Everything is on stand still but I am going to keep up part of the original schedule and that means getting out a Super Formula season preview. The Japanese single-seater season was supposed to start on the first weekend of April but its 2020 season has been delayed until at least the middle of May.
The series was able to get in a preseason test from Fuji on Tuesday and Wednesday. With that first look at the 2020 grid we mind as well take a look at the field and see how everyone stacked up in the first serious on-track action since the 2019 season concluded last October.
There are going to be a few changes in Super Formula for 2020. The series has changed its points system, going away from the 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 system, similar to what Formula One used from 2003 to 2009, to a 20-15-11-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 system Super GT uses. There will be more points offered in qualifying. The pole-sitter will get three points, up from one, while second and third in qualifying will get two points and one point respectively.
Super Formula has also adopted a full course yellow system for the 2020 season.
The first scheduled round of the 2020 Super Formula season is Autopolis on May 17. Sportsland SUGO will be the first summer round on June 21 before a two-plus month before a race at Motegi on August 30. The series was taking an extended break for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo but those games have been postponed until 2021 and potentially this time could be used to make-up races.
Okayama is scheduled for September 27 with Suzuka scheduled as the finale on November 15.
Two rounds have been postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, one at Suzuka and one at Fuji, both races were scheduled for April. No makeup dates have been announced yet.
Vantelin Team TOM'S
Nick Cassidy: #1 Vantelin Team TOM'S SF19-Toyota
What did Cassidy do in 2019: Cassidy won the Super Formula championship with 36 points, one victory and four podium finishes. He was second in the Super GT GT500 championship on 83 points with one victory and four podium finishes. He also won the first Super GT x DTM Dream Race at Fuji.
What to expect for 2020: Cassidy had one foot out the door and was one of the last drivers confirmed for the 2020 season. He has had plenty of success in Japan over the last four years but he is ready for more. The problem is he is not in the mix for Toyota's LMP1 program and outside of that there are not many other Toyota options internationally. It doesn't seem like he is on the radar for any Formula One teams. This is going to be an audition season for Cassidy. He is going to be competitive and be in the title discussion. He has already done enough but another strong Super Formula season will raise his stock further.
Kazuki Nakajima: #36 Vantelin Team TOM'S SF19-Toyota
What did Nakajima do in 2019: Nakajima picked up his first World Endurance Drivers' Championship and picked up his second consecutive 24 Hours of Le Mans victory with Fernando Alonso and Sébastien Buemi. He has started the 2019-20 season with one victory and five podium finishes. In Super Formula, he was 12th in the championship on 12 points with a runner-up finish at Okayama and fifth at Fuji. In Super GT, he was seventh in the GT500 championship on 38 points with a victory at Suzuka and third at Motegi.
What to expect for 2020: Things should be much better for Nakajima. The last four years have been down compared to the first half of his Super Formula career where he won two titles and was vice-champion twice. Nakajima's testing pace was competitive and I think he will score above 20 points and get multiple podium finishes.
DoCoMo Team Dandelion Racing
Naoki Yamamoto: #5 DoCoMo Team Dandelion Racing SF19-Honda
What did Yamamoto do in 2019: Yamamoto was second in the Super Formula championship with 33 points with one victory and three podium finishes. In Super GT, he was eighth in the championship on 37 points with two podium finishes. He also ran in Friday first practice at the Japanese Grand Prix for Toro Rosso.
What to expect for 2020: Yamamoto is going to be at the front again, he is going to be in the championship fight and win multiple races. Similar to Cassidy, Yamamoto has put feelers out abroad, even though he was kind of pushing back on it early last year. He went from a driver with no interest in Formula One to testing a Toro Rosso at the Japanese Grand Prix. Another strong season and Yamamoto will have a great case for a shot at Formula One in 2021. If not, he is happy in Japan and can have a long career at home.
Nirei Fukuzumi: #6 DoCoMo Team Dandelion Racing SF19-Honda
What did Fukuzumi do in 2019: Fukuzumi was seventh in the Super Formula championship with 18 points and one podium finish. In Super GT, he won the GT300 championship with Shinichi Takagi on 69.5 points from one victory three podium finishes and scoring points in all eight races.
What to expect for 2020: Slightly better than last year. Fukuzumi had a few rough results in 2019, including spinning over early at Okayama but he put together a respectable season. Fukuzumi was strong in testing and had a slight edge over Yamamoto. It will be difficult to beat his teammate over an entire season but the car is there and top five in the championship is not too ambitious.
TCS Nakajima Racing
Tadasuke Makino: #64 TCS Nakajima Racing SF19-Honda
What did Makino do in 2019: Makino was 16th in the Super Formula championship on six points with a fourth place finish at Autopolis and a pole position in the season opener at Suzuka. In Super GT, he was 12th in the GT500 championship on 23.5 points with a runner-up finish at Sportsland SUGO and he scored points in six of eight races.
What to expect for 2020: Better than 2019. Makino had pace but could not string together the results and he was handily beat in the championship in the Nakajima Racing battle with Álex Palou. Palou is now in IndyCar and this is Makino's chance to shine. Testing results were encouraging. He could get on the podium but the bigger goal should be to score points more times than not.
Toshiki Oyu: #65 TCS Nakajima Racing SF19-Honda
What did Oyu do in 2019: Oyu was fourth in the Japanese Formula Three championship on 60 points with one victory and six podium finishes from 20 races. He also won his only two starts in Euroformula Open at Silverstone.
What to expect for 2020: Oyu was the surprise of testing, immediately ending up in the top three on day one, being in the top five in three of four sessions and his worst outing was sixth in the final session. His Formula Three results were not jaw-dropping but they were encouraging. Something is there and out of the gate it appears he could mirror Palou's rookie campaign. That is asking a lot. I think reasonable goal is top eight in the championship, one or two podium finishes and finishing best in the team.
Itochu Enex Team Impul
Yuhi Sekiguchi: #19 Itochu Enex Team Impul SF19-Honda
What did Sekiguchi do in 2019: Sekiguchi was eighth in the Super Formula championship on 16 points with a victory at Sportsland SUGO. He was also seventh in the Super GT GT500 championship on 38 points with a victory at Suzuka and third at Motegi.
What to expect for 2020: Sekiguchi should be somewhere between fourth and ninth in the championship, which is a pretty large window but it is a matter of two or three races going differently. He won the second race of the season and then couldn't get back to that same level. Give him six more points and he is fifth in the championship. That is how tight it is in Super Formula. The problem is Sekiguchi's testing results were not great and he has a really quick teammate that is making it hard seeing how Sekiguchi will be leading the team in 2020.
Ryō Hirakawa: #20 Itochu Enex Team Impul SF19-Honda
What did Hirakawa do in 2019: Hirakawa was tenth in the Super Formula championship on 12 points with a victory in Motegi. He was second in the Super GT GT500 championship on 83 points with one victory and four podium finishes.
What to expect for 2020: Hirakawa led the first day of testing from Fuji, had the fastest time over the two days, was third and second in the two Wednesday test sessions and it feels like 2020 could be the year he is a title contender. He got his elusive first Super Formula victory last year and if it weren't for a funky Okayama race he would have ended up right next to Sekiguchi in the championship and perhaps a position ahead of him. This could be a big year for him and if he does not win the championship it should be his highest championship finish yet. His previous best championship result is fifth.
Jüri Vips: #15 Red Bull SF19-Honda
What did Vips do in 2019: Vips was fourth in the FIA Formula Three Championship on 141 points with three victories and four podium finishes. Vips was also runner-up in the Macau Grand Prix from pole position. He made his Super Formula debut last year in the Suzuka finale and finished 18th.
What to expect for 2020: Red Bull has experienced both polar ends when it comes to development drivers in Super Formula. Pierre Gasly nearly won the championship and Red Bull gave up on Dan Ticktum almost immediately. Enter Vips and perhaps third time will be the charm. Testing pace was good but all these tracks will be new to him. I expect a few good results but there will be at least one race where he doesn't have it and that could easily cost him five spots in the championship. It will be a good year and he will be somewhere in the top ten of the championship.
Tomoki Nojiri: #16 Team Mugen SF19-Honda
What did Nojiri do in 2019: Nojiri was fourth in the Super Formula championship with 24 points after a victory in the Suzuka finale. He was also tenth in Super GT's GT500 championship on 31 points after a victory at Okayama.
What to expect for 2020: Nojiri's season finale victory saw a him take a big leap from 12th in the championship to fourth in the final standings. Before that he had a good year but he had a few rough results knock him back a few pegs. He was consistently ahead of Vips in testing but they were close in each session. Both drivers should be competing for the top ten in the championship but I am not convinced either could be in the top five.
Kenta Yamashita: #3 Kondō Racing SF19-Toyota
What did Yamashita do in 2019: Yamashita was fifth in the Super Formula championship with 21 points with a victory at Okayama and a third at the Suzuka season opener. In Super GT, he won the GT500 championship on 85 points with two victories and four podium finishes. He is competing the LMP2 class in the 2019-20 FIA World Endurance Championship season with High Class Racing and that team has 41 points from the first five races.
What to expect for 2020: Yamashita was down the order in testing and 2019 was a tail of two seasons. He scored points in the first three races and then failed to score in three of the final four. His lone victory was smushed in the middle of that slump and that came after a poor qualifying effort but a bit of strategy elevated him to a victory. I think he is going to slide back a bit from fifth in the championship and perhaps he could fall out of the top ten.
Sacha Fenestraz: #4 Kondō Racing SF19-Toyota
What did Fenestraz do in 2019: Fenestraz won the Japanese Formula Three championship on 162 points with eight victories and 18 podium finishes from 20 races. He was sixth in the Super GT GT300 championship on 46 points with a runner-up finish in Buriram.
What to expect for 2020: Fenestraz dominated last year in Japanese Formula Three, not quite the level of dominance Sho Tsuboi had the year before that but Fenestraz had a tough battle with Ritomo Miyata. That rivalry could turn into a good thing for Fenestraz because had someone who pushed him to the max over the entire season and that level of pressure is going to be there in every Super Formula race all throughout the field. I think he will be close to his Kondō teammate and maybe even finish ahead of him in the championship. I do not anticipate podium finishes this year.
JMS P.mu/Cerumo INGING
Hiroaki Ishiura: #38 JMS P.mu/Cerumo INGING SF19-Toyota
What did Ishiura do in 2019: Ishiura was 13th in the Super Formula championship on ten points after scoring points in four of seven races with his best finish being sixth on two occasions. In Super GT, he was fourth in the GT500 championship on 46.5 points with a victory in the first Fuji race.
What to expect for 2020: Last year was Ishiura's worst in Super Formula since his rookie year in 2008. I do not think it is going to get better. INGING was middle of the road in testing. I think 2020 could look a lot like 2019.
Sho Tsuboi: #39 JMS P.mu/Cerumo INGING SF19-Toyota
What did Tsuboi do in 2019: Tsuboi was 11th in the Super Formula championship with 12 points after a runner-up finish at Fuji and a fifth place finish at the Suzuka season opener. In Super GT, he was 11th in the GT500 championship on 27.5 points with his best finish being third at Buriram.
What to expect for 2020: Tsuboi had some good runs that did not turn into points last year. His runner-up finish did come with a bit of fortune in a monsoon. I expect he will be ahead of Ishiura again but I do not see a big leap in the championship.
B-MAX Racing with Motopark
Sérgio Sette Câmara: #50 B-MAX Racing with Motopark SF19-Honda
What did Câmara do in 2019: Câmara was fourth in the Formula Two championship on 204 points with two victories and eight podium finishes.
What to expect for 2020: Câmara is back in the Red Bull junior program and he is heading to Japan after an encouraging Formula Two season. The problem is he is the second of Red Bull junior drivers in Super Formula and while B-MAX Racing with Motopark had a good 2019 it was still toward the bottom of the table. Câmara was a late addition to the grid, replacing Pietro Fittipaldi, who had an interestingly late sponsor conflict knock him out of this seat. He was much better on Wednesday in testing than Tuesday but I think it will be a rough start to the season and perhaps he scores a handful of points later in the season.
Charles Milesi: #51 B-MAX Racing with Motopark SF19-Honda
What did Milesi do in 2019: Milesi was ninth in the Japanese Formula Three championship on 13 points with six top five finishes in 14 starts.
What to expect for 2020: Milesi knows the tracks but his results last year were not spectacular and his testing pace was not inspiring. If he gets a few points this season it will be a good year for him.
carrozzeria Team KCMG
Kamui Kobayashi: #7 carrozzeria Team KCMG SF19-Toyota
What did Kobayashi do in 2019: Kobayashi was sixth in the Super Formula championship with 19 points after a pair of runner-up finishes at Sportsland SUGO and Motegi and a sixth at Fuji. In the 2018-19 FIA World Endurance Championship season he was second in the championship after a pair of victories and four runner-up finishes. In the 2019-20 season, he leads the championship with Mike Conway and José María López with two victories, a runner-up finishes and two third place finishes. Kobayashi has also won the last two 24 Hours of Daytona, both with Wayne Taylor Racing.
What to expect for 2020: Kobayashi is still looking for his first career Super Formula victory. He came very close last year only to fall short on a few occasions. This is a big year for KCMG, as it expands to two cars. That means more data but that could mean more resources spread too thin. Testing was not great for the team with both cars stuck in the middle of the pack. Kobayashi is gunning for a WEC title and that season has been expanded into September because of the postponement of Le Mans. I think he could have his eye on a bigger prize in sports cars and it could hurt him. However, with Le Mans not until September, Kobayashi could give Super Formula plenty of attention and have a better year than 2019.
Yuji Kunimoto: #18 carrozzeria Team KCMG SF19-Toyota
What did Kunimoto do in 2019: Kunimoto was 17th in the Super Formula championship on five points with a sixth in the Suzuka season opener, a pole position at Autopolis and an eighth at Sportsland SUGO. In Super GT, he was 11th in the GT500 championship on 27.5 points with his best finish being third at Buriram.
What to expect for 2020: Kunimoto moves over from Kondō and he should be better than last year. He scored points in the first three races and then didn't score again for the rest of the season. I am not sure KCMG can put two cars at the front of the field immediately. Kunimoto could double his points total and still be outside the top ten of the championship. I think that is a likely result for 2020.
Kazuya Oshima: #14 ROOKIE Racing SF19-Toyota
What did Oshima do in 2019: Oshima was 14th in the Super Formula championship with seven points after a third at Autopolis and an eighth at Okayama. In Super GT, he won the GT500 championship on 85 points with two victories and four podium finishes.
What to expect for 2020: Oshima moves to the new team after Team LeMans withdrew from Super Formula. Oshima scored all the points for Team LeMans in 2019. I am not sure he can do much more than seven points in 2020. He was in the bottom quarter of the field at the test.
Drago Corse with ThreeBond
Tatiana Calderón: #12 Drago Corse with ThreeBond SF19-Honda
What did Calderón do in 2019: Calderón scored zero points in Formula Two driving for BWT Arden. She competed in three rounds of the 2019-20 F3 Asian Championship and she scored 31 points from nine races with her best finish being fourth.
What to expect for 2020: Calderón was bringing up the rear in testing in every session and there was a notable gap between her and the next driver each time. Drago Corse is back in Super Formula after three years away but in its first stint it scored 10.5 points over two seasons. I think there is a chance Calderón does not complete a full season.
There has been four different champions over the last four Super Formula seasons. The last time the series had at least five different champions in five seasons was from 2008 to 2013.
Cassidy's title last year ended a streak of seven consecutive seasons with a Japanese driver winning the championship. It was the longest stretch since 1984-1991.
Cassidy could become the first driver to win consecutive championships since Tsugio Matsuda in 2007 and 2008. A driver has won consecutive championships three other times in this series, Kazuyoshi Hoshino in 1977-78, Satoru Nakajima in 1981-82 and Satoru Nakajima in 1984-86.
Yamamoto was the only Honda driver to win the drivers' championship in the 2010s. He took the title in 2013 and 2018. The only other Honda driver to win the championship since Toyota joined the series in 2006 was Loïc Duval in 2009.
Last year saw seven different winners in all seven races. It was the most since the 1993 season, which had seven winners from nine races.