Who are the top F1 juniors bidding for a grand prix debut in 2022?

2021 F1 season

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The new Formula 3 season begins at this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix featuring several drivers who are contenders for future Formula 1 seats.

While three new drivers were promoted to F1 this year, it’s only becoming trickier to get into grand prix racing as the cost of competing has increased at all levels.

Unusually, McLaren have looked beyond the F1 paddock and offered a rookie test to IndyCar race-winner Patricio O’Ward. But for most teams and drivers the FIA-backed junior series are where they look to find the talents of tomorrow.

For drivers who don’t have the backing of billionaires behind them, forming a connection with a Formula 1 team before reaching the sport has therefore become essential. These are the members of F1’s junior teams in line to make it into the pinnacle of single-seaters in the coming years.

Mercedes

Mercedes swooped for 2019 FREC champion Vesti
Frederik Vesti’s move to ART Grand Prix in FIA F3 for 2021 may have come as a surprise, but it was all part of the behind-the-scenes manoeuvres which got him into Mercedes’ junior team at the start of this year.

Vesti clinched the Formula Regional European Championship champion with Prema in 2019, catching the eye by winning one race at the Hungaroring with only three functioning wheels, and stayed with the team as he moved into FIA F3 in 2020. The Dane came fourth in the standings, winning three races, and was initially set to stay there for 2021 before earning Mercedes backing and joining ART instead.

Regardless of the team he’s at, he’s a title favourite and a mechanically sympathetic driver with a engineer’s mind who could feasibly be on the same career path as George Russell.

Also racing in Spain will be Paul Aron, who is an ART driver in FREC and lies third in the points after the season-opener. He’s been with Mercedes since his attention-grabbing first car racing campaign in Formula 4 and they seem happy for him to take his time to reach F1.

Third in line is Italian karting prodigy Andrea Kimi Antonelli who turns 15 later this year and may have Mercedes pushing him into cars as soon as possible. He’s already tested F4 cars in secret and reportedly impressed, and many are eager to see his single-seater potential.

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Red Bull

Vips was out of luck in the first F2 weekend of the year
A three-pronged Formula 2 attack has already produced its highs and lows. Liam Lawson won his very first F2 race in the Bahrain season opener, and Jehan Daruvala was third in the points by Sunday evening. Juri Vips, who has been a Red Bull reserve driver since last November, didn’t have the same luck, enduring a penalty-filled weekend and leaving point-less.

Arguably all three have already proven themselves as possessing F1-level abilities, and look on course to go into 2022 eligible for the FIA superlicence needed to race in F1.

But Red Bull Junior Team boss Helmut Marko is supporting three drivers in FIA F3 as well, and they could feasibly jump up the queue for an AlphaTauri seat, if one becomes available.

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Ayumu Iwasa is the reigning French F4 champion and has been privately touted as the next Yuki Tsunoda by Marko, no surprise given the 19-year-old is a Honda junior. His Hitech team mate Jak Crawford is front and centre of Red Bull’s plans to get an American into F1. Crawford is also racing in Euroformula this year, although he missed the opening two races last Saturday as he didn’t turn 16 until Sunday. He celebrated his birthday by finishing seventh on his series debut.

The third of the FIA F3 trio, and arguably the most complete, is Jonny Edgar. He’s very quiet off-track, but his penchant for passes invariably make him one to watch if he’s starting down the order. He will race for long-time Red Bull ally Carlin, which has run nine drivers who went on to race for Toro Rosso/AlphaTauri and Red Bull.

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Alpine

Zhou leads the F2 points after round one…
Following the renaming of the Enstone-based team formerly known as Renault, its junior programme is now known as the Alpine Academy and the brand’s focus has shifted with it. Alpine chief executive officer Laurent Rossi summed up the rebrand as “a chance for us to identify future champions and mould them to fit the brand exactly”.

Now the team wants their juniors to be commercial assets, and in Guanyu Zhou they have just that. The third-year F2 driver is China’s most credible candidate to become an F1 racer, and he leads the points going into the series second round in Monaco later this month. He’s commercially crucial for Alpine and the money he has brought in that helps fund his private F1 test programme has also boosted the test opportunities for F2 rivals Christian Lundgaard and Oscar Piastri.

ART driver Lundgaard finished just a few points behind Zhou last year as a rookie, and won more races. The first of those came in the opening weekend of the season after he had missed pre-season testing due to being stuck in quarantine.

…but Alpine stablemate Piastri took an eye-catching win
That 2021 marks the first time Lundgaard has spent a second season in a single-seater series shows he has time on his hand to knock on the door of F1. If he can become more consistent and beat Zhou to the F2 title, then it becomes a question of who will be of most value under a new rule set in 2022 out of Lundgaard, Zhou and current seat occupant Esteban Ocon. Lundgaard’s rapid adaptation and progression through the single-seater pyramid suggests he could be the prime candidate.

There’s a third driver well in the game for a 2022 promotion, and in arguably F2’s top team. Oscar Piastri is the reigning FIA F3 champion and won in his maiden F2 weekend with Prema. Alpine already have a multi-year plan for him in the series, assuming he doesn’t emulate Russell and Charles Leclerc by winning the title at his first attempt.

But while Lundgaard’s commercial value in his native Denmark is limited, and Ocon is of significance as a Frenchman in a French team, Piastri is in the worst spot here as a mixture of state law and taxation has left the Renault Group reducing their presence in his home country of Australia and therefore makes advertising his efforts less important in that market.

Also vying for a place in Alpine’s future plans are Victor Martins, who has returned to the programme following a one-year absence, and Caio Collet, who will both be on the F3 grid this weekend.

Ferrari

F1 could have two Leclercs one day
Ferrari may not be the title-fighting team they once were despite their resources, but the Ferrari Driver Academy has put its infrastructure to good use and recent graduates have been exciting additions to the F1 grid such as Leclerc and Mick Schumacher.

Robert Shwartzman was Schumacher’s Prema team mate in F2 last year, and for a long time had the better of him with two early wins earned by strong strategy call.
A late-season turnaround by Schumacher flipped that around and earned him the title and a Haas seat. There was still a push to get Shwartzman into F1 as he fell to fourth in the standings, but instead he’s stayed at Prema for a second F2 season.

He showed scintillating pace at Bahrain last month, and while he outperformed DAMS’ Ferrari junior Marcus Armstrong in much the way he did in three years of F3 and F2 together, some of that was undoubtedly down to differences between their respective teams’ pace. Armstrong will have to overcome his car disadvantage if he wants to beat Shwartzman to a Ferrari-backed F1 seat.

Leclerc’s younger brother Arthur is representing Ferrari in FIA F3. He has a lot of support at Maranello, is driving for the yet-to-be-beaten Prema squad but hasn’t starred in pre-season testing and hasn’t previously shown as much magic as his stablemates in F2 despite finishing runner-up in FREC last year. He’s also got underlying links with the Venturi Formula E team, and is under less pressure than most of the F1 juniors.

Alfa Romeo

Pourchaire impressed in F3 last year
Also leaning on Ferrari for young drivers is Alfa Romeo, who recently signed 2020 F2 runner-up Callum Ilott as their reserve driver and handed him his F1 practice debut at the Portuguese GP last weekend. He’s been a Ferrari junior since 2017 and is now driving one of the marque’s GT cars in endurance racing.

It’s clear his reserve role is being used to make comparisons to Antonio Giovinazzi, who Ferrari chose to keep in a Alfa Romeo seat this year, and he already has a close relationship with the Hinwil-based team. In F2 he proved himself to be more than an equal to F1 2021’s rookie crop too.

The Sauber Motorsport company behind Alfa Romeo has its own proteges, and with the prospect of Kimi Raikkonen retiring soon it leaves a space for a big signing or even the promotion of its own Theo Pourchaire.

Still only 17, the Frenchman has two F4 titles to his name, came very close to last year’s FIA F3 title and has already starred at the front in his first two F2 race weekends. His F3 victory in mixed conditions at the Hungaroring turned a lot of heads in F1 last summer, which built up anticipation for what he would in F2. He’s likely to break records this year, and would break even more if he reached F1 in 2022.

Three years younger than him is Emerson Fittipaldi Jnr, son of the two-times F1 world champion, who is debuting in Danish F4 under the eye of Sauber.

William

Jamie Chadwick, Williams, Silverstone, 2019
W Series champion Chadwick is on Williams’ books
What used to be a factory experience-led deal for Williams-affiliated junior single-seater drivers in the era of Valtteri Bottas and Nico Hulkenberg has turned into a more digital one with development roles now taking place predominantly in the simulator since it was formalised as the Williams Driver Academy by Claire Williams’ husband Marc Harris in 2019.

He created the academy “based on a requirement to fulfil a revenue hole from sponsorship and lack of prize money” following Williams’ drop in form since the regulations overhaul in 2017, and it was announced as being part of a long-term project for the team. Whether Williams’ new owners choose to continue the academy into 2022 is up in the air and gives the current drivers little time and little chance to make it into F1.

So who has time running against them? At the front of the queue is Israeli Roy Nissany, whose F2 career so far has been light on points finishes but he was a race-winner in the now-defunct Formula V8 3.5 series which used to rival F2, including a memorable double victory at Silverstone in 2015.

He has the strongest chance of reaching F1 with Williams, despite his lack of recent results, given cycling team Israel Start-Up Nation has partnered with the outfit through billionaire Sylvan Adams who is doing everything he can to get Israel to the top of global sport.

Nissany has already racked up F1 test and free practice appearances, as has Williams’ sportscar-racing reserve driver Jack Aitken. Development drivers Dan Ticktum and W Series champion Jamie Chadwick are yet to sample the team’s F1 cars.

Two-times Macau Grand Prix winner Ticktum has the pace to reach F1, and is highly rated for his simulator work in the development role, but doesn’t have the budget to surpass Nissany or the existing line-up unless, for example, he followed Russell into a Mercedes partnership.

2021 Formula 3 entry list

TeamCarDriver
Prema1Dennis Hauger
Prema2Arthur Leclerc
Prema3Olli Caldwell
Trident1Jack Doohan
Trident2Clement Novalak
Trident3David Schumacher
ART1Frederik Vesti
ART2Alexander Smolyar
ART3Juan Manuel Correa
Hitech1Jak Crawford
Hitech2Ayumu Iwasa
Hitech3Roman Stanek
HWA1Matteo Nannini
HWA2Oliver Rasmussen
HWA3Rafael Villagomez
MP1Victor Martins
MP2Caio Collet
MP3Tijmen van der Helm
Campos1Laszlo Toth
Campos2Lorenzo Colombo
Campos3Amaury Cordeel
Carlin1Ido Cohen
Carlin2Kaylen Frederick
Carlin3Jonny Edgar
Jenzer1Calan Williams
Jenzer2Pirre-Louis Chovet
Jenzer3Filip Ugran
Charouz1Logan Sargeant
Charouz2Enzo Fittipaldi
Charouz3Reshad de Gerus

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Author information

Elliot Wood
Often found in junior single-seater paddocks around Europe doing journalism and television commentary, or dabbling in teaching Photography back in the UK. Currently based...

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19 comments on “Who are the top F1 juniors bidding for a grand prix debut in 2022?”

  1. It is great to see Logan get another shot at the FIA Formula 3 title. Especially when he is the most experienced F3 junior drivers. And now he will become a rival to Prema, Trident and ART.

    1. I’ve waited for Logan to announce where he will end up. Now it all begins.

  2. What I find most striking after reading about all these talented young drivers is how few F1 seats are up for grabs for them. Realistically if we say that Raikkonen and/or Giovinazzi, Ocon, Mazepin and Latifi are under threat for 2022, some of these drivers will pull through as a result of better performances (or sponsorship in Mazepin’s/Latifi’s cases), leaving only 2-3 seats available at best. It’s times like this when I really miss having 12 teams on the grid!

    1. But then half those young drivers are also not great and in F2 and f3 because of money. Look at Mercedes/Ferrari/red bull young drivers programs of last decade too.

    2. I don’t think Mazepin is going anywhere. Haas needs the money

      1. @nickthegreek True, but how long can his poor driving standards keep afloat his sponsorship money? At some point you’d think he is costing the team more than he is worth….

        I guess Haas can’t go any further backwards –

        1. Kubica was much worse performance wise, so i would say ” for a long long time”

    3. @nickthegreek Indeed. The same for Latifi.
      @ciaran

  3. F1 teams should look more into Indy lights/indycars/super formula and even sportscars and tin top cars. There is talent everywhere and it is sad how there is seems to be only one narrow (European) path for upcoming talent to get into F1. Look at the podium scorer from new Zealand in Indycar a few days ago, there are talented drivers like him all over the world that don’t get a chance like he did but they deserve to. It is crazy that Scott Dixon never raced in F1, while so many rookies in F1 now come in and get dumped a year or 2 in, usually dependent on sponsor money.

    1. Thank the unnecessarily complicated turbo hybrid engine configuration. It costs so much to run an F1 team now a fat stack of cash can be more important than a fast driver.

  4. Gasly has also been linked to Alpine, albeit not a foregone conclusion for sure. Should Ocon be let go, the successor could very well be Zhou instead, especially if he’d become F2 champion. Time will tell.
    I mostly only care about driver situations in the Red Bull-owned teams.
    Vips already has a super license, while Daruvala reached 40 SL points in January, and Lawson only needs 9th at the lowest, so pretty much track performance and results will be the only decisive factor.
    Gasly is one present F1 driver who could, at worst, end up without a drive for next season alongside Bottas, Alfa Romeo duo, Ocon, and even Perez.

  5. I thought it were Lando and Charles from left to right on that picture!

    1. It does look like them doesn’t it, especially as you can only see half their faces.

      I think it’s Jak Crawford and Arthur Leclerc. Not sure about the third person.

      1. @thelem Looks like Oscar Piastri.

    2. Well, if the pictures were without masks it would be a huge improvement in useful information. Having said that Arthur couldn’t be anything but a LeClerc.

  6. Which one has a billionaire daddy? That’s the one that will get a seat.

    1. Maybe not billionaires but millionaires.

      Reply moderated
  7. Maybe not billionaires, but actually millionaires.

  8. Ambrogio Isgro
    4th May 2021, 22:12

    So… Now many Fittipaldis we got?
    Pietro, Enzo and now Emerson Jr.!

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