The ADAC Formula 4 Championship once again went down to the final race, not between two drivers, but three. In a race that would go down the closing laps, Juri Vips came out on top to celebrate the full 2017 title, 12 months after securing the vice-rookie crown.
After three years Prema Powerteam finally came good with not just the teams title, but also the drivers and vice-champion role as Marcus Armstrong‘s unbeatable run of results in the middle of the year ensured he would push Vips equally as hard.
The final man not to forget was Felipe Drugovich. The Brazilian had not shown the consistency of Vips, but won more races (7) than any driver. All three will look towards FIA European Formula 3 potentially next year, but looking back will hope to build on the success that 2017 brought.
Returning Faces Fill the Grid
The results of the rookies this year will be seen as proof as to why this was arguably the worst year for new drivers. Instead, it would be the returning rookie drivers of 2016, as well as a few older competitors, who occupied the front during pre-season testing.
Fresh off of winning the Formula 4 UAE Championship, South African Jonathan Aberdein was seen as the man to beat, with Drugovich also showing strong pace in the #1 he would inherit thanks to Joey Mawson‘s title campaign last year.
Despite a poor pre-season, Vips announced himself with a bang during Oschersleben, winning the opening event from the man who beat him to the rookie crown last year; Nicklas Nielsen. The Dane won the second race with Vips and himself the stars of the opening weekend.
Going into the Lausitzring, the US Racing team shocked many, by locking out the grid in qualifying. The team though, had failed to fit camber-shims to all cars and in a court battle that lasted until the final round, would see all four drivers disqualified from the event.
Championship Moved Off Track
Ultimately this would benefit Drugovich with Vips still leading the overall order into the Red Bull Ring. Vips’ teammate Armstrong had been highly rated, but had failed to pick up a podium in the opening rounds.
He truly came to form in Austria though, winning the opening race (at the time this would be seven different winners in as many rounds) while recording further silverware in the following two races that Drugovich and Vips won.
The slightly shortened season meant that the second Oschersleben round marked the halfway point of the year as Vips started to struggle. This gave Drugovich the momentum and lead of the championship with Armstrong continuing his podium string to five races.
Vips only picked up a single podium at Nurburgring, but by not finishing outside the top six, still picked up more points than both his rivals who picked up wins. Elsewhere, Lirim Zendeli‘s season finally came good with a second and first place, putting him back into contention for sixth overall in the standings at the time.
Three Drivers Remain
From picking up only one podium, to not picking up one at all, Vips seemed on the back foot. Drugovich’s back luck continued while Sachsenring saw Armstrong continue his strong form.
Instead the round was once again the story of the US Racing crew, with Fabio Scherer and Julian Hanses taking wins apiece. This celebration would turn into dismay just a week later when the results of the DMSB came back, excluding all four from Lausitzring.
This automatically handed Prema the teams title, but benefited Drugovich more than their own drivers in the championship standings. Armstrong now lead, but was only 2.5 points ahead of Vips and 18.5 ahead of Drugovich.
Chances would not look good for the Van Amsersfoort Racing crew, though this all changed on Saturday when neither Prema’s qualified within the top ten.
Armstrong had crashed in qualifying leaving him in twenty-first, while Vips was only fourteenth. Drugovich on the other hand started second and took the lead in the opening lap to return to the top of the standings.
The Brazilians amazing run of luck could not continue though. He stalled on the grid for race two and held his head as further issues resulted in a retirement. Neither Vips or Armstrong’s made it into the top five, but scored points as Zendeli continued a strong weekend with another podium, this time a win.
It would all come down to the final race with Vips leading the standings. All the Estonian had to do was stay in front of Armstrong and Drugovich. Armstrong started on pole, but was unable to break away with Artem Petrov claiming his first win as he hoped to assist teammate Drugovich.
Drugovich would only claim fifth as Armstrong beat Vips to second, but missed out on the title by 4.5 points. The result came after two years of hard work by the 17-year-old Vips as he looks to move up.
The disqualification of the US Racing drivers from one round, plus a strong final event handed Zendeli fourth in the title as BWT Mucke Motorsport‘s highest placed driver.
Every Result Matters
Scherer would take fifth overall, losing his large advantage thanks to the points drop. The Swiss driver already has a Euro F3 contract for 2018, after another race win this year proved to be his coming-of-age.
While he did have the record of being the only rookie to win an overall race in 2016, it had seemed a fluke of strategy to many, though his results this year has proven that he could have a long career in racing providing he can adapt to the vehicle.
Sixth would be his US Racing teammate Nielsen. After a strong opening two rounds, the Dane quickly dropped back and one-off rounds in the Danish Formula 4 Championship ultimately did not help him as he failed to pick up a podium after his large accident at Nurburgring.
Nielsen’s fellow compatriot and Danish F4 rival Frederik Vesti would impress many with his run to seventh. While not classed as a rookie (due to one-off rounds prior to the opening race) would become the highest placed graduate even picking up an overall win at Oschersleben that gave him confidence during the second half.
While many drivers may be pleased with their results, some will leave the year with a sour taste in their mouths. Kim-Luis Schramm has become a regular in now his fourth year but dropped places and failed to pick up a win, while Kami Laliberte, in his third season, pulled out after Nurburgring.
He wasn’t the only driver to pull out with two rounds to go as Juan Manuel Correa focused on his GP3 Series promotion after recording one podium all year as his teammates fought for the title. As for Aberdein, he failed to live up to the hype of being F4 UAE champion and finished a point behind Schramm in ninth.
Hanses was the most affected by the US Racing teams DSQ, due to his incredible weekend at the Lausitzring, while bad luck prevented him from collecting more at the Sachsenring despite two poles. He finished eleventh.
Elsewhere, Sophia Fleorsch‘s second half improvement became the story for many as she picked up two podiums in two rounds to finish thirteenth ahead of Michael Waldherr and Petrov who picked up a win despite only competing in the final three weekends.
As for the rookies, it would be Mick Wishofer who collected the crown as he recorded a single overall point in the final race of the year.
The championship will remain relatively unchanged for 2018 as Pirelli announce their commitment to the series with the existing German TV package continuing until 2020.