GP3 Series runner-up Nikita Mazepin will make his FIA Formula 2 Championship debut with the ART grand PRix team, it has been announced.

The 19-year-old Russian, who has been a development driver for the Racing Point Force India Formula 1 team, won four races in his rookie GP3 Series campaign which were bookended by victories in the season-opening Barcelona race and the curtain-closing Abu Dhabi finale. He finished 16 points behind ART teammate and overall championship winner Antoine Hubert.

Mazepin will join the successful French outfit, which won the 2018 F2 Drivers’ Championship title with George Russell and finished runner-up to Carlin Motorsport in the Teams’ Championship standings by 31 points.

“Continuing our partnership with Nikita into Formula 2 is the logical continuation of a successful 2018 season, where he was consistently in the fight for victory and for the GP3 title, something he only just missed out on in the final race weekend of the season,” ART team boss Sébastien Philippe said.

“Nikita was a rookie in GP3, but his performances were remarkable from day one with a stunning victory in Barcelona. Nikita has several strengths: he is fast and he constantly strives to progress in everything he does.

“I’m sure he can be a centrepiece in our Formula 2 team, just as he was in GP3.”

Mazepin finished runner-up to McLaren-bound F1 driver Lando Norris in the 2014 World Karting Championship. His subsequent graduation to open-wheel racing, however, proved far less convincing and raised perceptions that his presence – particularly given his appointment to Force India’s development programme – was aided by substantial financial backing of his billionaire father, Dmitry (chairman of the Uralkali chemical giant) rather than actual talent.

His ambitions of climbing the motorsport ladder were not helped when he was handed a one-race ban in 2016 for punching European Formula 3 rival Callum Ilott in the face.

That was until his breakthrough year in the GP3 Series, which has seen him become the second driver formally announced for the 2019 Formula 2 Championship season following Carlin’s confirmation that it has signed Honda-backed Nobuharu Matsushita to return to the grid.

“I am really happy to be continuing with ART Grand Prix for my step up to F2,” Mazepin said.

“This is a natural progression given our success this year in GP3. I am very much looking forward to the challenge of my rookie season in F2.”

It is understood that Mazepin’s teammate will be McLaren development driver Nyck de Vries, who claimed three race victories and finished fourth overall in the 2018 F2 standings with PREMA Theodore Racing.

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Geoff Burke

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