Written by Emily Blake, Edited by Meghana Sree
Considering Max Verstappen’s track domination in Formula 1, the feeder series of Formula 2 provides more competitive and tenacious rivalries as younger drivers fight their way to the big league.
However, taking into account the limited number of teams (ten) and the good number of skilled drivers already racing in Formula 1, not everyone can make it to the top. In the past, even F2 title winners were unable to make it to F1 teams such as the 2012 and 2013 series champions, Davide Valsecchi and Fabio Leimer.
This raises the question: which current F2 drivers have a chance at making it big-time?
Following his P2 finish in Spa in 2023, the ART Grand Prix driver Théo Pourchaire is the F2 championship leader with 168 points. As the youngest F2 and F3 race winner ever and current reserve driver for Alfa Romeo Racing, Pourchaire is definitely a worthy candidate for a spot on the F1 grid.
So, when will Pourchaire’s chance come?
Unfortunately for the young driver, Alfa Romeo’s drivers Valterri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu have no plans on leaving anytime soon. As seasoned driver Bottas explained in an interview with GiveMeSport: “Ten [more] years sounds a lot, but, like getting close to 40, I have no problem with that.” Guanyu is keen to stay with Alfa Romeo too, until the Audi takeover in partnership with Sauber in 2026. In conversation with PlanetF1, he stated: “Obviously knowing the team turns into a manufacturer team, there’s no better place to be. My priority is to stay here and to go all the way to the Audi times.”
Despite Zhou's hopes, no confirmations have been made about a contract extension with his current one ending following the 2023 season. Will his efforts and current P16 following Spa be enough to retain his position? Or will Pourchaire have a lead opportunity at Alfa Romeo in 2024 alongside Bottas?
Of course, there are other contracts ending in 2023 but Pourchaire’s foundation at Alfa Romeo as a reserve driver and recent private test driving would make it an ideal team for his official beginning in F1.
Prema Racing’s 21-year-old driver Frederik Vesti, who is on 156 points following Spa 2023, is arguably the closest to his official F1 debut as a lead driver.
On 1st August 2023, Mercedes announced that Vesti would be participating in the practice sessions at the Mexico City Grand Prix set to take place in October. Toto Wolff, CEO and Team Principal at Mercedes, reported to F2: “Fred [Vesti] has executed an impressive Formula 2 campaign. Driving in an FP1 session is the next step in his development and he understands exactly what the team is looking for from him in the car.” Although Mercedes already has two strong drivers and no junior team within F1 unlike Red Bull who has AlphaTauri, it appears Wolff is certainly setting up Vesti for a Mercedes debut eventually. Whether that would entail Vesti joining a ‘lower’ team within F1 and then making a switch to Mercedes in the following years is unclear.
However, considering Mercedes’ star driver Lewis Hamilton is approaching 40-years-old with the oldest driver on the grid being Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso at the age of 42, it’s not unlikely that Hamilton will retire within the next few years.
Is Wolff considering Vesti for this spot?
On 134 points following Spa 2023, Red Bull’s junior driver Ayumu Iwasa is keen for his future in racing with Red Bull describing his ultimate goal “to be F1 World Champion.”
As Red Bull owns its sister F1 team AlphaTauri, typically used for younger drivers and rookies who eventually make their way to Red Bull, Iwasa has a clear path into F1. This is particularly likely when considering Red Bull CEO and Team Principal Christian Horner’s comments about the driver. In a podcast episode of Beyond The Grid, Horner stated: “I think Iwasa in Formula 2 has been a standout driver for me.”
As 2023 has seen AlphaTauri with mid season team turnover with the return of Daniel Ricciardo and good results from recent rookie Yuki Tsunoda, it’s not completely unexpected that the team may see two new drivers in 2024.
Will Iwasa’s current P3 in F2 and Horner’s positive opinions of him prompt a move to the big leagues in 2024?
Invicta Virtuosi’s Jack Doohan is P4 following Spa 2023, 4 points behind Iwasa. Like Pourchaire, Doohan already has his foot in the door to F1, with his roles as both the Alpine reserve driver and a two year Alpine Academy driver.
Despite his impressive P1 finish at Spa 2023, there is no guarantee for Doohan to make it further than the title of ‘reserve’ at Alpine, purely due to the recent turnover which saw the quick exit of Team Principal Otmar Szafnauer and Sporting Director Alan Permane. You can imagine new Alpine CEO Philippe Krief is most likely more concerned with the running of the team off the track for the moment. Having two reliable drivers such as Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly bodes well for seasons to come whilst the newly appointed Alpine team members settle into their roles.
Additionally, both drivers’ contracts are set to end following the 2024 season meaning Doohan might be kept in the role of reserve until the 2025 season – and that’s if Ocon and Gasly’s contracts are not renewed.
Although Doohan has current associations to Alpine, that doesn’t stop him making his debut with another team. He was a member of the Red Bull junior team for 4 years from 2018 to 2021, and knowing Horner’s affinity for Australians, could Iwasa’s speculated AlphaTauri seat instead be taken by Doohan?
The 23-year-old Victor Martins who drives for ART Grand Prix is on 120 points following Spa 2023. As 2023 was his debut season in F2, Martins has been displaying impressive results. However, compared to younger drivers on the grid, his debut is relatively late.
As your teammate is often your biggest competitor in formula racing, Martins has a lot to compare to considering the success of his younger, 19-year-old teammate Pourchaire – sitting in first place in the driver’s championship with 168 points post-Spa.
If Martins were to make his F1 debut, his long history in Alpine Academy would bode well. Unfortunately for him, fellow Alpine Academy member, 20-year-old Doohan, is ahead of him in the Driver’s Championship and, as previously mentioned, is already the Alpine reserve driver.
Will Martins be able to match the results of his younger competitors during the rest of the 2023 season and eventually make his way to F1?
Second youngest on the grid, Oliver Bearman of Prema Racing, has been achieving great results in the 2023 season, in which he took his maiden pole in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix despite a broken steering wheel. After Spa, Bearman is in sixth place with 102 points.
At 17-years-old, Bearman became the first F2 driver to finish every session of the weekend in P1 at Baku where he had never raced before. His undeniable talent is shown throughout his quick succession through the ranks, finishing karting in 2020 and making it to F2 by 2023 now as a member of the Ferrari Driver Academy.
The question of Bearman’s place is not one of if but rather where and when?
Although Ferrari are keen on Bearman with Team Principal Fredric Vasseur congratulating him after Baku, Ferrari has two great and relatively young drivers already. Both Ferrari drivers, Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, have contracts until 2024 with rumours of 25-year-old Leclerc already signing for extension.
The issue then arises of keeping Bearman in F2 for too long, like Alpine’s situation with Australian driver Oscar Piastri. Alpine kept Piastri waiting and once they finally announced him for their F1 team, Piastri had to somewhat awkwardly denounce the statement instead saying he’d already signed with McLaren.
However, with rumours of Sainz looking at Audi for 2026, maybe Bearman’s Ferrari debut is a possibility at the age of 21. Although another team poaching him whilst he’s kept waiting is not unlikely.
Like Bearman, Arthur Leclerc is a member of the Ferrari Driver Academy and currently in 14th position in the F2 Driver’s Championship with 39 points post-Spa.
Although Leclerc has been underperforming compared to his teammate Iwasa in the 2023 season, holding the ‘Leclerc’ last name may assist him in moving up to F1 with his brother being Ferrari’s star driver.
Will Leclerc be granted more leniency for his F1 debut because of his brother? Will he eventually win the F2 Championship and make it to Ferrari like the elder Leclerc?
Nonetheless, it’s important to keep in mind that Formula 1 is a competitive and cut-throat sport with a chance that none of these young drivers ever make it to the big league. However, it’s also equally likely that these drivers do make it and carve a name for themselves in the prestigious world of Formula One. Their entry into F1 all depends on the ever-changing performances or retirements of the current F1 drivers.
So, who will be the next to join? And how soon will it be? Let us know what your thoughts are in the comments below!