Updated: Feb 28
Written by: Daniel Yi, Edited by: Maya Narang
Besides watching drivers push the limits of engineering in amazingly built race cars as they chase championship titles and race wins, another great aspect of motorsport is following the meteoric rise of talented youngsters coming through the junior racing categories in their pursuit of glory.
In Formula One, when you think of talented young drivers and prospects, a few names will come to mind. Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, Jules Bianchi, Max Verstappen, George Russell and Charles Leclerc are some examples.
These skilled drivers were each part of a F1 team’s driver development programme which sponsored and helped them in their journey to Formula 1. Red Bull, McLaren, Alpine, Ferrari, Sauber, Williams, and Mercedes all have programmes and invest in them to scout for the next big young racer. Most drivers in the top tiers of racing would have been a part of a development programme at some point in their career. So what’s the history behind these programmes, and who are the racers currently in one?
Today we look into one of the very first driver development programmes. Red Bull’s driver development programme: Red Bull Junior Team.
The history of the Red Bull Junior team is a little strange as there were actually 2 Red Bull Junior Teams. Back in 1989, Dr. Helmut Marko set up and ran a racing team called RSM Marko, which focused on competing in Formula 3 and Formula 3000 (now FIA Formula 2). This venture had two F1 drivers pass through its ranks in Karl Wendlinger and Juan Pablo Montoya. RSM Marko then came under Red Bull sponsorship and ran under the name Red Bull Junior Team from 1999 until its end in 2003.
The junior team that we know now first had its beginnings in 2001, when Red Bull formed the team as its European driver programme. Its purpose is to uncover and develop talented young racers in open wheel racing, get them into Red Bull’s F1 team, and win the F1 championship. Racers under the programme received support and funding from Red Bull as they progressed through junior tiers of racing. When Red Bull bought Jaguar and formed their very own F1 team in 2005, Christian Klien and Vitantonio Liuzzi became the first graduates from the junior team to get a F1 seat in Red Bull.
Throughout the years, the Red Bull Junior Team has seen many talented drivers. Even though not everyone made it to Formula 1, many of these drivers have gone on to enjoy racing careers in other forms of motorsport. These include Alex Lynn, Tom Blomqvist, Antonio Felix da Costa (FE champion), and Sergio Sette Camara currently racing in Formula E, Pato O’Ward who is currently racing in Indycar, and many others.
Several members of the program made the successful journey to Formula 1. Examples include Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jr, Formula E champions Jean-Eric Vergne and Sebastien Buemi, Le Mans winner Brendon Hartley, Alpine reserve Daniil Kvyat, Red Bull test driver Alex Albon and current AlphaTauri drivers Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda. Red Bull has promoted several drivers from Toro Rosso/AlphaTauri, including the likes of Kvyat, Gasly, Albon and most notably, multiple race winners in Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen as well as four-time champion Sebastian Vettel. Red Bull has been considered to be immensely successful with its driver programme, with almost all its F1 drivers coming from their very own academy.
Red Bull Junior members who have gone on to F1
Red Bull Junior graduates who have gone on to F1
Enrique Bernoldi – Arrows (2001-02), BAR Honda test/reserve (2004-06)
Robert Doornbos – Jordan test/reserve (2004), Minardi (2005), Red Bull test/reserve (2006)
Patrick Friesacher – Minardi (2005)
Narain Karthikeyan – Jordan (2005), Williams test/reserve (2006-07), HRT (2011-12)
Christian Klien – Jaguar (2004), Red Bull (2005-06), Honda test/reserve (2007), BMW Sauber test/reserve (2008-09), HRT test/reserve (2010)
Vitantonio Liuzzi – Red Bull (2005), Toro Rosso (2006-07), Force India (2008-10), HRT (2011)
Sebastian Vettel – BMW Sauber test/reserve (2006-07), Toro Rosso (2007-08), Red Bull (2009-14), Ferrari (2015-20), Aston Martin (2021-present)
Scott Speed – Toro Rosso (2006-07)
Neel Jani – Toro Rosso test/reserve (2006)
Michael Ammermüller – Red Bull test/reserve (2006-07)
Sébastien Bourdais – Toro Rosso (2008-09)
Brendon Hartley – RedBull/Toro Rosso test/reserve (2008-10), Mercedes test/reserve (2012-13), Toro Rosso (2017-2018), Ferrari development driver (2019)
Sébastien Buemi – Toro Rosso (2009-11), Red Bull test/reserve (2012-14, 2019)
Jaime Alguersuari – Toro Rosso (2009-11)
Daniel Ricciardo – HRT (2011), Toro Rosso (2012-13), Red Bull (2014-18), Renault (2019-20), McLaren (2021-present)
Jean-Éric Vergne – Toro Rosso (2012-14), Ferrari test/reserve (2015-16)
Daniil Kvyat – Toro Rosso/AlphaTauri (2014, 2016-17, 2019-20), Red Bull (2015-16), Ferrari test/reserve (2018), Alpine reserve (2021-present)
Carlos Sainz Jr. – Toro Rosso (2015-17), Renault (2017-18), McLaren (2019-20), Ferrari (2021-present)
Max Verstappen – Toro Rosso (2015-16), Red Bull (2016-present)
Pierre Gasly – RedBull/Toro Rosso test/reserve (2015-17), Toro Rosso/AlphaTauri (2017-18, 2019, 2020-present), Red Bull (2019)
Sergio Sette Camara – Toro Rosso test (2016), McLaren test (2019), Red Bull/AlphaTauri test/reserve (2020)
Alexander Albon – Toro Rosso (2019), Red Bull (2019-20), Red Bull test/reserve (2021-present)
Yuki Tsunoda – AlphaTauri (2021-present)
Dan Ticktum – Williams development driver (2020-2021)
Callum Ilott – Ferrari/Alfa Romeo test/reserve (2021-present)
Red Bull Juniors
Today, the Red Bull Junior Team includes 8 talented drivers in junior motorsport categories.
Juri Vips is a 20 year old Estonian driver who currently races in F2 with Hitech GP. After good results in karting, he made his single-seater debut in the Italian and ADAC F4 series in 2016 and won the ADAC F4 championship in 2017. He then joined Motopark for the F3 European Championship in 2018 where he placed fourth in the championship and joined the Red Bull Junior Team in October 2018. In 2019, Vips competed in the inaugural FIA F3 Championship with Hitech GP and came in fourth place with three race wins, a remarkable achievement as the top three places in the championship were snapped up by a dominant Prema team. In 2020, Vips made some forays into the Formula Regional European Championship and Super
Formula but was hindered by COVID-19 restrictions worldwide. He joined DAMS to replace the injured Sean Gelael in F2 in August 2020 and subsequently joined Hitech GP for the 2021 F2 season where he achieved two race wins and four podiums, currently sitting fifth in the standings. He is currently the only Junior Team driver with a superlicense which puts him in a contending position for an AlphaTauri seat should they not continue with Yuki Tsunoda.
At 17 years of age, this talented English driver currently races for Carlin in FIA F3. He won the CIK-FIA European karting championship in 2017 and Red Bull picked him up for the Junior Team in 2018. Since then, he has gone on to make his single-seater debut in Italian F4 with Jenzer Motorsport as well as some guest appearances in ADAC and Spanish F4 in 2019. Edgar picked up two podiums in this campaign and finished 10th in the championship. In 2020, Edgar joined Van Amersfoort Racing, competing in ADAC F4 and part-time in Italian F4 due to the pandemic. Despite that, he came in fourth place in Italian F4 and won the ADAC F4 championship with six wins and 11 podiums to his name. This year, he is driving for Carlin in the FIA F3 championship and is currently 10th in the standings. It seems a bit too early for Edgar to be in the consideration for an F1 seat for the time being, but he still has plenty of time to develop.
This 19 year old hails from New Zealand and joined the junior team in 2019. He first made his foray into lower formula categories in New Zealand in 2015. He boasts an extensive resume, having competed in Australian F4 (2017, 2nd place), ADAC F4 (2018, 2nd place), Euroformula Open (2019, 2nd place) and even made his way into FIA F3 and the Toyota racing series in 2019, finishing 11th and 1st respectively. The Kiwi did the same in 2020, improving his F3 position to 5th and earning a 2nd place championship finish in the Toyota Racing Series. This year, he moved onto the FIA F2 championship, competing in Hitech GP alongside fellow Red Bull Junior teammate Juri Vips. He currently sits eighth in the standings with one win and two podiums. Additionally, he is racing in DTM alongside Alex Albon where he has a win and three podiums, sitting second in the standings. Lawson could definitely be a candidate for the AlphaTauri seat with his experience. His performance against Vips this season would be crucial to determining whether he gets a shot at F1 in the coming years.
Daruvala is another experienced driver in the Junior team. The 22 year old Indian driver started karting in 2011 and won multiple championships before entering and competing in various Formula Renault 2.0 championships from 2015-2016 with mixed results, picking up 1 race win and 2nd place in the Toyota racing series. From 2017-2018, Daruvala competed in the FIA F3 championship with Carlin, but with moderate results as he finished sixth and 10th in the standings for each respective year and amassed a total of two wins and eight podiums in his two seasons. His breakthrough would come in 2019 after moving to Prema for the 2019 F3 season and had two wins and seven podiums en route to an impressive third place finish in the standings. Daruvala was then named to the Red Bull Junior Team in 2020 and competed with Carlin in the 2020 F2 season, achieving one win and two podiums, and finishing in 12th place overall. This year, he remains in F2 with Carlin and has former Red Bull prospect Dan Ticktum as his teammate. As of now, he is in ninth place with two podiums to his name. Daruvala is clearly an excellent driver but his F1 chances may remain slim unless he proves better to be Vips and Lawson. Even so, he may have to compete with Tsunoda or perhaps even Alex Albon for a seat. He is already 22 years of age and Helmut Marko seems to prefer younger drivers.
One of the youngest drivers in the Red Bull Junior Team, this 16 year old American driver first started on the karting scene and had a successful career before moving onto race cars in 2018 where he achieved second place in NACAM F4 and seventh place in the U.S. F2000 National Championship. He was then signed by the Red Bull Junior Team in 2020. Crawford then made the shift over to ADAC and Italian F4 in 2020 where he partnered fellow Red Bull Junior Jonny Edgar in Van Amersfoort Racing. He achieved five wins and 12 podiums, finishing second in ADAC F4, losing out to Edgar by just two points, and finishing 6th in Italian F4. This year, he is competing in FIA F3 with Hitech GP, sitting 20th in the standings, and Euroformula Open where he is having more success in fifth position. Jak Crawford is in the same boat as Jonny Edgar, currently too early to be considered for an F1 seat.
Ayumu Iwasa is a 19 year old Japanese driver who started his career in karts, winning several series. He made his single-seater debut in 2017 with a few guest appearances in Japanese F4 and Asian Formula Renault Championships. In 2019, Iwasa won the Suzuka Racing School’s Single Seater Series and was named as a Honda Junior Driver in 2020. Iwasa then headed over to French F4 where he had a career breakthrough and won the series in dominant fashion with nine wins and 15 podiums. This year, he was named as a Red Bull Junior and competed in FIA F3 alongside Jak Crawford in Hitech GP. He currently sits 11th in the championship with 39 points, having just won his first race in Budapest. Iwasa is also too early to be in contention for any F1 seat at the moment.
Jack Doohan hails from Australia and is the son of five-time Moto GP champion Mick Doohan. After his karting endeavours, Red Bull signed him to the junior team in September 2017. The 18 year old Australian made his racecar debut in 2018 in British F4 partnered with fellow Red Bull Junior Dennis Hauger. He came in 5th position and had a few appearances in Italian and ADAC F4 as well. 2019 was a mixed year for the Australian, coming 11th in Euroformula Open, but managing to take second place in both editions of the F3 Asian Championship he participated in. In 2020, he entered into FIA F3 with HWA Racelab but ended with mediocre results, coming in 26th. However, he has turned it around this year, competing with Trident, he sits second in the F3 championship with a win and two podiums.
Dennis Hauger is an 18 year old racer from Norway. Along with Jack Doohan, he was signed by the Red Bull Junior Team after his karting days in September 2017 and made his racecar debut in British F4 in 2018, coming 4th in the championship. In 2019, Hauger ventured into Italian and ADAC F4, having great results by coming in 1st and 2nd in the respective championships. He also made a few appearances in Euroformula Open and Formula Regional European Championship. Hauger made the jump to FIA F3 in 2020 with Hitech GP but ended the season with only one podium and 14 points, lying 17th in the standings. He has resumed his commanding form this year, joining Prema and leading the F3 championship in dominant fashion with three wins and seven podiums so far.
Doohan and Hauger have been closely intertwined in their junior careers so far. Both are excellent drivers, but it seems Hauger has the edge for now. While F1 might currently seem quite distant, whichever of them wins this season’s battle will likely decide the pecking order and priority for a future F1 seat.
The Red Bull Junior Team is one of the most if not the most successful young driver programmes in F1 today. The future looks bright for these young drivers and we wish them all the very best in their careers.