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Featured Formula 1's Top Prospects of 2016

Discussion in 'Formula 1' started by R.J. O'Connell, Apr 14, 2016.

  1. R.J. O'Connell

    R.J. O'Connell
    Commentator/Contributor Premium Member

    For everything that's troubling the sport of Formula 1 these days, the current crop of young talent on the cusp of reaching F1 is still great. Competing in series such as GP2, GP3, European Formula 3, and the Formula Renault Eurocup, many young drivers will cement themselves as F1 stars of the future in 2016. So who are the top young drivers in the ladder to F1 in 2016?

    Every team and every young driver programme wants to unearth the next Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, or Max Verstappen - the next great World Champion, or at least the next "next big thing." With Stoffel Vandoorne making his long-awaited F1 debut in Bahrain, at least on a temporary basis, there is still a very intriguing crop of young drivers that were lying in wait behind him, and are now eager to kick the doors down and establish themselves as the next F1 legend of tomorrow.

    It's important to note that when evaluating driver talent, typically, the drivers best suited for long-term success in F1 are drivers meet the following two criteria: 1) a proven record of winning races and championships, and 2) rapid progression from step to step up the single-seater ladder. Of the last twelve World Drivers' Champions that have been crowned since 1991, ten of them spent five years or fewer between graduating from karting, and landing their first F1 drive.

    This list of ten drivers is compiled and ordered based on the drivers' individual successes, their rate of progression - and yes, a drivers' connections or "financial considerations" play a small part in it as well, though driving merit is the most important factor. This is by no means a totally comprehensive list, just a small selection. More than likely, your own list of top prospects will be different than this one. And that's cool. We'll see a few drivers who are racing outside the traditional stepping stones to F1 - which isn't really surprising, after all, the great Michael Schumacher was brought up out of Mercedes-Benz's sports car programme.

    You'll want to become familiar with these young drivers very soon, for they may be dominating F1 in the years to come.

    1. Charles Leclerc [Monaco]

    Age: 18
    Affliliation: Ferrari Driver Academy
    2016 Season: GP3 Series - ART Grand Prix

    18-year-old Leclerc has yet to win a championship in his first two seasons of single seater racing, but don't get it twisted - this young man can drive. He was Max Verstappen's number one rival in karting. He was the protegé of Jules Bianchi. And this year, he's now the top man in the Ferrari Driver Academy for 2016.

    Over his two seasons in Formula Renault 2.0 and Formula 3, Leclerc was by far the top rookie competitor in the field, only beaten by far more experienced drivers in the categories. Last year, he won four races and briefly led the F3 championship before Felix Rosenqvist pulled away. He steps up to the GP3 Series this year with ART Grand Prix, by far the most dominant squad in the series - and he's already asserted himself as the overwhelming title favourite with his rapid testing times. He'll also have a role within Haas F1 Team as a developmental driver.

    It's been over eighty years since a Monegasque driver won the Monaco Grand Prix. Charles Leclerc could win it several times over, on the way to many, many F1 World Championships. Expect him to arrive within two years, and arrive with an immediate impact.

    2. Esteban Ocon [France]

    Age: 19
    Affiliation: Mercedes F1 Driver Development Programme
    2016 Season: Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters - Mercedes-Benz DTM Team ART

    Esteban Ocon opted to switch from single-seater racing to the high-speed tin-tops of DTM for 2016. A surprise move, given that many drivers' roads to F1 don't run through Germany's top touring car series. Since 1996, only five other drivers have stepped directly out of DTM into full-time F1 roles. One of those drivers just happens to be Manor Racing's Pascal Wehrlein, who's proven his worth in only two F1 starts, and is by far Mercedes-Benz's most coveted young driver.

    The thing is, as good as Wehrlein is, Ocon has even more potential for F1 greatness. He's now won the European Formula 3 and GP3 Series championships in consecutive years, both as a first-year entrant. His title fight with Luca Ghiotto last year was mighty impressive - as was his fourteen podium finishes last year, that included a string of nine straight second-place finishes - no other GP3 driver even had nine podiums all season. There are many tenured F1 veterans who wish they had that consistency.

    Ocon will serve as Renault's third driver in addition to his DTM campaign with Mercedes-Benz, and will be eyeing up an F1 promotion sometime in the next two to three years - but with his talent, it really shouldn't be later than next season.

    3. Pierre Gasly [France]

    Age: 20
    Affiliation: Red Bull Junior Team
    2016 Season: GP2 Series - Prema Racing

    It's utterly perplexing how 20-year-old Gasly hasn't won a race of any kind since September 2013. He was runner-up to Carlos Sainz, Jr. in FR3.5 two years ago. He had all the speed in the world to win multiple GP2 races last year. And that speed has translated to legitimate F1 caliber pace over a number of test sessions carried out for Red Bull and Toro Rosso.

    But Gasly was often the victim of bad luck and poor race setups last year, so he went without winning a single race. Gasly changes over to Prema Racing for his second GP2 season, where he's once again positioned as Red Bull Junior Team's top young driver. If he fails to meet the sky-high expectations this time out, he would surely be axed from the programme, crushing his F1 aspirations. But if racing's fastest Ghost-type Pokémon can convert his pace into lots of wins and a championship challenge in 2016, he can be well and truly in the frame for an F1 debut next year.

    The speed is there, he's remarkably consistent, and having just turned 20, Pierre Gasly doesn't intend on fading out of the picture any time soon.

    4. Lance Stroll [Canada]

    Age: 17
    Affiliation: Williams F1 Team Test Driver
    2016 Season: European Formula 3 Championship - Prema Powerteam

    Lance Stroll does have lots of "financial considerations" at his disposal that a lot of other drivers don't. His uncle Lawrence is a billionaire fashion mogul who's funded his son's racing career out of his pocket change. But not one red pence of that billion-dollar fortune can buy anyone the legitimate talent needed to race in Formula 1. Stroll absolutely has that potential.

    His first year in F3 saw him gain more notoriety and detractors for his involvement in rather unsavoury accidents, yes. But his second season has already started with a win in the very first race - it took him til the very last round to win his first race a year ago. Stroll's already won titles in Italian F4, Toyota Racing Series, and he's even had a clean, trouble-free debut in the Rolex 24 at Daytona earlier this year.

    It was too easy for critics twice his age to forget that Stroll is still 17 years old and learning his racecraft. He's the odds-on favorite to win the F3 championship this year, and if he does, he can win back a lot of his detractors with inspired, lightning-fast drives and re-establish himself as the next great Canadian racing hero. An F1 debut could be as soon as next year, but 2018 seems a more sensible goal.

    5. Alex Lynn [Great Britain]

    Age: 22
    Affiliation: Williams F1 Team Test Driver
    2016 Season: GP2 Series - DAMS

    Speaking of Williams test drivers, Alex Lynn is back with the Grove-based team, and back for another year of GP2 Series racing with DAMS. Like another British legend who raced for Williams way back in the day, Lynn carries a familiar "Red 5" on his GP2 car for the 2016 season. It's a very nice touch, and one fitting of a great young British driver.

    Lynn's won the Formula 3 Macau Grand Prix, he dominated GP3 two years ago in his only year as a Red Bull junior, and while he didn't emerge as a title contender in 2015, Lynn still took two victories and carries more than enough momentum into 2016 to mount a serious title charge with one of GP2's powerhouse squads.

    Sure, he has an understated amount of sponsorship he can bring to the table, but Alex Lynn is a driver that deserves to be there on his merit - especially if either Massa or Bottas leave Williams after this year. He's a driver to watch in anticipation of a 2017 debut.

    6. Sergey Sirotkin [Russia]

    Age: 20
    Affiliation: SMP Racing
    2016 Season: GP2 Series - ART Grand Prix

    "Surprise! Remember me?" Three years ago, Russian sponsors were ready to strap the rocketship to an almost unknown FR3.5 rookie named Sergey Sirotkin and give him a drive at Sauber for 2014. He was eighteen, very inexperienced, and his arrival was contingent upon a huge amount of money. Even after the deal fell through, it still left a bad taste in the mouths of many about Sirotkin.

    So not much was expected when he debuted with perennial GP2 mid-runners Rapax last year. Except he ended up finishing third in the championship, ahead of far more prolific rookies like Gasly and Lynn, and ahead of some experienced top stars like Mitch Evans, Rio Haryanto, and Raffaele Marciello. He broke Vandoorne's feature race winning streak at Silverstone. Through dedication and genuine progress, Sirotkin truly blossomed as an F1-caliber driver.

    He takes over Vandoorne's ride at ART, he's already been quick in testing - Sirotkin might be the favourite to win it all in the traditional last step to F1. A step up that he's now truly deserving of, on his driving talent alone. Hey, did we mention that he's still only 20, and younger than compatriot Daniil Kvyat?

    7. Nyck de Vries [Netherlands]

    Age: 21
    Affiliation: McLaren Young Driver Development Programme
    2016 Season: GP3 Series - ART Grand Prix

    Behind Vandoorne on McLaren's young driver depth chart sits Nyck de Vries, who was quite a decorated driver in karting. GP3 might seem like a downward step from the ranks of Formula Renault 3.5 in terms of speed, but certainly not in terms of competition in what's shaping up to be a great field for the diminutive Dutchman to race in.

    De Vries needed three years to step up from the Formula Renault 2.0 level, but once he finally broke through with a Eurocup title in 2014, he easily made the step up to FR3.5 last year, finishing third in the championship as the top rookie in the series. Now he joins the ART "Super Squad" in GP3 - and could be the biggest threat to Leclerc's title ambitions.

    Should Vandoorne be lost to a rival team if there's no room for him in their 2017 F1 plans, McLaren will be eager to hang on to De Vries and give him a chance to race in F1 within the next two years. The Netherlands is flourishing with a wave of young talent hitting the scene, and with Nyck de Vries as part of that wave, the prospects of long-term Dutch F1 success have never been greater.

    8. Oliver Rowland [Great Britain]

    Age: 23
    Affiliation: Racing Steps Foundation / Renault Sport Academy
    2016 Season: GP2 Series - MP Motorsport

    Formula Renault 3.5's final champion, Oliver Rowland broke every record en route to the title in 2015, just as Vandoorne did in GP2. Even against a somewhat diminished field, the young man from Sheffield was still very impressive as series champion, and proved that he wasn't just beating up on lowly retreads and assorted tin cans when he scored points in his debut weekend in the GP2 Series last summer.

    Rowland is a driver who brings a much needed aura of legitimacy and credibility to a struggling MP Motorsport team that's desperately needed a true lead driver for several years. He's even had a one-off in Formula E for Mahindra Racing, so if his F1 prospects fall through, he's got some other very viable options to step to - but F1 remains Rowland's ultimate goal.

    The Racing Steps Foundation has come very close to getting one of their drivers into F1. Oliver Rowland could very well become their first F1 graduate on the back of a championship-caliber 2016 campaign, and the Renault Sport Academy ties will only help. He could make it within the next two years, but the window's closing just a bit.

    9. Lando Norris [Great Britain]

    Age: 16
    Affiliation: N/A
    2016 Season: Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 - Josef Kaufmann Racing / BRDC British F3 - Carlin

    The youngest and least experienced driver in the top 10, 16-year-old Norris has already become a champion in 2016, winning New Zealand's Toyota Racing Series title. He was also the first race winner of the relaunched British Formula 3 series in March, and just two years ago, he became the youngest world champion in karting.

    The reigning MSA Formula (British Formula 4) champion steps up to the Formula Renault 2.0 level - now iRacing famous! - in both the Eurocup championship and the NEC regional series. He's already set numerous lap records throughout testing, and he's the clear-cut favorite to win the title in both the FR2.0 Eurocup and NEC. Plus, he's always available for a pick-up event in iRacing when he's not traveling the globe racing across three series this year.

    Lando Norris' career is still very early on, but in time, he'll vault to the top of the future prospects list, and teams will be clamoring for his services as a driver. He has true World Champion potential.

    10. Louis Deletraz [Switzerland]

    Age: 18
    Affiliation: Renault Sport Academy
    2016 Season: Formula V8 3.5 - Fortec Motorsport

    When you're the son of a great F1 driver climbing the ranks in single-seater, the expectation is to extend an already pristine legacy of excellence. When you're the son of one of F1's most infamous backmarkers of the modern era, there is an entirely different expectation, to redeem your family's name - and that's exactly what Louis Deletraz is set to do.

    He finished runner-up to Jack Aitken in the FR2.0 Eurocup last year after leading the championship most of the way. Honestly, #10 on this list went to a coin flip between the two Renault Sport Academy prospects - but Deletraz is younger and does seem to have a bit more backing behind him, with additional links to BMW.

    Deletraz benefits from being the consensus top rookie in a heavily diluted Formula V8 3.5 field, taking over Rowland's spot at perennial frontrunners Fortec. He could easily dominate the championship throughout 2016, warranting a step up for 2017 and, eventually, an F1 promotion within three years. And with that, the infamous question "What is Deletraz doing!?" might have a more positive answer in the many years to come.

    Just missing the cut....
    • Antonio Giovinazzi and Luca Ghiotto arrive in GP2 as Italy's newest hopes for an F1 representative. Giovinazzi is Gasly's teammate, graduating from European F3 after three seasons. Ghiotto, 21 years old, took Ocon to the limit in GP3, was incredibly fast, and it's a shame that no junior team signed him for this season after rumours had him joining Red Bull.
    • George Russell started his F3 campaign with a podium finish. It's a shame that he's already looking away from F1 as a future goal; Russell is 18, steady as a rock, and could be Stroll's only serious challenger for the title outside the Prema super team.
    • Jack Aitken was a double champion in FR2.0 Eurocup and NEC last season, joined up with Renault Sport Academy in 2016, and he moves up to a highly competitive GP3 Series with Arden.
    • Pedro Piquet is the younger son of Nelson Sr., arriving in European F3 this year as a double champion of Brazilian F3. He didn't have the best of starts to his 2016 season, but he seems to have the pace to redeem the potential that his older brother never realized in F1.
    Emerging on the radar...
    • The next "Flying Finn" waiting in the wings is Red Bull's newest signing, 16-year-old Niko Kari. Kari dominated the North European F4 series last year, and has shown glimpses of race-winning speed as a European F3 rookie already this year.
    • Asia is putting through quite a few talented young drivers in recent years. Three newer faces include: FDA driver Guanyu Zhou of China - already a Formula 3 podium finisher, Force India prospect Jehan Daruvala in Formula Renault, and Nirei Fukuzumi, a GP3 rookie and teammate to Leclerc and De Vries.
    • Of course, no driver faces more pressure to perform than Mick Schumacher, son of the 7-time World Champion Michael. His second year of F4 has already seen him win more races in one weekend in Italy than he did all of last year. This is his year to challenge for the German F4 title. Where he joins...
    • ...the brightest hope for a successful woman in Formula 1, 15-year-old rookie Sophia Floersch. This year, she moves to single-seaters after a very impressive rookie year in Ginetta Juniors. It's still very early on in her career, but Floersch is already becoming an inspiration to young girls everywhere.
    Image Credits: GP2 Series / GP3 Series / FIA F3 Europe / RPM Racing / LAT Photographic
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 15, 2016
    • Like Like x 8
  2. Most of these names i think are already to old for a F1 seat.

    And some of the names you mentioned aren't even F1 worthy in my opinion..
  3. They are not too old for F1, far from it. Remember that we'll see no more Verstappen's jumping into F1, as they want to raise the age for drivers coming in. Though I agree some, if not most of the names in this list are not F1 material, except for paydriving.
  4. Sirotkin.. Never won a race/championship... And if he did that It probably was Putin doing Putim stuff again :) just kidding
  5. 4 8 15 16 23 42 108

    4 8 15 16 23 42 108
    Only the 5th-most famous race driver from Kerpen

    As with every list sorted by personal criteria, one can disagree if he feels. But what does it help us? Guess everyone will sort it differently.
    Thanks for your research, R.J.!
  6. Yes of course, it's a personal list. Mine would look different, but it doesn't mean we can't debate the drivers on this list.
    • Agree Agree x 1
  7. Bram

    Roaring Pipes Maniacs | #27 Staff Premium Member

    Nyck de Vries. He was one of the youngest drivers that signed for McLaren back in the days and a huge promise. But ever since he joined McLaren he hasn't really been that impressive anymore.

    I am not an expert on this topic but if he really was a monster talent he would have been further now.
  8. 4 8 15 16 23 42 108

    4 8 15 16 23 42 108
    Only the 5th-most famous race driver from Kerpen

    As I see it not so seldom on young drivers, it sometimes just happens that one driver "looses" his skill when moving up one step in formulas or switching to a different category (DTM is tough for example). It depends of the teams of course, and I have seen young drivers grow fast again after another switch.
    That said, the only driver who achieved it all is Ocon. But DTM could mean the end to that.
    Or think of Rosenqvist. No chance for stepping up, why ever that is. I do think he really can win Indy Lights, just a few oval races he has to overcome. But Felix has been in racing for soooo long now. Can't say he's a young gun anymore.
  9. The only reason Rosenqvist hasn't come further is money, he is one of the worst funded top drivers and basically has no money at all. That's the reason he was stuck in F3 for so long, though he is insanely fast when he can push 100% and it's a shame he didn't make it to GP2 as he'd probably become champion. He's 24 and not too old for F1, if he had the funding. As I said, we won't see any more 17 year-olds step right into F1. Ocon is not that impressive IMO, he's fast but nothing special.

    It'll be interesting to follow Lando Norris in better categories, but the other ones on this list have already showed their potential (or lack of in some cases).
  10. GP2 2015 Silverstone Pole position, Win, Fastest lap ...
    And i see you knowledge about Russia end in names Putin
  11. Lol i guess... it was just a joke though....
  12. No problem :)