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Formula 1

Which of the 10 Abu Dhabi stand-ins will actually race in F1?

by Josh Suttill
8 min read

Nine of the 10 Formula 1 teams have waited until the final round of the 2023 season at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to fulfil the mandatory rookie running in first practice.

Every team has to run a rookie in both of its cars in an FP1 session at some point during the year.

Abu Dhabi FP1 has proved a popular choice for multiple reasons.

The daytime conditions are not representative of qualifying or the race, many of the championship battles are now settled and it's unlikely teams will be bringing many upgrades other than development parts to test for 2024, so regular drivers missing out on running is no drama.

AlphaTauri has already fulfilled its young driver quota as its original signing Nyck de Vries being a rookie took one of one slot and it ran Isack Hadjar in Mexico, leaving nine teams to make changes this Friday.

So who is each team running? Here's a full rundown as well as our take on their respective chances of racing in F1 one day.

RED BULL

Jake Dennis and Isack Hadjar

F1's world champion team has taken an unprecedented move of running rookies in both of its cars in FP1, having not yet run one at all this season.

Its simulator driver - and reigning Formula E champion with Andretti - Jake Dennis (pictured above) will get behind the wheel of the real-world RB19 for the very time.

It will mark his F1 weekend debut - although in 2018 he conducted test days in the RB14 at Catalunya and Hungary.

Hajdar (below) already made his FP1 debut in Mexico for AlphaTauri, impressing the team and prompting team boss Franz Tost to predict "he'll be in F1 soon".

The Frenchman attracted Red Bull's attention with frontrunning performances at regional F3 level in 2021 and was signed halfway through that year before falling just short of the Formula 3 title one year later.

But Hadjar's Formula 2 switch hasn't lived up to expectations as he's 14th in the drivers' championship, behind team-mate Jak Crawford.

Evidently a far stronger second F2 season - along with continuing to impress in his test outings - will strengthen the 19-year-old's case for a future in F1.

Will they race in F1?

Dennis's immediate aim isn't to make it to F1 - he's already 28 years old and making a good career elsewhere - so it's incredibly unlikely barring a bizarre set of circumstances.

Hadjar's chances will all depend on how much he improves in F2 next year and if Red Bull's faith in him continues. Right now it's probably just short of 50/50.

Ferrari

Robert Shwartzman

Ferrari reserve driver Robert Shwartzman's already completed an FP1 run in this year's Ferrari at Zandvoort and drove for the team last year in FP1 at Austin and Abu Dhabi.

The 24-year-old finished runner-up to Oscar Piastri in Formula 2 in 2021 and has split his Ferrari reserve role with a programme in the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup this year.

Ferrari boss Fred Vasseur gave his race drivers the choice of which FP1 to skip - with Sainz choosing Zandvoort and Leclerc opting for Abu Dhabi.

Will he race in F1?

Shwartzman's time has now passed unless there's an unexpected stand-in appearance required. Though Ferrari speaks highly of him, his moment came and went when he, Callum Ilott and Mick Schumacher were its top junior prospects in 2020 and only Schumacher got an F1 seat.

MERCEDES

Frederik Vesti

Frederik Vesti's main mission in Abu Dhabi is to try to overhaul a 25-point gap to Theo Pourchaire and win the Formula 2 title but the 21-year-old will also be making his second FP1 appearance behind the wheel of Lewis Hamilton's W14.

He first drove the car in Mexico and he'll also be driving in the post-season Abu Dhabi test for the team.

Will he race in F1?

Andrea Kimi Antonelli is Mercedes' favoured protege so don't expect the firm to move heaven and earth to get Vesti racing in F1. He will most likely have to forge a path elsewhere in motorsport.

MCLAREN

Pato O'Ward

McLaren's IndyCar star Pato O'Ward made his F1 weekend debut in Abu Dhabi last year and the 24-year-old will drive there once again this weekend in Lando Norris's car.

O'Ward finished fourth in this year's IndyCar season, which wrapped up well over two months ago, so he has had plenty of time to prepare.

McLaren doesn't need another rookie as Piastri fulfils half of the team's quota.

Will he race in F1?

As fun as it would be, there's no realistic chance of it happening anytime soon. There's too much doubt about whether what makes him so exciting in IndyCar would translate to F1, and McLaren has two very highly-rated young drivers in its race seats already.

ALPINE

Jack Doohan

Just like in Mexico, the team's reserve driver Jack Doohan will be driving in FP1, his fourth F1 practice outing. This time he'll be driving Esteban Ocon's car.

Doohan had a stellar rookie F2 year that even made him an outside contender for an F1 seat in 2023. But his second F2 season started poorly - before an upturn in form has left him fourth ahead of this weekend's finale.

Will he race in F1?

Doohan's still only 20 so the ship hasn't sailed yet, it's just difficult to see where and when that opportunity would come. You'd have to say it's unlikely to happen.

ALFA ROMEO

Theo Pourchaire

Theo Pourchaire will be hoping this FP1 goes far better than his Mexico outing where a technical issue in Valtteri Bottas's car thwarted his session.

Pourchaire also has an F2 title to win this weekend with a 25-point cushion when there are just 39 points left on the table.

Winning that would be a great way to keep the long-time Sauber protege on the F1 radar as he likely heads to Super Formula next year.

Will he race in F1?

Should he comfortably wrap up the F2 title this year Pourchaire should at least keep himself in the conversation for F1 graduation further down the line, and he's still only 20 years old.

Even though he was overlooked for a race seat, he's still highly-rated by Sauber and an eventual promotion in 2025 can't be ruled out.

ASTON MARTIN

Felipe Drugovich

Felipe Drugovich will have plenty of sympathy for Pourchaire's current position as he found no way onto the grid after winning last year's F2 title.

Lance Stroll's pre-season injury handed Drugovich testing time behind the wheel of the AMR23 in Bahrain but the 23-year-old has mostly been on the sidelines since save for an FP1 outing at Monza.

He'll replace Lance Stroll in FP1 before taking part in the post-season Abu Dhabi test and continuing as Aston Martin's reserve driver in 2024. He doesn't appear ready yet to give up on his dream of reaching F1, having turned down opportunities elsewhere to keep himself more available.

Will he race in F1?

Unless there's a sudden need for a stand-in, Drugovich's chances appear extremely small as it hasn't happened within two years of him getting the F2 title.

HAAS

Ollie Bearman

Ferrari's lead protege Ollie Bearman will participate in his second FP1 of the year after conducting a highly-impressive hour of practice in Kevin Magnussen's VF-23 in Mexico.

The team was delighted with the job the 18-year-old did.

“I don’t think you can expect much better,” Haas director of engineering Ayao Komatsu said. “Certainly better than my expectations were.

“Not that my expectation was low, but that was so professional and he didn’t put a foot wrong. Communication and feedback was really good as well.

“So really, nothing to complain. Really impressive FP1.”

Komatsu also expressed his desire to have Bearman in the car again next year, too.

Bearman narrowly missed out on the Formula 3 title in 2022 and has taken three feature race wins in his rookie F2 year. He's currently sixth but has a realistic chance of fighting for third in the points this weekend.

He'll most likely remain in F2 next year in a brand-new car alongside the highly-rated Antonelli at Prema.

Will he race in F1?

Bearman is more likely than any other driver taking part in this FP1 to race in F1. Whether he gets there will depend on the strength of an F2 title challenge next year and how much he impresses Ferrari and what vacancies there are - such as at Haas - by 2025.

WILLIAMS

Zak O'Sullivan

Williams is running 18-year-old Zak O'Sullivan, who finished runner-up in Formula 3 this year, in Logan Sargeant's car in FP1. O'Sullivan won GB3 (previously British F3) in 2021 before stepping up to F3 in 2022.

He'll graduate to F2 next year with ART Grand Prix and is vying with Franco Colapinto - who will take part in the post-season test with Williams - and Macau Grand Prix winner Luke Browning to be Williams's leading protege.

Will he race in F1?

It looks plausible considering O'Sullivan is at an earlier stage in his career than any other FP1-only driver.

Sargeant is proof that a Williams-backed driver who has a solid debut F2 season can move up to F1 one year later.

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