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:

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. Feel free to take Mark Webber’s seat Da Costa, Webber’s been fairly terrible recently!

  2. Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 2nd October 2012, 7:15

    As promising as da Costa is, I don’t think he’s going to make it to Formula 1 until he can overcome Jules Bianchi. I know it’s unlikely that he will beat Bianchi this year, but I’m thinking of 2013. Bianchi has become something of a journeyman: talented, and highly-rated, but always in the wrong place at the wrong time. A disappointing GP2 campaign certainly didn’t help his cause, and I can’t see him making it into Formula 1 in 2013, even if he wins the Formula Renault title. I expect he will be in Formula Renault again next year, and that anyone who wants a shot at Formula 1 is either going to have to amaze on their debut (like Frijns), or beat Bianchi. Heaven help the poor soul who races alongside him – I suspect Bianchi’s deal with Tech-1 gave him priority status in the team this year; they practically ignored Kevin Korjus despite his promising 2011 season with them.

    So, if da Costa is racing in Formula Renault in 2013, then he needs to beat Bianchi – who will likely be the yardstick every driver is rated against – if he wants to make it to Formula 1 in 2014. Which would co-incide nicely with Ricciardo and Vergne using up their two years’ goodwill with Red Bull, so there is likely to be an opening there. But I think I would rather see him in another team; a team joining the Red Bull family doesn’t sit well with me these days, mostly because I feel Toro Rosso is a glorified GP2 team who aren’t allowed to compete because Red Bull will pilfer their talented drivers the minute they start living up to their potential.

    Peter Sauber has a good eye for young talent, and I hear Sergio Perez’s seat is free …

    • Pedro Costa (@pnunocosta) said on 2nd October 2012, 14:18

      I donĀ“t consider Bianchi as being always at wrong place at the wrong time. He drove since 2007 until 2011 for presumably the best team in junior categories wich is ART and until getting to GP2, with lots of success. When everybody thought that we would succeed in GP2 he didnĀ“t, and felt very short of expectations.

      This year with Tech 1 (2010 champions) heĀ“s leading but in my opinion a little bit out shined by the rookie and much less experienced Robin Frinjs.
      So if AFC makes a full season in WSR in 2013 Bianchi may not be the benchmark, IĀ“m betting in Frinjs and Magnussen to also giving him an hard time.
      Besides if Force India loses one of his drivers (to Ferrari) in my opinion Bianchi may be in the pole position for the vacant spot, or even Sauber would consider to welcome a young academy driver of their engine supplier…
      Unfortunatelly AFC will not be in position to choose a F1 team to drive, he hasnĀ“t any sponsorship backing and he must grab with both hands this opportunity given by RB. In nowadays only the top 4 or 5 teams in F1 can afford to have a driver that doesnĀ“t bring sponsorship so STR may be his only chance to enter in the F1 world in a few years time.

  3. bosyber (@bosyber) said on 2nd October 2012, 9:10

    Thanks for the article @keithcollantine, I haven’t been able to see much of the feeder series, so getting an update on who’s there like this is great to read.

  4. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 2nd October 2012, 13:14

    I’ve only really watched GP3 this year but Da Costa has provided us with some entertaining races. Let’s see what next year brings for him. Perhaps 2014 could bring a Toro Rosso drive.

  5. Nick (@npf1) said on 2nd October 2012, 17:29

    Awesome article! To be honest, I only started really following FR3.5 this year because of Frijns’ successes, but to be honest, if Da Costa would have started the season in FR3.5 as well, I think Frijns and Bianchi would’ve had much more of a headache with Da Costa than he is right now. He is doing very well, but I agree with those before me saying he should try and steer away from debuting at STR, as I feel Vergne especially is kind of held back by his machinery.

    Frijns is in a difficult situation as well, since he’s doing a stellar job as a rookie, winning races and he still has a clear shot at winning the title, but moving to GP2 might be the wrong move if not at a top team, staying in FR3.5 after winning the title would seem a little bit of a setback, but since he is still quite young, he should also be weary of entering F1 too soon. He has a good manager, so I hope to see him do well in 2013 and in F1 by 2014/5. I haven’t heard so much F1 interest towards a Dutch F1 driver (Williams, Sauber, Lotus and Red Bull (driver program) supposedly) since Jos Verstappen, and us Dutch fans all know the mistakes made in his career choices..

  6. BasCB (@bascb) said on 3rd October 2012, 9:05

    Its great to read up a bit on the up and coming drivers. If possible I would love you to do more of them, maybe even get them interviewed exclusively. Great job @keithcollantine

  7. Fernando Cruz said on 3rd October 2012, 14:54

    In 2010, at Abu Dhabi young drivers test, Felix da Costa even managed to beat the time set before by Paul di Resta. He was third in the timesheets that day with the Force India, right in front of people with better machinery. He should have gone to GP2 after that but he had not enough sponsorship and was forced to step back to a lower formula. But he seems to get better the more power he gets and backed by Red Bull he has a genuine chance to get to F1.

    Filipe Albuquerque (also backed by Red Bull in 2006 but dropped despite better results than Vettel that year) and Alvaro Parente (F3 British Champion in 2005 and WSR Champion in 2007) also had talent to succeed in F1 but coming from Portugal they lacked sponsors. Parente even managed to win his first ever GP2 race in 2008 with a lower midfield team.

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