I’ve said in a previous post that new, up and coming talent is part of what keeps me interested in Formula One to this day, so let’s look at some of the young drivers that are making their way through the feeder series and see who our next F1 World Champion could be. This post in particular focuses on some of the GP2, GP3 and FIA F3 prospects.
Part of the McLaren Young Driver Programme, Stoffel is currently racing for ART in the GP2 Series, while also acting as McLaren’s Reserve Driver. In 2013 Vandoorne came second in Formula Renault 3.5 only to current McLaren F1 race driver Kevin Magnussen. A win on his GP2 debut and a dominant victory in the Hungary sprint race shows why he is already being tipped for a quick promotion for a race seat with McLaren for 2015, possibly to replace Jenson Button if his contract is not extended. When asked if Vandoorne could replace Button for 2015, Ron Dennis replied “anything is possible” – fairly non-committal at this stage, but Dennis is keeping his options open. His prospects have significantly increase since testing for McLaren at both Barcelona and Silverstone, clocking up enough miles to qualify for a super licence.
European Formula Three was dominated by this man in 2013, taking 13 victories on his way to the title, which rightly gave the Ferrari Junior Academy driver a chance in GP2. 2014 has not been easy for Marciello so far, with some reliability issues and bad luck to blame for sitting in just 10th place in the championship at present. The Ferrari Junior Academy Twitter account was quick to point out after the Hungary feature race that some of Marciello’s poor results have been his own doing as well, this ‘setting the records straight’ on such a public forum drew much criticism from many followers. Marciello redeemed himself somewhat during the sprint race, pulling off a beautiful display of overtaking to finish 8th to gain a point after a wretched Saturday. For someone of such talent I would be surprised if we did not see him placed into a Ferrari-powered F1 team for the 2016 season.
With 2014 being Jolyon’s fourth season in GP2, he could almost be considered as a veteran, after finishing second in the 2010 F2 season, behind now GP3 driver Dean Stoneman. The son of former F1 driver Jonathan Palmer now has a commanding lead of the championship, over 40 points in front of nearest rival and former team mate Felipe Nasr, the pair having a spat in Hungary after Nasr accused Palmer of being too aggressive in his driving, while the Brit regarded Nasr as “dangerous”. Palmer’s qualifying performances this season has been immense, starting in the top two for every feature race on all but one occasion. Palmer told Sky Sports in late June that talks about securing an F1 seat for 2015 have progressing.
Another graduate of European Formula 3, Alex comfortably finished third in 2013, behind Felix Rosenqvist, plus his team mate and champion Marciello. Lynn was made part of the Red Bull Junior Team just before the start of 2014 GP3 season, and now displays the famous colours of Red Bull Racing on his Carlin Motorsport car instead of the standard red and white. With Red Bull’s backing, the 20 year old probably stands the best chance of being Britain’s next Formula One driver. He currently leads the GP3 championship by 31 points with eights races to go, so although 2015 or even 2016 may come too soon to claim an F1 seat, expect to see him in Formula Renault 3.5 for next year.
The profile of Mitch Evans has been significantly increased through Mark Webber, who has taken the New Zealander on board as his protégé. Webber’s F1 career has enabled Evans to have some form of sponsorship with Red Bull, but without being made part of the Red Bull Junior Team. Evans moved away from Australasia aged 16 to race in GP3 for Arden International, which is co-owned by Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner. Mitch won his first GP3 race at just his first attempt in 2011, before winning the championship by just 2 points in a dramatic finale at Monza. Evans moved up to Arden’s GP2 outfit for ’13, securing four podiums and outperforming his notoriously erratic teammate Johnny Cecotto Jnr. He had to wait another year before taking his first GP2 victory after battling Jolyon Palmer in the Silverstone feature race, and didn’t have to wait much longer for the second, winning the Hockenheim feature race, which also marked GP2’s 200th race. Without further backing from sponsors or by Red Bull it may be difficult for Evans to achieve his dream of becoming an F1 driver, stating back in June that he did not have the level of financial backing that many of his rivals does to secure a test drive.
America’s next best hope of an F1 driver has had torrid luck in the past couple of years. Joining Caterham GP2 after the 2013 season had already started, Rossi was playing catch up, despite that he drove to 3rd place on his debut for the team in the Bahrain feature race. From there things started to go downhill. The Caterham package was largely uncompetitive, and Rossi often found himself in midfield battles, inevitably picking up penalties along the way, including at Silverstone. Caterham F1’s financial troubles hit home after the team was sold to their new Middle-Eastern and Russian owners, after Tony Fernandes finally lost his patience after over three years of battling Marussia at the rear of the F1 grid. Rossi’s contract was immediately terminated, and the young American found himself without a drive. Before long Alex picked up the vacant Campos Racing seat for the German pair of races to temporarily replace Kimiya Sato. Just two weeks ago, Marussia announced the American as their new test driver, a move that Rossi said was vital to any potential F1 career that he may have, as it will keep him in and around the paddock, visible to team owners so he is not forgotten about. Rossi’s best chance now is either with Marussia should Jules Bianchi be moved up to a midfield seat or if Max Chilton is not kept on for 2015. It remains to be seen what sort of line up Gene Haas will go for when his team enters F1 in 2016, but it is likely that he will want an American driver in one of them, for that Rossi will have Conor Daly as competition.
At just 17 years old, Ouco has already taken the European Formula 3 Series by storm. Estaban was seated in the number 2 car for Prema Powerteam after Alex Lynn moved to GP3, but wasted no time in taking a firm grip of the championship, ahead of Felix Rosenqvist and Max Verstappen. The young Frenchman is well backed by Lotus, and as such the standard Prema Powerteam livery has been replaced by that of the Enstone based outfit. After taking three separate clean sweeps already this season by winning all three races across two days of a race weekend, it would be a shock if now he didn’t take the FIA F3 title in his rookie season, and move up another step in the ladder.
The son of former F1 driver Jos Verstappen has most recently been hitting the news headlines as both Red Bull and Mercedes have been trying to sign the young Dutchman to their respective development programmes. Mercedes were in talks with Max over the winter of 2013, while news of Red Bull interest came during the weekend of the Spielberg series of races. Silly season went into full effect after reports came out claiming that if Red Bull would be successful in signing the 16 year old, then he would be placed in a Toro Rosso F1 seat for 2015, while Mercedes would probably prefer a second season in F3 with Prema Powerteam. If this was to happen it would be the biggest step up for any driver since Kimi Raikkonen was moved up from Formula Renault 2000. It’s not hard to see why interest in Verstappen is so high, 2014 has not only seen Verstappen participate in his first European Formula 3 season, but his first season in competing in single seater racing full stop, has already taken multiple victories and currently sits third in the driver’s championship.