There are 20 drivers on the current Formula 1 grid, and some of them have been at the top of the sport for a very long time.
Some drivers even return to the cockpit of F1 machinery after time away because they’re seen as a better option than giving a newcomer an opportunity.
But that’s not to say that teams aren’t scouting the next generation. There are no fewer than 48 candidates across the junior programmes of the F1 operations – some of whom weren’t even born when Lewis Hamilton made his F1 debut, let alone Fernando Alonso!
Some of these ‘academies’ are more extensive in their training and budgetary support and more effective than others, but at least it shows that the F1 elite are keeping the door ajar for those who are good enough – and helping them on their way.
So who are the crop of youngsters under the wings of the F1 teams, and where are they racing?
Red Bull & AlphaTauri current young drivers
- Liam Lawson - Super Formula
- Ayumu Iwasa - Formula 2
- Enzo Fittipaldi - Formula 2
- Zane Maloney - Formula 2
- Dennis Hauger - Formula 2
- Jak Crawford - Formula 2
- Isack Hadjar - Formula 2
- Sebastian Montoya - Formula 3
- Souta Arao - GB3
- Arvid Lindblad - Italian Formula 4
- Enzo Deligny - Spanish Formula 4
- Enzo Tarnvanichkul - Karting
The Red Bull Junior Team is the daddy of them all. Under the stewardship of the notoriously difficult-to-impress Helmut Marko, it’s been in existence for over 20 years now, and has produced world champions Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen plus grand prix race winners Daniel Ricciardo, Carlos Sainz and Pierre Gasly.
Alex Albon and Yuki Tsunoda are other graduates on the 2023 F1 grid, while further alumni include Formula E champions Jean-Eric Vergne and Sebastien Buemi, World Endurance and Le Mans conqueror Brendon Hartley, plus Daniil Kvyat.
Liam Lawson is unquestionably the prospect closest to an F1 breakthrough. He’s currently occupying Gasly’s old seat in Japan’s Super Formula series with the Honda-powered Team Mugen squad. In an arena that is ferociously competitive, he’s firmly in the mix for the crown.
No fewer than six Red Bull Juniors are racing in F2. Japanese Ayumu Iwasa was already a Honda protege when he was picked up by the scheme, and he is an outside title bet with the DAMS team. Enzo Fittipaldi – grandson of two-time world champion Emerson – and Barbadian Zane Maloney are also performing well for Rodin Carlin. American Jak Crawford and Frenchman Isack Hadjar have teamed up at Hitech, like Maloney in their rookie season after stepping up from success in F3. And Norwegian Dennis Hauger is a race winner with MP Motorsport.
That influx of Red ‘Calves’ to F2 leaves just one in Formula 3, in the form of Sebastian Montoya, the son of Juan Pablo learning his trade with Hitech. Also with Hitech is Japan’s Souta Arao, who is racing in Britain’s GB3 series but has yet to repeat his impressive form from last year’s French F4 Championship.
The most competitive of all the F4 championships in the world is the Italian, and it’s Red Bull Junior Arvid Lindblad leading the way – the Briton is in his first full season of car racing with the all-conquering Prema Racing squad. In the Spanish F4 Championship, French youngster Enzo Deligny is already a race winner with Campos Racing.
In karting, Spanish-born Thai Enzo Tarnvanichkul makes it three current Red Bull Juniors who, ironically, share their given names with the founder of one of the Milton Keynes squad’s biggest rivals!
Mercedes current young drivers
- Frederik Vesti - Formula 2
- Paul Aron - Formula 3
- Andrea Kimi Antonelli - Formula Regional European
- Kenzo Craigie - Karting
- Yuanpu Cui - Karting
- Luna Fluxa - Karting
- Alex Powell - Karting
In contrast to the Red Bull equivalent, the Mercedes Junior Programme is far more selective. In keeping with its prime guiding hand Gwenael Lagrue, the Frenchman who formerly ran the Lotus Junior/Gravity talent scheme, it is far more subtle and its proteges bear little overt branding from the Three-Pointed Star on their car liveries.
Its turnover is also considerably lower. Of the six drivers who were part of the Mercedes Junior Programme when we previously reviewed the state of the F1 junior teams in 2021, four of them still belong – and the other two, George Russell and Esteban Ocon, are fully fledged grand prix winners!
Ocon was discovered by Lagrue when he was in charge of the Gravity scheme, and he and Russell were among the first drivers he snapped up when he joined Mercedes, the duo joining the encumbent Pascal Wehrlein.
Ocon, of course, beat Max Verstappen to the 2014 European F3 title with Italian junior single-seater giant Prema, so it’s little surprise that the three Mercedes juniors currently competing in cars are all with the squad. Dane Frederik Vesti is leading the way in the Formula 2 points, Estonian Paul Aron is a race winner in his rookie season of F3, while Italian Andrea Kimi Antonelli is vying for the Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine crown after winning 26 races in a dominant F4 season in 2022.
In the karting ranks, Jamaican Alex Powell has been on the programme for some time and is now joined by Chinese Yuanpu Cui, Briton Kenzo Craigie and Spaniard Luna Fluxa. The last-named is the little sister of Lorenzo Fluxa, who is the Prema team-mate of Antonelli and Ferrari junior Rafael Camara in FRegional.
Ferrari current young drivers
- Ollie Bearman - Formula 2
- Arthur Leclerc - Formula 2
- Dino Beganovic - Formula 3
- Rafael Camara - Formula Regional European
- Maya Weug - Formula Regional European
- James Wharton - Italian F4
- Tuukka Taponen - Italian F4
- Aurelia Nobels - Italian F4
The Ferrari Driver Academy was quite top-heavy a couple of years ago in the same way as the Red Bull Junior Team is now.
Since then, Mick Schumacher has gone his own way with Mercedes, Antonio Giovinazzi is now a Le Mans 24 Hours winner with the Prancing Horse, Callum Ilott and Marcus Armstrong are in IndyCar, and Robert Shwartzman is competing in Ferrari GT machinery.
Among their predecessors in the FDA are Charles Leclerc and the late Jules Bianchi, as well as Sergio Perez, Lance Stroll and Zhou Guanyu.
Essex talent Ollie Bearman only joined the Maranello junior programme for 2022 following a double-title-winning season in F4, and very nearly claimed the F3 crown at the first attempt with Prema. This hastened his graduation to F2 at the tender age of 17. He’s remained with Prema and, understandably, perhaps needs to find a little consistency, but you can’t argue with a talent good enough to do the double on the challenging street circuit of Baku…
By contrast, it’s been a tougher rookie season in F2 for Bearman’s FDA stablemate Arthur Leclerc, the younger brother of Charles competing with DAMS.
Down one step in F3, Swede Dino Beganovic (who is of Bosnian parentage) has been performing well with Prema on his step up as reigning Formula Regional European champion.
On the next level down, Brazilian Rafael Camara is a race winner with Prema as a rookie in FRegional, while Spanish-born Dutch racer Maya Weug has also impressed with previously unfancied Finnish team KIC Motorsport. Former Girls on Track find Weug is knocking on the door of a podium and is arguably the most promising junior female talent in Europe.
Camara and Weug both competed in Italian F4 last season, and the FDA has three drivers on that rung in 2023. Australian James Wharton is in his second campaign at this level, with Finn Tuukka Taponen a rookie. Wharton narrowly won their fierce fight for the UAE F4 crown in the winter, but both trail Prema team-mates Arvid Lindblad and Ugo Ugochukwu in the Italian standings. They are joined in the Prema ranks by another female hope, Brazilian-licensed Belgo-American Aurelia Nobels.
Alpine current young drivers
- Victor Martins - Formula 2
- Jack Doohan - Formula 2
- Gabriele Mini - Formula 3
- Nikola Tsolov - Formula 3
- Sophia Floersch - Formula 3
- Matheus Ferreira - Italian F4
- Abbi Pulling - F1 Academy
- Kean Nakamura - Karting
The lifespan of the Alpine Academy pretty much spans that of the Red Bull Junior Team – it’s just that it’s gone through numerous changes of identity, as well as a hiatus in the early 2010s, to reflect the parent Enstone-based F1 team.
In its initial form, the drivers were competing in Renault’s single-seater championships or with the F3 teams to which the manufacturer supplied engines – these talents included Robert Kubica, Heikki Kovalainen and Jose Maria Lopez. Romain Grosjean was another to enjoy patronage as a Renault junior.
After Renault returned to F1, youngsters on its books included Oliver Rowland, Jack Aitken and the late Anthoine Hubert.
On our last assessment of the F1 junior programmes in 2021, Alpine’s proteges included Zhou Guanyu, now racing at the peak of the sport with Alfa Romeo, and Oscar Piastri, who controversially broke away from Alpine to join McLaren. Alongside them was Christian Lundgaard, who has just taken his maiden IndyCar race victory.
The only driver remaining is Victor Martins. The Frenchman actually split from the scheme in 2020 but since his return has proven to be a hugely exciting talent. Martins won the F3 title in 2022, and remained with ART Grand Prix for his step up to F2. After being dogged by bad luck, he claimed a sensational maiden win at Silverstone.
Alongside Martins in the scheme is fellow F2 racer Jack Doohan. The son of Australian bike legend Mick is a Red Bull refugee and had a great rookie season in the category with Virtuosi in 2022, but it hasn’t quite worked out for him this year.
Three drivers carry Alpine colours in F3. Most prominent among them is Sicilian Gabriele Mini, who ran Ferrari-backed Dino Beganovic close for the FRegional title last year and has stepped up with Hitech. Mini broke his F3 duck with a superb win in Monaco. Bulgarian Nikola Tsolov is the reigning Spanish F4 champion and is with ART, while German Sophia Floersch is back in the single-seater ranks, after a sportscar sojourn, with PHM Racing by Charouz.
At F4 level, Alpine has Briton Abbi Pulling as a frontrunner in the all-female F1 Academy with Rodin Carlin, and Brazilian Matheus Ferreira in the Italian series with Van Amersfoort Racing. Honour is upheld in karting by Japan’s Kean Nakamura.
The Academy is run by former Arden team boss Julian Rouse, son of BTCC legend Andy, so we’d love to see these youngsters have a shootout in Ford Sierra RS500s…
Williams current young drivers
- Franco Colapinto - Formula 3
- Zak O'Sullivan - Formula 3
- Luke Browning - Formula 3
- Ollie Gray - Formula 3
- Jamie Chadwick - Indy NXT
The Williams Driver Academy is a relatively recent entity, although the team historically took young talent under its wing and gave them F1 testing programmes before hoisting them into the F1 squad – Damon Hill, David Coulthard and Valtteri Bottas are three examples. So, effectively, Williams had an F1 junior team in all but name.
Since it was formalised, the Williams young-driver stable has featured Lance Stroll, Nicholas Latifi, Jack Aitken and Red Bull refugee Dan Ticktum.
For now, the Williams blue has flooded the F3 grid, with no fewer than four drivers carrying the colour on their machinery.
Argentinian Franco Colapinto, who hopes to emulate national hero Carlos Reutemann at Williams, is a race winner this season with MP Motorsport. Another to stand on the top step of the podium is Briton Zak O’Sullivan, who is part of the Prema stable alongside Ferrari protege Dino Beganovic and Mercedes-backed Paul Aron.
Luke Browning, like O’Sullivan a recent winner of the Aston Martin Autosport BRDC Young Driver Award, has shown sharp pace on his step up as GB3 champion with Hitech, while Ollie Gray is among the Rodin Carlin line-up.
Williams has also stayed faithful to three-time W Series champion Jamie Chadwick, who has crossed the Atlantic this year to race in Indy NXT with Andretti Autosport.
McLaren current young drivers
- Alex Palou - IndyCar
- Pato O'Ward - IndyCar
- Ugo Ugochukwu - Italian F4
As you can see, in some ways the McLaren Driver Development Programme is somewhat out of kilter with the rest of the F1 squads’ junior teams.
As the 2021 IndyCar champion and, in all likelihood, the 2023 title winner too, Spaniard Alex Palou is hardly regular F1 apprentice fodder. The same goes for Mexican Pato O’Ward, a race winner in IndyCar with the Arrow McLaren squad, who in all likelihood will be partnered next year by Palou on his anticipated jump over from Chip Ganassi Racing. Both have also driven McLaren F1 machinery.
The McLaren junior effort had lain dormant from some time, with its most famous graduate naturally Lewis Hamilton, who was picked up in karting by the team and taken all the way to F1 title glory. Lando Norris, Alex Albon, Kevin Magnussen and Stoffel Vandoorne have also represented McLaren in the junior ranks, as well as Nyck de Vries and reigning IMSA champion Tom Blomqvist.
The driver who most tallies with these guys is 16-year-old American Ugo Ugochukwu. He joined the McLaren stable as a 13-year-old karter, was an ace in British F4 last season, and is now competing in Italian F4 with Prema as part of a squad chock-full of F1 junior team members. Ugochukwu leads the concurrent three-round Euro4 mini-series, in which most of the top Italian F4 contenders race.
Alfa Romeo current young drivers
- Theo Pourchaire – Formula 2
- Marcus Amand - Formula Regional European
- Lena Buhler - F1 Academy
- Taym Saleh - Karting
While there’s no official Alfa Romeo young driver programme, the Sauber Academy is just that in all but name.
The real find here is Theo Pourchaire. The Frenchman has been on the books since his F4 days and is now in his third season of Formula 2 with ART Grand Prix. Pourchaire lost out in his title fight with Felipe Drugovich in 2022, and was heavily linked with a move to Japan to race in Super Formula this year, but was drawn back to F2 and is now battling for the crown with Frederik Vesti.
Beyond that, the Sauber Academy has slimmed down somewhat over the past couple of years. French youngster Marcus Amand is racing in Formula Regional European, with Swiss Lena Buhler going well in the female F1 Academy series. Like Pourchaire, they are run by ART.
German karter Taym Saleh also joined the programme for 2023.
Haas current young drivers
- No junior drivers
Haas has no official young driver programme, although it has looked after youngsters such as Pietro Fittipaldi, Louis Deletraz and Santino Ferrucci in the past.
Aston Martin current young drivers
- Felipe Drugovich - No race programme
The AMF1 Driver Development Programme is new for 2023, and Felipe Drugovich is the sole member.
It was something of an anomaly that the Brazilian wasn’t affiliated to an F1 team as he crushed opposition – including a galaxy of F1 juniors – on his way to the 2022 Formula 2 title.
While Drugovich doesn’t have a race programme this season, he has notched up testing mileage with Aston Martin in F1 and has also been extremely rapid in Formula E outings with Maserati.
The creation of the programme is something that we would have hoped for from Aston Martin boss Lawrence Stroll, who was highly influential in the respective Ferrari and Williams equivalents when son Lance was rising through the ranks.