Who Will Make It To F1? 25/09/08

As the end of the F1 season fast approaches, talk begins about which drivers will have their contracts renewed and who will move where next year. There is also a healthy amount of guesswork as to which rising star will be the next to make it to the highest echelon of motorsport. There are a number of candidates, and as usual the most likely of these will be GP2 graduates with close ties to current F1 teams.

Bruno Senna is one of the most likely to make it to F1 in the coming years, and some would argue cynically that he would have made it based on the strength of his surname regardless. Traditionally, the GP2 champion and runner-up have the best chance of being picked up. With this year’s GP2 champion Giorgio Pantano not garnering much interest, Senna is the more attractive option. He is undoubtedly a marketer’s dream for obvious reasons, and considering his close ties with Toro Rosso’s Gerhard Berger, his performances in GP2 with relatively minimal racing experience make him worth a look. He does however have fewer race wins to his name than other GP2 alumni such as Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Heikki Kovalainen, Nelsinho Piquet and Timo Glock. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop Kazuki Nakajima from bagging a race seat.

Other GP2 drivers in with a very serious shout of being F1 drivers are Sebastien Buemi, Lucas Di Grassi and Romain Grosjean. Buemi is a Red Bull favourite who impressed with third on the grid at Monaco on his GP2 debut. Having already tested for Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Toro Rosso, his familiarity with F1 machinery and Dietrich Mateschitz’s favour, he stands an excellent chance of being on the F1 grid sooner rather than later. Some say the confirmation of his place at Toro Rosso in 2009 is imminent. Despite this, he didn’t really feature heavily for the 2008 GP2 crown.

Romain Grosjean and Lucas Di Grassi are both part of Renault’s young driver development scheme and both have had seat time in this year’s Renault R28. With the lack of a successful French driver in F1 for some years now, Grosjean could be the favoured choice here. Considering Piquet’s uncertain F1 future, both of these drivers must feel that they have a good chance of a Renault seat next year or the year after. Grosjean practically dominated the inaugural GP2 Asia series but has found the main series much tougher going. Both he and Di Grassi have victories this year, but Brazilian Di Grassi finished one point ahead of Grosjean (and only one behind Senna) despite not participating in the opening races of the season. Di Grassi did of course finish runner-up to Timo Glock in 2007’s GP2 title race. Even though it looks impressive to have returned late to the highly competitive feeder series and recorded victories, Adam Carroll did much the same thing in 2007 yet no F1 opportunity materialised for him. Di Grassi’s Renault connection puts him in a better position than Carroll ever was.

Adam Carroll won the 2007 Hungarian GP2 race for FMS

Another driver that cannot be discounted is India’s Karun Chandhok. Force India owner Vijay Mallya has already expressed his admiration for Chandhok, on paper that combination seems to be something of a no-brainer. The reality might be somewhat different though as Red Bull-backed Chandhok has not delivered the results expected of a driver in his second year of GP2 in a championship-capable team. Mallya has also said that he will not place anyone in a race seat for the sake of having an Indian driver in F1, he is after success and has not been able to altogether conceal some disappointment at his team’s 2008 season.

Of those who competed outside of GP2 in 2008, Nico Hulkenburg probably has the greatest F1 prospects. Already a Williams F1 tester, his complete domination of the second A1GP season is hard to forget. That did not immediately translate into race-winning form in the F3 Euroseries in 2007, but this year he is leading that championship and a Williams F1 seat could depend on the outcome of a season in GP2. On the subject of Euroseries champions, another driver who may be re-entering the single-seater radar is Paul di Resta. Having won the Euroseries in 2006, he has followed that up with two incredibly impressive seasons in the popular DTM series against such talents as Jamie Green, Bernd Schneider, Mattias Ekstrom and of course, Mika Hakkinen. His relatively instant success and assured performances in that series could send him the opposite way to Alexandre Premat, against the tide and into GP2, with an excellent shot at F1. Di Resta’s Mercedes backing will benefit him, whereas one feels it may be too late for another former Euroseries champion, Jamie Green.

Finally, moving out of Europe altogether, there is Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal in the Indy Racing League. Both are young and come from immensely well-known and successful American racing families and demonstrated massive potential in their formative years in the series. Andretti has tested for the Honda F1 team and Graham Rahal was close to a GP2 switch a couple of years ago but opted to stay in Champ Cars and subsequently the IRL. Formula 1’s perception of the quality of the US racing scene remains a massive barrier for these two hopefuls, plus S├ębastien Bourdais’s progress in F1 will act as a benchmark for any IRL defector in the near future. At the very least, one of these two drivers must win the IRL crown convincingly to attract any sort of meaningful attention from F1 teams, despite the glaring American-driver-sized hole in the sport.


AERO_HDT said...

With the list of budding F1 aspirants you've named, you've managed to string together something I'd never really thought of before...

Is the driver market becoming elitist? Are sponsors and marketers looking for the next "Jacques Villeneuve", or the guy who has the right name but can't turn a wheel?

Will we see Mick Schumacher in years to come? Guaranteed

peterjford said...

I was wonder if his age (29) was why Giorgio Pantano wasn't getting much interest but then read that he raced for Jordan in the 2004 season. I guess it was really uneventful because although the name was familiar I don't remember him being in Formula 1.