Written by Sean McKean, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri
Many talented drivers come through the ranks of Junior Formulae on their quest to Formula 1. And to keep a close eye on upcoming talents, teams have led themselves to establish Junior Academies. Junior academies can be helpful in many aspects, be it funding their racing ventures, or just giving drivers more publicity. At present, eight teams have set up junior driver academies, and the first one we’ll take a look at is Mercedes.
Frederik Vesti is the highest-placed driver in the academy, currently racing in Formula 2. Vesti has quite a fruitful resume, with titles or great results in most categories. The Dane made his first foray into motor racing in 2016 in Formula Ford Denmark, finishing P4 in the championship. Vesti would make the step up into Formula 4 in 2017, however, he saw varying success in his first season. Racing in three different series, he finished runners-up in the F4 Denmark championship behind Daniel Lundgaard, taking eight victories across the season, and followed it up with P7 in the ADAC F4 Championship with one win. He also started two races in the F4 United States Championship with a best finish of 10th.
Vesti made advances in his performances in 2018, finishing fourth overall in the ADAC F4 championship, behind another rising star Liam Lawson and eventual champion Lirim Zendeli. The Dane took two wins during the season. Vesti also raced three races in Italian F4 during the same season, and won on two occasions. He also made his F3 European debut for Van Amersfoort, finishing P10 on debut at Hockenheim. To top out his most stacked season yet, he would race in the Macau Grand Prix, coming home in P15.
Vesti kicked off 2019 by debuting in the all-new Formula Regional European championship. Many expected him to merely be a title contender at best, but he ultimately turned out to be the only title contender. Vesti dominated the championship, winning 13 out of the 24 races, outshining his closest contenders Enzo Fittipaldi and Igor Fraga. He went on to drive at the Macau Grand Prix once more, and improved in his second showing, finishing P10.
The COVID-19 pandemic would not stop Vesti’s progress, as he would make his FIA Formula 3 debut for Prema Racing in 2020. Expectations were high after his dominant FREC season, and he lived up to them. In a field stacked with talent, Vesti emerged as a title favorite alongside the likes of his team mates Oscar Piastri and Logan Sargeant, and the ART driver Theo Pourchaire. He won three races (including winning his first in his third race) with a P4 finish in the championship.
In 2021, Vesti remained in FIA Formula 3, this time switching to ART Grand Prix. He did not win as many races, but had a very consistent season. Despite missing out on points in only three races, he finished P4 in the championship yet again, behind Clement Novalak, Jack Doohan, and champion Dennis Hauger. The Dane was also announced as a Mercedes Junior Driver in 2021.
Vesti would make the jump up to FIA Formula 2 in 2022, driving for ART Grand Prix alongside former rival Pourchaire. His first full season as a Mercedes Junior started off slow, with below-par finishes in the opening rounds. However, as time went on, his performance improved noticeably. Vesti would finish the season with one win, obtained in Baku, and five podiums, on his way to ninth in the championship. While he may not have finished as high as teammate Theo Pourchaire, who finished P2, it was still a great first season.
For 2023, Vesti made the move to Prema Racing over the offseason, in pursuit of the Formula 2 title. While the first round at Bahrain didn’t yield any points, his win in the feature race at Jeddah, coupled with a points score at the sprint race prior sees him sit fourth in the standings, and five points behind championship leader Ralph Boschung. A great start to the season, indeed, and he will be one to watch across the season, should he keep producing this level of performance.
The next junior on our list is Estonian driver Paul Aron, currently racing in Formula 3. Making his motor racing debut in 2019, he immediately burst onto the scene. Aron finished third in the Italian F4 Championship for Prema Racing, behind Gianluca Petecof and champion Dennis Hauger, his campaign yielding two wins. He also made a bid in ADAC F4, finishing P7 in the championship with two wins on the season, once again driving for Prema. It was in the summer of 2019, when Mercedes would announce his inclusion in their driver academy.
In 2020, Aron would make the step up in machinery, into the Formula Renault Eurocup for ART Grand Prix. He achieved little success during the season, an unfamiliar territory for the Estonian thus far. Making one rostrum appearance throughout the season, he was drastically outperformed by teammates Gregoire Saucy and Victor Martins, the latter eventually winning the title.
Freshly rebranded for 2021, the Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine (FRECA) would be Aron’s ground once again. For this season, he returned to Prema, and had clearly improved. He finished P3 in the championship, behind Hadrien David and champion Gregoire Saucy, with two wins during the season.
For 2022, Aron would begin the year in the Formula Regional Asian Championship. Achieving three podiums, he would only finish P8 in the championship; however, his main focus lay on a third challenge at the FRECA title. Though unsuccessful in his hunt for the title, finishing P3, he stepped up his performance once more. Aron would end the season with six wins, behind Gabriele Mini and eventual champion Dino Beganovic. He also made an attempt at the 2022 Aurum 1006 km in the GT3 class, finishing P2 in his class.
Currently, Aron races in FIA Formula 3, stepping up with Prema Racing. His season has started off decently thus far, with a best finish of P5 in the opening race. In a vastly competitive field, it would be wise to include Aron in your list of title favorites.
Andrea Kimi Antonelli
Perhaps the most well-known Mercedes Junior, Andrea Kimi Antonelli is currently racing in Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine (FRECA). The Italian’s stock has risen significantly over the years. Joining the academy in 2018, Antonelli has won a number of titles, with the Easykart International Grand Final, South Garda Winter Cup, WSK Champions Cup, WSK Super Master Series, and WSK Euro Series under his belt. His most impressive karting achievements lie in the CIK-FIA Karting Europe, having won the title twice in a row in 2020 and 2021. Adding on to his karting success, Antonelli made his car racing debut in Italian F4 in 2021 at age 15, achieving three podiums during the season.
In 2022, Antonelli made his first full attempt to race full F4 seasons. He started with a partial campaign in F4 UAE in flashy fashion, beating out Charlie Wurz in a photo finish at Abu Dhabi on debut. The youngster would also win a second race that weekend too, and despite only racing in eight rounds, he still finished a strong P8 in the championship with two wins. In Italian F4, he absolutely dominated, a dominant campaign yielding 13 wins from 20 races, as he roared to the title. In ADAC F4, it was a similar story. Despite missing a full round at the Lausitzring, he still won the title with eight wins, ahead of Taylor Barnard and Rafael Camara. He would finish the year by winning both races convincingly at the FIA Motorsport Games, despite battling a fractured wrist.
In 2023, Antonelli made the step up in machinery into the Formula Regional Middle East Championship. Even though he started off slowly, he eventually gained ground on the competition, winning three races enroute to the winter title over (once again) Taylor Barnard and Rafael Camara. For the summer, he will be racing in Formula Regional European by Alpine with Prema Racing. Though the season hasn’t commenced yet, Antonelli looks to be a clear favorite for the title.
Now, we move onto drivers currently racing in karting series, kicking off with Jamaican driver Alex Powell. Powell began his karting ventures in 2015 in the Barbados Regional Championship, though no results were recorded during this time.
In 2016, Powell made the step up to the national level at the age of eight. He began in the ROK Cup USA, finishing runners-up in the championship. He also made starts in the SKUSA Summer Nationals, a best finish of P3 twice during the season. Powell would win the Epcot Challenge, and finish P3 overall in the Florida Winter Tour.
In 2017, Powell stayed in North America. He began his season in the SKUSA Super Nationals, taking a best finish of P16 in Las Vegas. Powell would win multiple titles and events during the year, winning the Rok Winter Cup, the Epcot Challenge for a second time, and the Midwest Rok Cup. He also took part in the SKUSA Winter Nationals, netting a best finish of P3 at New Orleans. To cap off his most stacked season thus far, he would once again finish third overall in his second venture in the Florida Winter Tour.
In 2018, Powell made the step up into the European ladder, racing in the Italian Championship and the WSK Open Cup, finishing P5 in the Italian Championship and P3 in the WSK Open Cup. He kept up his pursuits in America as well within the US Pro Kart Series (USPKS), Sunshine Skate Karting Series, and a third season in the Florida Winter Tour. He had a best finish of P3 in the USPKS, a win at Homestead in the Sunshine Skate Karting Series, and yet again, third in the Florida Winter Tour Championship.
Powell was included in the Mercedes Junior Academy in 2019, prior to his first full campaign in Europe. This would be a busy season for him, competing in the ROK Cup, South Garda Winter Cup, WSK Super Master Series, and the Italian Championship, being the notable ones. He would win his first titles as a Mercedes Junior in the ROK Cup Superfinal and the South Garda Winter Cup. Success continued around his title wins too, as the Jamaican finished third in the WSK Super Master Series as well as third in the Italian Championship.
2020 would be Powell’s biggest step up yet: the FIA European Karting Championship. Though not as successful as other ventures, he was a finalist that year as well, taking a best finish of 10th.
In 2021, he remained in the European Karting championships. Powell would finish P2 overall in the WSK European Championship, and third in both the WSK Super Master Series and WSK Final Cup.
In 2022, he moved to the OK Class full time, finishing P2 in the FIA European Karting Championship.
In 2023, he stayed in the FIA European Karting Championship for another season. Powell is expected to be one of the title favorites for the season, as he looks to add more accolades to his glittering motorsport resume.
The next of the karting drivers on our list is Chinese driver Yuanpu Cui, who currently races in the OK Karting class. He started his career locally in 2014, and by 2016, he finished runners-up in the China Rotax Championship.
As time went on, he ventured over to Europe. He took podiums in multiple Italian events, the WSK Open Cup, WSK Final Cup, ROK Cup Superfinal, and WSK Euro Series in 2018 and 2019, showing great growth outside his home.
In 2020, Cui continued his European ventures, finishing second in the Andrea Margutti Trophy, and victories in the WSK Champions Cup. He also dabbled this stint with one in the Americas, taking a podium in the Florida Winter Tour.
In 2021, despite remaining in OK Junior, Mercedes noticed his rapid growth, and signed Cui onto their junior team. In 2022, he made the step up to the OK Class, achieving many impressive results in his time. He will continue in the OK Class for yet another season in 2023.
Our next driver may have a recognizable last name to some feeder series followers, Spaniard Luna Fluxa, sister to karting driver Lucas and Formula Regional driver Lorenzo. She started karting in 2017 at age seven, and has been competing across national European championships since 2019.
In 2019, Fluxa rose through the ranks in her native country Spain, before moving up to the WSK and IAME Euro Series events, reaching the finals on a consistent basis. In 2021, she would take her first title, winning the IAME Euro Series. After her step up into OK Junior in 2022, Mercedes signed her into the Junior team. She will remain in OK Junior for the 2023 season.
The last driver on our list, and the most recent addition to the Mercedes Academy is Kenzo Craigie. Throughout his early career, he showed great pace consistently, taking a podium in his first Bambino race. He would take this pace with him as he moved into the Cadet class.
In 2021, Craigie broke through, making the Rotax Max Grand Finals in Bahrain. Adding on to his prior success, he finished P9 in the British Karting Championship.
Craigie would dominate the cadet class in 2022, winning the British Kart Masters, and being vice-champion in the British Karting Championship.
Ahead of 2023, the Mercedes Junior Academy signed Craigie. The Briton plans on competing in UK and European categories, as well as select OK Junior events, in preparation for a full time campaign in 2024.