Are F1 Young Driver Programmes Working Efficiently?

As young driver programmes within Formula One come under scrutiny for producing a lack of talent, we take a look at the current crop of academy drivers and assess which teams are maximising their programmes to full efficiency.  

Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull, Renault and Williams are currently the only F1 teams running young driver programmes, in which top talent like Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen graduated through in recent years. 

You therefore have to ponder whether there is value and efficiency in each of these programmes, particularly in an era when F1 is set to introduce a cost cap and teams must make cuts.

 

Mercedes

Driver Years Current Series
George Russell 2017-present F1
Andrea Antonelli 2018-present Karting
Paul Aron 2019-present Formula Renault Eurocup
Alex Powell 2019-present Karting

Mercedes do have a solid record of guiding drivers into F1 with Russell having already followed in footsteps of Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon, who both reached F1 under Mercedes’ guidance. 

Antonelli, Aron and Powell are still too young for any solid predictions about their F1 chances to be made, although one of the Silver Arrows’ biggest issues is that they don’t promote their talent into their own race seats when the opportunity arises. 

Wehrlein and Ocon found that out rather harshly but Russell might just hit the jackpot if he delivers this season and Mercedes releases Bottas, freeing up a promotion for the youngster next season. 

You however have to give Mercedes respect for guiding their all three of their first young signings all into F1, which is a strong reputation to quickly establish, so there is definitely promise at Brackley but need to be more confident to give them a race seat when ready.

 

Ferrari

Driver Years Current Series
Giuliano Alesi 2016-present F2
Marcus Armstrong 2017-present F2
Enzo Fittipaldi 2017-present F3
Callum Ilott 2017-present F2
Robert Shwartzman 2017-present F2
Gianluca Petecol 2017-present Formula Regional Europe
Mick Schumacher 2019-present F2
Arthur Leclerc 2020-present Formula Regional Europe
Dino Beganovic 2020-present F4

Having previously seen top talent like Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll escape their clutches plus the sad loss of Jules Bianchi, Ferrari’s young driver academy does finally look very promising following Charles Leclerc’s graduation into the main team itself. 

With five of their current junior proteges racing in F2 and Alfa Romeo looking destined as Ferrari’s F1 nurturing ground, I do believe that the Scuderia’s future looks bright but tough decisions will need to be made as won’t be room for all in F1.

Alesi in particular looks the most vulnerable after a tough 2019 campaign with Trident in F2, although this season will be his, Ilott and Schumacher’s second F2 campaigns, which will surely be crucial to their F1 dreams as Alesi and Ilott switch to stronger teams. 

Shwartzman, Armstrong, Fittipaldi, Petecol, Leclerc and Beganovic meanwhile look long-term investments for later this decade, although Armstrong is driving for ART GP in F2 who have taken drivers to the last two titles so pressure will be on him to deliver. 

Ferrari therefore do appear to have an efficient academy of talent at different stages of their paths towards F1, although not all of the current Scuderia crop in F2 will likely reach F1 which is typical of academies. 

 

Red Bull

Driver Years Current Series
Sergio Sette Camara 2016, 2020-present Super Formula
Juri Vips 2018-present Super Formula
Jack Doohan 2018-present F3
Dennis Hauger 2018-present F3
Jonny Edgar 2018-present F4
Liam Lawson 2019-present F3
Yuki Tsunoda 2019-present F2
Jehan Daruvala 2020-present F2
Igor Fraga 2020-present F3
Jak Crawford 2020-present F4

Red Bull used to be one of the best driver academies in recent years but I do wonder if something drastic has changed behind the scenes, because their talent selection seemed to be more questionable compared to previous years. 

Sergio Sette Camara however does have a sense of Alex Albon about him in that he is a slow grower and has returned to the Red Bull system in stronger form after a few years away, which might be the best way forward for Red Bull in terms of talent efficiency. 

Lawson meanwhile looks promising after showing considerable performance improvement over winter, as he makes the F3 switch from MP Motorsport to potential title challengers – HiTech alongside Hauger who should be in the mix.

Tsunoda and Daruvala both showed strong potential in F3 last season as they step up to F2 with Carlin, which should be an interesting battle in terms of direct comparison in not just results but also team dynamics on and off track. 

Fraga, Doohan, Edgar and Crawford meanwhile look like potential long-term investments, whilst Vips could be another Gasly after switching from a direct feeder series to Japan’s Super Formula. 

I however do feel that Red Bull’s youth programme is one of the most efficient because they have Alpha Tauri at their disposal, if want to give youngsters a shot at F1 to determine if they could graduate into the Red Bull team itself. 

 

Renault (Lotus from 2012-15)

Driver Years Current Series
Max Fewtrell 2017-20 F3
Christian Lundgaard 2017-20 F2
Caio Collet 2019-present Formula Renault Eurocup
Guanyu Zhou 2019-present F2
Oscar Piastri 2020-present F3
Hadrien David 2020-present Formula Renault Eurocup

Renault like Red Bull aren’t afraid to invest in young talent albeit in a structured three year programme, with yearly reviews of members which is a positive approach because it allows drivers to work on all areas of their performance with assistance from experts. 

There is however one major issue in that out of 45 former members, only Romain Grosjean graduated into Renault team itself which is an appalling stat to say the least, although eight drivers went on to reach F1 since leaving the programme.

Those stats ultimately suggests poor efficiency in terms of development and promoting within from Renault, although Zhou does seem the likeliest out of current members to graduate into F1 with Renault now that Daniel Ricciardo’s seat is available for 2021.

Lundgaard, Fewtrell and Piastri meanwhile look like long-term prospects if Renault remains committed to F1 and they all do well with the right teams in next few F2/3 seasons. 

Collet and David however will need to impress quickly if they are to fulfil their potential within Renault’s young driver programme, and find themselves top junior seats to give themselves a shot at reaching F1.

 

Williams

Driver Years Current Series
Jamie Chadwick 2019-present W Series
Dan Ticktum 2020-present F2
Roy Nissany 2020-present F2
Jack Aitken 2020-present F2

Although recently established, Williams does seem to be more focused on producing home-grown F1 talent which is a positive for British motorsport. 

Chadwick was absolutely brilliant en route to the 2019 W Series title and deserves her shot at F1, so great credit to Williams for supporting her in the same way that they did with Susie Wolff a few years ago. 

Aitken and Ticktum do boast great potential given their previous F1 junior programme experience with Renault and Red Bull respectively, and should both be capable of challenging for this season’s F2 title once the campaign is underway. 

Nissany meanwhile feels like a pay driver decision because he didn’t exactly set off any flames during the 2018 F2 season, which makes his signing rather questionable when there are stronger drivers like Artem Markelov and Luca Ghiotto available. 

Williams’ driver academy therefore does have potential but is too early whether it is efficient or not, although signing drivers like Nissany is a worry when there are better talent available. 

 

‘Aim of improving grassroots grown talent..’

Lando Norris
Lando Norris is the last proper home-grown F1 graduate through McLaren. (Image credit: McLaren.com)

Current F1 young driver programmes does look in good shape with Renault being the only notable concern, given their poor track record in terms of driver graduation into F1. 

Alpha Tauri and Alfa Romeo meanwhile are benefitting from their close connections to Red Bull and Ferrari respectively, whilst Haas are investing in young talent (Louis Deletraz and Pietro Fittipaldi) in form of test driver roles rather than run an academy. 

Racing Point and McLaren however don’t run junior programmes at present which is a concern, although the former has often done well on own driver selection instincts without needing junior drivers. 

McLaren on the other hand have a strong history in rearing young talent like Lewis Hamilton, Stoffel Vandoorne and Lando Norris, who all drove for the team whilst failing to give talent like Sergio Sette Camara and Nyck De Vries a proper chance in a F1 car. 

I therefore would ultimately like to see every F1 team running a junior programme with aim of efficiently improving grassroots grown talent in each F1 team, whilst strengthening the overall competitiveness of junior formulas. 

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