With just a day before the start of the fourth ADAC Formula 4 Championship season, The Checkered Flag looks at the one’s to watch come Oschersleben.
The last three seasons have seen three teams pick up the title with their respective drivers. This season could finally see that run broken. Both Prema Powerteam, who won last years title with Juri Vips and Van Amersfoort Racing, who secured the crown with Joey Mawson in 2016 have entered the year with arguably the strongest line-ups.
You could argue this is nothing new, after all the two outfits have been the dominant pair the previous two years and it was only an exceptional drive by Marvin Dienst that saw him beat now-European F3 runner-up Joel Eriksson. Though with Dienst’s HTP Junior Team now developed into the series ‘third’ team US Racing it will take a miracle for another team to take the crown.
Saying that, one driver who will attempt to do the impossible will be Leonardo Lorandi. The Italian dominated his national F4’s rookie cup last season and now with the support of Monisha Kaltenborn‘s KDC Racing outfit could be an outside shot for the title along with teammate Aaron di Comberti who steps down from BRDC F3.
Di Comberti’s decision, while appearing backwards for his career, will see him under the support of his mother and boss Emily di Comberti. But Kalternborn, will not be the only F1 connected personality in the paddock.
After a successful campaign in the UAE F4 Championship, in which he picked up three wins and thirteen podiums on his way to second overall, will be David Schumacher, son of Grand Prix winner Ralf.
With David’s introduction to the series, he continues the legacy his cousin Mick Schumacher left, when he was vice-champion in 2016. Unsurprisingly, David joins US Racing, jointly run by father Ralf.
Completing the F1 connections are Prema, who have signed Enzo Fittipaldi, grandson of the great Emerson. After a lowkey season in Italian F4, where he failed to pick up a podium and was decisively beaten by Lorandi in the rookie standings, he’ll be hoping to reconnect with the team and after a hard winter of training comes into the year as a championship contender.
Formula 1 itself will also be visiting the ADAC series, with the fifth round supporting the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim.
Joining Fittipaldi at the Prema team will be two names familiar in the British scene; Jack Doohan and Olli Caldwell. While Doohan will take part in selected rounds between British F4 commitments, Caldwell has dedicated himself to the series and after a 2017 in which he made occasional appearances in the British, Italian, ADAC and UAE F4, will know the car better than most heading into Oschersleben.
Completing the team will be Brazilian Gianluca Petecof. Like Fittipaldi, he’s been picked up by the Ferrari Driver Academy and will be expected to snatch the rookie title in his first season.
Petecof will not have an easy run though, as BWT Mücke Motorsport field an all-rookie line-up for 2018. The German outfit will see local drivers Niklas Krutten and Leon Koehler joining Israeli Ido Cohen. Despite Mucke’s experience, none of the drivers shone during pre-season testing.
One team that’s garnering the opposite approach will be US Racing. With Schumacher due to be stripped of his status before the season has begun, they’re on course to be the only one of the major four teams without a rookie.
Now entering his third season, Lirim Zendeli has gone from prominent German hotshot, to the staple of the series. Pre-season testing saw him conclude as one of the fastest, but will need to secure the title in dominant fashion to not be accused of winning on outright experience, having finished fourth last season.
Rounding out the US Racing team will be Tom Beckhauser and Mick Wishofer. The pair were rookies last season, but need to step up their game with Wishofer, the rookie champion, picking up just one overall point.
The Austrian isn’t the only champion entering the series though. As is quickly becoming tradition, the defending UAE F4 Series winner rejoins the ranks for his second season, with Charles Weerts, who beat David Schumacher, hoping to challenge at the front after missing out on the rookie title to Wishofer last season.
Racing with him in the UAE had been Lucas Alecco Roy, as the former Equestrian performer makes the leap from British F4. Having finished runner-up in the Australian F4 Championship Kiwi Liam Lawson will be aiming to go one better, with testing seeing him immediately up the front. Meanwhile Joey Alders joins them as the teams only rookie.
The one driver who was almost untouchable in testing though was Frederik Vesti. The Danish F4 runner-up made an impact during his first season in ADAC F4, collecting one win and two further podiums. He finished seventh overall, but towards the end of the season was qualifying on pace with teammate Felipe Drugovich. The #2 will almost certainly be the one-to-watch.
Of course, it will not just be the battles at the front that will be interesting to many as Neuhauser Racing have hired the Estner brothers. Andreas Estner, now entering his third year in the series will be expected to act as a mentor to younger brother Sebastian Estner, who will be competing for the rookie title.
Finally, Finnish drivers Konsta Lappalainen and Jesse Salmenautio, who are scheduled to race in the SMP F4 NEZ Championship this year with the Kart In Club Driving Academy are on course to make an appearance at the opening round this weekend in preparation for their season.
The Calendar has been altered from last season. They’ve kept the seven round format, though only three events will share the track with ADAC GT Masters as it aligns itself with DTM for the Lausitzring and the first Hockenheim round.
Introducing the F1 support race, although vital to the series exposure, ensures the championship visits the Baden-based circuit three times throughout the year losing their annual trip to the Sachsenring.
Also dropping out the series this year was Motopark. Commitments in Europe, along with falling grid numbers ensures that the team has decided to remain absent during the winter. While a lack of Motopark has contributed, grid numbers in the German series continue to drop with four drivers less than last year starting the season.
Despite this, ADAC F4 is still set up for an intense battle for the crown.
Vesti, Zendeli and Weerts will almost certainly enter the season as favourites, though Prema’s lack of pace should be taken with some caution as the outfit sandbagged during these tests last season, only to take a one-two in the championship.