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The Top 20 junior single-seater drivers of 2016, Part 1

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The Top 20 junior single-seater drivers of 2016, Part 1
Dec 14, 2016, 1:38 PM

Assessing the hottest future prospects across so many different junior series can be tricky - which is why Motorsport.com's team of writers have chosen their 20 top performers of the year. Read on to see who makes the grade.

20. Richard Verschoor

SMP F4: 1st (MP Motorsport), Spanish F4: 1st (MP Motorsport)

28 wins, 36 podiums

Only a couple of karting graduates had smooth transitions to car racing this year, and the most impressive of these was undoubtedly Verschoor, who claimed both the SMP and Spanish F4 titles.

There were indications of his talent when Red Bull signed him after the season opener of the former series, but the Dutch teen (sound familiar?) justified the decision by scoring an incredible 28 F4 victories throughout the season. His potential should become clearer next year, when he tests himself at a higher level.

Richard Verschoor
Richard Verschoor

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

19.  Norman Nato

GP2: 5th (Racing Engineering)

2 wins, 5 podiums

A driver who ran the likes of Stoffel Vandoorne and Daniil Kvyat close in Formula Renault 2.0, Nato has for a while struggled to deliver on that potential at the top level of the junior ladder. While his GP2 debut last year with Arden was a complete write-off, his sophomore-season run to fifth was a genuinely impressive achievement, especially given that the Frenchman had given up a few points through no fault of his own.

Norman Nato, Racing Engineering
Norman Nato, Racing Engineering

Photo by: GP2 Media Service

18.  Oliver Rowland

GP2: 9th (MP Motorsport)

4 podiums

Rowland’s final place in the GP2 standings, ninth, doesn’t quite tell the story of his first full-time year in the F1 feeder category. While failing to win a race, he scored four podiums and even led the championship after Silverstone, but lost some of his competitiveness after the summer break. Bear in mind, he achieved all of this with the unfancied MP Motorsport squad, and became the team’s first driver to finish in the top 10 overall.

Oliver Rowland, MP Motorsport
Oliver Rowland, MP Motorsport

Photo by: GP2 Media Service

17. Luca Ghiotto

GP2: 8th (Trident)

1 win, 4 podiums

In retrospect, Ghiotto was unlucky to have made his GP2 debut the same year as compatriot Giovinazzi, but Ghiotto's rookie campaign also deserves serious recognition. The Trident driver produced several eye-catching performances, capitalised on reverse-grid opportunities and regularly banked good points. Finishing GP3 runner-up in 2015 put Ghiotto on the map, and this year will have only cemented his growing reputation.

Luca Ghiotto, Trident
Luca Ghiotto, Trident

Photo by: GP2 Media Service

16. Louis Deletraz

F3.5: 2nd (Fortec Motorsports)

2 wins, 9 podiums

Deletraz fought for the Formula V8 3.5 title until the very end of the season, only to lose out to a vastly more experienced driver in the form of Tom Dillmann. Still, Deletraz fared well compared to the other six title contenders, all of whom had previous experience in the series, and no other rookie was a match for him. While this year’s F3.5 field was lacking in depth, his likely switch to GP2 should be a real test for the Renault junior.

Louis Deletraz, Fortec Motorsports
Louis Deletraz, Fortec Motorsports

Photo by: Formula V8 3.5

15. Raffaele Marciello

GP2: 4th (Russian Time)

4 podiums

Marciello will be disappointed to have come up winless in 2016, although his Russian Time team's out-and-out pace, while much improved compared to last year, still wasn't quite top-drawer, especially in qualifying. With that in mind, the fact he stayed in the title battle longer than anyone bar the dominant Prema pair was actually remarkable, helped by what was comfortably the best record for points finishes in the field.

Raffaele Marciello, RUSSIAN TIME
Raffaele Marciello, RUSSIAN TIME

Photo by: GP2 Series Media Service

14. Jake Dennis

GP3: 4th, (Arden International)

2 wins, 5 podiums

Having a ‘season of two halves’ may be a well-worn cliche in the motorsport world, but it definitely applied to Dennis’ season. Having amassed a fairly meagre 39 points in the first five rounds, largely for reasons outside his control, the RSF-backed Brit racked up a further 110 in the last four weekends as Arden came into its own. If 2016 proves his last season in single-seaters, he certainly left on a high.

Jake Dennis, Arden International
Jake Dennis, Arden International

Photo by: GP3 Series Media Service

13. Callum Ilott

European F3: 6th (Van Amersfoort Racing)

2 wins, 6 podiums

Ilott couldn't do anything to stop Lance Stroll from winning the European F3 title, but the ex-Red Bull junior still shone during his second campaign in single-seaters. He was one of Stroll's main rivals much of the year, and only a disastrous last round – with two mechanical failures and an unfortunate disqualification – dropped him down to sixth in the standings. Next year, as a Prema driver, Ilott will surely be a force to be reckoned with.

Winner Callum Ilott, Van Amersfoort Racing Dallara F312 – Mercedes-Benz
Winner Callum Ilott, Van Amersfoort Racing Dallara F312 – Mercedes-Benz

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

12. Joel Eriksson

European F3: 5th (Motopark); Masters of F3: 1st (Motopark)

2 wins, 11 podiums

Most of this year’s F3 rookie class shone at least at some point in the season, but it was Eriksson who went a step further by graduating into the status of a bona fide frontrunner. His Motopark teammates – two Red Bull juniors and a Ferrari Academy man, all with comparable levels of experience – were pretty roundly overshadowed by the BMW-supported Swede in what could be a career-making season.

Race winner Joel Eriksson, Motopark Dallara F316 – Volkswagen
Race winner Joel Eriksson, Motopark Dallara F316 – Volkswagen

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

11. Maximilian Gunther

European F3: 2nd (Prema)

4 wins, 13 podiums

Ultimately, Gunther’s season was about whether he can stop Prema teammate Stroll from taking the title. The way he started the season – two wins and five poles in just six races – made it seem like he was up to the task, but ultimately he wasn’t, although he still comfortably took second overall. The 19-year-old German has shown he has all the natural ability he needs; all that’s missing now is a dose of consistency.

Maximilian Günther, Prema Powerteam Dallara F312 – Mercedes-Benz
Maximilian Günther, Prema Powerteam Dallara F312 – Mercedes-Benz

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

Check back tomorrow (Thursday) for the second half of our countdown, where we will reveal our top 10 junior single-seater drivers of 2016.

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