Now a couple of the feeder series have taken a break before heir final rounds, I thought it would be a good time to see why their prospects are for the future, and to see what has changed in the past couple of months.
The subject of Verstappen has been talked about a lot, in previous posts I have been very defensive of his promotion to Toro Rosso, I believe many people have used his age as use for jokes at the expense of Verstappen, with many abusive comments aimed at both Verstappen and Toro Rosso, also because of their decision to not retain Jean-Eric Vergne. What Verstappen has achieved in his short time in Formula 3 is incredible, he may not win the title but he’s certainly given fellow rookie Estaban Ocon a lot to think about. Many commentators and columnists were wrong about Kvyat this season and I’m sure Max can do the same.
It is almost certain that the Frenchman will win the European Formula 3 series, which is no less than what he deserves. Ocon has lead the championship for the vast majority of the season, while also achieving a clean sweep at the Moscow Raceway, winning all three races there over the space of the weekend. Now that F3 has taken a break until October, Ocon is competing in Formula Renault 3.5, with either that series or GP2 being Ocon’s destination for 2015. The young Frenchman has teamed up with Comtec Racing for the Hungaroring and Paul Ricard series of races, making it the first time that the British outfit is running two cars in any race during the 2014 season. At time of writing, race one had completed with Ocon finishing P9 in wet conditions after starting in 6th, earning two points for a team that has had a difficult few seasons in FR3.5.
2014 has not been an easy year for the Ferrari Academy Driver. A dose of bad luck mixed with avoidable mistakes has left him with a debut GP2 season to forget. His Feature Race performance in Hungary drew criticism from the Ferrari Academy’s own Twitter account, while his whole season was summed up in the Feature Race at Monza. Starting in the middle of the pack, Marciello was slow off the line, almost halting before the anti-stall kicked in. Then on lap two, a car was spun around at turn one, leaving Marciello with nowhere to go other than the gravel trap, the low speed exit of the opening chicane meant that Marciello didn’t have enough speed to escape the trap, resulting in his retirement. It was later revealed that prior to the race Marciello had decided to change his start procedure, which then resulted in the Italian’s poor start, and the fury of his mechanics. However he has shown glimpes of his brilliance, his Hungary Sprint Race performance showed his racing ability, now the young Italian will no doubt be looking forward to seeing out the rest of the season without any further issues and looking to 2015, when he can mount a challenge for the GP2 title.
Things have been slightly better for the McLaren Young Driver than his Ferrari counterpart. Vandoorne lies in third place in the GP2 championship, and still has a good chance of catching second placed Felipe Nasr before the season is over, as Nasr himself squandered a couple of excellent opportunities at Monza to close the gap to championship leader Palmer. Vandoorne has impressed many in his ability to carefully manage the Pirelli tyres, shown by his victory in the Feature Race at Monza. Arthur Pic was running in second place at the end of the first lap, while Vandoorne established a comfortable lead, only pushing the tyres when needed to pull out a bigger gap whenever Pic attempted to close in. The latest rumours on he driver situation at McLaren is that they will be retaining both Magnussen and Button for 2015, leaving Vandoorne likely to spend another season in GP2. His future in the long run is by no means certain, as it has been no secret that McLaren and Honda wish to add a big name driver to their line up. Presuming that driver would one day replace Button, it would mean that the second McLaren seat would be a choice of wether to retain Magnussen or release Vandoorne.
The Englishman now has one hand on the GP2 championship. Palmer produced what could be regarded as his best weekend performance ever at Monza. After starting 26th and dead last for the Feature Race because of a fuel irregularity in qualifying, Palmer took advantage of troubles ahead of him and pulled out some decisive overtaking moves to finish in 8th place and to claim the reverse grid pole position for Sunday’s Sprint Race. From there he was rarely troubled, and scored some major points on a weekend that started so badly. With title rival Felipe Nasr losing ground to Palmer that weekend, it’s possible that the Englishman could have the title wrapped up at Sochi. If and when that does happen, it would mean that Jolyon would not be allowed to race in the same series for 2015, Palmer has made no secret that he has been trying to raise funds to get an F1 seat, with his father and former F1 driver Jonathan Palmer casting doubts by saying that it would be a struggle. Romain Grosjean was the last GP2 champion to get an F1 seat, this was back in 2011. Since then, Davide Valsecchi only managed to secure a testing role with Lotus, and 2013 winner Fabio Liemer did not get an F1 role of any sort, instead switching to sportscars. It is these kind of examples that have made Formula Renault 3.5 the championship of choice for some to be F1’s feeder series, and also shines further light on some of the major issues in F1 today – pay drivers and the disparity of funds throughout the F1 grid.
Events for Rossi have been played out in a more public fashion recently. Following the sale of Caterham by Tony Fernandes, Rossi was released by the Leafield team. Rossi raced in two further GP2 races instead with Campos Racing before being announced as Marussia’s Reserve Driver at the Hungarian Grand Prix. After the season recommenced at Spa following the summer break, it was announced by Max Chilton’s management team that the driver had voluntarily gave up his race seat (in favour of Rossi), in a bid to keep Marussia well funded. Many have speculated that this was either because Chilton’s money had either dried up or because payments were behind schedule, comments that Chilton has since rebuked, saying he and the team had been coming up with ways to keep the team well financed for a while, and it wasn’t until team owner Andrey Cheglakov intervened directly that the problem was resolved. Seemingly on the outside Rossi went out in FP1 in his Marussia thinking that he was going to participate in his first F1 race just 48 hours later, but by the time he got back to the garage Chilton was back in his regular race seat. Rossi handled the whole situation very maturely and professionally, saying that reserve drivers sometimes needed to be called upon at any notice to help the time and for the reserve to happen at the same pace. Huge doubts linger over the future of Chilton at Marussia after two years of racing with the team, despite an excellent record of finishes he has rarely outperformed his team mate Jules Bianchi. If Chilton is to be dropped then Marussia would need a driver that brings just the same amount of funds, and it is very unlikely that Rossi would be able to do that, fellow countryman Conor Daly was dropped from his GP2 outfit Lazarus Racing for that same reason.
It should be noted that unless McLaren decide to let go of Button, the driver market should be fairly static, as there seems to be a limited amount of seats available for 2015, with the possibility of one seat at Sauber, two at Caterham and at least one at Marussia. And with Caterham’s current financial situation precarious to say the least, they would need drivers with either serious backing or those on driver development programmes to gain income, assuming that they will stay in business altogether.