After little title intrigue in the previous year, Formula Renault 2.0 NEC has experienced by far the closest, most competitive season of its history. The 2014 edition saw 11 race winners for five different teams while the title fight, decided in the final race, was as close as it gets.
The championship was eventually taken by Racing Steps Foundation’s karting graduate Ben Barnicoat, who showed an impressive, confident performance throughout the year and was one of four drivers who managed to win more than once.
His biggest rival was sophomore driver Louis Deletraz, whose title challenge ended in quite a unique way when the final, deciding race was cancelled due to heavy fog.
United Kingdom, Fortec Motorsports, age 17
258 points, 2 wins, 5 podiums, 1 pole position, 1 fastest lap
Barnicoat followed the footsteps of Dennis Olsen and entered FR2.0 NEC in his debut year of single-seaters. That decision was definitely justified.
The RSF-backed driver was on pace from the beginning as he took fourth at the season opener in Monza and was already fighting for the win in the second round at Silverstone, albeit finishing that race down the order due to contact. Next time around at Hockenheim, he took second, followed by his maiden victory in the series, which confirmed him as a genuine a title contender. He added a second victory to his tally at Most and overall showed great adaptability, finishing in the top four in the opening races at four consecutive rounds.
Just like Olsen, he’ll move into the Eurocup next year as he continues his partnership with Fortec. RSF seem to have high hopes for 2015, but there’s little reason why Barnicoat wouldn’t be able to deliver. Season rating: 9
Switzerland, Josef Kaufmann Racing, age 17
242 points, 1 win, 5 podiums, 1 pole position
After a learning year in 2013, Deletraz returned to the series to finish what he started and fight for the title. He definitely started the year in a convincing fashion, taking pole, a victory and a second place at Monza, which saw him emerge as the championship leader.
However, this was followed by a disastrous weekend at Silverstone where his best result was thirteenth. Seemingly, this may have taken a toll on his confidence because he was never able to show the blistering pace he had at Monza. He got close to that performance with a second and third place at Spa-Francorchamps, yet he could only achieve one podium in the last six races of the season. He finished every one of them in the top ten, though, allowing him to remain in title contention until the cancelled last race.
Even though he could not win the championship, Deletraz proved he has enough talent to shine in the Eurocup, especially since he already has two years of experience with the car. Season rating: 8
United Kingdom, Fortec Motorsports, age 18
224 points, 2 wins, 5 podiums, 3 pole positions, 1 fastest lap
Although joining FR2.0 NEC was the initial plan for Morris in 2013, he took a detour to the newly-established BRDC F4 championship where he finished as runner-up. This year the Welshman entered NEC as one of the title favourites, thanks to previous experience from the BARC series.
The beginning of his season did not go as planned as he finished seven out of the first nine races outside the top six, including two non-scores. However, he also enjoyed a breakthrough result, securing a fighting victory on home soil at Silverstone. His performance suddenly improved in the last three rounds as he took top six finishes in every race, including a victory at Assen and three other podiums, which almost allowed him to challenge for the crown.
Morris showed a lot of promise in the second part of the year but he still needs to work on his consistency. His speed and the fact he finished in the top three in four different championships in the past four years would probably make him a Eurocup frontrunner but he is instead looking to move on to GP3, where he’s been quick in testing. Season rating: 8
Netherlands, Manor MP Motorsport, age 20
224 points, 1 win, 4 podiums
In order to boost his reputation after two up and down campaigns in Formula Renault 2.0, Schothorst decided to continue racing the cars for a third year. He switched back to the team he raced with in 2012, Manor MP, and entered as a full-timer in both Eurocup and NEC.
The Dutchman started his NEC campaign in a consistent fashion, stepping on the podium in each of the first three rounds before finally taking his first and only victory at Spa-Francorchamps. He spent the year in one of the top spots of the standings but his progress was seriously set back by two mid-season retirements. Even though he kept his title chances until the very end, a poor weekend at the Nurburgring relegated him to fourth.
Even though his season could have been better, Schothorst proved his ability to fight for the top positions in yet another campaign. It is time for him to move on, and his impressive second place in the F3 Masters suggests he would be successful in F3, while he’s also tested in GP3. Season rating: 7
Sweden, Josef Kaufmann Racing, age 19
193 points, 2 wins, 4 podiums, 1 pole positions, 2 fastest laps
Even though his rookie FR2.0 year in 2013 was quiet, great things were expected from Malja, based on his runner-up position from ADAC Formel Masters in 2012. The Swede’s season started rather disastrously thought with two retirements and zero points in the season opener.
Next time around at Silverstone, he started with a fourth place but was taken out in race two. His recovery started with a maiden victory at Hockenheim, which was followed a streak of solid finishes and two podiums. He closed in on the leaders, but fell back when he was hit by Schothorst at Most. However, he ended the season on a high note, delivering a convincing victory at the Nurburgring, which made him the third driver to win two races.
Malja was definitely one of the best drivers in the field, and with better luck, would have been a top three drivers. He did all three days with Zeta in a recent FR3.5 test at Aragon and went as far as topping one of the sessions, so a move there is surely not out of the question. Season rating: 7
Japan, Euronova, age 18
191 points, 1 podium, 1 fastest lap
Sasahara made his racing debut in Formula Renault 2.0 Alps last year and finished a promising 13th. This year he switched to NEC with the Euronova team and unsurprisingly showed further improvement.
His most noteworthy result came in the opening round at Monza where he took an impressive second in the first race, albeit recording his only retirement of the year the day after. He scored points in the rest of the season’s races but could never do better than fourth. As a result, his superb consistency would only be enough for sixth overall.
After a year in Alps and NEC, Sasahara could move on for a full-time Eurocup campaign, or could also end up in Auto GP, thanks to his connections with Euronova. Season rating: 7
South Africa, ART Junior Team/KTR, age 18
187 points, 1 win, 3 podiums, 1 pole position, 3 fastest laps
After a disappointing 2013 in ADAC Formel Masters, which resulted in O’Keeffe being dropped from the Red Bull Junior Team, the South African made the move to the world of Formula Renault 2.0 and joined Lotus F1’s junior programme.
He was one of many drivers who left the rather chaotic season opener with zero points but he showed his raw race pace almost immediately after. At Silverstone he recorded his first podium, followed by another great weekend at Hockenheim, where he took second, fourth and fifth. He would take a second win at Assen but was unable to continuously challenge at the front through the remainder of the season. His NEC campaign was highlighted by him scoring the most fastest laps on the grid alongside Kevin Jorg – three.
Being the second best Formula Renault rookie in the series and managing a couple of promising showings in Eurocup, O’Keeffe should have a really good chance to make a name for himself in a sophomore 2.0 campaign. Season rating: 7
United Kingdom, Mark Burdett Motorsport/ART Junior Team, age 20
152 points, 1 podium
The first-ever BRDC F4 champion entered Formula Renault 2.0 NEC with Mark Burdett’s outfit for a learning year and he completed it successfully. He started his year with a non-score at Monza before taking third and fifth at the only track he had raced on before, Silverstone.
He didn’t have this advantage for the rest of the year, so was mostly left racing for the outskirts of the top ten. He switched to the ART Junior Team for the final two rounds, and this yielded improved speed and a sixth-place finish at the Nurburgring.
Hughes seemed frustrated with his season in terms of results, but the pace was there by the end. He showed very promising form in the Eurocup post-season testing and with the experience he gained this year, he is definitely expected to be one of the frontrunners in 2015. Season rating: 6
United States, Josef Kaufmann Racing, age 20
150 points, 1 podium
Tveter returned to the series after finishing 16th last year in his debut season in Europe. The American switched from Fortec Motorsports to the German squad Josef Kaufmann Racing for a dual campaign in Eurocup and NEC.
NEC didn’t start very well for him, recording his sole non-finish of the year in the opener at Monza. From that point on, he was ever present in the points and recorded a standout sixth at Silverstone. He returned to the top positions with a fifth place at Spa and a maiden podium at Assen but he was more consistent, than flashy, usually finishing right outside of the top ten.
In his sophomore season the American driver had a decent run, suggesting he could have a similar year in Eurocup in 2015. However, graduating to a bigger level of racing like FIA F3 or GP3 would not be impossible either. Season rating: 6
United Kingdom, Mark Burdett Motorsport, age 20
125 points, 1 podium, 1 pole position
Owens was one of the bigger surprises of the 2013 Formula Renault NEC season as he finished ninth after a tough rookie campaign in Formula Renault BARC. In 2014, he stayed for a sophomore season in the NEC to aim for even more.
After three top ten finishes in the first three races, however, Owens’ results dropped. In each of the next three weekends, there were three non-scores and his best result from those he finished was only a tenth at Hockenheim. He then managed a turnaround with a pole position at Most but he had to settle for second in the race. Again, he would finish the year in the top ten, scoring two points less than in his rookie campaign.
While a step up to the Eurocup could be possible, Owens may choose to move on after three years in FR2.0 cars, and has been testing Pro Mazda in the US. Team rating: 6
ADAC Formel Masters graduate Stefan Riener was a sole entry from the Speedfish Racing outfit and he ended the season in a promising 11th, only two points shy from Owens. Matthew Graham was the top driver at his AVF team and the third-best BRDC F4 graduate after Morris and Hughes. His teammate Josef Zaruba, who came from European Radical Championship, ended his season on a high note at the Nurburgring with a pole and a second place, which put him 16th in the standings.
Croatian karting graduate Martin Kodric and Formula BMW Talent Cup champion Robin Hansson were both in their learning seasons, with the best finish of eighth and ninth respectively. It was a quiet season for Roy Geerts, who graduated after being the maiden Formula Renault 1.6 NEC champion, but only managed to finish in the top ten twice. Julio Moreno, a Formula Ford GB race winner from Ecuador, was the last full-timer, finishing all but two races in the points but failing to make the top ten.
Josef Kaufmann Racing’s Kevin Jorg took a victory at both Monza and Spa-Francorchamps and, with an additional podium from the Nurburgring, ended up 13th despite only doing four rounds. Manor MP’s Andrea Pizzitola had similarly good appearances in the series, finishing all his races in the top ten and winning in the finale. ART Junior Team’s Levin Amweg took part in the first three weekends and was a reliable frontrunner, taking a victory at Silverstone and three third places at Hockenheim.
Lotus junior Alex Albon had only a sixth and fifth from Monza and Assen but put himself on the map with a superb weekend at Most, taking his maiden win. Aurelien Panis had two pole positions, which resulted in a win and second place, but also retired three times in seven races.