RACE DEBRIEF

    More than three months have passed since Mick Schumacher sealed the 2020 Formula 2 title, and while the German is busy gearing up for his Formula 1 debut with Haas, a new crop of potential future stars are starting their own championship challenge in motorsport's second tier.

    The F2 field is bursting at the seams with drivers looking to emulate Schumacher as the racing action resumes in Bahrain this weekend. We've picked out five to keep your eye on…

    READ MORE: Qualifying heroics and battling with the big boys – how each F2 graduate fared on their F1 debut

    Robert Shwartzman

    Mick Schumacher’s PREMA team mate last season and the pre-season title favourite. No one on the Formula 2 grid is as pressured to perform as Robert Shwartzman this season.

    The Ferrari junior is the highest-placed returning driver and in the seat of last season’s championship-winning car. Taking more victories than any of the 2021 F1 graduates, the 2019 Formula 3 champion is known as one of the most, if not the most, lethal overtakers on the grid.

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    Ferrari junior Robert Shwartzman is an exciting prospect thanks partly to his driving style

    Proof of his prowess could be seen from the Feature Race in Hungary, where he scored a jaw-dropping win from 11th. Though, the victory exemplifies his downfall as well – he should never have been starting from that low on the grid.

    Still without a pole position in F2, Shwartzman qualified on the front row just once in 2020 and started out of the top 10 on five occasions. Performances like the one in Budapest simply don’t happen week-in-week-out and Shwartzman gives himself too much to do, too often.

    READ MORE: 5 reasons why you should be excited about the new Formula 2 season

    Even a marginal improvement on Fridays could aid the Russian significantly – after all, Schumacher won the title without ever qualifying in first.

    Schumacher and Charles Leclerc both won the F2 title with PREMA as Ferrari juniors and the exact same will be expected of Shwartzman this season if he’s to follow them into full-time F1 seats. Second place wasn’t enough to earn fellow academy driver Callum Ilott a drive in 2020, and the Briton is waiting in the wings if Shwartzman’s campaign isn’t up to scratch.

    F2 2020 Round 3: Hungary feature race highlights

    Christian Lundgaard

    The top man in testing and another hot favourite for the title. There’s no doubting Christian Lundgaard’s speed - the Alpine junior has it in abundance.

    The utter dominance shown by the Dane in Mugello last season was not only proof of his abilities, but also provided an insight into his mentality. Taking pole, Lundgaard lost the Feature Race lead late on after a Safety Car turned the race on its head and snatched the victory from him. But he responded emphatically, winning the Sprint Race over Louis Deletraz by a mega 14s.

    READ MORE: Lundgaard looking to benefit from continuity with ART Grand Prix (FIA F2 website)

    The question mark surrounding Lundgaard is consistency. There have been too many point-less finishes in both F2 and F3, with a run of five from the final six races putting a halt to his title challenge last season.

    If the Dane can start to deliver on a more regular basis, then there’s every reason to believe he could win the title. And who knows, there may well be a seat waiting for him at Alpine in 2022.

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    Christian Lundgaard excelled in testing, but will consistency be his bugbear this season?

    Felipe Drugovich

    F1 teams “should look at” him, said Callum Ilott of Felipe Drugovich after the Brazilian’s Feature Race win in Bahrain. Despite the words of advice from Ilott to those in F1, Drugovich remains unaffiliated heading into 2021.

    The Brazilian is a bit of a curious case. Finishing 16th in the 2019 Formula 3 Championship, he was a surprising promotion in F2, and yet he ended the season with the second most wins.

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    There’s no doubt he’s earned his shot at one of the quickest teams on the grid, UNI-Virtuosi, yet he still remains a bit of an underdog. Surprising given his achievements with MP last season, where he took what is normally a midfield car to three victories. He also finished the season in red-hot form, with four points finishes, including two podiums and a win, in the final four races.

    The prospect of seeing the Brazilian line up in title-challenging machinery is a tantalising one, while it will be fascinating to see how he handles the pressure of driving for a top team.

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    Felipe Drugovich is not linked with any F1 teams, but has his admirers in the paddock

    Oscar Piastri

    Alpine Academy star Oscar Piastri had gotten into the habit of winning, taking two titles in as many years. The 2019 Formula Renault Eurocup champion – who is managed by former Formula 1 driver Mark Webber – made light work of the step up to Formula 3, winning twice and taking six podiums in total to beat Theo Pourchaire to the title.

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    Piastri may even rival his new PREMA team mate Robert Shwartzman as the deadliest overtaker on the grid, scything through the field from further back on several occasions last year, such as Monza, when he went from 12th to third in the Feature Race.

    He may not have won the title quite as convincingly as Robert Shwartzman did in 2019, but to have taken the crown in his first year is a serious achievement. And he’ll now get the chance to go wheel-to-wheel with the 2019 champ as team mates, which should prove to be a fascinating battle.

    2020 Formula 3 Season: Oscar Piastri's Road to Glory

    Theo Pourchaire

    The youngest on this list, and by some distance. Pourchaire’s ascent up the junior motorsport ladder has been rapid – so much so he’s even exceeded his own high expectations.

    Heading into just his fourth season of single-seater racing, the Sauber junior is still only 17 years old, but can already count the French Formula 4 junior title and the ADAC F4 title amongst his achievements, as well as second place in F3 last year.

    READ MORE: 'I know I can be fast, but I have a lot of work to do,' says Pourchaire as he anticipates difficult rookie campaign (FIA F2 website)

    Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Pourchaire’s rookie campaign in F3 was not either of his race wins, but the consistency he displayed. Finishing outside of the points just three times – with two of those coming on his debut weekend – he ensured he was constantly putting points on the board. This, tied in with an insane run of five podiums in the final six races, put him within a whisker of the title, falling just three points short of Oscar Piastri.

    Stepping up full-time to F2 will be much more of a challenge for Pourchaire – who originally planned to run two seasons in F3 – and it may take him a few rounds, possibly even half a season, to get comfortable, but once he finds his rhythm, he’ll be rapid.

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    How long will it take Frenchman Theo Pourchaire to get going this season?

    Honourable mentions

    Favourite for the title last season, things didn’t quite go to plan for Guanyu Zhou. Though he managed to score more points and finish one place higher than in 2019, a lot more was expected of the Alpine junior, but his title challenge just never got going. Heading into his third season at this level, it’s pretty much win-or-bust. Bettering both Christian Lundgaard and Oscar Piastri will be a must if he’s to earn a chance in F1.

    READ MORE: Chinese rising star Guanyu Zhou targeting F1 seat in 2022

    Replacing 2019 champion Nyck de Vries at ART Grand Prix, Marcus Armstrong looked to have put himself into title contention with two podiums from the opening two rounds, but things swiftly unravelled, and he went six rounds without another points’ finish. Switching to DAMS, the Ferrari junior will hope he can rediscover the form that led him to second in F3.

    After enjoying a four-round stint with DAMS in 2020, Juri Vips will step up to F2 on a permanent basis this year with Hitech. Rewind 12 months and the Estonian was actually the favourite amongst the Red Bull juniors for a seat in F1, before seeing Yuki Tsunoda leapfrog him in the pecking order with a heroic rookie campaign. Given Red Bull’s willingness to promote from within, Vips knows there’s a pathway for him, if he performs.

    The F2 season will kick off on the same weekend as F1, 26-28 March, in Bahrain. Don't want to miss a minute? Subscribe to F1 TV Pro for every single session live and visit the official F2 website for more.