With Formula 1 on its summer break and the rumour mills in full swing regarding the 2014 driver market, PaddockScout takes a look at the drivers in contention to make their debuts next season and rates their chances.
First in Formula Renault 3.5
With the Dane having impressed McLaren during a couple of runs in young driver tests in the past year, the team have come out and said they are working on finding him an F1 race seat for 2014. That guarantees very little though. He’s not quite in Lewis Hamilton’s league, so doesn’t justify an immediate place at McLaren. That means they need to persuade a lesser team into running him, which is difficult when they’re all cash-strapped.
Force India would have been a possibility – Magnussen nearly did the young driver test for them instead – but their McLaren relationship is coming to an end. Marussia are perhaps the most obvious option, but managing to outbid Max Chilton seems unlikely so his chances there rest upon Jules Bianchi being promoted up the grid by Ferrari. Even then, there are some similarly talented drivers who might be able to offer more. He currently leads the FR3.5 standings with three weekends left, and a strong run-in will only make him a more attractive proposition – both to any team taking him on and to McLaren in terms of the amount they are prepared to invest. Should F1 not happen, racing in GP2 or some Friday practice running are possibilities. Chances of a 2013 race seat: 45%
Second in Formula Renault 3.5
Despite being in his rookie season of FR3.5 after graduating from Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 as champion, Vandoorne has rivalled Magnussen in the title race and remains his closest challenger. He joined Magnussen on McLaren’s young driver programme at the start of the year but with McLaren having already thrown their weight behind Magnussen in terms of a 2014 F1 graduation, Vandoorne may have to wait his turn even if he comes out on top in the FR3.5 title fight. He’s yet to even do an official test in an F1 car, and so jumping straight in next year would probably be rushing things slightly. He’s only in his fourth season of car racing, after all.
Now managed by Jenson Button’s The Sports Partnership, the long-term future looks bright for Vandoorne. In the short term, a second campaign of FR3.5 is a possibility if he were to miss out on this year’s title to Magnussen, or alternatively an F1 reserve role with a view to a 2015 race seat. He lacks much personal funding and has used his Eurocup prize money to pay for this year’s ride, but McLaren and his management should be able to help a little on that front. Chances of a 2013 race seat: 20%
Antonio Felix da Costa
Fifth in Formula Renault 3.5
After a stunning run of form at the end of 2012, the Red Bull Junior seemed a shoe-in for a graduation to F1 in the near future. However, his 2013 campaign in Formula Renault 3.5 has not matched expectations. He’s slipped to fifth in the standings, with only one win to his name from 11 races. He’s certainly had more than his fair share of misfortune, but he hasn’t been able to produce the sort of performances that saw him win four of the last five races last season.
That’s not to say he doesn’t deserve an F1 shot, but he hasn’t yet made a strong enough case to warrant booting the similarly-talented Jean-Eric Vergne out of a Toro Rosso seat. Indeed, Red Bull bosses have said Vergne’s seat is safe for next year – although they’ve said that before about drivers who’ve then been dropped. Should Daniel Ricciardo get the Red Bull Racing vacancy, Felix da Costa will replace him. Should Ricciardo miss out, Felix da Costa may well have to wait his turn. One potential opportunity could come at Caterham, with whom Red Bull have both a strong technical relationship and a link through the very Arden Caterham team Felix da Costa competes for in FR3.5. Chances of a 2013 race seat: 60%
Ninth in Formula Renault 3.5
Of all the drivers looking to break into Formula 1 next year, it is Sirotkin of which the most fuss has been made. And not much of it has been positive. What is known is that, as the result of investment from Russian backers, Sauber have placed Sirotkin on a development program designed to make him ready to race in F1 as soon as next season. This isn’t quite a forgone conclusion yet, though. He currently lacks a superlicence, but that ought not to be an issue for a driver who’s won in powerful single-seaters in Auto GP and been on the podium in FR3.5. Where the problem might come is in the arrival of those Russian roubles, with plenty of speculation lately that the deal is not complete. Until the money comes, there’s little motivation for Sauber to give Sirotkin any mileage at all.
It could also be decided that he’s not yet ready. For his own development, staying on in FR3.5 is evidently the best option. But he’s a driver mature well above his years, and he’s shown throughout his short career-to-date that he has little problem getting used to a step up the ladder. F1 is of course a very different matter, but there aren’t many clues to suggest he couldn’t do a competent job. Given time, he’s got the potential to do very well. Chances of a 2013 race seat: 60%
First in GP2 Series
After his reputation took a knock backwards with a difficult 2012, Coletti has put himself right in the F1 shop window this year by leading the GP2 standings ever since the first weekend in Malaysia. Though his three wins all came in sprint races (adding to his three from 2011), he did finish all of the first eight races in the top six, and six of them on the podium. Five non-scores from the next six races however have left him with a fragile lead that will likely get overhauled if he doesn’t return to form.
Many have the opinion that Coletti is another veteran using just his experience to get to the top of GP2, but he’s been a talented prospect since beating Jules Bianchi and others to win a European karting title and was once a Red Bull Junior. As a Monegasque, he’s not poor, but he doesn’t at present have lots of millions to throw at F1 teams. If he can add the GP2 title to his win on Monaco GP weekend, he would be in a good place to secure the investment he needs to tempt a team into giving him a chance. A strong run-in will only help to convince them too. Chances of a 2013 race seat: 30%
Second in GP2 Series
Highly-rated in the F1 paddock since winning the Formula BMW Europe title on the support bill back in 2009, Nasr has done what was expected of him and fought for the GP2 title this year. Somehow he’s failed to win a race, but that’s unlikely to put off potential suitors. If he wins the title (even without a race victory, which could very much be possible given he’s only six points off the faltering Coletti), teams ought to be queueing up to sign him. After all, Rosberg, Hamilton and Hulkenberg are the only drivers to have won the GP2 title in less than two seasons.
As well as his talent, Nasr has two other useful things in his repertoire. The first is his management – he’s the other driver looked after by Kimi Raikkonen’s long-term managers Steve and David Robertson. They also negotiated Jenson Button into F1, so if they can’t find Nasr an F1 seat, nobody will.? The second factor is a growing portfolio of sponsors. Back in F3, he had little financial backing, but his GP2 programme is now funded by big firms from his homeland like OGX, Banco do Brasil and Sky Brasil. And that’s just for GP2 – dangle the F1 carrot, and only more investors will be interested. Chances of a 2013 race seat: 65%
Third in GP2 Series
Leimer returned for another crack at GP2 this year and things started well with a win in the season opener in Malaysia followed by another in Bahrain. After that he went through a bit of a barren run – mostly thanks to a return of the misfortune that blighted him last year – and then he’s finished third and fourth over the past couple of weekends. He can be fast and lead from the front but hasn’t done it often enough, and when he is further down the order he struggles to make progress forward.
A championship push is not out of the question if he can get things together, and that will be needed if he’s to make much impression on the F1 teams. He has a loyal sponsor in Bautro who paid for him to do a Sauber test a couple of years ago but he apparently found it hard work to get the budget in place for this year, so it’s unlikely he’s got the financial resources that his compatriots in Hinwil would need from him. He has courted interest from the DTM before and it is outside of single-seaters where his future probably lies. Chances of a 2013 race seat: 10%
Fourth in GP2 Series
Bird seemed set to look into other forms of racing for 2013 until the chance came to race for the new Russian Time GP2 squad for free. He’s grabbed the opportunity with both hands, defying his team’s lack of experience at that level to score three wins from the first five weekends, including successive feature race victories in Monaco and Silverstone. That inexperience has hampered his results on other weekends, so a title push is unlikely unless his form becomes more consistent.
The long-term Mercedes tester was famously deprived of any F1 running for this year by the punishment for the tyre testing debacle, and he’s not getting a look in past their superstar present race line-up any time soon. Any chance of an F1 race seat now might rely on Russian Time’s backers extending their generosity to a Bird promotion. That may sound a little far-fetched at first, but take Russian Time’s public interest in linking up with Williams, add in the Grove team’s new German engine supply and the fact Bird used to test for them and it sounds somewhat more plausible – should a vacancy arise of course. Chances of a 2013 race seat: 20%
Fifth in GP2 Series
After his impressive rookie campaign of 2012, Calado was the red-hot favourite for the GP2 title this year. He’s failed to live up to his billing, with him and the ART team struggling for pace to the point that he’s yet to win a race. He continues to show flashes of talent in race situations and is realistically still in with a shot at the championship if he can get his form to where it ought to be. His form last year was good enough to convince Nicolas Todt to sign him up to his management stable and work on finding him a place in F1.
So far on that front, things are going well. No sooner was the deal announced than he was in straight-line aero testing action with Force India (with whom Todt had worked with on Jules Bianchi), which was followed by a proper test at the Silverstone young driver test. The team are apparently impressed and a reserve deal is seemingly on the horizon. For 2014, Todt may try to push him into a race seat using his own backing, but it took him a while to achieve that with Bianchi (even with Ferrari help) and Calado could be a similar case unless a vacancy appears with his name on it. Chances of a 2013 race seat: 35%
12th in GP2 Series
As much has been made about Sirotkin’s possible arrival at Sauber, the same amount again has been said about Frijns’ lack of opportunities since winning last year’s Formula Renault 3.5 title. He joined Sauber as reserve driver but chances there have been unsurprisingly limited. He started a late campaign in GP2 and experienced mixed results – a victory and a second place in his second weekend in Barcelona was followed by just one other points finish from the next three weekends before he had to make way.
There are a number of challenges for him to overcome in order to find an F1 race seat some time soon. The top teams have numerous other options in their sights in terms of young drivers – either those on their young driver programmes or existing race drivers like Nico Hulkenberg – so have no motivation to help Frijns out. The lesser teams need money, and the money often comes attached to inexperienced drivers kike Sirotkin or Esteban Gutierrez. Sauber, and other teams, are likely to be reluctant to place Frijns alongside another inexperienced driver if they can possibly avoid it. Finding some investment from somewhere is still possible, but without it his chances seem fairly limited. Chances of a 2013 race seat: 30%
13th in GP2 Series
The last two seasons of Rossi’s junior career haven’t really done much to help his reputation in the racing world, with results limited by Caterham’s nascent Formula Renault 3.5 and GP2 teams. This year he wasn’t due to do GP2 at all until a vacancy arose for the second round, when he promptly finished on the podium in his first race. He’s failed to reach those heights since.
Things seem to still be good on the Caterham front though, and they should be well aware that their junior teams are not capable of matching their rivals. Indeed, Rossi will reportedly get a Friday practice run at each of the remaining Grands Prix this year where GP2 are not present (Korea, Japan, India, United States and Brazil). Offering him this much mileage at the expense of their race drivers suggest Caterham are serious about having him ready to race in F1 next year. Charles Pic and Giedo van Garde are both paying good money for their seats so there’s a definite financial aspect to it all, but Rossi does at least have the support of GE – the team’s biggest sponsor – as well as the key to the North American market. Chances of a 2013 race seat: 25%
11th in DTM
Thanks to the fresh involvement of his long-term backers Mercedes-Benz and Astana (an investment group representing the capital of Kazakhstan, if you didn’t know) at Williams, Juncadella made his debut at a proper F1 test with the Grove team at Silverstone last month. Last year’s European Formula 3 champion, the Spaniard would have had a run with Mercedes too had it not been for their ban from the test. He’s been racing for the three-pointed star in the DTM this year, and a fourth place (in a race with no winner) and a sixth shouldn’t be frowned upon in a series that consists entirely of paid, professional drivers.
A proper role with Williams seems to be on the cards, though he’s unlikely to be forcing either Pastor Maldonado or Valtteri Bottas out of their race seats for 2014. But should one of those be poached by another team, Juncadella could be in pole position to replace them with his support from the two aforementioned parties. Chances of a 2013 race seat: 15%