2018 International Formula 4 Season Reviews

by Connor Jackson

After 13 FIA series, three non-FIA run (that used their homologised cars), and two further independent series using the name, the scope of “Formula 4” has expanded exponentially since its launch in 2014. From the powerhouse championships in Germany, Italy and the UK, to the smallest regional’s in Mexico, UAE and South East Asia, the concept has allowed all drivers to find competitive and equal footing into single-seaters up from Karting.

Next season, McLaren F1 Team prodigy Lando Norris, will join Lance Stroll on the Formula 1 bill as previous FIA F4 champions, while new Williams Martini Racing driver Goerge Russell‘s first title came in the BRDC F4 Championship a forerunner to the FIA project.

As former rivals Marvin Dienst and Joel Eriksson forge careers in the World Endurance Championship and DTM, while Ricky Collard and Matheus Leist have been given opportunities in BTCC and IndyCar respectively, Formula 4 is quickly becoming rooted in the motor racing landscape. TCF reviews the stars and champions from 2018.

F4 British Championship

After the news of the all dominant Carlin pulling out prior to the 2018 season, the series quickly recovered, with Double R Racing and TRS Arden taking over the mantle as the championship’s primary forerunners. Pre-season testing would see another team on top though, as Ayrton Simmons made his impact with JHR Developments. Now entering his third year, the pressure was on and the 17-year-old started his year in fine form, with an almost perfect Brands Hatch weekend.

He’d been followed home in both non-reverse races by Kiern Jewiss, setting up for an enthralling first half of the season between the two. Jewiss took the championship reigns at Thruxton after narrowly missing out on a perfect weekend due to contact with Johnathan Hoggard.

Simmons would fight back at Oulton, but another triple podium from Jewiss at Croft ensured a consistent season and one further win was enough to seal the crown and a test with the Ferrari Driver Academy. Both protagonists had dropped off in the second half of the season though, with Hoggard winning 6 of the last 11 races. The 16-year-old would finish third ahead of the Arden rookies.

Dennis Hauger may have beaten fellow Red Bull Junior Jack Doohan in the overall championship by a single point, but as the final race dawned, Hauger dropped behind Doohan sacrificing the rookie crown to the Australian. Meanwhile in the teams championship, Double R inherited the crown from Carlin, who will return in 2019.

Kiern Jewiss won the British F4 title, following in the footsteps of Lando Norris and Max Fewtrell (Credit: Jakob Ebrey)

F4 US Championship

At 52 drivers over the six round series surpassed even the Japanese series for numbers of entries with 30 entries a regular occurence throughout the season. Perhaps as a result of this quality, no one driver dominated, with champion Dakota Dickerson only taking four wins over the year. Instead, it would be consistency that eventually saw him emerge victorious securing the crown in front of the F1 crowd at the Circuit of the Americas.

Winning two out of the three races at Virginia International Raceway had put Christian Rasmussen in early control and despite failing to score at Road America, a repeat of his round 1 performance at Mid-Ohio meant that Dickerson (who had not finished outside the top five) and himself had commanded a lead after three weekends.

Each round would have a different form driver with Joshua Car winning twice at Pittsburgh, while James Raven had not secured a win and two seconds back at Road America. Dickerson would finally take control at New Jersey as two wins and second, along with another disaster from Rasmussen ensured he had a comfortable lead heading into CoTA, securing the title with a win at the opening race.

For the first time, he was joined on the podium by both Rasmussen and Raven, though it would be the Brit who secured second in the standings. Car’s second half campaign had gifted him fourth ahead of 2018’s first winner Benjamin Pedersen with José Blanco-Chock earning him sixth. The Puerto Rican had picked up non-podium points just four times that year.

ADAC Formula 4 Championship

What Simmons failed to do in the UK championship, Lirim Zendeli succeeded, taking the title in his third year with the US Racing-CHRS team. Moving away from the BWT Mucke Motorsport outfit may have been a risk for the 19-year-old, but it proved to be effective winning two of the three races at the opening two rounds.

By the time the field reached the Lautiszring, Zendeli had a comfortable 50 point lead, but a dramatic opening race in which seven cars retired on the second lap due to Leon Kohler dropping oil briefly red flagged the race. Electrical problems would cost Zendeli him the win as Liam Lawson took the flag, going on to narrow the gap over the next two weekends.

Supporting the F1 weekend at Hockenheim, it was Frederik Vesti who beat Lawson and Zendeli in the opening encounter. With Lawson on pole in race two it was his opportunity to take the fight to the leader, but a poor start and contact with eventual rookie champion David Schumacher (son of Ralf) dropped him to the back as Zendeli took the flag. Lawson would not take a victory for the rest of the season, as Zendeli secured the crown with a round to spare and a total of ten victories.

Lawson’s slump meant he finished just 11 points in front of Enzo Fittipaldi, whose win at the Red Bull Ring and string of podiums towards the end of the season made him Zendeli’s closest rival. Vesti was another driver who enjoyed a strong conclusion to the season finishing fourth, while UAE F4 Champion Charles Weerts would be fifth.

Further back, 2017 rookie champion Mick Wishofer had started the season as one of Zendeli’s closest rivals, but a single podium after the halfway mark dropped him to sixth overall. Schumacher’s rookie crown saw him ninth overall, one better in both championships than his cousin Mick Schumacher had done during his rookie campaign three years prior, time will tell whether David can follow in his family‘s and the European F3 Champions footsteps.

Lirim Zendeli (#44) dominated ADAC F4, beating Liam Lawson and Enzo Fittipaldi (#74) who intead secured the Italian F4 title. (Credit: Gruppe C Photography)

Italian F4 Championship

Like in previous years, competitors from the ADAC series also featured heavily in the Italian campaign and while three of the top four, did race in Germany, the success of champion Enzo Fittipaldi to remain competitive in both made him stand out as arguably the top Formula 4 driver of 2018.

The year started as it mean to go on, with Fittipaldi beating 2017 rookie champion Leonardo Lorandi for two of the three Adria races, as Lorandi took the flag in race two. Both struggled during the trip to France, allowing ADAC transfer Frederik Vesti to dominate, but with Lorandi and now Olli Caldwell shining at Monza, Fittipaldi needed to hit back. He did just that at Misano, dominating all three races and retaking the championship lead.

Lorandi had again retook the lead at Imola, but as Caldwell went on to take a triple victory at Vallelunga, the series was set for a three-way showdown at Mugello. Despite a crash with Lorandi in the opening race, Fittipaldi would ultimately prove his class, winning the final two races and the crown as Lorandi and Caldwell completed the top three.

Despite missing a round, Gianluca Petecof proved to be the front runners surprise competition, beating his rookie rival Petr Ptacek, though it would be the Czech driver who collected the rookie title with ease. Elsewhere, Federico Malvestiti saw a tremendous improvement from 2017, finishing sixth with one victory.

French F4 Championship

It proved to be a successful year for Brazilians as after Fittipaldi’s success in Italy, Caio Collet went on to secure the French crown. It was the 16-year-old’s first season in single-seaters but you wouldn’t have guessed. Immediately challenging the UAE F4 front-runners during his debut in January and collecting the Winfield Scholarship before the year started had set him up as early championship favourite.

It was the FFSA‘s-run series first year using the Mygale chassis and under FIA rules ensuring many of the returning faces did not gain a significant advantage through car knowledge. Despite this, it was the returning face of Ugo de Wilde who took an early championship lead from Adam Eteki and star rookie Collet. A double win for the Brazilian at Pau gave him the points lead, benefitting from an off-form de Wilde and Eteki over the next two rounds.

Magny-Cours proved to be the defining round for the rookies as Collet and Arthur Leclerc (brother of Charles) locked out the top step. With de Wilde failing to pick up any silverware and just one trip to the podium for Ulysse de Pauw, a double victory at Jerez was enough for him to claim the title one round early. De Wilde would win twice at Paul Ricard to deny the RACB scholarship winner De Pauw with Eteki in fourth.

Leclerc rounded out the top five after a dire last round saw him drop two places, though will be remembered for winning during his debut weekend. Theo Pourchaire won the Junior crown, winning 16 of the 21 races.

Caio Collet (#23) burst onto the rookie scene in 2018, securing the honours in the newly FIA-approved French F4 (Credit: KSP / FFSA)

Elsewhere in Europe

A three-way showdown saw the protagonists of the Spanish F4 Championship finish just eight points apart, as Amaury Cordeel held on against Javier González. The experienced Mexican had missed the opening round, but four victories from his first six races quickly brought him back into contention. After dominating the opening round, three retirements in five races put Guillem Pujeu on the backfoot, with Pujeu and Cordeel needing to hit back at Jerez.

The final race of the year saw none of the three contenders finish on the podium for the first time this season with Cordeel hanging on for his first single-seater title ahead of González and Pujeu, with Nazim Azman rounding out the top four.

The SMP F4 NEZ Championship continued to remain popular amongst the Finnish and Russian’s with just four drivers not from one of the two nations. As a result, it was no surprise when Finnish driver Konsta Lappalainen secured the title ahead of Russian Mikhail Belov. The pair had traded blows throughout the year, as Isaac Blomqvist finished third despite being the early championship leader.

Blomqvist had abandoned a strong start to the Spanish campaign to focus on the title hunt and ended the season narrowly ahead of Ivan Berets and 115 points behind champion Lappalainen. The champion himself secured the title off the back of a second place in Formula STCC the year before, a series Emil Heyerdahl took the honours for in 2018.

The Scandinavian theme continued in the Danish F4 Championship, which continued to race Mygale F4’s alongside an adapted Formula Ford car (called Formula 5). This season saw the F5’s take their first overall victories as 2017’s F5 runner-up Casper Tobias Hansen went on to secure the F4 crown ahead of independent Casper Pilgaard. Mads Hoe, who twice won overall recorded his first F5 title.

With the Danish series no longer recognised by the FIA, questions have emerged about the future of the championship especially with the Norwegian Thunder Car Championship website appearing to announce an F4 support series for 2019 using the Danish chassis and engine combination.

Konsta Lappalainen secured the SMP F4 title. But it would be Russian Mikhail Belov who wrapped up the Non-FIA Formula Academy Finland title not long after (Credit: SMP F4 Championship)

The Growing Asian Market

As has become tradition in recent years the United Arab Emirates Formula 4 Championship, kick started the F4 year as its winter championship came to a close by early March. Charles Weerts would take the crown over rookie sensation David Schumacher, with both going on to race in ADAC F4 later in the year.

Weerts had taken the first win of the year, but despite missing the first round Schumacher, during his debut to single-seaters, would take pole and record six back-to-back podiums. A point perfect weekend for Weerts allowed him to reclaim the championship lead and the title in the final round with Tom Beckhauser in third. Only four drivers competed in every round, though it saw racing debuts for Collet, Cordeel and Ptacek all of which would claim overall or rookie championships later in the year.

The Chinese F4 Championship continued its search for a Chinese champion as Irish driver Jordan Dempsey took the crown with a round to spare. This feat was more impressive considering he did not compete during the opening weekend. 20-year-old Chinese driver Luo Yuefeng would finish second ahead of Daim Hishammudin who had led the early part of the season.

Grid numbers in the F4 South East Asian Championship remained low as former-French F4 driver Alessandro Ghiretti chimed up fourteen victories during the campaign to beat Kane Shepherd, who finished runner-up for the second year in a row, ahead of Malaysian Muizz Musyaffa.

Jaden Ojeda racked up an incredible 14 victories in 21 races in Australian F4. The rookie had impressed from the outset and when one of his championship rivals Cameron Sheilds pulled out to focus on 2019, Ojeda simply had to hold off Ryan Suhle, wrapping up the title in New Zealand at the Pukekohe Park Raceway. Aaron Love was third.

Rounding out the Asian talent would be the Japanese series as Yuki Tsunoda became the first Honda-backed driver to win the F4 Japanese Championship. A string of five wins at the start of the year had put him a comfortable position, but eight podiums from Teppei Natori at the end of the season along with a disappointing penultimate round from Tsunoda, saw the inter-team battle go to the final race.

The pair locked out the first two positions for both races as despite Natori’s win at the finale it would be Tsunoda who took the crown and last month was signed to the Red Bull Junior team. In the rival JAF Japan F4 series, Nobuo Kubo and Ranzo Kanai won the West and East titles respectively.

Yuki Tsunoda (#5) would beat fellow Honda-backed teammate Teppei Nattori (#6) to the Japanese crown, winning Red Bull support for 2019. (Credit: FIA Japanese F4)

All corners of the Globe

Over in Mexico, the NACAM F4 Championship crowned its third champion in the summer as Moisés de la Vara dominated proceedings, picking up nine wins including a clean sweep at Monterrey. Igor Fraga and Michael Santos completed the top three with the 2018-19 championship currently seeing the ’16-17 rookie champion Manuel Sulaiman control proceedings.

The F4 Sudamericana series relaunched under the name Formula Academy Sudamericana. Moving away from its Uruguayan base, it would be Juan Vieira who beat fellow Brazilian Leandro Guedes in the final race having been separated by just one point. Bruno Testa would be third overall as the series looked to fill the gap created after the Brazil F3 Championship folded this year.

2018 would also see the first year of FIA-homologated cars not competing in FIA sanctioned championships. While the Danish series had already had its support mostly dropped, Formula Academy Finland was set up this season with no such backing, looking to compete with the SMP championship with its runner-up Mikhail Belov taking the FAF crown. A similar situation was seen with Formula Pro USA, which Scott Huffaker won after winning every race he started.

With the FIA focusing more on the Formula 3 rung of the ladder, time will tell what the future will hold for F4. Though with 13 FIA sanctioned series across all major continents except Africa, it certainly won’t be going away any time soon.

(Credit: Jakob Ebrey)

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