Formula 1’s Forgotten Junior Prodigies
Written by Sean McKean, Edited by Janvi Unni
In Formula 1’s rich history, many young racing drivers have fulfilled the massive expectations set for them. Drivers such as Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button, or more recent drivers like George Russell or Lando Norris may come to mind as examples to have thrived in the sport from a young age. However, not all touted prodigies manage to make it big-time; in fact, most usually get forgotten in the cruel world of motorsport. We won’t let these names go unsaid though, as we are here to discuss the forgotten prodigies of Formula 1.
The first driver is one you may have forgotten about: Estonian Kevin Korjus. Kevin burst into the feeder series spotlight in 2008, racing in Formula Renault 2.0 Finland and NEZ series. In FR NEZ, he would only take two podiums, but would also finish third in the final standings, despite participating in only four races. The success wasn’t limited to NEZ, as he finished P2 in the final standings in the Finnish counterpart series, taking second in the standings with three wins. This was an impressive showing for a 15-year-old making his car racing debut.
In the three years following, the Estonian did not stop his success, finishing fifth in Formula Renault 2.0 NEC in 2009 and winning the Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup title in 2010. 2011 would be a promising year for Kevin, as he not only finished sixth in Formula Renault 3.5, beating fellow rookie teammate Arthur Pic, but also participated in the Formula 1 Young Drivers test for Lotus at Abu Dhabi. This test would land him a reserve driver role at the Lotus F1 Team. However, a test would be the closest Kevin would get to Formula 1, whether it was his fault or not. After a year of reserve duties, he raced in the GP3 Series in 2013 to try and secure a full-time Formula 1 seat with Lotus over fellow reserve driver Jerome d’Ambrosio. Though his GP3 campaign went well, with him finishing seventh in the standings and beating teammates Patrick Kujala and Aaro Vainio, it was not enough to secure a drive.
In 2014, Kevin left single-seater racing to begin a career in endurance. He signed with ART Grand Prix to race in the European Le Mans Series and Blancpain Endurance Series. Despite good campaigns in these series, taking a combined three podiums in 10 races, it wasn’t enough for the Estonian to secure a drive for 2015, and he was forced to take a sabbatical. Kevin managed to secure a drive in 2016, racing in the Renault Sport Trophy Series. It was quite a success, and he finished second in the standings with one win, beaten only by Pieter Schothorst. However, this is where Kevin would call it quits.
Where is Kevin now, you may ask. He is still very much involved in the feeder series paddock. He is a driver coach for the ART Grand Prix team and fellow compatriot Paul Aron. His experience has nurtured champions, mentoring talents such as the aforementioned Paul Aron, Sebastian Montoya, and Nazim Azman.
The most recent of the forgotten talents is Brit Max Fewtrell. Max saw his first success in 2016 in the F4 British Championship, winning the title with three wins. The Brit made the machinery jump in 2017, racing in the Formula Renault Eurocup; however, it did not slow the roll, and he won one race and finished sixth in the standings. It was during 2017 where Max got his first taste of Formula 1, being signed on as an official Renault Junior Driver. In 2018, he added another trophy to the cabinet, taking the Formula Renault title convincingly over a stacked field consisting of Logan Sargeant, Christian Lundgaard, and Oscar Piastri.
Things eventually slowed down though, and it started in the 2019 FIA Formula 3 season. With lofty expectations, he finished 10th in the standings with two podiums. It was a great run for a rookie, but for the pressure put on him, it was not enough. Max continued in 2020 in the Formula 3 Championship, this time with Hitech Grand Prix. Given his previous sophomore performance in Formula Renault Eurocup, it was an expected title run, but it wasn’t close to that. He would end up not completing the season with only five points to his name. Later on, Max admitted mental health reasons for why he dropped out of the season.
What is Max doing now? Well, he’s still quite a prominent figure within Formula 1 and social media. At the end of 2020, Max would launch his own merchandise line called Fewtrell Fits. A strange move at the time, it was made evident as to why in 2021, when he eventually became Lando Norris’s brand ambassador for his YouTube and eSports group called Team Quadrant. Max even did a bit of racing in 2022, taking part in the Goodwood Speed of Festival alongside Jamie Chadwick in the hillclimb event.
Perhaps one of the sadder stories of this dive, the next ex-prodigy is Brit Dean Stoneman. Dean first came onto everyone’s radar in 2007, when he finished second in the Formula Renault BARC Championship. He continued in Formula Renault for the next two years, specifically racing in Formula Renault UK in 2008. In the main UK series, he would finish 4th in the standings; however, he had impressive showings in the Winter and Graduate Cups. Dean would go on to win the FR Graduate Cup overall and finish third overall in the winter cup. 2009 would see the Brit take another shot at the Formula Renault UK Championship, but it would end up as another fourth place finish in the standings.
In 2010, Dean had his most impressive season yet. He signed for Silver Lining to run in the decently new FIA Formula 2 Championship. This signing proved successful, as he won the title convincingly over second place Jolyon Palmer. To top off a great season, Dean secured a test drive for Williams Racing at the end of the year, with aspirations of being on the Formula 1 grid in 2012 with the British outfit.
Unfortunately, these plans were curtailed in a heartbreaking way. For 2011, Dean had planned to race in Formula Renault 3.5, but he would end up skipping the season after being diagnosed with testicular cancer. The year was a write-off for any kind of racing, as he sat away to undergo treatment. He couldn’t stay away forever though, and he came back to racing in an unexpected area: powerboat racing. He isn’t just a master of tarmac either, as Dean won the 2012 Powerboat UK title racing alongside his father Colin.
In 2013, Dean returned to racing, and he clearly hadn’t lost his craft. Racing in the Porsche Carrera Cup in his native Britain, he would finish fifth in the championship with five wins. Despite Formula 1 now realistically being out of the picture for Dean, he would return to single-seaters in 2014 in the GP3 Series. Even with the challenge of having to switch teams in the middle of the season, he still finished second in the standings with five wins.
In the years following, Dean would secure rides anywhere he could. From 2015 to 2017, he raced in four separate racing series, those being GP2, Formula Renault 3.5, Indy Lights, and Blancpain GT Endurance. Though he had success in Indy Lights, ending his only season in 2016 with two wins, seven podiums, and a fifth place finish overall, the Brit eventually found his footing in GT racing. From 2017 to 2019, he spent it all in Blancpain GT Endurance, but he never replicated any of his single-seater success, achieving a best points finish of P18 in 2019. 2020 would be his last year in GT, racing in European Lamborghini Super Trofeo, but it would be a successful season for him, as he’d walk away with a convincing title win. Since this title win, Dean has not returned to racing.
What is Dean doing now? Well, it doesn’t have much to do with motorsport. He’s currently living a quiet life away from the driver's seat in Britain.
Carlo van Dam
One of the more ordinary stories belongs to Dutchman Carlo van Dam. Carlo first showed his pace in 2005, when he finished fourth overall in the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 Championship. For a rookie in this series, it was highly impressive to take multiple podiums in a field consisting of drivers such as Kamui Kobayashi and Filipe Albuquerque. The Dutchman continued his form in the following years, amounting to a title victory in ATS Formel 3 Cup in 2007. During that same year, Carlo made a start in the infamous Macau Grand Prix; however, it would only be a 14th place finish.
His Formula 1 aspirations would be short-lived, as Carlo couldn’t secure a drive in Europe. Instead, he made the move to Japan in the All-Japan Formula 3 Championship. In this season, he won the title convincingly, winning half the season’s 18 races. He also dabbled in Super GT as well, which we’ll cover more later on.
In 2009, Carlo managed to secure drives in Europe, but they weren’t of any great quality. He would only take part in six races in Euro Formula 3 and participate in Superleague Formula, a series known for its instability and particularly weak grids. He continued in more GT ventures, driving in the 24 Hours of Spa and Nurburgring, but he wouldn’t do so great in these races.
From 2010 to 2014, Carlo spent his time in Japan, trying to secure any ride he could, in Super GT. Despite having to drive for five different teams in five seasons, he still finished a best of sixth in the standings in 2012. However, these previous results weren’t enough for a quality Super GT drive, as he was forced to move to GT Asia in 2015. Though he would win his first race in over three years, it would still only be an eighth place points finish.
What is Carlo doing now? Well, he’s found more success in endurance racing. Since 2015, he has participated in the 24 Hours of Nurburgring. In this time span, he would win the 2015, 2016, 2018, and 2019 editions in the SP3T class. Other than that, he participates in the Thailand Super Series over in Asia; however, information on the championship results is scarce.
One of the stranger, yet sadder stories belongs to Japanese ace Keisuke Kunimoto. Keisuke made himself known in 2007 in his native Japan, racing in the Formula Toyota Championship and Formula Challenge Japan. For a young rookie, it was mighty impressive for him to finish second in Formula Toyota and win the title in Formula Challenge Japan, all in the same season. His biggest break, though, would come in 2008, when he would not only win in Super GT and finish second overall in Japan Formula 3, but also win the Macau Grand Prix. As the first Japanese driver to win the event since Takuma Sato, Keisuke was already being touted as the next best driver from Japan.
This title didn’t last forever though, and it all came crashing down in a heartbreaking manner. Keisuke signed with Team Korea in A1GP for the 2008-09 season, and all seemed fine until the free practice session at Zandvoort. On the car, Team Korea put the message “Dokdo is a Korean territory” on the car, in protest of the land dispute between Korea and Japan.
This had nothing to do with Keisuke obviously, having no control over what sponsors go on the car, but this damaged his reputation beyond repair. After the practice session, his fans in Japan swore against him, calling him things such as a “traitor” and a “liar.” Due to the controversy going on, he dropped out of the event; however, the damage had already been done. With the controversy, Keisuke lost all Toyota backing, which had until then single-handedly funded his career.
From 2009 to 2013, he had to scrape around for any rides he could get. He made starts in Formula Renault 3.5 and Formula Nippon to try to get back to his dream of Formula 1, but multiple things prevented this from happening. For one, Keisuke got relatively poor results in Formula Renault 3.5 and Formula Nippon, not by fault of his own, rather the equipment at his disposal. This was further compounded when his only realistic shot at Formula 1 (Toyota) had backed out of the sport in 2010. From there, he hopped around some endurance rides, racing in the 2009 24 Hours of Le Mans and a race in Chinese Touring Cars; however, none yielded success.
What is Keisuke doing now? Well, he doesn’t do too much racing. He currently lives a quiet life away from the driver's seat in his native Japan.