Super Formula: 2019 Mid Season Review

Naoki Yamamoto currently leads the Super Formula Drivers' Championship by five points. © Japan Race Promotion Inc.

Once again, Super Formula has provided us with some exciting racing and thrilling battles in 2019.

With a rich mix of experienced drivers and series rookies, expectations have certainly been met.

And with the next round still a while away, here is our mid-season review of the 2019 Super Formula Championship.

Firstly, we analysis the drivers with the best chances of challenging for this year’s Drivers’ Championship.

Yamamoto Leads the Way at Dandelion Racing

Naoki Yamamoto looks better that ever after the first half of the 2019 campaign. © Japan Race Promotion Inc.

Without doubt, Naoki Yamamoto has been the most consistent driver in the first half of the Super Formula season.

In pre-season, Yamamoto explained the reason behind his move to Dandelion Racing was his willingness to master circuits other than Suzuka.

This ideology started to make sense after starting the campaign with consecutive podium finishes in Suzuka and Autopolis.

Yamamoto then completed the hat-trick with a commanding victory at Sportsland SUGO.

However, the wet race at Fuji saw the defending champion struggle in the torrential rain and spun during the race.

Yamamoto remains the favourite to win the 2019 Drivers’ title, but has a steep mountain in front of him.

The next race at Twin Ring Motegi is a track where success has eluded him in Super Formula.

Across 12 races in the series, Yamamoto has only managed two top five finishes. In fact, both of them occurred during his debut season in 2010 with Nakajima Racing.

Concerned Cassidy still in Championship Contention

Despite his high points tally, Nick Cassidy has endured a difficult start to the 2019 Super Formula Season. © Japan Race Promotion Inc.

After struggling to find race pace in winter testing, Nick Cassidy shocked many by taking top honours at Suzuka.

Yet, the Kiwi was quick to remind everyone of the problems behind the scenes at Team TOM’s. .

Nevertheless, his fears have yet to be realised, as he has score points in every race thus far.

Additionally, the fact that his team-mate Kazuki Nakajima has struggled in comparison speaks volumes to how well he has done.

On the other hand, Cassidy admitted that the team’s experience in developing strategies has helped him remain competitive.

Regardless, the former Super GT champion can draw confidence knowing he can perform in the remaining three races.

Alongside his earlier victory at Suzuka, Cassidy has also achieved podium finishes at Motegi and Okayama respectively.

This could provide him with a psychological edge over Yamamoto in the latter stages of the season.

Palou helps Power Nakajima Racing back to the Top Step

Alex Palou has impressed many in the Super Formula paddock, including team boss Satoru Nakajima. © Japan Race Promotion Inc.

The competitive form demostrated by Alex Palou has definitely added another element of unpredictability to this year’s championship.

The Spaniard has been on the pace since the get-go and could arguably leading the Driver’s standings had things gone his way.

A engine failure at Suzuka robbed Palou of a likely victory on his Super Formula debut.

After finishing sixth at Autopolis, a heavy crash in qualifying at SUGO hampered his progress.

Then, at Fuji Speedway everything fell into place.

During a weekend which encountered heavy rain, Palou achieved perfection, winning the race from Pole and also claimed the fastest lap.

The breakthrough victory was the first for Nakajima Racing for almost a decade put him  back into the title picture.

Palou will look to use his existing knowledge from his 2017 Japanese F3 campaign to stay there.

Superb Tsuboi holds Bragging Rights at Cerumo/INGING

Sho Tsuboi has shown signs of promise during his debut season of Super Formula. © Japan Race Promotion Inc.

Following his dominant run in Japanese F3 last year, many were intrigued to see how Sho Tsuboi would performance in Super Formula.

The 24-year-old has shown his potential with strong performances in Suzuka and Fuji, the latter of which took place in challenging conditions.

As a result, Tsuboi currently outscores his Cerumo/INGING team-mate Hiroaki Ishiura 12 points to four.

In contrast, his lack of experience has also been apparent.

At Autopolis, Tsuboi was off the pace in comparison to Ishiura, while a spin at Sportsland SUGO brought an end to a difficult weekend.

He’ll be viewed as an outsider for the Drivers’ championship, but the season has proved that anything is possible.

Sekiguchi Continues his Search for Consistency

It seems apparent that Yuhi Sekiguchi is under pressure to end Team Impul’s championship drought in Super Formula. © Japan Race Promotion Inc.

In the build-up to the 2019 Super Formula, Kazuyoshi Hoshino publicly stated that Team Impul needed to step if they were to challenge for the championship.

Yuhi Sekiguchi has been touted as the driver to deliver the team’s first Drivers’ title since Joao Paulo de Oliviera in 2010.

However, Sekiguchi has always failed to produce consistent results, with his record getting worse season-by-season.

On his day though, Sekiguchi is a force to be reckoned on the racetrack, demolishing the competition en route to victory at Autopolis.

It would be unfair to rule him out of the title hunt just yet, considering that Sekiguchi has won at Motegi and Okayama in the past.

However, at aged 31, he’ll be wary that time is against him and that the time to performance should be now, rather than later.

Kamikaze Kobayashi desperate for First Win

Kamui Kobayashi has provided Super Formula fans with some great racing in 2019. © Japan Race Promotion Inc.

For a driver of his calibre and experience, it is amazing to think that Kamui Kobayashi has yet to win a race in Super Formula.

Currently in his fifth season – and his third with KCMG – the former F1 driver has produced some amazing overtakes.

At Sportsland SUGO, Kobayashi took advantage of backmarkers to pass Lucas Auer for second in the latter stages.

More recently, he made up a staggering 13 places in the wet at Fuji to claim an impressive sixth place.

Even so, Kobayashi’s failure to score points in the opening two rounds leaves him 16 points adrift off pace-setting Yamamoto.

Although the title might be out of his reach, Kamui-san will have his heart set on that elusive victory.

Yamashita still in Touching Distance of Title Race

Kenta Yamashita is slowly beginning to repay the faith shown in him by Toyota and Kondo Racing. © Japan Race Promotion Inc.

Outside of the spotlight in Super Formula, Kenta Yamashita has been quietly collecting points for Kondo Racing.

After starting the season with a podium at Suzuka, Yamashita done well to remain within touching distance of the championship leaders.

In his third season, the Chiba native is improving race by race and has the capabilities necessary to challenge for victory.

The team have demostrated that they have a decent car and compete with the teams ahead of them in the Teams’ Championship.

However, Kondo Racing will need overcome their issues with strategies and tyre wear, if Yamashita aims to fight at the front.

Nojiri Gives Team Mugen Competitive Edge

Tomoki Nojiri has reason to smile after his 2019 move to Team Mugen. © Japan Race Promotion Inc.

Following the pandemonium that surrounded Dan Ticktum, Tomoki Nojiri has done well, showing that Team Mugen can be competitive.

A pair of fourth places at Suzuka and Fuji respectively, leaves him eighth in the Drivers’ standings.

Additionally, had Nojiri not thrown away a likely podium finish at SUGO, he’d currently be third and at the forefront of the championship picture.

On top of this, Nojiri hasn’t won a Super Formula race since his debut season with Dandelion Racing in 2014.

With Mugen backing behind him, Nojiri is capable of taking the team back into title contention in the future.

For now, he’ll need to show that intent and make a return to the top step of the podium.

If Nojiri can achieve this at the next round in Motegi, this could spark a late charge for the championship, should other results go his way.

Auer Best of the Rest So Far

Many drivers further down the standings have endured misfortune in Super Formula this season, while others have demonstrated their potential.

With this in mind, lets take a look at how they’ve been getting on.

Lucas Auer

Lucas Auer’s performances in Super Formula has pushed him towards the forefront of the Red Bull junior programme. © Japan Race Promotion Inc.

A maiden podium finish at Sportsland SUGO has put Lucas Auer in the frame for a future F1 drive within the Red Bull programme.

Although he is currently short on Super Licence points, the Austrian – who is Gerhard Berger’s nephew – will want to continue this form and finish as high as he can in the final standings.

Nirei Fukuzumi

Back-to-back fifth places at Autopolis and SUGO has been a respectable return for Nirei Fukuzumi.

Unfortunately, Fukuzumi’s potential has been overshadowed by the performances of Dandelion team-mate Naoki Yamamoto.

Kazuya Oshima

Kazuya Oshima started the season well with two top-five finishes.

However, Oshima lost his points from Suzuka, after receiving a penalty for overtaking before the start/finish during a safety car restart.

Since then, his form has deteriorated and spun out on the final lap at Fuji Speedway.

Tadasuke Makino

Nakajima Racing’s Tadasuke Makino has matched Alex Palou in qualifying, but is lacking results on race day. © Japan Race Promotion Inc.

Tadasuke Makino has endured a lot of bad luck so far in Super Formula this season.

It started well after claiming the first Pole Position of the campaign at Suzuka, only to be denied a strong points finish after a loose wheel nut caused a crash.

Then, following his fourth place at Autopolis, he crashed in qualifying at Sportsland SUGO which hampered further progress.

Makino also struggled at Fuji, while team-mate Alex Palou went on to claim a dominant victory.

Yuji Kunimoto

Yuji Kunimoto’s first season with Kondo Racing has been made up of mixed fortunes.

It seemed Kunimoto had rediscovered his mojo after claiming pole at Autopolis, only to finish way down in 16th.

His best finish so far was sixth place at Suzuka.

Kazuki Nakajima

Kazuki Nakajima has struggled to extract race pace from the Dallara SF19 in dry conditions.

In contrast, Nakajima looked competitive in the wet at Fuji and finally got on the board after claiming fifth place.

Hiroaki Ishiura

Two-time champion Hiroaki Ishuira is one of many experienced drivers to have fallen down the order in Super Formula. © Japan Race Promotion Inc.

Hiroaki Ishiura is another veteran in the series that had been further down the order than usual.

Although Ishiura has been able to consistency challenge for points, he has only managed a pair of seventh-place finishes.

Dan Ticktum

Dan Ticktum’s 2019 Super Formula campaign can only be described as disastrous.

Ticktum failed to get close to team-mate Tomoki Nojiri in qualifying, and only earned his championship point after Kazuya Oshima’s post-race penalty at Suzuka.

After suggesting that he wasn’t at fault for his lack of performance, Ticktum was promptly sacked from Team Mugen.

Furthermore, his dismissal from the Red Bull junior programme has left his future racing career in disarray.

Koudai Tsukakoshi

After stepping down from Super Formula to focus on his Super GT commitments with Real Racing, Koudai Tsukakoshi made an unexpected return after just one race.

Tsukakoshi’s experience has allowed the team to bridge the gap they faced after pre-season testing.

And with the addition of new sponsor Gendai, Tsukakoshi should be able to score points for Real Racing by the end of the season.

Artem Markelov

Artem Markelov has failed to set Super Formula alight with Team Le Mans. © Japan Race Promotion Inc.

A move to Japan was supposed to spark a new lease of life for Artem Markelov, after being dropped as a Renault Development Driver.

However, a respectable performance at Suzuka, Markelov has been nowhere near scoring points.

In fact, the Russian has finished lapped over the last two races.

Ryo Hirakawa

Since making his return to Super Formula with Team Impul, Ryo Hirakawa has found it difficult to produce consistent results.

In 2019, Hirakawa has yet to record a top-ten finish as he tries to tame the new Dallara SF19.

He’ll need a dramatic turnaround if he is to avoid the wrath of Team Principal Kazuyoshi Hoshino.

Patricio O’Ward

After impressing Dr. Helmut Marko with his performances in IndyCar, Patricio O’Ward took over Dan Ticktum’s vacant seat at Team Mugen.

O’Ward endured a difficult debut at Fuji, after his car broke down in qualifying and starting last of the 20 drivers.

Despite this, the Mexican was able make progress up the field and finish in 14th place.

Harrison Newey

B-Max Racing/Motopark driver Harrison Newey has had a tough introduction to Super Formula. © Japan Race Promotion Inc.

Harrison Newey’s debut in Super Formula has been filled with drama from the get-go.

He tangled with Kazuki Nakajima at Suzuka, which resulted in a grid-penalty for the next race at Autopolis.

In addition, the Briton has suffered consecutive fuel fires during pit stops at SUGO and Fuji respectively.

More recently, Newey made his debut in the Japanese F3 Championship and scored five points across three races.

Tristan Charpentier

Tristan Charpentier made his debut at Suzuka for Real Racing, after struggling to set competitive lap times in pre-season.

After crashing out of the race, the Frenchman was immediately fired from the team and was replaced by Koudai Tsukakoshi.