Home Featured 10 years of the Ferrari Driver Academy: The top 10 talents

10 years of the Ferrari Driver Academy: The top 10 talents

by Formula Scout

Photo: Ferrari

While McLaren, Red Bull, and arguably Mercedes have used their junior programmes and support to bring drivers from the fringes of karting into top Formula 1 seats, it’s Ferrari’s recent decision to put its junior Charles Leclerc into a seat with the factory team that has made its driver development programme look the one in the strongest shape at present.

This coincides with the Ferrari Driver Academy’s 10th anniversary, celebrated last week, and so Formula Scout has looked through the 17 drivers that have officially been through its doors since May 2009.

The Academy was supposedly inspired in romantic terms by the words of Ferrari founder Enzo Ferrari:??I?d like to think that Ferrari can create drivers as well as cars”.

It was really brought about by the success story of Felipe Massa, who had been contracted to Ferrari since the start of his F1 career, and after a spell at Sauber joined the factory team and went on to finish a close runner-up to Lewis Hamilton in the 2008 standings.

Driving achievements while as a Ferrari Driver Academy member are listed in italics.

10. Gianluca Petecof BRAZIL
Currently 1st in 2019 Italian F4, currently 7th in ’19 ADAC F4, 4th in 2018 Italian F4, 10th in ’18 Italian F4

Having become a star on the Brazilian and world stage in karting, and earned the backing of Ferrari partner Shell during that time, it wasn?t a surprise when Gianluca Petecof was signed to the Ferrari Driver Academy.

Last year, the youngster was placed with trusted ally Prema for ADAC and Italian Formula 4, arguably the best team in the two Tatuus-using series, and finished 10th and fourth respectively. He was mostly under the radar, but there was a change in form at the end of the year where he was on the podium in four of the final six Italian races and took his first win.

Over winter the FDA must have worked its magic, for Petecof looks a different driver. His elbows out style has won him races, although not necessarily plaudits, and he leads Italian F4 with three wins from the first five races. A manic season opener in Germany has left him seventh in the standings, but he started in style with victory from pole by a staggering 14 seconds.

It?s a rate of progression that shows what kind of effect a F1 junior team can have, although ultimately the true test of how will it?s preparing the 16-year-old will come in the higher formulas.

9. Callum Ilott?BRITAIN

Currently 14th in 2019 F2, 3rd in 2018 GP3 – 4th in 2017 European F3, 4th in 2016 Masters of F3, 5th in ’16 Macau GP

When a driver is blindingly quick, in any piece of kit they sit in, they can face huge expectation, and therefore any results that sit below that diminish the ?bank? of praise they sit on.

Callum Ilott is one of the obvious drivers such a reputation can be attributed to, but the 20-year-old Briton has actually weathered those high expectations, which is partly thanks to the FDA.

Red Bull took Ilott straight from karts to FIA European Formula 3, attempting to repeat the success it had with Max Verstappen, but dropped him from after one season where was 12th in the points and only graced the podium once.

Ilott stuck at it in F3 for two more years, putting in some remarkable displays of driver ability along the way. Having previously not taken risks on drivers who could considered to be losing career momentum, Ferrari refreshingly played its cards on Ilott in October 2017, and it?s been well rewarded.

He wasn?t at his best in the very different GP3 car last year, but when Ilott returned to F3 for the Macau Grand Prix he was immediately one to watch, and this year?s promotion to Formula 2 with additional backing from Sauber has already resulted in a podium.

At the most recent Monaco round there was every reminder of why Ilott is so highly-rated when he qualified on the front row, and a pre-race car problem likely denied him a shot at a momentous first win.

8. Antionio Fuoco?ITALY
7th in 2018 F2, 8th in 2017 F2, 3rd in 2016 GP3, 6th in 2015 GP3, 5th in 2014 European F3, 2013 FR2.0 Alps champion

Italian Antonio Fuoco has been rewarded for his longstanding commitment to Ferrari since joining its junior programme by working his way to the main team as a simulator driver.

Fuoco did not need much time to impress as part of the FDA, doing so in 2013 with a stellar maiden single-seater campaign where he beat more experienced countryman Luca Ghiotto to the Formula Renault 2.0 Alps title.

From there he raced in European F3, where he had to contend with the likes of Esteban Ocon, Tom Blomqvist and Max Verstappen. He finished a solid fifth in the standings, before moving on to GP3. He was the top Carlin driver in 2015, before troubling ART Grand Prix?s Charles Leclerc and Alexander Albon in 2016 with Trident. His reward for that was a move to F2 for 2017.

In an all-FDA line-up at Prema, Fuoco struggled against Leclerc, which ultimately has become his undoing. Once his season got going, Fuoco was incredibly solid and took victory at home but he had no answer for his team-mate.

With new team Charouz in 2018, the results were rarely better even if the performances were seriously improved considering the new team factor. He would win his final race in the series, before graduating from the FDA, where he now has a consultant role to the younger drivers alongside sim and test duties with the F1 team.

7. Marcus Armstrong?NEW ZEALAND
Currently 4th in 2019 FIA F3, 2nd in ’19 TRS, 5th in ’18 European F3, 2017 Italian F4 champion, 2nd in 2017 ADAC F4

Marcus Armstrong keeps on getting better, but you can?t help but think that he?s still driving far from his best.

A prime example would be this year?s Toyota Racing Series, where he drove superbly but simultaneously struggled in some part and lost the much coveted New Zealand Grand Prix and TRS title to fellow Kiwi Liam Lawson.

In 2018, he finished fifth with one win in European F3, but led the standings early on as a rookie. It was a result that seemed slightly disappointing, as Armstrong?s maturity belied the fact that he was still only in his second full season of single-seaters and Europe.

The year before, Armstrong had won the Italian F4 championship as a rookie and come very close to winning the ADAC title too, his first year benefitting from Ferrari support.

He?s now racing in GP3-succeeding FIA F3 Championship, and sits fourth after two races. He could well win the title, the only problem being there?s another Ferrari junior ahead of him in the standings….

6. Robert Shwartzman?RUSSIA
Currently 1st in 2019 FIA F3, 2018 TRS champion, 3rd in ’18 European F3
– 3rd in 2017 FR Eurocup, 6th in 2016 FR NEC

Robert Shwartzman is quietly making a very strong name for himself as a Ferrari junior, and is methodically working his way up the ladder towards F1 as part of the stable.

The Russian was added to the FDA shortly before the final round of the 2017 Formula Renault Eurocup. The weekend after he took two wins and a second to secure third in the championship in his sophomore season.

However, 2018 was the year Shwartzman really started to impress. He kicked off the year by winning the Toyota Racing Series title as a rookie, and also joined European F3 as a slightly overlooked rookie prospect.

His season started somewhat slowly, but he took two wins in his run of eighth podiums in the last nine races, and was the winner of the last ever European F3 race.

This led Shwartzman to beating fellow rookie and FDA member Armstrong to the rookie title, and third overall in the standings. His rise in form coincided with that of Mick Schumacher?s. Of Schumacher?s five successive wins, Shwartzman followed him home in four of them.

It almost seems fitting in that case that Shwartzman would also win the first ever FIA Formula 3 Championship race at the start of 2019, where he has asserted himself as a favourite for the title right from the off.

5. Lance Stroll?CANADA
Currently 16th in 2019 F1, 12th in 2017 F1, 2016 European F3 champion – 2015 TRS champion, 2014 Italian F4 champion

Lance Stroll was signed by Ferrari as a karter, and although his career was propelled by money he more than made up for it applying what the FDA taught him when he entered cars.

He won the first ever Italian F4 title in 2014, and followed up that with a equally as convincing title win in the difficult Toyota Racing Series. In just his second season of car racing he was already expected to be a title challenger in European F3, and although he fell short of that objective he did win a race in a classic season.

Stroll certainly wasn?t the cleanest driver in the field, which was a criticism many used as his pace was unquestionable, but his father Lawrence took the family money to Williams for the second season in F3, in which he took a stunning 14 wins out of 30.

That 2016 season was enough to convince Williams to make him an F1 driver a year later, and the Canadian rewarded that faith in his rookie season. Since then he?s been a little underwhelming, bar his noticeably strong first laps, but is still scoring points with the revived Racing Point team, a operation saved by the investment of his father.

He may not be a top talent within the F1 grid, but he?s stood on the podium and started on the front row before, something many more highly rated drivers are yet to achieve.

4. Raffaele Marciello?ITALY
Currently 1st in 2019 IGTC, 2018 BGTS champion, 4th in 2016 GP2 – 2013 European F3 champion, 2nd in 2012 European F3

When karting graduate Raffaele Marciello was signed to the FDA, at the age of 15, he was seen as the next great Italian hope for F1 and the Scuderia.

In his first two years in single-seaters, in Formula Abarth and Italian F3, he won little though and finished third in the standings twice.

In 2012 he moved up to European F3, and became a breakout star as he took runner-up spot. He would remain the in series for another year, adding a title and 13 wins to his existing seven wins and Pau Grand Prix victory from his rookie season.

Despite a test in Formula Renault 3.5, Ferrari chose to place Marciello in GP2 for 2014. After one win and a further three podiums, he ended the year in eighth overall. In Abu Dhabi, Marciello got his first F1 test with Ferrari, and was made Sauber?s reserve driver for 2015.

After improving in his second year in GP2, with more consistent results, Sauber chose not to renew his contract despite running him in four free practice sessions. 2015 also spelled the end of his time with Ferrari, which Marciello put down to the incoming management.

Since then his stock has only risen though, starring in his final GP2 and becoming one of the best GT racers in the world as a factory Mercedes driver. He was the Blancpain GT Series champion in 2018, and is favourite for this year’s intercontinental title.

3. Jules Bianchi?FRANCE
17th in 2014 F1, 2nd in 2012 FR3.5, 3rd in ’10 GP2
– 2009 F3 Euro Series champion, 2008 Masters of F3 winner

Jules Bianchi was the perfect example of a Ferrari junior driver and was destined to drive for the Scuderia. While cruelly denied that opportunity, he showcased serious ability behind the wheel of a grand prix car in his career.

Managed by Nicolas Todt from a young age, Bianchi became the first driver signed to the FDA in 2009 after a strong F3 Euro Series campaign with ART. He won the title, beating future F1 drivers Valtteri Bottas, Esteban Gutierrez and Brendon Hartley.

A leap to GP2 produced solid-but-unspectacular results despite some scintillating qualifying pace. A second season did not result in the title, but Bianchi produced a memorable win at Silverstone on his way to third in the standings for the second consecutive year.

Bianchi moved to Formula Renault 3.5 for 2012, where he featured in the epic title bout with Robin Frijns and Sam Bird. After a collision in the final round, Bianchi finished the season second by four points with three wins. During the year, he also participated in numerous tests on loan with Force India.

After impressing with F1 minnow Marussia, it seemed likely that Bianchi would one day graduate to Ferrari to replace Kimi Raikkonen. Sadly, he lost his life to injuries sustained in the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix.

2. Sergio Perez?MEXICO
Currently 9th in 2019 F1, 7th in 2016 & ’17 F1, 2nd in 2010 GP2, 4th in 2008 British F3 ?- 10th in 2012 F1, 16th in 2011 F1

After finishing runner-up to Pastor Maldonado in GP2 in 2010, Ferrari signed up Sergio Perez days after he was announced as Sauber’s driver for the 2011 season.

His debut season was mixed, with his best result being seventh place at the British Grand Prix, and he suffered concussion following his crash exiting the tunnel during Monaco GP qualifying. Ultimately he was unable to beat team-mate Kamui Kobayashi in the championship standings.

In September 2011, Perez undertook his first test for Ferrari at Fiorano, in its 2009 car. Despite being highly rated by Stefano Domenicali, speculation about the future after the test was downplayed by Sauber.

The world?s attention would be caught at the 2012 Malaysian GP, when Perez battled with Fernando Alonso for the win in the rain. He would follow this up with third place in Canada and second in Italy, where he was the best placed driver with a Ferrari engine.

Luca di Montezemolo effectively ruled Perez out of replacing Massa for 2013, due to a lack of experience, and he instead signed for McLaren. But with signing for McLaren, Perez was forced to relinquish his place at the FDA.

Being pushed out of McLaren after one season also proved to be a career blessing for Perez, as he’s become one of F1’s most respected and trusted drivers with the team that is now called Racing Point.

1. Charles Leclerc MONACO
Currently 5th in 2019 F1, 13th in 2018 F1, 4th in 2015 European F3 – 2017 F2 champion, 2016 GP3 champion

Charles Leclerc is the single biggest star to have emerged from the Ferrari Driver Academy, and is now pushing four-time world champion team-mate Sebastian Vettel at Scuderia Ferrari. And he’s only in his second season of F1.

He joined the academy in 2016, and won the GP3 and F2 titles one after the other despite going through a time of personal turmoil.

During this time, he earned?himself tests with both Haas and Ferrari in 2017, and after showing considerable promise he was signed by Alfa Romeo Sauber for the 2018 F1 season.

Ever self-critical, Leclerc admitted that the juggling of his increasing F1 test commitments and junior racing career was a difficult task to handle.

Leclerc made a reasonable start to his rookie F1 season, and once he found his confidence he produced a number of point finishes. His 13th place in the standings was earned with 10 points finishes and sixth place in the Azerbaijan GP.

Those standout results secured him a Ferrari drive for this year, becoming the first member of the Ferrari Driver Academy to race for the Maranello team.

Leclerc has once again shown his potential as a future world champion, narrowly missing out on his first victory in Bahrain after suffering engine issues, and he has proven he is not afraid to go wheel-to-wheel with his Vettel.

It is only the start of his Ferrari career, but he could just be the kind of driver the Scuderia has been looking for since the departure of Michael Schumacher.

Written by Rachel Hillman, Rob Hansford, Elliot Wood and Craig Woollard.