prema rookies, Fittipaldi or Armstrong could provide an outside threat, should fortune be on their side.
As one of the closest single-seater series in the world, ADAC F4 is set to be another enthralling affair.