Racing drivers,  Formula 1,  Single seaters

They comin’… 20 young drivers on the way to F1?

Whither the babies of yesteryear? Well, they’re all racing drivers now, daddio and believe me, they comin’.

Admittedly this is something of an exaggeration: not all young people are now racing drivers. I mean, someone has to pick up the slack and do the drug dealing and knife crime, but there is nevertheless some basis to my argument. A new generation of racing drivers, born in this century, are on the cusp of breaking through into Formula 1.

It won’t be before time. Formula 1 motor racing has become beset with a certain stasis recently. For all the talk last season about the up-and-coming challenge from the newcomers Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc, the season was controlled utterly by Lewis Hamilton, now 35 years of age and the veteran of 250 Grands Prix. Indeed, for all his pimply youthfulness, Max Verstappen has been an F1 driver for five years and has racked up 102 starts. We need some new blood.

This feeling is no doubt enforced by the rather meagre intake of new drivers for the 2020 season. There are just two scheduled newcomers and one of them, Esteban Ocon, is a returnee so fresh from his last stint in the sport that he has retained his race number.

The only true rookie of the 2020 season will be the new Williams driver, Canada’s Nicholas Latifi. Latifi is a proven and capable choice, but was born in 1995 and no doubt can almost smell the Horlicks. Lando Norris’ crown as the active Formula 1 driver born closest to the turn of the Millennium (he was born on 13th November 1999) remains comfortably intact.

Here, then, is a handy guide to twenty racing drivers on the cusp of making it big. Among their number could well be the name of the pilot who will be Formula 1’s first driver born in the 2000s. See if you can spot them.

(As a help, I have awarded each driver with a rating out of five stars. This has nothing to do with their ability as such, but is instead a reflection of the likelihood of their graduation to F1. Additionally, I have grouped them according to some categories relevant to the decision-making processes of Formula 1 team owners.)

 

FAVOURABLE NATIONALITY aka “serendipidous accidents of birth”

 

GUANYU ZHOU (Born 1999) ★★★

The first Chinese Grand Prix took place at Shanghai in 2004 and has since become a fixture on the Formula 1 calendar: indeed, in 2019 it played host to the 1000th World Championship Grand Prix. As with more or less everything else, China represents a huge potential market for F1 and the secret to getting their hands on all that delicious money could lie in the darkest art of all: finding a Chinese Grand Prix driver.

Formula 1 balances its position as sport’s most unimpeachably relentless meritocracy on a knife-edge alongside its total and utter reliance on the worst excesses of mercenary capitalism. It is a delicate ecosystem whereby emerging markets are courted assiduously but strictly on the understanding that their every demand can only be acceded to as and when certain standards of excellence are met. In other words, the potential benefits of there being a Chinese Formula 1 driver would be completely negated if they turned out to be demonstrably lousy at Formula 1 driving.

Enter Guanyu Zhou. Zhou is by far and away the most exciting prospect Chinese motor racing has yet produced, although this is to potentially damn him with faint praise. Nevertheless, Zhou has made the European motor racing establishment sit up and take note countless times since he first arrived on the scene, racing in the Italian Formula 4 championship in 2015. These murmurings became deafening shrieks of excitement in 2018 when Zhou won the opening round of the European Formula 3 Championship at Pau, albeit that this would prove to be his sole victory of a season where he eventually dwindled to 8th in the standings.

In 2019 he stepped up to Formula 2, recording a pole position and five 3rd place finishes on his way to 7th in the championship. Zhou is the Renault F1 team’s development driver (having previously spent four years in the Ferrari Driver Academy) and he spent considerable time testing for them at the end of last year. Should he manage to build on his rookie year in the 2020 Formula 2 championship, the clamour for him to be given a go in Formula 1 could reach critical mass.

YUKI TSUNODA (born 2000) ★★★★

Yuki Tsunoda, Japanese racing driver
Red Bull Junior Yuki Tsunoda in familiar plumage

The most recent Japanese driver to start a Formula 1 Grand Prix was Kamui Kobayashi in 2014. This represents quite a fallow period in Japan’s storied history in Grand Prix motor racing, particularly when one remembers two very salient points. Firstly, Japan is crazy about Formula 1 and a Japanese racing driver, or even a racing driver of any nationality who could SPEAK Japanese, would get the Yen flying in all directions. Secondly, and more pertinent yet, 2014 also saw the return of Honda to Formula 1.

Honda love to bring Japanese drivers into motor racing. There’s the nationalistic pride aspect to it, of course. But their prized ability to speak Japanese is especially relevant. Last season, Toro Rosso gave Naoki Yamamoto a run out in practice at the Japanese Grand Prix, delighting everyone in equal measure.

Yamamoto is a decorated and talented racing driver, one of the leading lights on the ever-popular and fiercely competitive Japanese racing scene. He comes with the backing of 2009 Formula 1 World Champion Jenson Button – his teammate in a victorious campaign in the Japanese Super GT Championship of 2018 – too. However, Yamamoto does not have age on his side, having been born as long ago as 1988.

This is where Yuki Tsunoda steps in. Tsunoda’s Formula 1 prospects are significant: he is a current member of both the Red Bull Junior team, a driver development programme responsible for six of the 20 active Formula 1 drivers, and the Honda Formula Dream Project. Red Bull have four Formula 1 seats just waiting for bums to fill them and in the back of each one is a Honda power unit. And Red Bull just love to pull the trigger and give someone new a chance. Sometimes they give someone new a chance despite the fact they hadn’t even finished giving a chance to the last new person they had discovered.

Tsunoda, the 2018 Japanese Formula 4 champion and a race winner in FIA Formula 3 in 2019, moves up to Formula 2 for 2020. He looks about 12 but a strong season in the lower category could see him snaffle up a race seat at Alpha Tauri-Honda as soon as next year.

LOGAN SARGEANT (born 2000) ★★

Making it big in America has been Formula 1’s goal for as long as Formula 1 has existed. It has provided a fertile background for some of the most gratuitous foot shooting in the history of professional sport, too. Formula 1 still wants to make it big in America, all the more now that the sport is owned by the American company Liberty Media. An American Grand Prix driver would, of course, be a great help.

America’s leading racing driver at the moment is Josef Newgarden, an exceptional talent. Newgarden is fast, aggressive, fair and good looking. He’s conscientious and professional to a tee. In other words, he would be an ideal Grand Prix driver. However, Newgarden, a two-time IndyCar champion, is highly unlikely to want to move to Formula 1 to make up the numbers and every team who would be able to let him have a tilt at winning aren’t particularly in the market for an American driver. Newgarden spent some time at the beginning of his career trying to break through the lower formulae of the European scene and is, as such, well versed in all of the bullshit that entails.

Enter Logan Sargeant, the most talented American prospect currently trying to make a name for himself in the European racing community, still young enough to not yet have learned about all the bullshit that entails. Sargeant is about to embark on his second season in the FIA Formula 3 championship, having finished on the podium in the 2019 Macau Grand Prix – still the most prestigious Formula 3 race in the world.

However, unless he can start to crush his rivals into Lewis Hamilton-esque submission, I’d not get too enthused about his chances. Haas Grand Prix, Formula 1’s only American team, have spent two seasons with the most eminently sackable driver pairing on the grid and yet decided to retain both for 2020. It appears that the “next American Formula 1 driver” issue is on the back burner for the forseeable. Nevertheless, Sargeant has signed to drive with the reigning champion team, Prema, in the 2020 FIA Formula 3 championship.

 

FAMOUS RELATIVES aka “serendipidous accidents of genetics”

 

MICK SCHUMACHER (born 1999) ★★★★★
DAVID SCHUMACHER (born 2001) ★★★

Having a famous racing driver for a parent is a slam dunk for opening doors for up-and-coming young racing drivers. The name alone is usually enough to get you firmly wedged into any number of cockpits long before anyone has even established whether or not you can even drive.

Cousins Mick and David Schumacher can, rest assured, both drive. Mick is the eldest son of seven-time Formula 1 World Champion Michael and an already promising ascent to the top went positively stratospheric in 2018 when he dominated the second half of the European Formula 3 Championship, winning 7 of the last 15 races (including a run of five in a row) to secure the crown. Last season saw him make his debut in Formula 2 where he was solid but unspectacular, although he did win a race. Schumacher is an affiliate of the Ferrari Driver Academy and will be a Formula 1 driver very soon. Probably with Alfa Romeo and in 2021 (at the latest).

David is the son of six-time Grand Prix winner Ralf and will spend 2020 competing in the FIA Formula 3 Championship with the experienced Charouz team. He has shown himself to be a calm, mature and quick driver but, thus far, has yet to attract the same attention as Mick. There is every possibility, of course, that this fact will eventually prove to be very much to his advantage.

ENZO FITTIPALDI (born 2001) ★★

The last Brazilian driver in Formula 1 was Felipe Massa in 2017. The intervening period represents not so much a fallow spell as it does a famine for Brazil, F1’s key South American market and only stopping point on a yearly basis. Brazilians love motor racing and Brazil has produced some of the greatest Formula 1 drivers of all. There being no Brazilian on the grid is a huge problem for everyone.

There’s always hope, however, because don’t you know that second-generation racing drivers are old hat now? It’s the era of the third-generation competitor now, grandad – the grandad in this particular case being two-time Formula 1 World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi. Enzo is also the nephew of 1990s Formula 1 drivers Christian Fittipaldi and Max Papis and is part of the Ferrari driver development program.

We’ve been here before, in fact: Enzo’s elder brother Pietro looked to be blazing a trail to the top echelon a few years ago but his career looks to have stalled, thanks in no small part to a nasty crash in a sportscar race at Spa-Francorchamps which left him with a badly broken leg. Enzo will be in the FIA Formula 3 series this season but so far, he doesn’t seem to be much of an upgrade on his brother.

JACK DOOHAN (born 2003) ★★★

Son of motorcycle racing legend, five-time 500cc World Champion Mick, Australia’s Jack Doohan is a member of the Red Bull Junior program and he looks like he is a man on a mission. Or he will be on 20th January 2021, which is when he turns 18. Actually, this is a doubly significant milestone, as 18 is now the minimum age at which a driver becomes eligible for a Super Licence.

To obtain a Super Licence – the piece of paper all F1 drivers must have to be allowed into the championship – there is also a success-based points system to overcome, but Doohan appears to be in a tearing hurry, competing (and often winning) in any Super Licence-eligible championship he can find. While there is no outward sign that Red Bull are fast-tracking him for an F1 seat, it is quite possible that Jack is taking matters into his own hands and fast-tracking himself. Very much one to keep an eye on, he’ll be in the FIA Formula 3 championship this season, teammates with Enzo Fittipaldi at HWA Racelab.

 

NO ‘Y’ CHROMASOME aka “another blow for the patriarchy”

 

JAMIE CHADWICK (born 1998) ★★★
MARTA GARCÍA (born 2000) ★★

Jamie Chadwick, British racing driver
Jamie Chadwick, a driver in a hurry

The last woman to start a Formula 1 World Championship Grand Prix was the late Lella Lombardi, at the Austrian Grand Prix in 1976. In the intervening 44 years, just three other women have tried (and failed) to qualify for a World Championship F1 race. Both of these facts are pretty shameful for their paucity and it is heartening to say the least that there is now a concerted effort to change things.

Chief among these efforts is the W Series, an all-female Formula 3 championship series which began last season. Its inaugural champion was Britain’s Jamie Chadwick, who has a very reasonable claim to be the leading female racing driver in the world today. At the very least, she is the one who is probably the right age for a proper tilt at becoming a Grand Prix driver. This season’s W Series will be eligible for Super Licence points, too – another important step in the right direction.

Chadwick is not just a good female racing driver, mind you. She is a good racing driver, period: quite happy to hold her own in any competitive field she comes across. Part of the Williams team’s development program, Chadwick could be just a few good seasons away from making history: no British woman has ever started a Formula 1 World Championship event.

The W Series’ debut season established a few things that we already knew: dominated by Jamie Chadwick, Alice Powell, Beitske Visser and Emma Kimilainen. But it also threw up a few exciting new prospects, none more so than Spain’s Marta Garcia. She was the only other driver in the series to win a race, but even more significantly it came on the back of several other excellent performances. Like Chadwick, Garcia will contest the W Series again in 2020. Like Chadwick, there’s a chance the Super Licence points on offer could come in handy down the line.

 

F1 AFFLIATES aka “in the tent pissing out”

 

DAN TICKTUM (born 1999) ★★★★

Dan Ticktum, British racing driver
Dan Ticktum, ready for anything. In this case, he was about to wrestle a bear.

Dan Ticktum is a mercurial character, even considering that he operates in a sport where mercurial characters are not particularly difficult to find. On one hand, he has proven himself time and again to be exceptionally quick, winning the Formula 3 race at the Macau Grand Prix in both 2017 and 2018. On the other hand, there are serious question marks about his temperament.

Ticktum first came to wider prominence when he received a year-long ban from motor racing. Having been bunted out of a Formula 4 race at Silverstone by Ricky Collard, Ticktum recovered his car and then overtook his way back through the pack (which was at the time circulating behind the safety car) in order to exact like-for-like retribution.

Having returned from his time on the naughty step with a flourish, he was widely seen as the driver Red Bull wanted to drive the second Toro Rosso car in 2019. As such, he was sent to compete in Asia in the winter of 2018 to accumulate the required Super Licence points. Quite what happened out there remains a mystery, but suffice to say Ticktum returned to Europe sans Super Licence points and sans his place in the Red Bull Junior program.

Nevertheless, Ticktum keeps coming back, like a bad smell that is also particularly adept at driving racing cars. He’ll contest the Formula 2 championship in 2020 and has just been picked up by Williams as one of their development drivers. There’s a good chance he will be in Formula 1 – or in prison – as soon as next year.

MARCUS ARMSTRONG (born 2000) ★★★

New Zealand’s Marcus Armstrong has been on the European junior formula racing scene since 2016 and he’s usually at the front. Last year he finished as the runner-up in both the FIA Formula 3 Championship and the Toyota Racing Series (New Zealand’s premier single-seater racing class), and for 2020 will step up to Formula 2 with the much-decorated ART team. He’s also a long-standing member of the Ferrari Driver Academy, so if he performs in F2, don’t be surprised to see him get a placement with Haas or Alfa Romeo in the not-too-distant future.

ROBERT SHWARTZMAN (born 1999) ★★★★

The reigning FIA Formula 3 champion, Russia’s Robert Shwartzman is one of the most highly-rated young drivers in European motor racing and beyond, having also won the Toyota Racing Series in 2018. Shwartzman joined the Ferrari Driver Academy in 2017 and for the 2020 season makes the move up to Formula 2 with Prema Powerteam alongside Mick Schumacher.

Shwartzman and Schumacher were also teammates in European F3 in 2018, a year which saw Schumacher win the title and Shwartzman finish 3rd as a series rookie. It’s not beyond comprehension that this double act will be the 2021 driver line-up at Alfa Romeo in Formula 1, although the team may blanch at running such an inexperienced line-up. Regardless, a good season in Formula 2 this year could well make Shwartzman a shoo-in.

JÜRI VIPS (born 2000) ★★★★★

Estonia’s Juri Vips is one of those racing drivers who, although not overburdened with championship titles themselves will probably always be in the photograph standing next to the winner, slightly smaller trophy in hand. He always seems to be there or thereabouts and is highly rated within the Red Bull Junior program.

Vips will spend the 2020 season in Japan, contesting the Super Formula championship. Given Helmut Marko’s proclivities towards giving youth a chance – as well as his proclivities for giving Daniil Kvyat the boot – expect Vips to land a seat at Alpha Tauri-Honda very soon.

DENNIS HAUGER (born 2003) ★★★

Norway’s Dennis Hauger is one of the youngest people on this list – under current Formula 1 rules he won’t even be eligible for a Super Licence until March 2021 – but he looks to be fast approaching on the inside rails. For a variety of reasons, there haven’t been a huge number of high-profile Norwegian racing drivers but then again, German single-seater raing drivers were in relatively short supply until Michael Schumacher appeared on the scene.

Hauger could well have the talent to spark that kind of renaissance. Last season he ran in both the German and Italian Formula 4 championships, finishing as runner-up in the former and dominating the latter, winning 12 out of 21 races to secure the title. In fact, he only narrowly missed out on the German crown as well, just outraced at the final meeting by France’s Théo Pourchaire. Hauger, a member of the Red Bull Junior program, will compete in FIA Formula 3 this season. If he continues in his current form it is a question of when, not if, he will reach F1.

LIAM LAWSON (born 2002) ★★★

Another member of the Red Bull Junior program, New Zealand’s Liam Lawson is a seriously quick puppy. Last season he won the Toyota Racing Series and finished as runner-up in the Euroformula Open Championship, winning regularly in both. Deceptively more impressive yet was his 8th place in the 2018 Asian Formula 3 championship standings, achieved having contested only the final three of the series’ 15 races (he won them all, with fastest lap, from two pole positions).

Lawson will contest the FIA Formula 3 series this year alongside his Red Bull stablemate Dennis Hauger at Hitech Racing and, like Hauger, will be a shoo-in for Formula 1 if he is able to sustain his early single-seater form.

OSCAR PIASTRI (born 2001) ★★

Australian Piastri is the current Formula Renault Eurocup champion, a feat which has recently earned him a spot in the Renault Driver Academy. He will contest the FIA Formula 3 championship in 2020 with Prema Powerteam, meaning he has a gilt-edged opportunity to show everybody what he can do, in equipment that will no doubt be as well-prepared as any on the grid.

 

CLINGING ON REGARDLESS aka “survival of the fastest”

 

RINUS VAN KALMTHOUT (born 2000) ★★★

Time was that Formula 1 and IndyCar operated as completely separate worlds. Then television came along and drivers that Formula 1 had unceremoniously spat out realised that there was more than one top, top, top-line single-seater racing series they could use to grow their reputation and feather their nests. Rarer were IndyCar drivers going the other way, but the nature of excellence sometimes made an American shopping trip absolutely necessary. Rinus Van Kalmthout (better known as Rinus VeeKay, aggravatingly enough) could well prove to be worth the flight.

Last year he won the Asian Formula 3 winter series and then went on to excel in his debut season of Indy Lights, narrowly missing out on the title. In 2020, VeeKay will contest the IndyCar Series with Ed Carpenter Racing and the word on the streets of Long Beach is that he is mustard. He’s also not 20 until September and from the Netherlands, a country undergoing a major motorsport renaissance thanks to the success of Max Verstappen.

Whether or not Van Kalmthout has any particular ambition to be a Formula 1 driver is quite another matter – the majority of his car racing career has been spent on the US racing ladder – but there’s a decent chance it won’t be long until somebody starts to ask him some serious questions.

THEO POURCHAIRE (born 2003) ★★★

The youngest driver on this list, Pourchaire won’t be eligible for a Super Licence until mid-way through the 2021 Formula 1 season at the very earliest. However, he’s another driver who at this stage looks like he may have the talent required to get there. He is the reigning German Formula 4 champion, having fended off the challenge of Dennis Hauger at the season’s final round, and is also affliated with the Sauber Formula 1 team.

Unfortunately, Sauber are now Alfa Romeo, meaning that one seat in the team (at the very least) remains the sole preserve of Ferrari for the forseeable future. His innate Frenchness (he is from France and is French) could yet come in handy should Renault still be competing in the sport, however. Pourchaire has signed to drive for the decorated ART team in FIA Formula 3 for 2020.

FELIPE DRUGOVICH (born 2000) ★★

Drugovich is another possible avenue to explore for those wanting to inject a more Brazilian flavour to the Formula 1 scene. Drugovich arrived on the European scene with a bang, winning the winter MRF Series championship in Asia before adding the Euroformula Open and Spanish Formula 3 championships in 2018.

Last season saw him compete in the FIA Formula 3 series without much success, but for 2020 he is moving onwards and upwards and will race Formula 2 alongside Nelson’s son Pedro Piquet at MP Motorsport. He’s an outside shot, but one with some form (and a convenient passport).

Felipe Drugovich, Brazilian racing driver
Felipe Drugovich, here pictured on a hitchhiking tour of north Cornwall

FREDERIK VESTI (born 2002) ★★

Danish driver Vesti made the step up to car racing in 2016 but really arrived on everybody’s radar last year, winning the Formula Regional European Formula 3 title with 13 wins from 24 races. This year he is moving up to FIA Formula 3 with the Prema Powerteam, one of the most dominant outfits in European lower-formulae motor racing. There’s a growing feeling that Vesti is very much one to watch.

 

OTHER BRITISH PROSPECTS aka “jingoism corner”

 

Formula 1 fans who have come along since the dawn of the Lewis Hamilton era may not be aware of this, but there have been times when British motorsport has been flapping and floundering around looking for “the next British world champion”. It will happen again too, in time. It’s the circle of life.

Don’t be too downhearted, though. There could well be life after Lewis. For starters, Formula 1 can already boast George Russell – who looks to have his feet firmly under the table with the Mercedes team in the medium-to-long term – and Lando Norris, increasingly a fixture at McLaren. But there are also some others following on behind.

The furthest along the path looks to be Callum Ilott, a former Red Bull Junior now with the Ferrari Driver Academy and competing in Formula 2. Ilott is still only 21 years of age but he has been around and about for what seems like ages. He finished 3rd in the 2018 GP3 Series but last season’s Formula 2 campaign was far patchier. However, he’s a proven winner and a consistent competitor and will once again be on the Formula 2 grid this season, teammate to Guanyu Zhou at Virtuosi Racing.

Max Fewtrell, 20, contested FIA Formula 3 in 2019 but was mostly a midfield runner. A second season in the category should answer questions about his true place in the scheme of things. Those looking further back yet will probably be heartened by the form of another former British Formula 4 champion, Kiern Jewiss, 18 this July and now looking at the step up into European competition from British-based series, and Lincolnshire’s Johnathan Hoggard.

Hoggard, 20 in November, narrowly missed out on the BRDC Formula 3 crown but won the prestigious Aston Martin-Autosport Young Driver of the Year award in 2019. It’s also worth monitoring the progress of Jonny Edgar, the 16-year old kart racer who is the second-youngest current member of the Red Bull Junior program,

And for the romantics among you, never forget Billy Monger. Monger lost both of his legs in a ferocious crash in a British Formula 4 race in 2017 but has since returned to single-seater racing in a specially adapted car, having successfully lobbied the FIA to allow such modified vehicles to be permitted in top line races.

In 2019 he won a race of the Euroformula Open Championship at Pau to become the first amputee winner of a major FIA-sanctioned single-seater race but, still not 21 until May, Monger has his sights set higher still. It would be an incredible story, one that would render Robert Kubica’s extraordinary comeback look positively meagre, but incredible things can happen in motor racing.

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