After Lawson’s unexpected debut, which other drivers deserve a shot in F1?

Round Table

Posted on

| Written by

Liam Lawson achieved the lifelong dream of making his Formula 1 debut last weekend at Zandvoort, stepping in last minute to replace the injured Daniel Ricciardo.

He will get another opportunity to compete again this weekend at Monza. But for every driver who gets the chance to come at the top flight, many others who arguably deserve a shot are looked over.

Which of them stood out most to RaceFans’ writing team? Here’s our picks:

The overlooked Red Bull Junior

A driver that immediately comes to mind when I think of ‘F1 missed chances’ is 2019-20 Formula E champion Antonio Felix da Costa. After having the F1 carrot dangled in front of his nose for many years and progressing through the Red Bull Junior Team, he had been told he was on the cusp of landing a race seat to compete in 2014.

In 2013 he was competing in his second season in Formula Renault 3.5 and was hoping to snap up the title. But he was left rueing missed chances as he finished only third in the standings behind the McLaren-backed Kevin Magnussen and Stoffel Vandoorne.

Overlooked by Red Bull, Da Costa starred in Formula E
Da Costa had been hugely impressive in the same category the previous year, upstaging championship contenders Jules Bianchi and Robin Frijns in the second half of the season. It was clear he was banking on some Friday outings with Toro Rosso at the end of the season with the hope to progress up to F1.

It’s fair to say that had Red Bull had an opening at the start of ’13 then Da Costa would have got it as he’d pretty much got to the front of the queue.

But his dreams were dashed before the season ended when he received a phone call from Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut Marko back in October ’13. He later admitted he “cried like a baby” as he was told the team didn’t want him for the next season and instead had opted for GP3 champion Daniil Kvyat.

Da Costa moved on to Formula E and has remained in that series ever since. A classic case of a driver never quite in the right place at the right time.

Claire Cottingham

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

The Japanese ace

There are three drivers in F1 who are older than Naoki Yamamoto, who has raced at the top level of Japanese single seaters since 2010. He has nine wins plus 10 other podiums, 13 poles and three titles in Japan’s highly competitive Super Formula series, where Lawson is also racing this year. Only three drivers have been champion more times than Yamamoto.

Naoki Yamamoto, Toro Rosso, Suzuka, 2019
Yamamoto’s practice run was a glimpse of what might have been
His most recent title was in 2020, and was claimed in thrilling wheel-to-wheel fashion against Nick Cassidy and Ryo Hirakawa in the final race. In some ways that season was a response to being overlooked for an F1 seat by AlphaTauri.

Yamamoto’s long-standing Honda connections meant he was courted by the team in 2019, getting to drive in Japanese Grand Prix practice and impressively lapping just 0.098 seconds slower than the team’s regular driver, Kvyat. At times it was rumoured he would be filling more than just a practice-only role that weekend.

Red Bull driver development boss Dr Helmut Marko attended SF races and had his eyes on Yamamoto due to his results, his association with Honda and a mental fortitude that Marko perhaps deemed lacking in some of Red Bull’s juniors. While they evaluated whether to accommodate Yamamoto into their F1 plans further, Yamamoto had to decide if he was willing to move his career away from Japan.

His understanding of how to get the most out of tyres straight away made him a potent qualifier, then his tyre-saving ability in races gave him more strategy freedom than rivals. Two skills vital for F1.

Red Bull may have moved on from Yamamoto, his Super Formula form has dipped and he’s still focused heavily on his parallel sports car programme in Super GT where he’s a two-times champion. But with his level of experience and mechanical sympathy he would be the perfect driver to drop in to an F1 car at the last minute even if he would be new to every track outside of Japan.

Ida Wood

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

The evergreen IndyCar star

When I started thinking up names of drivers who, like Lawson, deserved a crack at F1 I was surprised to note how many of them happened to be his countrymen. Moreover, all of them are now playing their trades in the USA.

Dixon has won for 19 years running in IndyCar
Take Marcus Armstrong, for example, who first caught my eye when he qualified in the top five on his debut in the Formula Renault Eurocup at the final round of the 2016 season. From there he went on to become Italian Formula 4 champion and was second in his home country’s Toyota Racing Series and FIA Formula 3. But he seemed ill-served by fortune when he stepped up to Formula 2, winning four races but never finishing higher than 13th in the standings over three seasons.

Having been snapped up by Chip Ganassi Racing he is now on course to claim IndyCar’s rookie of the year honours, despite skipping this season’s five oval races. I’m still convinced a bright future lies ahead for him, though it seems his F1 chance has passed.

Among his rivals in IndyCar is Scott McLaughlin, whose unconventional route to the series has been a successful one. Arriving on the back of three consecutive Australian Supercar titles, McLaughlin has looked equally at home on road, street and oval courses in a single-seater, and is on course to finish in the top five in the championship for the second year in a row.

You can’t help but wonder if his former Supercars rival Shane van Gisbergen might adapt just as readily, after astonishing the NASCAR establishment by winning in his debut on the streets of Chicago last month.

But it’s a fourth New Zealander who I would most like to see tackle F1. Scott Dixon has just won back-to-back IndyCar races on a road course and an oval, meaning he has taken at least one victory in each of the last 19 seasons. His first win in single-seaters’ top level was back in 2001.

The consistent achievements of 42-year-old Fernando Alonso demonstrate Dixon, 43, is not ready to be written off. With six IndyCar titles under his belt, plus an Indianapolis 500 victory, he is surely one of the most successful single-seater drivers of recent decades not to race in F1.

Keith Collantine

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

The reigning F2 champion – and a NASCAR master

If the FIA’s superlicence system was not as restrictive as it currently is, leaving teams free to pick from any of the driving talent in the world, then there is no one else on the planet who would be a more fascinating candidate for an Andre Lotterer-style one-off grand prix cameo than NASCAR’s Kyle Busch.

The same age as Lewis Hamilton, the younger Busch brother has been an unrivalled winning machine across all three of NASCAR’s main series over the last two decades, claiming well over 200 race victories in perhaps the most competitive form of motorsport there is. To borrow from combat sports, ‘Rowdy’ Kyle Busch could be among one of the best ‘pound-for-pound’ racing drivers of the 21st century.

Felipe Drugovich, Aston Martin, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023 pre-season test
Drugovich will appear in practice at Monza this weekend
But that is not the world we live in, for better or worse.

Instead, when considering which young driver deserves an opportunity to prove themselves against the best of the best, there is no question who stands out: Felipe Drugovich.

The entire raison d’etre of F2 is to be that final proving ground before graduating to F1. Eight of the last nine champions in F1’s primary feeder series have gone on to race at motorsport’s highest level. The only one who hasn’t – yet – is 2022 champion Drugovich.

While his triumph earned him the honour of being the first ever member of Aston Martin’s F1 driver development programme (with the team intending him to be its only member for the foreseeable) and Drugovich has been present at all rounds as reserve driver this season, he deserves better than to just sit in the briefing room listening to Lance Stroll explain why he was unable to extract the same performance as team mate Fernando Alonso.

Drugovich is a champion and has more than earned his opportunity to race in F1 – even if it is just the once.

Will Wood

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

Over to you

Which drivers who never previously raced in Formula 1 would you most like to see in the series? Have your say below.

2023 F1 season

Browse all 2023 F1 season articles

Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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

10 comments on “After Lawson’s unexpected debut, which other drivers deserve a shot in F1?”

  1. Too me none of those are getting a seat too old or in Yamamoto case problems to adjust outside Japan otherwise he would be in F1 before we had known Yuki.

  2. +1 for Drugovich, he should be on the grid.

    1. +1 he is underrated – already in his first season in F2 showed he was a talent (winning in a small team without a lot of experience).

    2. I mean.. none of these options are stellar.. but I’d agree that Drugovich seems like the safest bet right now.

  3. Despite his recent off track contract exploits,
    I’d really like to see Palou with an F1 shot in a decent team that has podium potential.

    I don’t think I really care about any top names joining F1 simply to be stuck in nowhere land in a Hass or Alfa Romeo.

    Would have loved to have seen Dixon get a shot, but its pointless now at his age. He should continue his Indy Car legend.
    McLoughlin in F1 would be fascinating tho.

    1. @eurobrun McLaughlin would be fascinating. He’s insanely talented just hasn’t spent much time in open wheelers. He adjusts quick though. I think it could be worth investigating if not a gamble for a team like Williams or Alfa… someone make it happen, please!!

  4. It is difficult to think of three BTCC cars more different than the Subaru Levorg, Infiniti Q50 and Ford Focus, and yet Ash Sutton has dominated the championship in all three of them, and is about to equal the record for most titles in only his eighth season. This partly down to his engineer Tony Carrozza and the rest of his team being great at developing cars, and particularly around Sutton’s unusual style, but there can be no doubt that Ash Sutton is by far the class of the field, a step above Tom Ingram and Jake Hill who are themselves a step above everyone else. Many see the BTCC as an amateur series and there are certainly drivers who shouldn’t be there, but Sutton is the greatest I have seen in the championship since 1991 and I would love that theory tested by giving Sutton a chance in Formula 1. Obviously it will never happen.

    1. He is a great touring car driver, no doubt. I wonder how well Ash’s style would adapt to single-seaters. Also some of his team’s shenanigans would make even Red Bull blush (such as having Rowbottom limp around with a terminally damaged car until he could bundle Ingram off track, in the last race at Donington).

      There are a few guys from sportscar racing who I would like to have seen in F1. Not just people who came relatively high up the single-seater ladder, like Antonio Fuoco, but also drivers like Jules Gounon – who would be well placed to join a very small group of second-generation F1 drivers where the son was actually better than the father.

  5. Drugovich is an easy pick, considering how he dominated F2 in a midfield team, single-handedly delivering MP their first team championship in the process, even if he’s up against an admittedly underachieving field. It’s difficult to see him getting in that Aston as long as Lance is there, though.
    I don’t see Alonso as a long-term solution given his age, but I doubt the team would be willing to run both Lance and Drugovich. They would want someone capable of leading the team to greater heights after all.

    Out of all the current Formula E drivers though, I’d go for Evans over Da Costa. His partnership with Jaguar as they rose to the sharp end of the field is the stuff of fairytale, and to me, he’s been the standout driver over the last three or four seasons. At one point, it looked like that Webber’s guidance could very well take Evans to F1, but I kinda understand why he was overlooked given his so-so results in GP2.

  6. To me Nick Cassidy – yes, another Kiwi! – is an obvious next choice for F1. He is already supported by Red Bull to some degree, and his measured drives to the front in Formula E this year show his maturity. The last round in London showed his unbelievable speed in all conditions as well. F3 in Japan and Macau, Superformula, Super GT, DTM – he has done it all, and showed ability everywhere.

Comments are closed.