If you had said at the start of the season that a driver who had taken only one victory across his four previous campaigns in single seaters would dominate the 2019 EuroFormula Open season, it would have been a total surprise. Yet Marino Sato did just that, storming to nine victories on his way to the championship.
Sato’s last win prior to 2019 was in Italian Formula 4 back in 2016, and across two seasons of racing in the FIA Formula 3 European Championship, he scored a total of thirty-two and a half points with a best finish of fourth. In sixty races there, he failed to stand on the podium, but in 2019, he stood on the podium in eleven of the sixteen races he competed in.
Only seven drivers competed in all eighteen races in 2019, with many prioritising other series’ over EuroFormula Open. This included Sato, who missed the round in Silverstone after gaining a drive in FIA Formula 2, while the likes of Liam Lawson, Yuki Tsunoda and Teppei Natori were all FIA Formula 3 drivers primarily, and EuroFormula Open drivers secondary.
Team Motopark were the dominant team in 2019, taking all bar two victories, although one of those they missed out on was the Pau Grand Prix, which was ultimately taken by Carlin Motorsport’s Billy Monger.
Lawson Starts the Year with a Bang
After being omitted from the entry list for the inaugural FIA Formula 3 championship, perhaps unfairly based on their history in the sport, Motopark entered EuroFormula Open for the first time, and started the year in a near-perfect way with a win at the Circuit Paul Ricard with Red Bull Junior Lawson.
Lukas Dunner had given Teo Martin Motorsport pole position and led early on, but Lawson and Tsunoda both passed the young Austrian to give Motopark and the Red Bull Junior Team a one-two finish.
Race two however would be far less fruitful for the Red Bull pair as they managed to collide on the run down to turn one on the opening lap. This enabled Sato to take over in the lead, while Guilherme Samaia took second after Lawson was penalised for causing the collision with Tsunoda. The penalty also promoted Dunner to third for his second podium of the weekend.
Lawson was in dominant form in race one at Pau, with EuroFormula Open taking over the mantle from the FIA Formula 3 European Championship as hosts of the Pau Grand Prix. Lawson was untouchable in race one, winning by more than sixteen seconds from team-mate Julian Hanses, while Sato made it a trio of Motopark drivers on the podium.
Ahead of the Pau Grand Prix on Sunday, Monger was one of only three drivers to gamble on wet weather tyres at the start, and the gamble paid off as the Briton claimed a sensational and emotional victory, his first since losing his legs in a horror crash a couple of years ago.
Hanses led early but was taken out by Lawson, who collided with a team-mate for the second consecutive race weekend, with the incident allowing Monger to take over the lead, ahead of his Carlin team-mate Nicolai Kjaergaard. Tsunoda made a late switch to wets and was able to claim the final spot on the podium ahead of Dunner.
Sato Begins Championship Charge in Germany
Sato secured his first pole position for race one at the Hockenheimring and duly went on to claim his second victory of the season, ahead of Red Bull Juniors Jack Doohan of Double R Racing and Lawson. Lawson, who had been hit with a grid penalty for his part in the collision with Hanses at Pau, did find a way ahead of Doohan before falling behind the Australian again when he spun.
Another pole position followed for Sato in race two, but the Japanese racer quickly found himself falling to third behind Tsunoda and Lawson. Tsunoda held on to take his first victory, but Lawson spun once more and finished fifth, with Sato and Hanses profiting from the New Zealander’s mistake to finish second and third respectively.
Sato was in sublime form at Spa-Francorchamps, dominating from pole position to take his third victory of the season, ahead of team-mates Tsunoda and Lawson, the latter climbing from eighth on the grid.
Race two saw another Sato win, but also another incident involving Lawson and Tsunoda as the two battled for the lead. The two fought side-by-side and would not yield, with the contact promoting Sato into the lead, a position he would hold onto with ease until the chequered flag. Dunner finished second, while Hanses denied Doohan the final spot on the podium.
Dunner started race one at the Hungaroring from the front, but the Austrian was quickly overtaken by Sato at the start, and despite pressure from the Teo Martin Motorsport driver, the Japanese racer took his third consecutive victory, his fifth in total. Dunner ended less than half a second behind, while Lawson completed the podium.
Carlin gave FIA Formula 2 racer Nobuharu Matsushita a one-off outing in Hungary, and the Japanese racer duly gave the team pole position for race two. However, a slow getaway enabled Sato to take over the lead, and he would go on to claim win number six of 2019, ahead of Matsushita and Dunner.
Sato’s job at the Red Bull Ring was made all the easier with Lawson and Tsunoda amongst those on FIA Formula 3 Championship duty at Silverstone. Sato took pole position but was overtaken at the start by team-mate Hanses, but the German was then handed a drive-through penalty for jumping the start! Sato would go on to claim his seventh win of 2019 ahead of Doohan, while Dunner completed the podium despite a time penalty for track limit violations.
Sato dominated the Sunday race ahead of Hanses, while Linus Lundqvist claimed his first top three finish of the season after a tough battle with Dunner for the final spot on the podium. Dunner did find a way ahead of Lundqvist at one point only to be told by the stewards to give the place back as the move was pulled off whilst he was off-track.
Japanese Domination Continues at Silverstone
The usual front runners were mainly absent from proceedings at Silverstone, with Sato racing for Campos Racing in FIA Formula 2, while Lawson, Tsunoda, Doohan and Natori were all busy racing elsewhere as well.
Motopark brought in Japanese racer Toshiki Oyu and British racer Enaam Ahmed for Silverstone, and the duo duly pulled off two one-two finishes for the team. Oyu was in sublime form throughout the weekend, taking both pole positions as well as both wins, while Ahmed claimed second both times.
For the first time since Pau, Kjaergaard finished on the podium in race one ahead of team-mate Monger, and the Dane doubled up by doing the same on Sunday. Dunner, the only driver still in with a chance of the title, scored only two points across the two races, meaning the absent Sato was all but confirmed as the 2019 champion despite racing in Belgium instead.
The big guns were back for the penultimate round at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, and Lawson showed just what he was capable of by passing Kjaergaard on the final lap to take his third victory of the season. Kjaergaard had led throughout in very tricky conditions but was beaten to the line by Lawson, while Lundqvist completed the podium.
Despite finishing tenth, Sato had done enough to clinch the championship as Dunner was unable to take the win he needed to stay in contention.
Race two saw a surprise victor in Natori, who had previously only finished as high as sixth in EuroFormula Open. The Japanese driver took pole position and comfortably the win, with Kjaergaard again second and Monger third as Carlin locked out the top four places.
Slipstreaming was the name of the game in the opening race of the final round of the season at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza, but it was Sato who came out on top for win number nine of 2019. Natori followed up his win in Spain with a second-place finish, while Tsunoda made it a trio of Japanese drivers on the podium in third.
Lawson ended the season with his fourth victory of the year ahead of Tsunoda in a race that saw perhaps the biggest crash of the season between Christian Hahn and Doohan that saw the latter roll over after being clipped by the former as he re-joined the track. Natori completed the podium, while champion Sato ended the year with a fifth-place finish behind Lundqvist.
Sato a Surprise Champion
Marino Sato was not really talked about as a potential champion in 2019, but the Japanese driver showed just what he was made of. He gained early confidence and once a race winner, he was sublime, taking nine race wins (including six in a row mid-season), two further podiums, six pole positions and five fastest laps on his way to the title.
Liam Lawson, who missed two rounds thanks to his commitments in FIA Formula 3, ended the year second in the standings with four victories, while Lukas Dunner was third despite not taking a win all season. He only missed out on second thanks to his seventh-place finish in the final race of the year.
Notable other performances came from Linus Lundqvist and Jack Doohan at Double R Racing, both who showed good speed throughout the year, while the Carlin trio of Teppei Natori, Nicolai Kjaergaard and Billy Monger all had their moments. Likewise, Yuki Tsunoda, Julian Hanses and Toshiki Oyu at Motopark. But no one had an answer for Sato.
Perhaps one of the disappointments of 2019 was RP Motorsport, who failed to take a podium finish in a championship where they’ve traditionally been strong in the past. They made the switch after just one round from Toyota to Volkswagen power but they could not change their fortune.