Do motorsport’s rising stars have a future in Formula One?

Jawad Yaqub Roar Guru

By , Jawad Yaqub is a Roar Guru

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    Each year a select bunch of up and coming drivers earn the privilege to test Formula One machinery in the hope of one day climbing to the summit of the world’s premier open-wheel category.

    In-season testing days, such as the ones recently concluded in Hungary, allow Formula One teams to sample what the future might hold for themselves and for the sport.

    Some, such as Charles Leclerc, who currently leads the F2 feeder championship and tested strongly for Ferrari in Hungary, are already held in high regard – 19-year-old Leclerc is tipped by 2007 world champion Kimi Räikkönen as a future star for the Scuderia.

    Similarly, 17-year-old McLaren junior driver Lando Norris is hailed as a star of the future by the team’s racing director Eric Boullier following the Briton’s impressive testing debut in Hungary.

    Such talent in development makes for a future worth salivating over for Formula One, particularly when once-in-a-generation 19-year-old Max Verstappen already occupies a place on the grid and is earmarked as a multiple world champion.

    That said, it’s concerning to look at how such a volume of young drivers might actually make it onto the Formula One grid from their current positions in the various junior formulae.

    No graduate of GP2, now Formula Two, has gone on to win the Formula One world championship since Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, who claimed their junior crowns in 2005 and 2006 respectively.

    Sobering stuff, especially when considering the breadth of talent on offer in Formula two alone, let alone other categories like the Renault Sport Series or even Super Formula in Japan, the latter of which incumbent McLaren driver Stoffel Vandoorne contended in his wait for a Formula One berth, as reigning GP2 champion Pierre Gasly is doing now.

    GP2 champions following Rosberg and Hamilton have had chequered experiences in Formula One. Nico Hulkenberg and Romain Grosjean stand as the two who have cut it long term, while the 2014 series champ Jolyon Palmer has endured a maligned career to date.

    Whether this issue is inherent in the current structure of the feeder categories leading into Formula One or whether that space on the Formula One grid is extremely limited, either way it is disappointing to see these young drivers either being chewed out of the system early or having their careers stall in the midfield.

    The purpose of the Toro Rosso junior squad was to prep the energy drinks giant’s incoming young drivers and filter them up to the championship winning team, Red Bull Racing. However, with the remarkable Carlos Sainz nearing what could be a fourth campaign at Faenza, his young career is being put in jeopardy through Toro Rosso’s obsolescence.

    Red Bull itself has dropped many drivers from its Formula One ranks who have gone on to attain success elsewhere. Sebastien Buemi, who drove for Toro Rosso until the end of 2011, has gone on to win the World Endurance Championship title in 2014 and the Formula E title in 2015-16.

    It is felt that if they were to have found refuge somewhere else in Formula One, they could have had a presence on the grid.

    There’s no doubt that a time will come when current members of the grid will have to bid Formula One adieu, but until there is availability, the likes of Leclerc and Norris will just have to bide their time in development while Verstappen continues to collect the accolades.

    With the depth of talent in the making, the future of Formula One is safe as far as drivers are concerned – though its pathways and vacancies need to be addressed, because with further streamlining Leclerc, Norris and Antonio Giovinazzi will be on the grid sooner.