Mercedes junior Frederik Vesti will pilot one of the team’s Formula 1 cars in the post-season Abu Dhabi Grand Prix test but can he follow in the footsteps of George Russell and progress to F1?
Danish driver Vesti will get his first taste of F1 machinery in the Yas Marina test at which current Mercedes reserve Nyck de Vries is set to make an early debut for his 2023 employer AlphaTauri.
Vesti joined the Mercedes junior programme off the back of his rookie FIA Formula 3 campaign in 2020 where overall he fell short of his more experienced Prema team-mates Oscar Piastri and Logan Sargeant, who are both headed for F1 in 2023 with McLaren and Williams respectively although Sargeant’s deal is yet to be confirmed and he requires super licence points.
Although he couldn’t join them in the title fight and was generally third-best among them, he did match and outshine them on occasion.
He remained in F3 for 2021 and switched to another junior single-seater behemoth ART Grand Prix but a title challenge failed to materialise, and he finished fourth for the second consecutive season with a single victory.
Vesti then stepped up to Formula 2 with ART, racing alongside Sauber protege Theo Pourchaire who, along with Piastri and Sargeant, had beaten Vesti in F3 in 2020.
Pourchaire leads that intra-team fight as he runs second in the drivers’ championship heading into the Abu Dhabi finale while Vesti is eighth but only nine points adrift from fourth place.
Following a tricky start where he was point-less in the opening five races, Vesti looked seriously quick in the middle of the season.
He picked up his maiden F2 win in Baku, qualified on the front row at Silverstone and then was on pole at the Red Bull Ring.
That Austrian GP feature race was a disaster as a tardy start was followed by penalties for leaving the track and gaining an advantage and track limits violations that left Vesti empty-handed from a weekend where he looked so strong.
More point-less weekends would come later in the year at Spa and Zandvoort but this was followed by an excellent brace of second place finishes at Monza, such has been the rollercoaster nature of Vesti’s season.
Consistency over a season has been lacking for Vesti since he won the Formula Regional European Championship in 2019 in a field that rarely exceeded 11 cars.
It’s hardly been as convincing a rise up F1’s ladder as the likes of Russell who won GP3 (now F3) and F2 in back-to-back years, but not every future F1 driver has to boast that kind of record.
This year’s F2 season has been one of the most bizarre, inconsistent and hard to read in the championship’s history.
Vesti has by no means stood head and shoulders among that field this year but equally, he’s not been far off star rookie Sargeant and Jack Doohan, both of whom were right among F1’s 2023 silly season.
Vesti will likely reunite with Prema – responsible for four of the last seven F2/GP2 champions – for a second year of F2 in 2023 so he should have the right tools to deliver a potential title challenge.
There’s little immediate competition within the top ranks of the Mercedes junior programme – although 16-year-old Andrea Kimi Antonelli might just be the next big thing – so Vesti was the obvious choice for the young driver test with De Vries leaving for AlphaTauri.
It’s still a small vindication for the hard work he’s put in behind the scenes on Mercedes’ simulator this year.
Clearly, Mercedes has little room within its own F1 team with Russell thriving since he joined at the start of the year and Hamilton likely to extend his current deal beyond 2023.
But Vesti can still put himself in the conversation for a 2024 F1 seat somewhere on the grid if he can excel in F2 next year against some stiff competition including likely returnees Doohan, Pourchaire and Dennis Hauger as well as his probable new Prema team-mate: highly-rated Ferrari junior Ollie Bearman.
Comparisons to Russell are optimistic at this stage of Vesti’s career, he’s shown flashes of real speed but he’s yet to string it together in a convincing enough fashion to demand promotion to F1 in the same way Russell’s results and work with Mercedes did throughout 2017 and 2018.
It’s down to Vesti to change that in Abu Dhabi and in 2023.