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Formula 1

Every F1 team's best prospect - ranked

10 min read

The leading feeder series on Formula 1's undercard are already well underway at the Bahrain Grand Prix and so too is F1 teams' assessment of the young drivers' 2024 seasons and longer-term prospects.

The first Formula 2 qualifying session certainly didn't go to script - with Mercedes and Ferrari's much-hyped proteges down in 18th and 19th before they were then promoted one place by an equally shock polesitter Kush Maini being disqualified for a technical breach post-session - but it would be foolish to form conclusions on a 30-minute session alone.

Instead there's a data set of seasons and seasons of some of F1 teams' best prospects fighting it out and climbing the ladder towards grand prix racing. And we’re using that data bank to help decide who is the best protege in each F1 team's talent roster, and then to rank them all.

Of course it's far from an exact science. Even though most feeder series are spec-chassis and engine, they're anything but equal for all drivers. And as Maini's DSQ showed, even results aren't guaranteed to be kept if there's a minor technical infringement. So we'll be basing our ranking on a mix of potential and performance shown by the drivers as well as the machinery and support they've had at their disposal.

While reference will be made to their F1 chances and 2024 programme, this is not a ranking of their chances of making it to F1, but a comparative ranking of what they've promised and delivered so far.

NB - We're only counting drivers who have started no more than two F1 races. And as the Red Bull junior programme supplies two F1 teams, we’re counting its roster as one and only making it a nine-driver ranking.

9. Pietro Fittipaldi (Haas)

Though Ollie Bearman is the team's official reserve driver, he's far more a Ferrari young driver than a Haas one. That leaves 27-year-old Pietro Fittipaldi as Haas's strongest 'development' driver, albeit one who has firmly crossed over into 'professional racing' driver rather than 'junior driver'.

He already has two F1 starts under his belt, having done a respectable job to fill in for Romain Grosjean after the Frenchman's fiery Bahrain shunt in 2020.

Fittipaldi has never been a serious contender for a full-time race seat at Haas but he's a well-liked and valued member of the team, hence his lengthy six-season association with it. 

His main 2024 focus will be a first full-time IndyCar campaign with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. - Josh Suttill

8. Gabriel Bortoleto (McLaren)

This was relatively close between Gabriel Bortoleto and McLaren's Formula Regional representative Ugo Ugochukwu - who has a track record of success in karting and Formula 4 that beats Bortoleto's.

But 19-year-old Bortoleto - part of the management stable of one Fernando Alonso - is closer to F1, and the closer he's been getting the more he has been making it count.

He was the surprise-package champion in Formula 3 last season, and he has got off to a flying start in Formula 2 - strong in testing and then on pole for the Bahrain feature race following Invicta team-mate Maini's DSQ.

He might just be one of those drivers who are better-suited to more powerful machinery - and is looking like Brazil's best hope right now of having a presence on the F1 grid again. - Valentin Khorounzhiy

7. Zak O'Sullivan (Williams)

Amid stiff competition, 19-year-old Briton Zak O’Sullivan emerges the strongest of the Williams juniors, narrowly pipping former GB3 rival Luke Browning and fellow F2 driver Franco Colapinto to the spot.

Having taken the GB3 title in 2021, O’Sullivan graduated to F3 the following year with Carlin. Despite a tough season, there were flashes of brilliance, including a podium at his home race at Silverstone.

His 2023 campaign proved more fruitful, with a move to Prema helping him to finish as runner-up to standout star Bortoleto.

Having been handed his maiden series win after Colapinto was disqualified from the Melbourne sprint, he took his first ‘proper’ win in the Barcelona sprint, with feature race victories coming in Austria and Hungary to help him finish seven points clear of third-place finisher Paul Aron.

His F3 campaign left a few too many unanswered questions for O'Sullivan to be ranked any higher, but he has a chance to change that this year in F2.

He's started doing that already with a stellar debut qualifying where he outpaced his more experienced ART team-mate Victor Martins. - Megan White

6. Felipe Drugovich (Aston Martin)

As the second season begins with Felipe Drugovich firmly established as a consistent statue-like presence in the Aston Martin F1 garage/pitwall, it increasingly feels like his F1 train has long left the station.

But that doesn't mean it isn't still worth including the now 23-year-old Brazilian on lists like these and highlighting the fact that he had done a good job trying to get himself over the line for an F1 seat - and a very good job in 2022 in particular.

The 2022 F2 grid was a decent one and Drugovich, though obviously aided by the experience of two prior seasons in the category, towered over the lot, not so much in peak one-lap pace (which is maybe what F1 teams would most look at) but very much so in execution. He was steely, he was steady and he won it with minimum fuss by - in retrospect - a big-deal 101 points.

It wasn't enough for F1. Maybe nothing in year three of F2 could be - or maybe the numbers needed to be gaudier still.  But we can still say 'hey, good job'.- VK

5. Ayumu Iwasa (Red Bull/RB)

With a rapid rise through the ranks behind him and a make-or-break Super Formula season looming, 22-year-old Honda protege Ayumu Iwasa needs to impress this season if he's to be a factor in F1's 2025 silly season and stay ahead of the likes of Isack Hadjar (racing in F2 for a second year and starting well with second on the grid) in the Red Bull queue.

Now one of the longer-standing members of Red Bull’s Junior Team, the Japanese driver first began grabbing headlines in 2020, winning the French F4 championship by over 80 points. A somewhat disappointing F3 campaign with Hitech followed in 2021 where he failed to win, but his early switch to F2 proved a success, with two wins in his maiden campaign in 2022.

Iwasa finished fourth in F2 last season, usurped to third place by a late-charging Jack Doohan, but put in some solid performances to take three wins and six podiums while demonstrating his brilliant tyre management and overtaking prowess.

His move to Super Formula will be crucial, with stiff competition from the likes of Theo Pourchaire. But if Iwasa can crack that, as Pierre Gasly did, then surely he'll be a contender for an RB seat? - MW

4. Theo Pourchaire (Sauber)

Another Formula 2 champion and another 2024 Super Formula rookie. Like Iwasa, Pourchaire faces something of a last-ditch effort to convince his F1 employer to give him an F1 seat even though he's still only 20.

He arguably rightly felt aggrieved that winning the F2 title last year - achieving the goal Sauber set him for 2023 - wasn't enough for an F1 drive this season.

But with one just race win and a fairly limp title-clinching weekend where his title rival Frederik Vesti shined brighter, winning the title just wasn't enough on its own.

It leaves him as Sauber's third man for the third consecutive season and while the futures of both race drivers are in doubt beyond 2024, Pourchaire isn't at the top of the list to replace them.

With free agents like Carlos Sainz on the market, Pourchaire is going to need to make a supremely impressive start to Super Formula, a notoriously difficult series that is underestimated at a driver's peril.

He's got the potential to do that as after all this is the driver who won an F2 feature race at Monaco at just 17 years old, the youngest-ever race winner of F1's second tier.

He wouldn't have been undeserving of an F1 drive in 2023 or 2024 when you weigh everything up, but he needs to make it far more of a certainty for 2025. - JS

3. Victor Martins (Alpine)

Martins doesn't look like the Alpine junior closest to F1 - last year, both of the team's practice sessions went to Doohan, who is now its effectively full-time reserve driver.

Nor has Martins had the best start to 2024 in that camp - far from it, as he was initially eight places behind fellow Alpine junior Maini in the aforementioned F2 qualifying before Maini's pole was taken away (while Alpine also has Gabriele Mini among the frontrunners in F3).

But on the totality of evidence so far - and this could so easily change over the course of 2024 - he might just be the most tantalising prospect in a good Alpine crop.

Martins fought tooth-and-nail with Oscar Piastri in Formula Renault (after beating him and others to a world title in karting), has won two single-seater titles and was Formula 2's best qualifier in his rookie season last year.

The Frenchman has not been very rapid in progressing up the ranks, but he is only 22 still, and his trophies have come from raw pace rather than experience accumulation - if anything, he is considerably quicker than he is reliable.

This year must be his now or never as far as F1 is concerned, and being outqualified not just by eight drivers on Thursday but specifically by rookie ART team-mate O'Sullivan has to be an alarm bell moment. But it's a long season - and there's a lot of talent here still to extract. - VK

2. Ollie Bearman (Ferrari)

If you haven’t heard of Ollie Bearman when it comes to F1 prospects by now, you clearly haven’t been paying attention.

The Ferrari wonderkid has dazzled since his car racing debut in 2020, taking both the ADAC and Italian F4 titles the following season.

His meteoric rise continued with his graduation to Formula 3, finishing third in a down-to-the-wire battle which could easily have seen him crowned champion if not for a badly-timed red flag.

In last year’s rookie F2 campaign he was the second-highest newcomer, scoring four wins - the second most of any driver - including a clean sweep in Baku, which few others have managed.

He scored three more wins than champion Pourchaire, and just two fewer than Prema team-mate Vesti, who finished as a close runner-up.

Ferrari clearly has faith in Bearman’s potential, having made him a member of its junior academy in 2021 before handing him the reserve driver role for this season.

The 18-year-old Briton's also set for six FP1 outings with Haas as he gears up for an almost-certain race seat for 2025. When it comes to Bearman joining the F1 grid, it’s a case of when - not if. 

Bearman just has the small matter of helping turn around an unexpectedly tricky start to Prema's season. - MW

1. Andrea Kimi Antonelli (Mercedes) 

Our writers were split on whether Bearman or Andrea Kimi Antonelli should top this list but Mercedes' megastar Antonelli ultimately clinched it (image courtesy of Prema Racing // Joan Codina).

The 17-year-old hasn't even raced in F2 yet - and his first-ever qualifying hardly went to plan - but his potential is huge and unmatched by any other driver on this list.

Mercedes sees him as the next Max Verstappen and is desperate to not let a rival F1 team snap him up - remembering painfully how Red Bull handed Verstappen his F1 debut at Toro Rosso nearly a decade ago when Mercedes was sniffing around too.

Antonelli is the reason Mercedes didn't offer Hamilton a longer team contract and was consequently part of the reason he's moving to Ferrari.

The fact that Antonelli is even been considered to replace a seven-time world champion as an 18-year-old rookie is a testament to everything he's already shown in his brief racing career so far.

He obliterated Formula 4 (22 wins from 35 races in the German and Italian F4 varieties) and while he didn't quite have the dominant European Formula Regional title-winning season that some expected, he was still a mighty impressive champion.

Whichever way his F2 season goes - whether he's a rookie champion like Charles Leclerc or just very good like Bearman last year - Antonelli is simply destined for F1 in the same way the likes of Verstappen and Lando Norris were. - JS

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