The F1 hopefuls who need to have a stand-out 2023 season

Formula 2

Posted on

| Written by

The 2023 Formula 2 field contains a wide array of experience. At one of the spectrum is Roy Nissany, who is entering his ninth year at this level, while nine others are new to the series.

There’s one sixth-year driver who has actually only completed one full season, and even the third-year drivers are trying to prove they haven’t missed the F1 boat and can emulate last year’s champion Felipe Drugovich by using their experience to take the title.

There’s a lot resting on the shoulders of several of this year’s competitors, but it’s an especially critical season for a handful of those seeking promotion to Formula 1 in 2024.

Theo Pourchaire

The driver who needs a big season more than anyone else is actually the one who has already achieved the most in F2 from this year’s entry list.

Theo Pourchaire went without a pole in 2022, but with three feature race wins he still did enough to be championship runner-up. However the target set by Sauber for him to earn a promotion to Alfa Romeo in F1 for 2023 was to win the title, so he has to not only do that this season but do it in an extremely assertive fashion as he remains with ART Grand Prix, one of F2’s top teams. The pressure is also raised because Sauber is believed to be now funding the 19-year-old’s racing.

He’s got the paperwork, but can Pourchaire get an F1 seat?
In his rookie F2 campaign in 2021, Pourchaire threw himself into the F1 spotlight with a stunning pole and feature win in Monaco and then a sprint race victory at Monza later in the year. He scored 140 points that season but over the longer 2022 campaign he scored fewer points per race on average despite climbing up the points table.

Pourchaire needs to show he learned from a year that did not meet his or Sauber’s expectations. Having a bubble of self-assuredness and confidence burst as it did for him can never happen at a good time, and it did have an impact on his performances, but it is better for such a moment in an athlete’s career to occur in F2 than in the even higher pressure world of F1. Even highly established drivers like Daniel Ricciardo have had their full-time racing careers ended by such wobbles.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

Jehan Daruvala

Red Bull did not keep Daruvala on its young driver programme
With a Formula E reverse driver gig at Mahindra in the bag for 2023, Daruvala did not need to return to F2 for a fourth year. He is no longer part of the Red Bull Junior Team and there has been no indication he will continue his private test programme with McLaren, suggesting the route to a future F1 race seat is most likely closed even though he is eligible for an FIA superlicence.

But if Daruvala finishes lower than fifth in F2 this year, then he would not be eligible for a superlicence in 2024, so he really has to make this season worthwhile given he is yet to finish higher than seventh in the standings.

It took 37 F2 events before he mustered a feature race win, and he needs to add at least another to his CV to continue his F1 ambitions. In the last 14 years, only five drivers have come through the second tier of single-seater racing with fewer than two non-reversed grid race wins to a full-time F1 seat.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

Clement Novalak

Sole podium for champion’s team mate came in a sprint race
By any measure, Novalak’s rookie F2 season in 2022 did not look good as the 22-year-old contributed just 13% of champions MP Motorsport’s points tally.

Novalak was one of only three drivers to do every race and not get a feature race podium. He endured a nine-race point-less run at one stage, something only four other drivers exceeded in the 29-strong field.

His struggles primarily came down to the contrast between his driving style and the demands of the Dallara F2 2018 car and its Pirelli tyres, and the adaptation was something he had to work at all season. Even when the race pace was there, the inability to be at one with the car fresh out of the box on the softer tyre compound in qualifying left him way down and on average he was 23rd fastest on single-lap pace.

So this year the 2019 BRDC British Formula 3 champion and 2021 FIA F3 title contender has to prove that the pace will return once his adaptation is complete, and that there is something in the walls of Trident’s factory making it worth moving to as he leaves the reigning champions for a squad with one race victory in the last six years.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

Arthur Leclerc

The brother of the 2017 F2 champion will race for DAMS
The question with this rookie – a Ferrari junior and the younger brother of F1 star Charles – is what does he need to prove with this season and why does it need to be a big one?

The younger Leclerc has enjoyed stable career momentum since joining single-seaters that has, through no fluke, brought him all the way up to F2. He won in French Formula 4 as a rookie, then in Germany’s ADAC F4 as a Sauber junior. After Ferrari scooped him up, Leclerc was the Formula Regional Europe runner-up the next year, only losing the title in a final race showdown. Two years spent in the highly competitive FIA F3 championship yielded a pole position, a feature race win and two reversed-grid successes.

Leclerc’s sixth place in the 2022 F3 standings and tally of only two podiums may suggest that he was not among the top talents, but he actually went into the final race fighting for the title. On average he was one of the fastest drivers on single-lap pace, but had a few too many bad qualifying sessions. He was second-best when it came to long-run race pace which bodes well for F2.

What really stood out is that Leclerc did not maximise the potential he had in the car, and that’s what needs to change in 2023. If he is able to string together a pole-winning lap, then he needs to go out and do it – just like his new team mate Ayumu Iwasa did in his rookie F2 season last year – rather than relying on his ability to make up positions in races.

If these points are rectified then he may be rewarded with big results in F2. That will be important for putting himself in Ferrari’s shop window when academy stablemate and fellow F3 graduate Ollie Bearman looks to be prancing to the front of its junior queue.

Enzo Fittipaldi and Zane Maloney

Fittipaldi suffered a nasty crash at the end of 2021
The Red Bull Junior Team is the most prominent driver development programme in motorsport, and attracts the most scrutiny over its signings and sackings. This year there are six of its members in F2, with three of particular interest.

Red Bull have taken two approaches with placing drivers, and F3 graduates Jak Crawford and Isack Hadjar have been partnered together at Hitech GP. They are without an experienced driver to lean on to aid their learning experience, which Red Bull’s motorsport advisor Dr Helmut Marko may not find as a reason to cut them some slack, but he’s also aware of the value of such experience as he has placed his two new juniors – Enzo Fittipaldi and 2022 FIA F3 runner-up Zane Maloney – together at the renamed Rodin Carlin squad.

Fittipaldi exceeded expectations as a rookie last year, claiming four feature race podiums and entering the final round with a shot at third in the standings with the unfancied Charouz Racing System team. What’s more, he came into the year in recovery from a brain injury after a crash in Jeddah when he joined the F2 grid for two rounds in 2021.

A trio of feature race wins lifted Maloney in F3 standings
Now he must prove he can deliver the goods with an established front-running team too, as Red Bull is all about results. The last time he drove for a top team in 2019 he was thrashed by his team mate and there was no other real competition to compare to.

Maloney, meanwhile, is back in a team set-up that he knows he can perform with. He won the British F4 title and made the podium in Euroformula Open with Carlin, but mentally had to improve a lot during that season and the next in FREC with R-ace GP. He had won just once in his previous 50 single-seater races before everything came together in the final three rounds of the 2022 F3 season with Trident – he swept all the remaining feature races to leap from tenth to second in the standings.

But three weekends doesn’t make a driver, and with the opportunity and backing that Maloney now has he needs to demonstrate he can bring home the results more often, as Carlin’s package will likely enable him to.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

Dennis Hauger

Hauger races for reigning champions again after team switch
After finishing 10th as a F2 rookie last year with two wins, it looked like Hauger might be demoted to Red Bull’s supported driver status for 2023, as previously occurred after he came 17th in his rookie FIA F3 season in 2020. But he instead carries full Red Bull junior backing for a fifth year.

Therefore, Hauger has to reward Red Bull’s faith in him this season in the same way Pourchaire needs to prove his continued worth to Sauber. But the signs are there he has what’s needed.

He’s left Prema after their underwhelming 2022 campaign to join the in-form MP. He also has a habit of winning titles in sophomore seasons, and made breakthroughs last year that stuck and led to a run of top-four finishes over the final rounds. But he will also need to establish a strong relationship with the race engineer he is partnered with at MP, a crucial factor for success in many of his previous endeavours.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

The complete 2023 Formula 2 field

MPDennis HaugerJehan Daruvala
CarlinEnzo FittipaldiZane Maloney
ARTTheo PourchaireVictor Martins
PremaFrederik VestiOliver Bearman
HitechJak CrawfordIsack Hadjar
DAMSAyumu IwasaArthur Leclerc
VirtuosiJack DoohanAmaury Cordeel
PHM by CharouzRoy NissanyBrad Benavides
TridentClement NovalakRoman Stanek
Van AmersfoortRichard VerschoorJuan Manuel Correa
CamposRalph BoschungKush Maini

Become a RaceFans Supporter

RaceFans is run thanks in part to the generous support of its readers. By contributing £1 per month or £12 per year (or the same in whichever currency you use) you can help cover the costs of creating, hosting and developing RaceFans today and in the future.

Become a RaceFans Supporter today and browse the site ad-free. Sign up or find out more via the links below:

Formula 2

Browse all Formula 2 articles

Author information

Ida 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...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

20 comments on “The F1 hopefuls who need to have a stand-out 2023 season”

  1. Only 1 should have a place in F1 otherwise it’s not possible to have so many young drivers.

  2. Looking at the F1 seats, I don’t see very many opportunities for next year. The only F1 drivers that might be on the bubble for 2024 are Tsunoda, perhaps one of the Sauber drivers (though I think both will stick until the end of 2024 and perhaps 2025 depending on if Audi wants there 2026 outfit in the team earlier than that or not). I think Williams will keep their pairing, as will Aston, McLaren, Renault, Haas, and all the top 3 teams.

    Maybe if Hamilton retires (I don’t think he’ll get a WDC this year, but if he does, it could happen), or Red Bull replaces Checo with someone other than Ricciardo, there’ll be one or two extra seats, but I wouldn’t expect anyone from F2 to get a call-up except maybe one of the Red Bull juniors to replace Tsunoda, and maybe Pourchaire to partner Zhou at Sauber.

    1. I could see seats opening up for Alfa Romeo, AlphaTauri, and possibly Williams and Haas. We have a lot of rookies this season, and if they underperform they could be out quickly.

      1. I’ve considered this, but in current F1 is very much seems that teams prefer to give rookies two seasons at least to prove themselves. And it makes sense to do so, given the steep learning curve and little testing time rookies can get. This is why I consider all the rookies to be safe for 2024 regardless.

    2. @sjaakfoo If Pouchaire replaced either current Sauber driver, I reckon the one he’d replace would be Zhou rather than Bottas despite the former’s sponsor money.

      1. Glad you mentioned the money, because that’s precisely why I feel the other way.

    3. Probably true.

      Still, some drivers that I wouldn’t be surprised to not see in F1 in 2024 are Zhou (financial backing being key), Bottas (motivation to continue in the back of the field), Alonso (Aston Martin disappoints and his age is catching up to him), Magnussen (especially if Hülkenberg outscores him), Hülkenberg (if he never gets back up to speed), Tsunoda (Tost was pretty clear that three years is the maximum to see consistent high levels of performance).

      Hamilton’s looming retirement is an interesting one. It can’t be that far off, and will no doubt be a factor in how other people draw up their contracts. A Mercedes seat is still a very desirable place, even if it’s as a de facto #2 to Russell.

  3. I don’t think anyone from the list will be a full-time F1 driver in 2024.
    Mercedes, Ferrari, RBR, Alpine, Mclaren, AM, Haas, & Williams’ driver plans are clear for the medium to long term.
    AT maybe, although I reckon Iwasa (& even Lawson despite his SF switch) has a better chance than Hauger unless the latter performs better.
    AR, depending on Audi’s influence, but I reckon they’d more likely go for Mick purely for nationality than Pouchaire.
    Bottas isn’t going anywhere, so Zhou would be the one getting sacrificed in any driver-change scenario despite the Chinese money impact.
    BTW, Daruvala has been SL-eligible (if not also holder) for roughly two years already.

    1. I’d say Fittipaldi or Malone would be front runners for an AlphaTauri seat, if they have a solid season in F2.

      1. Yuki Tsunoda will only be replaced by Ayumu Iwasa.

        1. @proesterchen De Vries could also get replaced in some scenarios, so a driver change wouldn’t necessarily mean Tsunoda getting sacrificed.

  4. That’s a long list of never-will-bes.

    No loss to F1.

    1. Nobody seems to be good enough for F1 in your opinion – drivers, teams or anyone in any other capacity.
      Your F1 pedestal might be just a bit too high…

      1. I’ve explained this before: To get excited about a driver, I’m looking for a generational talent. None of the drivers on this list is even close to making that cut.

      2. There’s a difference between the likes of Prost, Schumacher, Vettel, Hamilton and all the dozens of people who they shared the field with; those other drivers were still good enough to race in F1, maybe even to win a bunch of races but definitely not to be seen as part of that small special group that every series has.

        When guys like Hamilton and Leclerc were racing in F2, there was a buzz that something remarkable was taking shape. Maybe with Piastri, too – I didn’t see much of his seasons. Now that certainly doesn’t always translate to F1, but the potential was there for something special. Right now, that doesn’t seem to be the case. F2 sometimes has those years where the field just isn’t as compelling as in other years. The year De Vries won, for example.

        1. Now that certainly doesn’t always translate to F1, but the potential was there for something special.

          That’s the key, isn’t it – making it translate.
          It doesn’t matter how great you are in an F4, F3 or F2 car if you get put in a slow, difficult, unpredictable and unmanageable F1 car, or even one simply designed specifically for your team-mate’s driving style.

          We can only guess how many F1 drivers could have been ‘generational talents’ – but things (beyond their control) just didn’t work out for them.
          F1 is a great opportunity for those who want it – but only for some of them. For others it is a career breaker, as the potential progression and outcome of that opportunity is far, far from equal.

    2. @proesterchen

      Agree. This is probably the least impressive F2 grid I’ve ever come across. Theo and Arthur might be the only drivers to shine this season, but even then, their performances would hold very little value because of the lack of talent they’re up against. Doubt any of them will make the grid next year unless Tsonuda, Sergeant or De Vries really drop the ball.

  5. Doohan also deserves a mention…

    F1 Grid for 2028… Verstappen, Montoya, Wurz, Trulli, Schumacher, Sainz, Doohan, Fittipaldi, Alonso… :)

  6. A nice list of never-will-be’s. Maybe 2 of them will get an F1 garbage seat one day, so they can drive around in a garbage F1 car for a season or two and then disappear.

Comments are closed.