One to Watch is a new feature that will focus on motor racing’s brightest young stars from a variety of series and championships around the world. To start with here’s a look at Portugal’s Antonio Felix da Costa, who has recently competed in series such as GP3 and World Series by Renault, and is a member of Red Bull’s Junior Programme.
Name: Antonio Felix da Costa
Date of Birth: August 31, 1991
2012 Results: GP3 Series: 3rd (3 wins), World Series by Renault: 4th (4 wins), F3 Cup (2 wins)
With so many junior formulae forming the ladder up to Formula One there is intense competition between drivers to rise to the top. And with so many young prospects fighting it out in the feeder series it can be difficult enough to stand out from everyone else.
One man who has managed to mark himself out from the crowd is 21-year-old Antonio Felix da Costa.
The Portuguese driver has this year produced performances that border on the sublime. Whether it be GP3 or World Series by Renault, qualifying or race, rain or shine, da Costa has shown huge promise and has marked himself out as one of the brightest young talents in all of motorsport.
His season began in the GP3 Series. Entering his second full year in the championship, da Costa had steadily progressed through the ranks, culminating in him winning the final race of the 2011 season in Monza. So hopes were high that he could step up and challenge for the title as the 2012 championship dawned.
And he didn’t disappoint. Although he only finished third in the overall standings, it was a combination of driver error and bad luck rather than a lack of speed which meant he was never more than an outsider for the title. Incidents such as a drive-through penalty in Barcelona for jumping the start, exclusion from qualifying in Valencia for a technical infringement and car problems in the season finale at Monza cost him valuable points and meant he couldn’t quite challenge eventual champion Mitch Evans.
However the positives far outweighed the negatives. Six fastest laps proved he had the speed, whilst there were impressive wins in the feature races at both Silverstone and the Hungaroring.
But his finest hour came in the sprint race in Hungary, when after gambling on changing to slicks on a drying track, he overcame a 40 second deficit in the final six laps to win the race by 12 seconds, and at the same time lap over two seconds a lap quicker than anyone else. It was a remarkable drive, and in doing so da Costa became the first person in GP3 history to win both races on the same weekend.
These kind of performances weren’t limited to GP3 either. Despite only joining the World Series by Renault at the fourth round, and scoring only eight points in his first two race weekends, da Costa went on to win four races (more than any other driver) en route to an impressive fourth in the championship. This included a stunning display in the second race in Barcelona, where in the dry, and in an identical car to the rest of the field, he took the chequered flag by an incredible 27 seconds.
You’d think that would be impressive enough for one year, but there was time for a display that probably topped all that came before it. Competing in the F3 Cup series at Snetterton as a one-off in order to gain eligibility for the Macau Grand Prix, against drivers that had raced the cars all season, da Costa took pole position by a staggering 9 seconds in treacherous conditions. He then followed that up by obliterating the field by 54 seconds (yes that’s 54 seconds) in race one, and completed a double by winning the second by 37 seconds, a truly sublime performance.
da Costa will now compete in the Macau Grand Prix on November 18, and will look to emulate drivers such as Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher and David Coulthard by winning the prestigious event. And with the prodigious talent that he possesses, it would take a brave man to bet against him capping off the year in fine style on the famous street circuit.
With both Red Bull and Toro Rosso having announced their driver line-ups for next season, 2013 will be a bit too soon for da Costa to make the step up to Formula One. It looks likely that he will embark on a full World Series by Renault campaign before replacing Daniel Ricciardo or Jean-Eric Vergne at Toro Rosso the year after. However, if he impresses enough next year it is not beyond the realms of possibility that he may be drafted into Toro Rosso midway through the season, or even given a drive at Red Bull for 2014.
Whatever happens, it is sure to be an exciting time for Antonio Felix da Costa, and it would be exceptionally difficult to bet against him one day becoming Portugal’s first ever Formula One world champion.
He has that much potential.