One To Watch: Antonio Felix da Costa

One To Watch

Antonio Felix da Costa, Formula Renault 3.5, Hungaroring, 2012With the F1 driver market in a state of flux, the time is ripe for hopeful young drivers to stake their claim for a place on the grid.

The Portuguese 21-year-old Antonio Felix da Costa is doing an excellent job of that at the moment, having raced in GP3 and Formula Renault 3.5 this season.

Da Costa retuned to GP3 this year having placed 13th in the series in 2011. But early in the season the Red Bull development driver was called up to race in Formula Renault 3.5.

Red Bull’s young driver programme has a reputation for being quick to drop those no longer considered up to scratch. Lewis Williamson’s ejection from the Arden Caterham squad just five races into the season seemed particularly harsh given the team’s compromised testing programme.

But that tough break for Williamson handed Da Costa an opportunity which he has seized with both hands. The 250bhp step up from GP3 to the 530bhp Formula Renault 3.5 car fazed him not a jot – he tested it on the day before heading to the Nurburgring for his debut. He brought the car home in the points in his first race.

Da Costa was thrilled by his Red Bull break: “It’s a little miracle,” he told ESPN at the Nurburgring.

“I’m really thankful to the opportunity. To be honest I think it’s every driver’s dream to be part of this programme because Red Bull is the new team, everyone wants to be in F1, they arrive, they win. So I can only be really thankful and I’ve going to drive it so hard to deserve it.”

It was a return to a paddock he knows well, having come close to winning the Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup title in 2009. He finished third, level on points with Jean-Eric Vergne, having been disqualified from both races at the Nurburgring due to a technical infringement.

He continued racing in GP3 and after a shaky start to the season was in with a chance of claiming the title in the final race. His early progress was stymied by a series of penalties: some which were not his fault (insufficient brake pad thickness sent him to the back of the grid in Valencia), some which weren’t (jumping the grid in Barcelona).

But he won both races in Hungary – becoming the only driver to do so all year – which put him in content for the championship. His second was a particularly inspired performance in wet conditions, won by a well-timed switch to slick tyres that Jenson Button would have been proud of.

He was in the running for the championship at Monza but it wasn’t to be. His car jammed in sixth gear during the first race, leaving him to finish 15th on the race and third in the championship.

Starring in Formula Renault 3.5

Antonio Felix da Costa, Formula Renault 3.5, Paul Ricard, 2012Da Costa has been especially impressive in Formula Renault 3.5. He has outshone his more experienced team mate Alexander Rossi and finished the last six races in the top five, out-scoring every other driver in the field.

This in a series which has a legitimate claim to have eclipsed GP2 as the best ‘final step’ before F1. The new generation cars are quicker than their GP2 counterparts and top talents such as Jules Bianchi and Sam Bird switched series over the winter to drive them.

Da Costa served notice of intentions by making it onto the podium at Silverstone in his sixth start, thanks to a gutsy pass on championship protagonists Bianchi and Robin Frijns in the high-speed Copse corner.

He followed that up with a maiden victory at his happy hunting ground: the Hungaroring. A good start moved him up to second, leaving him perfectly placed to steal victory from Kevin Magnussen whose car failed on the final lap.

Da Costa made it back-to-back wins at Paul Ricard last weekend, prevailing in a supremely tough rain-hit race. He led the second race too, but dropped behind eventual winner Bianchi during the pit stops.

Although he can’t win the championship in the final double-header at Circuit de Catalunya, he has a genuine shot at finishing fourth in the championship despite missing five of the fifteen races so far:

http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/charts/2012formularenault35drivercolours.csv

Start Aragon 1 Aragon 2 Monaco Spa 1 Spa 2 Nurburgring 1 Nurburgring 2 Moscow 1 Moscow 2 Silverstone 1 Silverstone 2 Hungaroring 1 Hungaroring 2 Paul Ricard 1 Paul Ricard 2
Jules Bianchi 0 0 0 18 36 36 61 61 79 85 110 125 140 142 154 179
Robin Frijns 0 15 40 40 46 61 76 86 111 111 129 131 156 166 172 174
Sam Bird 0 2 20 45 60 70 74 86 101 101 101 126 127 139 140 155
Nick Yelloly 0 25 25 31 33 51 51 76 76 76 88 92 92 92 110 122
Marco Sorensen 0 6 6 14 39 45 53 71 79 79 79 79 83 101 111 121
Antonio Felix da Costa 2 2 8 8 18 36 48 73 98 116
Arthur Pic 0 0 15 15 15 15 27 27 39 64 64 76 86 94 94 94
Kevin Magnussen 0 18 18 18 18 43 53 57 57 58 58 58 76 76 84 84
Nico Muller 0 0 0 10 20 32 50 50 54 54 54 60 68 68 72 78
Kevin Korjus 0 0 12 24 24 24 24 24 34 49 49 49 49 55 57 61
Alexander Rossi 0 0 10 25 25 25 25 27 27 37 37 47 49 53 53 53
Will Stevens 0 8 12 12 12 16 17 17 18 22 22 30 30 45 45 45

Da Costa’s Red Bull connection strengthens his chance of landing an F1 seat in the near future. He has tested F1 machinery already with Force India and it looks increasingly likely we’ll see him back in an F1 car before long.

In the meantime, watch out for him at the Formula Renault 3.5 season finale at the Circuit de Catalunya (20th-21st October) and his one-off Formula Three return at the Macau Grand Prix (17th-18th November).

Antonio Felix da Costa pictures

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33 comments on One To Watch: Antonio Felix da Costa

  1. Cas (@kazaluna) said on 1st October 2012, 17:01

    ROBIN FRIJNS!

    Proud to be Dutch :)

    • andae23 (@andae23) said on 1st October 2012, 17:18

      +1 still waiting for our first win…

    • Jayfreese (@) said on 1st October 2012, 19:23

      I follow both series, GP3 and WSR 3.5, for a while now, and I gotta say that Antonio Felix Da Costa aswell as Robin Frijns are rising stars, and future F1 drivers. At least, I hope. They both are charging young bucks.
      I’m still remembering Da Costa’s bump-draft-Nascar-like in Monza this year! He gets the balls and the haed!

  2. JPedroCQF1 (@joao-pedro-cq) said on 1st October 2012, 17:05

    I’m absolutely thrilled you wrote this Keith! I, as a portuguese, have been completly delighted with da Costa’s performances. He is bringing a new hope to our country that maybe, someday, we will be able to win in Formula One, not only races, but also championships. He has been absolutely fantastic, even more since he signed with Red Bull, and it was a shame he couldn’t win GP3.

    He his magical and it’s a great feeling for me to watch him racing, it brings emotions I haven’t had in a while. When he gets to F1, he will be awesome!

  3. Alpinestar (@alpinestar) said on 1st October 2012, 17:28

    I hope you write one of these for Robert Wickens! He won Formula Renault 3.5 last year against Vergne as his teammate and is definitely Canada’s best hope!

    • Pedro Costa (@pnunocosta) said on 1st October 2012, 20:56

      Yes, but going to such a competitive championship like DTM where is hard to shine might have not been is best move.
      His results so far hasn´t been spectacular, so he his taking the risk of becoming stuck to the DTM for a while and letting go the chance of becoming a F1 driver.

  4. vickyy (@vickyy) said on 1st October 2012, 17:28

    Great, I was looking for this kind of stuff to make a note of upcoming talents.
    I normally could not pay much attention to GP2 and GP3, which, thanks to Star Sports, are broadcasted 4 days later in noon.

  5. I now understand why GP3 is changing engine next season, to better compete with Formula Renault 3.5.

  6. Roald (@roald) said on 1st October 2012, 17:40

    Seriously, the Formula Renault 3.5 cars look fantastic and I wish Formula 1 cars looked more like those cars instead of the narrow cars we’re all trying to accept. I can’t imagine anyone would want to wear a shirt with a modern-day F1 car on it, but I’d proudly do so if they resembled the FR3.5 cars. Oh well, it is what it is.

    And yes, the next article should be about Frijns!

  7. Kevin Campos (@kcampos12) said on 1st October 2012, 17:50

    I am portuguese and hope this man succeds.

  8. Eggry (@eggry) said on 1st October 2012, 18:03

    Also he is selected as a driver for road show in Korea, October 6th. He will drive Red Bull show car at the bridfe over Han river. I’m not sure I would be there because I should be busy…

  9. Pedro Costa (@pnunocosta) said on 1st October 2012, 18:04

    I was expecting that sooner or later this would come up. This fellow countryman is doing such an amazing job in the last few months and is filling with pride and hope his portuguese followers. Not many young drivers would have done better than he did, in GP3 which is dominated by MW Arden and Lotus he was the only one that beat them regularly and only did´t clinch the title due to technical failure on the first Monza race. In WSR 3.5 he arrived to a team that was not able to fight the big guns and hardly scored in the first races. On the first race and without previous testing he scored and eventually led for a few laps the second race. A few events later he gave to his team their first ever win. Next race… their second win!
    In all fairness I must say, he only won in Hungary because of Magnussen retirement on the last lap, and both wins were on wet track conditions where he seems to excell. So, to me he has one clear objective for Barcelona, win in dry conditions… without the leader retiring.
    It is expected to see him testing for RB in Abu Dhabi, and I´m hoping that next year he will do a full season in WSR and the FP1 sessions with STR.
    He has a all country behind him and hoping that he suceeds.

  10. Kazuki (@formula-1) said on 1st October 2012, 18:14

    Wasn’t there an article about this guy in this months F1 Racing.

  11. melkurion (@melkurion) said on 1st October 2012, 18:29

    Although da Costa has been doing an impressive job in F 3.5 this year, I feel the man to watch in that championship is actually Robin Frijns,
    - 2009 (first season in open wheel racing) 3d in formula BMW europe
    - 2010 champion in formula BMW europe
    - 2011 champion in formula renault 2.0 eurocup
    - 2012 2nd with one race to go after leading the chapionship for a long time.

    Compare that to Bianchi and da Costa and I think he is he more promessing of the three ( four if you count sam bird)

    Time will tell which one of these men will make it to F1, and possibly F1 glory

    • Pedro Costa (@pnunocosta) said on 1st October 2012, 20:49

      A driver who leads most of a championship on his rookie season has to be very good, specially against some much more experienced drivers as Bianchi and Bird.
      There´s another driver that I think can have a promissing future which is K. Magnussen. One of the best in the field in my opinion.

  12. sonia luff (@sonia54) said on 1st October 2012, 18:51

    I’ll give you one to watch Jack Harvey. First British winner of the British F3 Championship since 2006

    • melkurion (@melkurion) said on 2nd October 2012, 6:15

      You might be right, he also did well in FR 2.0. However winnign british formula 3 is imo a long way of prestige and accomplishment wise then winning FR 2.0 or FR 3.5. Quality of the drivers british F3 is generaly lower then euroseries f3 , fr 2.0, and definetly gp2 and fr 3.5

  13. Girts (@girts) said on 1st October 2012, 18:55

    If I were the management of Red Bull Racing, I would be very careful not to lose da Costa. He needs to be promoted when it is time for that but he should not be put in an F1 race seat before he has gained enough experience and is really ready for the top level. Red Bull’s driver development program has been a pretty big failure so far, except for Vettel, who ‘grew up’ when there were no testing restrictions in place yet. RBR might be in serious need of a talented driver in short time and they’d better not waste their most precious assets (again).

    A great article and a very good feature (‘One To Watch’) as it’s particularly interesting to come back after a few years and compare the past expectations with the reality.

  14. Lothario said on 1st October 2012, 19:52

    Da Costa is one incredible driver and I have no doubts that he is a star of the future.

  15. AdrianMorse (@adrianmorse) said on 1st October 2012, 19:58

    It seemed to me a little as if Da Costa came out of nowhere. Looking over his results on wikipedia, it turns out that he has always been there or thereabouts, but from this summer the man is on fire!

    @girts,

    A great article and a very good feature (‘One To Watch’) as it’s particularly interesting to come back after a few years and compare the past expectations with the reality.

    “Where Are They Now” :-)

    • JPedroCQF1 (@joao-pedro-cq) said on 1st October 2012, 20:08

      He is on fire since he signed his contract with Red Bull. Since the first race with their backing, he has been driving like a man possessed. I think he realised this is his ultimate chance to get into F1 and he his seizing it the best he can. Red Bull are very strict and he knows that the minute he fails, they’ll be on him.

    • Girts (@girts) said on 2nd October 2012, 6:34

      @AdrianMorse There used to be a regular feature in one of my country’s newspapers that was named ‘What happened thereafter?’ :)

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