The competition to find a place in Formula One just keeps getting more intense.
While the F1 grid has slumped to a mere 20 cars in 2015, championships like GP2, Formula Renault 3.5 and European Formula Three are packed with likely-looking talent, many of which enjoy support and mentoring from Formula One teams and regional initiatives like Britain’s Racing Steps Foundation.
And then there are the stars of sports cars and the American racing scene who never had a crack at F1 to begin with – or those who did but were arguably rejected too hastily.
Which of those deserve a place on the grid this year? That question was put to F1 Fanatic readers in a poll before the season began. Here’s who you chose.
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1. Kevin Magnussen
F1 Fanatic readers are a prescient bunch, it seems. Kevin Magnussen, the driver who most of you voted deserves a place on the F1 grid for 2015, did get the chance to race as a substitute for Fernando Alonso. Unfortunately for him, his car failed on the reconnaissance lap and he failed to start. Worse, in order to do the race he’d given up a chance to emulate his father by racing in IndyCar. He showed much promise in his debut F1 season, and probably he won’t be out of the cockpit for too long.
2. Jean-Eric Vergne
Twice passed over by Red Bull for a promotion from Toro Rosso to the top team, Vergne’s hopes of staying on the F1 grid this year were finally dashed when Carlos Sainz Jnr took his place. But his shown his class with a successful switch to Formula E – he was pushing Sebastien Buemi hard for victory on his debut when his car failed and has taken two pole positions and a podium in four races.
3. Stoffel Vandoorne
Another McLaren junior, Stoffel Vandoorne was a rookie runner-up in Formula Renault 3.5 in 2013 and repeated the feat in GP2 last year. The Belgian driver is a hot tip for this year’s GP2 title, but McLaren must be wondering where to place all the talent they’ve signed, especially with Nyck de Vries also waiting in the wings.
4. Kamui Kobayashi
Kamui Kobayashi is a firm fan favourite, so much so that he made a crowdfunded return to F1 last year at Caterham. He has Toyota power behind him again this year: in Japanese Super Formula Team Le Mans and as a test driver in the World Endurance Championship.
5. Robin Frijns
Surely one of the most successful junior drivers of recent seasons to be overlooked by F1. Frijns won the European Formula BMW championship, Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup and Formula Renault 3.5 titles in successive seasons, the latter two in his rookie years. He dabbled in GP2 as well, winning his third start. But aside from two practice outings for Caterham last year the F1 world has disappointingly ignored his potential.
6. Antonio Felix da Costa
Antonio Felix da Costa looked like a shoo-in for a Red Bull seat in 2012 as he ended the Formula Renault 3.5 season with four wins from five races, impressed in GP3 and won the Macau Grand Prix. But Red Bull had no place for him in their line-up, and by the time they did at the end of 2013 a difficult season for da Costa meant Daniil Kvyat was their top choice. Da Costa had a modest first year in the DTM, but his Formula E success surely proves single-seaters is where this talent belongs.
7. Sebastien Loeb
Virtually unbeatable in a rally car, besides his nine WRC titles Loeb has beaten F1 drivers in the Race of Champions, raced Porsches on the F1 support bill, obliterated the Pikes Peak hillclimb record and is now trying to win the World Touring Car Championship. In 2009 he tested a GP2 car in the hope of making a one-off F1 start but was unable to obtain the necessary superlicence, something which would still be an obstacle for him today.
8. Andre Lotterer
Lotterer’s one-off F1 appearance for Caterham last year left you wondering what might have been: he out-qualified regular driver Marcus Ericsson by the best part of a second but retired with a technical glitch after a single lap. The Le Mans 24 Hour-winner, World Endurance Champion and Super Formula champion deserves a place on any team’s shopping list. He began this year’s Super Formula campaign with another win.
9. Sam Bird
10. Sebastien Buemi
Dropped by Toro Rosso but remains part of the Red Bull stable and tested the team’s car last year. He also shared championship honours with Anthony Davidson in the World Endurance Championship after four wins in Toyota’s superb TS040. He’s in contention for the Formula E title too following his win in Uruguay.
11. Juan Pablo Montoya
Nine years since he stormed out of Formula One, there are clearly still many of you who would relish seeing him return. Montoya spent seven years racing in NASCAR before returning to single-seaters in IndyCar last year. He got his second season off to a winning start in St Petersburg. An F1 return is highly unlikely, and not just because of his disdain for DRS.
12. Mark Webber
Another popular ex-F1 driver known for speaking his mind who is unlikely to return any time soon. Webber has been scathing about F1’s switch to Pirelli’s ‘design to degrade’ tyres and seems much happier with Porsche in the World Endurance Championship.
13. Paul di Resta
15. Will Power
Three times runner-up in IndyCar, Power finally delivered the championship last year. His strong form on road courses marks him out as one of the IndyCar drivers best-equipped to make a switch to grand prix racing.
16. Esteban Ocon
Just a year older than Max Verstappen, he beat his rival to the European Formula Three title last year. Lotus gave him an F1 test and ran him in practice in Abu Dhabi last year, praising the “exceptional” 18-year-old, but five months later he has stepped sideways into GP3 and Lotus has the unpromising Carmen Jorda as a development driver.
17. Anthony Davidson
It’s doubtful anyone has driven a better lap for 11th on the grid of an F1 race than Davidson did in his Super Aguri at Istanbul in 2007. He’s been out of an F1 drive since the team collapsed in 2008 but has contributed to Mercedes’ success as a test driver and shared the WEC crown with Buemi last year.
18. Alexander Rossi
Almost made his F1 debut for Marussia at Spa last year following a contractual dispute between the team and regular driver Max Chilton. Rossi has run in several F1 practice sessions but tended to flit between different junior categories. A full-time GP2 seat with Racing Engineering this year could be his chance.
Bonus back row
Only nine teams looked likely to start the season when F1 Fanatic ran its poll, so only 18 drivers could be picked. The arrival of Manor means there are 20 seats available now, so here’s who claimed the final two places in your alternative 2015 field.
19. Susie Wolff
Williams ran Wolff in two practice sessions last year and will do so again this year. But she hasn’t started a single-seater race in ten years, and it became clear after Valtteri Bottas was injured in Melbourne a grand prix start is not on the cards for her any time soon. Barring the unforeseen, the FIA’s Superlicence points system will make it impossible for her next year.
20. Heikki Kovalainen
Since making a two-race comeback with Lotus in 2013, in which he was unable to add to their points tally, Kovalainen had a quiet 2014. Having spent two years with McLaren in 2008-09 which yielded a single lucky win, he’s had a better chance at F1 than most, and is now racing in Japan’s competitive Super GT series.
Over to you
Retired sports car ace Tom Kristensen, GP2 driver Alex Lynn and IndyCar racers Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves are among those who came close to making the top 20.
How well does the current grid reflect the talent available compared to these 20? Who in today’s field would you replace with which of these drivers?
Have your say in the comments.
2015 F1 season
- How a secret Mercedes engine mode helped pressure Vettel into a race-ending puncture
- Over 100 driver penalties issued in record-breaking 2015
- Part-time racer? The facts of Hamilton’s ‘jet-set lifestyle’
- The Complete F1 Fanatic 2015 season review
- Your favourite – and least favourite – F1 races of 2015