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.
Teams are indeed scouting the upcoming generation, with a total of 48 potential candidates in the junior programs of F1 operations. It is worth noting that some of these candidates were not even born when Lewis Hamilton started his F1 career, 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.
Who are the young racers being nurtured by the F1 teams, and where are they competing?
Ayumu Iwasa, Dams
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
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 additional individuals who have completed their education and are now part of the Formula 1 grid in 2023. Other notable individuals who have also graduated and moved on to successful careers include Jean-Eric Vergne and Sebastien Buemi, who have both been champions in Formula E, as well as Brendon Hartley, who has achieved victory in World Endurance and Le Mans races. Additionally, Daniil Kvyat is another accomplished individual who has completed their education.
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.
At least six individuals from the Red Bull Juniors are participating in F2. Ayumu Iwasa from Japan was already supported by Honda before joining the program, and he has a chance of winning the championship with the DAMS team. Enzo Fittipaldi, who is the grandson of two-time world champion Emerson, and Zane Maloney from Barbados are also performing admirably for Rodin Carlin. Jak Crawford from the United States and Isack Hadjar from France have formed a partnership at Hitech, similar to Maloney, as they transition from successful seasons in F3. Additionally, Dennis Hauger from Norway has achieved victory in a race while competing for 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.
Enzo Tarnvanichkul, a Thai driver born in Spain, joins two other Red Bull Juniors in karting. Interestingly, all three drivers share their names with the founder of one of the main competitors of the Milton Keynes team.
Frederik Vesti, Prema Racing, leads Victor Martins, ART Grand Prix
Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images
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
The Mercedes Junior Programme is much more exclusive compared to the Red Bull equivalent. Led by Gwenael Lagrue, who previously managed the Lotus Junior/Gravity talent scheme, it operates in a more understated manner. The proteges of this program do not prominently display the Three-Pointed Star logo on their car liveries.
The amount of money it generates is also significantly less. Out of the six drivers who were involved in the Mercedes Junior Programme during our previous assessment of the F1 junior teams in 2021, four of them are still part of it. The remaining two, George Russell and Esteban Ocon, have both achieved victories in grand prix races!
Lagrue came across Ocon while leading the Gravity program, and he quickly recruited him and Russell as part of his team at Mercedes. They were among the initial drivers to join alongside Pascal Wehrlein.
Ocon, naturally, emerged as the winner of the 2014 European F3 championship ahead of Max Verstappen while racing for the renowned Italian junior single-seater team, Prema. It comes as no surprise that all three Mercedes junior drivers currently competing in cars have chosen to align themselves with this team. Frederik Vesti from Denmark is leading the Formula 2 championship standings, Paul Aron from Estonia has secured a race victory in his debut season of F3, and Andrea Kimi Antonelli from Italy is contending for the Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine title, having triumphed in an impressive 26 races during 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.
Oliver Bearman, Prema Racing, 1st position
Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images
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
A few years ago, the Ferrari Driver Academy had a similar situation to what the Red Bull Junior Team is currently experiencing, with a significant concentration of talent at the top.
After that, Mick Schumacher has pursued his own path with Mercedes, Antonio Giovinazzi has achieved victory at Le Mans 24 Hours with the Prancing Horse team, Callum Ilott and Marcus Armstrong have joined IndyCar, and Robert Shwartzman is currently participating in Ferrari GT racing.
Among their predecessors in the FDA are Charles Leclerc and the late Jules Bianchi, as well as Sergio Perez, Lance Stroll and Zhou Guanyu.
Ollie Bearman, a talented individual from Essex, recently became a part of the Maranello junior programme in 2022 after achieving double titles in F4. He came close to winning the F3 championship in his first attempt with Prema, which led to his promotion to F2 at the young age of 17. Bearman has continued to work with Prema and, understandably, may need to improve his consistency. However, his exceptional skills were evident when he achieved a double victory on the demanding street circuit of Baku.
In contrast, Arthur Leclerc, the younger brother of Charles who is competing with DAMS, has had a challenging rookie season in F2 as a member of Bearman’s FDA stable.
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 participated in the Italian F4 championship last year, and the FDA has three drivers at that level in 2023. James Wharton from Australia is in his second season, while Tuukka Taponen from Finland is a newcomer. Wharton narrowly defeated Taponen to win the UAE F4 championship during the winter, but both are currently behind their Prema teammates Arvid Lindblad and Ugo Ugochukwu in the Italian standings. Another promising female driver, Aurelia Nobels, who holds Brazilian and American licenses, also joins the Prema team.
Victor Martins, ART Grand Prix
Photo by: Formula Motorsport Ltd
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 Alpine Academy has existed for a similar duration as the Red Bull Junior Team. However, it has undergone various transformations and had a break in the early 2010s to align with the 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.
In our recent evaluation of the F1 junior programs in 2021, Alpine’s talented individuals consisted of Zhou Guanyu, currently competing at the highest level of the sport with Alfa Romeo, and Oscar Piastri, who made a controversial decision to leave Alpine and join McLaren. Additionally, Christian Lundgaard, who recently achieved his first win in an IndyCar race, was also part of the group.
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 the F4 level, Alpine includes Briton Abbi Pulling as a leading contender in the F1 Academy exclusively for women, alongside Rodin Carlin, and Brazilian Matheus Ferreira who competes in the Italian series with Van Amersfoort Racing. In karting, Japan’s Kean Nakamura maintains a sense of honor.
The Academy is managed by Julian Rouse, who used to be the team boss of Arden. Julian Rouse is the son of the renowned BTCC racer Andy Rouse. It would be great to witness these young individuals competing against each other in Ford Sierra RS500s.
Franco Colapinto (ARG, MP Motorsport)
Photo by: Lionel Ng / Motorsport Images
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.
Currently, the F3 grid is dominated by the Williams blue, as four drivers proudly display this color on their vehicles.
Franco Colapinto, an Argentinian driver, aims to follow in the footsteps of his country’s racing legend Carlos Reutemann by joining Williams. Colapinto has already achieved victory this season with MP Motorsport. Another driver who has tasted success on the podium is Zak O’Sullivan from Britain. O’Sullivan is associated with the Prema team, which also includes talented drivers such as Dino Beganovic, who is supported by Ferrari, and Paul Aron, who is backed by Mercedes.
Luke Browning, who, like O’Sullivan, recently won the Aston Martin Autosport BRDC Young Driver Award, has demonstrated impressive speed in his promotion to GB3 champion with Hitech. Additionally, Ollie Gray is part of the Rodin Carlin team.
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.
Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren Chevrolet
Photo by: Phillip Abbott / Motorsport Images
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.
Theo Pourchaire, ART Grand Prix
Photo by: Alfa Romeo
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.
Pietro Fittipaldi, reserve driver, Haas F1
Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images
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.
Felipe Drugovich, Aston Martin AMR23
Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images
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.