One To Watch: Antonio Felix da Costa

One To Watch

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With 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

Da 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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Images © Renault, GP3/Kalisz

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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33 comments on “One To Watch: Antonio Felix da Costa”


    Proud to be Dutch :)

    1. +1 still waiting for our first win…

    2. Jayfreese (@)
      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. 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. 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!

    1. 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. 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. 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. I am portuguese and hope this man succeds.

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

  11. 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

    1. 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.

      1. Agreed, especially when considering he’s at least 2 years younger than most of his competitors in FR 3.5 right now.

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

    1. 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

      1. Strange you say that seeing as the likes of Jim Clarke ,Emerson Fitippaldi ,Mika Hakkinen and the great Ayrton Senna won that championship

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

  15. 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!


    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” :-)

    1. 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.

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

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

  17. 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 …

    1. I don´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 didn´t, and felt very short of expectations.

      This year with Tech 1 (2010 champions) he´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, I´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 hasn´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 doesn´t bring sponsorship so STR may be his only chance to enter in the F1 world in a few years time.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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..

  21. 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

  22. Fernando Cruz
    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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