Is Alonso right about Stroll? Which F1 drivers have shown they are potential champions?

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Drivers are often reluctant to speak too highly of their team mates, but Fernando Alonso lavished high praise on his fellow Aston Martin racer after joining the team for 2023.

As Lance Stroll’s father owns the brand both of them race for, Alonso’s comments won’t have hurt when it comes to ingratiating himself with his new team. But as the two-times world champion pointed out, he knew the young Stroll long before he arrived in F1.

Moreover, as Alonso has often noted, no driver is ever going to become world champion without a car capable of getting the job done. That’s something a lucky four might get in any given season.

So, given the right hardware, how many of the drivers on today’s grid have shown enough potential that we could confidently regard them as champions of the future?

The race winners

Two new drivers joined F1’s race-winners club last year, meaning half of the grid head into the season having won at least one race. Leaving the three existing champions out of it, which of the seven drivers who’ve already won a race are the likeliest future title winners?

Last year’s runner-up is looking to go one better
Charles Leclerc finished runner-up to Max Verstappen in last year’s world championship. He can point to more shortcomings on his team’s side than his own performances which hurt his chances of taking the title last year.

His team mate Carlos Sainz Jnr out-scored him in 2021, and after a rough start last year was closer to the pace over the second half of the year. He picked up his breakthrough win at the British Grand Prix. In the penultimate round, Brazil, George Russell took his first win, and gave notice of his title-winning potential by out-scoring seven-times champion team mate Lewis Hamilton.

Sergio Perez narrowly failed to beat Leclerc to second in the standings last season. But although he won two times, that achievement was dwarfed by team mate Verstappen’s record-breaking 15 wins.

Alpine has a pair of one-time race winners in Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly. However the driver on the grid who has won the most races without taking a title, Valtteri Bottas, will need a big step from Alfa Romeo if he is to improve on the second place he achieved in the 2019 and 2020 world championships.

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The podium visitors

Four other drivers on the grid know how it feels to stand on the podium, if not win a race. Of these, the strangest example is undoubtedly Kevin Magnussen, who reached the rostrum at his first attempt but hasn’t returned in the 140 races he’s contested since then.

Lando Norris, McLaren, Imola, 2022
Norris took his McLaren to the podium at Imola
Stroll also reached the podium early in his career, at just his eighth start. He returned there twice in 2020, and Alonso believes he has it in him to do more, given a competitive enough car.

Lando Norris served notice of his potential last year by taking the sixth podium finish of his career in the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix, which was significant for being the only rostrum appearance all year by a driver from outside the all-conquering trio of Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes. Alexander Albon delivered two podium finishes during his 2020 season at Red Bull, but team mate Max Verstappen took 11 in the same year plus two wins, and Albon was replaced at the end of the year.

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The points scorers and newcomers

Big things are already expected of Piastri
The driver who holds the record for most F1 starts without a podium appearance is back on the grid this year. Nico Hulkenberg was tipped by some as a future champion when he arrived in F1 following his back-to-back title wins in the Formula 3 Euro Series and GP2 (now Formula 2).

The other three drivers with points but no podiums have barely made one-third the number of starts between them as Hulkenberg has: Yuki Tsunoda, Zhou Guanyu and Nyck de Vries. The latter impressed by scoring one of Williams’ five points scores last year in his sole appearance for the team at short notice at Monza.

That sole start aside, De Vries is one of three newcomers on the grid this year. Oscar Piastri arrives with similar expectations on his shoulder to Hulkenberg 13 years before him, having scored Formula Renault Eurocup, F3 and F3 title wins in consecutive seasons between 2019 and 2021. While Logan Sargeant arrives in F1 with no prior titles to his name, he can take solace in the fact that nor did his team mate Albon, nor reigning champion Verstappen when he arrived seven seasons ago for that matter.

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I say

Of the 17 drivers on the grid that haven’t won a world championship yet, one stands out as having the combination of ability, youth and access to a sufficiently competitive car to be the safest bet to deliver a title at some stage: 24-year-old race-winning Mercedes driver George Russell. He may be up against a formidable team mate in Lewis Hamilton, but the seven-times champion is 14 years older than him and isn’t going to race on at the height of his powers indefinitely.

Both Ferrari drivers belong high on the list as well, though their team has not delivered competitive equipment as consistently as their silver rivals. They may also face a sticky problem in the future: There’s often not much to choose between them in terms of raw speed and ability.

Of the rest, Norris immediately stands out as a driver with future champion potential. Ocon’s strong season against Alonso last year also marks him out as a driver who deserves to be named in the company. I’m not yet convinced Alonso’s latest team mate deserves to be mentioned in similar tones, but 2023 may yet prove the season which changes that.

You say

Which of the drivers in the 2023 field who haven’t won a world championship do you regard as potential title-winners? Cast your votes below and have your say in the comments.

Which F1 drivers do you regard as potential champions?

  • Logan Sargeant (0%)
  • Alexander Albon (0%)
  • Yuki Tsunoda (0%)
  • Nyck de Vries (2%)
  • Nico Hulkenberg (0%)
  • Kevin Magnussen (1%)
  • Lance Stroll (1%)
  • Zhou Guanyu (0%)
  • Valtteri Bottas (1%)
  • Lando Norris (23%)
  • Oscar Piastri (7%)
  • Pierre Gasly (2%)
  • Esteban Ocon (1%)
  • George Russell (26%)
  • Carlos Sainz Jnr (8%)
  • Charles Leclerc (26%)
  • Sergio Perez (2%)

Total Voters: 118

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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39 comments on “Is Alonso right about Stroll? Which F1 drivers have shown they are potential champions?”

  1. Pat Ruadh (@fullcoursecaution)
    12th February 2023, 12:09

    Only allowed one choice @keithcollantine

  2. Roth Man (@rdotquestionmark)
    12th February 2023, 12:12

    It’s got to be Vettel for me. With being retired with 4 championships to his name already it’s a sensible bet.

    1. Lol.

      If he gets in a Red Bull I could see him winning 4 in a row.

  3. None of those listed.
    I used to think Charles and George were waiting in the wings, but I think Max & Lewis have it between them for as long as they wish to continue, so they’ll still be waiting. Maybe a new whizz kid will enter in the best car😮.

  4. I’ve gone George on the assumption that Mercedes are capable of making a solid comeback.
    However, I would like it to be Leclerc, both because I consider him to be a fine driver and I would enjoy seeing the Ferrari haters go into meltdown :)

    Lando has the potential for sure but needs a racing car :/

  5. The list of drivers needs updating.

    1. @keithcollantine, it looks as if on updating, my vote switched from Leclerc to Sainz…

      1. Consider yourself lucky, I have apparently now given my support to Lance Stroll. 😂

        1. I think “Alonso’s Comment” may have been a “suck up” to the boss, because I’ve seen nothing in Stroll’s performances to suggest he might be a future champ, and the top teams will always have a better stable to pick from.
          Odds of 1:50

          1. It sure is.

          2. I thought the same

        2. Ahah, both funny happenings, stroll goes without saying, leclerc also is a lot faster than sainz, but both leclerc and norris need some kind of miracle with the car they’re driving, russell is a more realistic possibility given mercedes’ recent history.

  6. The driver roster is last season’s, but I chose Russell.
    I would’ve voted for Leclerc too, but as only one is allowed, I went for the former.
    Given the right machinery, I feel he might have a better chance mentally.

  7. Without the need for extenuating circumstances, only LER and RUS seem to have the speed.

  8. Norris would’ve got my vote, he awesome. Hope he gets a better car this season.

  9. I could only pick one so went with Leclerc but I’d have Russell and Norris in there too.

    The rest have race winning potential at best. I think it would be unfair to judge a rookie also. Leclerc is maturing into a complete driver – he’s one lap pace is strong, he’s good in the wet, he’s good under pressure and he is a diplomatic team leader. He makes a couple of mistakes too many but once they are out of his game he’s the strongest candidate for me.

    Russell was well beaten from the mid point of last year but is clearly the future for Mercedes. A couple of seasons shadowing Hamilton will hopefully make him less impulsive and more experienced racing at the front.

    Norris has the pace and the racecraft, I think he’s very good. He lacks front of the grid experience and when he’s been under pressure he has made some mistakes and can appear flustered.

    All 3 have 4 or 5 seasons of experience already but I think the modern driver needs 5 to become complete. Seb was making silly errors in his 4th season, Lewis’ 5th was a shocker too. Max started 2018 in a reckless fashion also. I think Leclerc will be the total package this season with Russell and Norris maybe a season later. Then, with the right car, the sky is the limit.

  10. There’s often not much to choose between them in terms of raw speed and ability.

    Why is that a Ferrari problem but not a Mercedes problem? It’s not like Russell was miles ahead of Lewis.

    1. Hamilton is a generation older, so expected to hang up his F1 helmet in a few years, the Ferrari guys are much more similar in age, so that’s one reason I’d say.

      1. Few more years is a century in F1. Russel may be 30 by then, and not considered a future prospect, nor proven champion (if he doesn’t beat Hamilton before that). There are always new talents, new popular kids, so who knows. It’s strange to me how Russel is 24 already, time flies…

        1. Hamilton won his first championship at 23, and his second at 29. Max may have won his first race at 18, but he was 24 when he won his first championship. The youngest ever F1 champion is Vettel, at 23 (beating Hamilton by a mere 200 days).

          Writing off Russel because he’s 24 is just… odd.

  11. A lot of people can become world champion. Pretty much all drivers in F1 were title contenders in junior series. “All” you need is a superior car and a handle on your teammate. So Russell and Leclerc have the best shot at becoming new champions, because the chance of any other team making such a superior car is negligible.

    But in season long championship battle between multiple teams, it becomes a lot more complicated. Whether or not Russell and Leclerc have what it takes to sustain such a long battle remains to be seen.

  12. In the aftermath of the 2001 season I’m sure no one would point Jenson Button as a future champion.
    Lance Stroll can be champion if you give him a F2004 edge and Nikita Mazepin as a teammate.

    1. True, but terrible team mates usually don’t make it to a top team even in a number 2 role, barrichello, massa, irvine, bottas, rosberg, none of them were terrible.

  13. When Liberty replace boring old championship points with an Order of Merit based on inherited wealth, Lance will be in with a shout.

    The Button comment reminded me that manufacturers can desert F1 as well as piling in – who knows what opportunity might come to the right driver in the right place.

    Leclerc’s speed, or the consistency of Norris and Russell, could bring a world title. Most of the others have a bright future behind them.

    1. I think we can all agree that Fernando Alonso has been aiming, since 2014, for a Brawn lottery to shower him.
      What he stated at the time remains true: he hasn’t got a title since, but neither did Ferrari.

      1. However there was a realistic possibility he’d have won the title if he had stayed at ferrari till 2018, that year’s car with a top driver should’ve been enough to beat hamilton\merc, that would’ve taken a very long ferrari stint ofc, as alonso was already tired by 2014, and there wouldn’t have been any chance of titles in the next 3 years (I consider the 2017 ferrari decent but not merc level).

  14. Good chances with Russell, Leclerc, Norris.

    Piastri 11% so far in this vote! He needs a better car and some F1 experience too.

  15. It obviously depends a little on circumstances but actually, in my opinion, not a lot. There aren’t a huge number of drivers from history who seemed good enough to win a championship but never did, and just due to bad luck.

    The obvious answer would be Stirling Moss, certainly the greatest driver never to win a title and one of the greatest drivers ever, but although he was unlucky that he reached his peak in 1956 when Fangio was still dominant, stopping him winning the first two, and somehow was defeated in 1958 despite dominating the season, after that it was sort of his choice that stopped him being world champion. Enzo Ferrari wanted Stirling Moss but he decided he would rather drive for Rob Walker’s privateer team and drag a (relatively) uncompetitive car into title contention. But if Moss had driven for Ferrari, he would surely have been world champion in 1959 and 1961, while his career was ended prematurely by a crash at Goodwood, also preventing him potentially being champion later. So these were very unusual circumstances and I doubt we are likely to see another Stirling Moss any time soon.

    Then Gilles Villeneuve is probably the next-best non-champion, but he didn’t win one because he was killed early in his career. Villeneuve had the potential to be one of the best ever and, if he had survived, there is no way he wouldn’t have been world champion at some point (probably in 1982 and 1983 with Ferrari), and drivers don’t tend to die racing nowadays. Ronnie Peterson was fast but was never world champion because of his inability to develop a car, and Carlos Reutemann was perhaps a little too prone to disappear when things were down to be a world champion. Tony Brooks also retired too early after being unlucky in 1959 and might have won a title if he had stayed on in competitive cars a little longer, but this was also down to a fear of death and this doesn’t apply so much anymore. Dan Gurney is another great driver who never won for reasons similar to Moss, as he would surely have taken 1966 and 1967 with Brabham but instead decided to set up his own team, Eagle.

    So the best drivers from history who didn’t win the championship simply due to not really having the right circumstances were probably Jacky Ickx and John Watson, but in Grand Prix cars at least, neither were really better than any of the weaker world champions so it doesn’t seem like they were particularly unlucky never to win one. The only world champion who I would consider a little weaker than all the rest was Phil Hill, who raced a dominant car without any particularly top-line teammates, but Hill wasn’t exactly a Stroll-level driver. He was surely better than the likes of Sainz and Bottas and perhaps similar level to someone like Massa or Irvine from recent years, both of whom came close to winning it.

    So I voted entirely based on how good I think the drivers will turn out to be, rather than the teams they are driving for, and so Lando Norris is the most likely to be a future champion, in my opinion, as despite not having won a race he is the only current driver besides Hamilton who I think might have a chance up against Verstappen in the same car. Leclerc would be my second choice as he is probably as fast as Verstappen but not as complete, and reminds me of Nigel Mansell and Mika Hakkinen, both of whom did win the title in dominant cars, while Piastri is a bit unknown at this point but could be very good. I am less convinced about George Russell but he is still obviously one of the best drivers on the grid at the moment and could become good enough to take the title. I don’t believe any current driver other than Norris, Leclerc, Piastri and Russell will ever be good enough to be world champion.

    1. You’re right, I remember reading that moss insisted in driving for english teams, and the 1961 ferrari is potentially the most dominant ever and dominated the season with mediocre drivers, figure out with moss.

    2. And yes, a shame about villeneuve, maybe not one of the best ever, he was very reckless, but I also think he’d have won at least a title if he had lived on.

  16. I suppose most of them could be champions if happy circumstances conspired (dominant car + useless team-mate). But realistically a world champion needs to beat a ‘good’ team-mate, and a decent bit of opposition.

    The only three I’d be confident about doing that are Russell, Leclerc and Norris so voted for them. Beyond that, we’re into the ‘solid’ drivers like Sainz, Bottas, Perez and Ocon, who I think could beat most of their rivals but don’t come across as convincing future champions.

    No idea about Piastri until he’s driven in F1, but hopefully he’ll be a fourth vote for me if this poll comes back next season.

  17. Fernando knows politics and what to say. Apparently 1% of the vote agree with him, I’m firmly with the 99%

  18. Based on speed and car, I would say Russel, LeClerc and Sainz. LeClerc has been a bit inconsistent, which could be a problem. Sainz, if Ferrari decided he was numero uno, could have a shot.

    Based on raw speed, I would put Norris into the mix. Gasly would need a much better opportunity (NOT Red Bull) to be a contender– but he does have two podiums in the Alpha Tauri, including a win.

    Lance Stroll would need a massive confluence of good luck and opportunity– and aside from being well financed, I just don’t see him having the car, the team, and the luck necessary. He’d need to have the best car, a team that was used to winning, and a teammate who couldn’t beat him.

  19. I think from what we’ve seen: Leclerc, Russell and Norris. I also voted for Piastri due to his stellar rise through the junior ranks. We’ll sure have a clearer picture by the end of the year!

  20. Everyone if they can get the car to do it and more or less worse teammate

  21. I, like many of you, voted for Charles, George and Lando. I think each of them could win the championship (or championships), but I highly doubt that at the end of their careers all three of them will retire as World Champions.

    1. To add to my comment above, even though he is my least favorite of the three, George Russell seems at the moment like the strongest from a mental point of view. He’s got a lot to prove, but he probably feels that he proved a lot last year, to the world and to himself, so perhaps doesn’t have so much pressure on him.
      Leclerc has all the pressure in the world. Everyone expects him to lead Ferrari to a WC. If they have the car, he HAS to win. If the car is bad, he has to prove he can win races at least. He is probably already frustrated from last year, with both himself and the team. He also has the pressure of positioning himself to get into a better team sooner rather than later, if Ferrari don’t deliver.
      Lando seems great, but he’s kind of like Button. If he got a monster of a car he could probably win the championship with ease. But will he any time soon? And will he still have the drive when if he ever does get into a good team? Actually I fear Lando might turn out like Daniel Ricciardo. An exciting driver who loses his mojo, and perhaps with fewer wins than Daniel.

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