Formula Young

There has been a noticeable shift towards teams hiring younger drivers from the lower categories in the past few years. This year, the average age on the grid (at time of writing) is 26! Some of the ‘old guard’ of recent Formula One seasons are still there; Raikkonen (37), Massa (36) and Alonso (35). Astonshingly, Lewis Hamilton is the 4th oldest at 32, though the mid-thirties is usually the age when drivers start hanging up their helmets. Aussie Mark Webber was 36, Jenson Button (assuming he’s gone for good, ignoring Monaco) was also 36. There’s always an exception though; Schumacher retired (properly) when he was 43!

With the big names of the past 15 years coming up to retirement age, it’s important to look at the talent that’s coming through the lower teams, most of whom have only made the step up into Formula One within the last couple of years. A quarter(!) of the drivers on the grid are 22 or under, so let’s have a look at them and see who is a potential future champion. Starting with the youngest…

1. Lance Stroll – Williams – 18

File:Lance Stroll 2017 Catalonia test (27 Feb-2 Mar) Day 3 2.jpg

The baby of the grid has had a hard time in his first 5 Formula One races. He’s only managed to finish 2 of them, and out of those he finished just outside the points in 11th in Russia, and dead last in Spain. This had led many to question if he’s good enough to be where he is. Sure he comes with around $20 million for the struggling Williams team, but they’ll be hoping that he’ll be able to put his mouth where his money is and actually deliver some good results as the season goes on.

He’s won two championship series in the past, the New Zealand Toyota Racing Series in 2015 and Euro F3 in 2016. So there’s no denying that the kid’s got some talent, but having only 3 years open-wheel racing experience he’s maybe not quite up to (literal) speed with some of the other drivers out there. For reference, Lewis Hamilton had 6 years open-wheel racing experince before driving for McLaren in 2007.

On average Stroll has qualified 14th, and finished 16th. His team mate, Felipe Massa, on the other hand has a qualifying average of 7th, and finishing 10th. Driving for Williams in his first season must be a dream come true, but Stroll has a long way to go before he can even think about winning a race. He is developing a bit of a reputation for being a bit whiny, always blaming the car rather than admitting his mistakes and generally showing his age in an environment where professionalism is key to success.

Maybe it’s the thrill of being an F1 driver when you’re 18, but Lance Stroll needs to buckle down, concentrate on the driving and make a name for himself as a legitimate, quality driver who can win races, fight hard and score points consistently for the team if he wants to move up the championship order.

2017 Stats (as of 13/5/17)

Points 0
Average Qualifying 14th
Average Race Finish 16th
Total Positions Gained/Lost -10

World Champion Potential – 1/5

2. Max Verstappen – Red Bull – 19

Do I really need to say much about young Max Verstappen? Long story short – he’s something of a prodigy around the F1 paddock, and a driver that I’m sure every team would love to have in their car.

Despite being only 19, and in his third season in Formula One, Max has scored 8 podiums AND a race win! He is the youngest ever Formula One winner, and is likely to hold that record permanently due to the new super-license regulations. Out of his 45 races (up to Spain 2017), that’s a fairly impressive record!

Did I mention that his first win came with his first race with Red Bull after being promoted from Toro Rosso? Or did I mention that he got that win by holding off world champion Kimi Raikkonen lap after lap until the chequered flag? If you thought I was exagerating calling him a prodigy, you must believe me by now!

While Max hasn’t won any championships in the lower racing categories, his racing style and incredible pace obviously caught the eye of a few people in F1. Mercedes and Red Bull both wanted him on their development programme -two big championship winning teams!

How far will Max go? Well, considering he starte his F1 career when he was 17, it would be no surprise if we see Max racing in the 2030s – surely in the seasons between 2017 and 2030 we’ll see Max dominate a season or two. He has that raw speed, the ability to know exactly where to put the car and where all the hidden grip is on the track. If you want a master class in wet weather racing, look no further than Max’s Senna-esque drive in Brazil 2016.

If Red Bull can bring the fight closer to Ferrari and Mercedes this year, I would bet that you’ll see Verstappen right up there in the mix.

2017 Stats (as of 13/5/17)

Points 35
Average Qualifying 8th
Average Race Finish 10th
Total Positions Gained/Lost -11

World Champion Potential – 5/5

3. Esteban Ocon – Force India – 20

Esteban Ocon joined the F1 ranks halfway through the 2016 season, replacing the Esteban Ocon 2016 Malaysia.jpgIndonsesian Rio Haryanto after his funding stopped. So to date, he has only driven in 14 races. Despite that, in his 9 races in 2016 he performed well enough to be called up to the Force India team for 2017. Force India are becoming *ahem* a force to be reckoned with, as they beat Williams to 4th last year, and this year look dangerously close to 3rd placed Red-Bull, being only 19 points behind.

So far this seaon Ocon has impressed. He’s scored points in every race (10th in Australia, China and Bahrain, 7th in Russia and 5th in Spain) and has always been right there with his team mate – the more seasoned Sergio Perez. His qualifying performance hs been good too; twice getting into Q3 this year. Now that Force India have sorted out most of the weight issues they were having with the car, we can expect to see a lot more of Ocon higher up in the top 10.

Since entering karting when he was 10, Esteban has won the European Formula 3 Championship, the GP3 series and come 3rd in Renault Formula 3.0. That’s a solid foundation to build his Formula One career on. Having raced against the highly praised Max Verstappen in Formula 3, Ocon is experienced in driving against one of the best on the grid already. That will only be an advantage should he move up to one of the ‘Big 3’ teams (Mercedes, Ferraro, Red Bull), or if Force India can improve on their performance in 2016. There’s is a succesful F1 future ahead of Ocon, but whether he can be champion remains to be seen.

2017 Stats (as of 13/5/17)

Points 19
Average Qualifying 13th
Average Race Finish 8th
Total Positions Gained/Lost 23

World Champion Potential – 3/5

4. Carlos Sainz – Toro Rosso – 22

File:Carlos Sainz Jr Motorland.JPGIf Carlos Sainz Jnr. never wins a race, he may well win the award for ‘Best F1 Hair’ and ‘Coolest F1 Guy’. Of course, he’s a racing driver, so that won’t be enough for him. He wants to win. Usually, starting out with Red-Bull sister team Toro Rosso is a good way to go; Daniel Ricciardo, Max Verstappen and world champion Sebastain Vettel are all former Toro Rosso drivers.

Unfortunately for Sainz though, he seems a wee bit stuck in Toro Rosso. Daniel Ricciardo probably isn’t going anywhere, and as I said earlier, Max Verstappen is in for the long haul so promotion to the big team seems unlikely. Sainz will probably be cursing that he was overlooked when Daniil Kyvat was unceremonially dropped from Red Bull in favour of Max Verstappen. Sainz has a one year extension on his contract for 2017, but should be a free agent for next year. If he doesn’t move up to a better team, his F1 career will be in serious jeopardy.

Sainz matched Verstappen pretty well during their time as team mates. Where you can compare qualifying times, Sainz was only 0.025 seconds slower than Verstappen. He even beat Max a decent number of times. So he’s shown he can keep up with a race winner!

This year has looked a little bit rocky for Sainz however, his gaffe which saw him ending up in the side of Stroll in Bahrain could have been avoided, and at other times he’s appeared a bit too desperate to show off his skills to the big teams. His name has been mentioned in connection to Kimi Raikkonen’s seat at Ferrari, but he’ll only get that if he can provide consistent performances, and outdrive his team mate. So far he’s averaged a qualifying position of 12th and finished 10th, so that’s been good for him and Toro Rosso. If he keeps his head on, and doesn’t get carried away with flights of fancy about the future, Sainz is bound to be a contender in the next few years.

2017 Stats (as of 13/5/17)

Points 17
Average Qualifying 12th
Average Race Finish 10th
Total Positions Gained/Lost 13

World Champion Potential – 4/5

5. Pascal Wehrlein – Sauber – 22

Pascal Wehrlein is the one out of the 5 I’ve talked about that I’m least sure of. When I saw him getting his Manor into positions that by all rights, it had no business of being, I was Pascal Wehrlein crop.JPGexcited! Here’s a back marker car, driven by a rookie almost scoring points! In fact, in Austria, he DID score a point! Seeing him succeed has been a pleasure to watch, and he certainly possesses a race craft which could take him places.

But then, there’s reports of..him. Apparently his attidute and communication and relationship with the teams he’s been with haven’t been, shall say, ideal. This has led to some giving him the nickname ‘Princess Pascal’. When he was almost ignored by Mercedes for replacing Nico Rosberg at the end of 2016, AND seeing his team mate from Manor, Esteban Ocon, be chosen for Force India instead of him, it’s almost understandable that he may have been in a bit of a huff. But as I said with Stroll, this is an industry that gives success to the professional. He;s lucky to be in the position he is – test driver for Mercedes in 2016 which sorted him out with a race seat for Manor where he was able to prove himself and get a contract with Sauber for this year. He could have just as easily disappeared into the Formula E ether when Manor went bust.

He has been succesful in the past, winning the ADAC Formel Masters in 2011 and then the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters in 2015, with a scattering of fairly high finishes elsewhere. Again, there’s no doubting his talent; his performance at Spain 2017 where he finished 8th in a Sauber, arguably the worst car on the grid, is testament to that.

If the reports that he thinks he’s God’s gift to F1 are true, he needs to get over himself, and focus on placing that Sauber where it doesn’t belong. That’ll get him noticed, and is his ticket to moving up the order. He is part of the Merecdes Young Driver programme, so he should have no trouble securing seats with teams using their engines, should they be ineterested.

In short, Wehrlein could be his own worst enemy. If he matures, and continues with his impressive performances, then he’ll be a top tier driver in a few years. If he behaves like a champion before his time however, we may not see him around for much longer.

2017 Stats (as of 13/5/17)

Points 4
Average Qualifying 15th
Average Race Finish 12th
Total Positions Gained/Lost 10

World Champion Potential – 2/5


Who’s your top pick for future champion? Are you more of a Vandoorne fan or think that Hulkenberg is the champion in waiting? Let me know by commenting or tweeting me @Formulaed_Up!

Quick Note on 2017 Stats – Average race finish takes into account DNFs. Position recorded as how drivers are offically classified by the FIA. For example, if Vettel crashed on the first corner, he would be 20th, despite not finishing the race. Total positions gained/lost simply calculates the difference in qualifying position and race classification position, Example, qualify 4th, finish 5th in race one (-1), then qualify 10th, finish 1st (+9) gives a total of +8 positions gained.

Picture Sources:
Lance Stroll – By Morio – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Max Verstappen – By Morio – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
Esteban Ocon – By Morio (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
Carlos Sainz Jnr – By Willtron (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
Pascal Wehrlein – By Lutz H – Own work, CC BY 2.0 de,



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