The Next Wave of F1 Drivers is Coming, and it’s More Than Just Mick Schumacher
Much of the focus this past Sunday morning ahead of the F1 Russian Grand Prix in Sochi, Russia, was on Formula 2 and massive crash between Luca Ghiotto and Jack Aitken, which resulted in the race being stopped because of damage to the barriers in Sochi’s exciting Turn 3.
The two drivers touched under full loading through the long, long corner and both went off at high-speed, Ghiotto smashing into and destroying several Tecpro plastic barriers, before the car caught fire. Aitken hit the heavy-duty plastic barriers at a point where two joined together. He went between them and ended up between two rows of barrier. No one was hurt, but fire is so rare in the Formula racing world world these days that this grabbed attention.
It has been a pretty impressive season in Formula 2 for other reasons, with a string of very good young drivers coming up against one another. How good they ultimately are in Formula 1 terms remains to be seen, but at least three of them will be seen trying F1 cars in practice sessions before the end of the season.
Here’s some names to know:
The championship leader Mick Schumacher, the 21-year-old son of seven-time F1 champion Michael Schumacher, has a name that resonates outside motor sport. He could lead a revival in interest in F1 in Germany, where the fans have never really embraced Sebastian Vettel nor Mercedes Benz, in the same way that they engaged with Michael.
Mick Schumacher is a Ferrari Academy driver and the word is that he will probably end up getting the second Alfa Romeo F1 drive next year, alongside Kimi Raikkonen, at the expense of Antonio Giovinazzi. As part of the Ferrari engine deal with Alfa Romeo (yes, it doesn’t make much sense in industrial terms, but is really no weirder than Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Honda) Ferrari gets to nominate one of the drivers at Sauber, while Alfa Romeo merely pours in a bunch of money to get the team name.
The deals are all a leftover from the days of Sergio Marchionne, and it will be interesting to see if it continues at the end of 2021 when the current deal ends, at which point Alfa Romeo will have become a brand of the new Stellantis company, which is the merged Fiat Chrysler-Group Peugeot. This will be under the control of Carlos Tavares, who was the man who made Alpine happen when he was still at Renault and is a great believer in using motorsport to promote car companies.
The new grouping will have a brand portfolio including Alfa Romeo, Chrysler, Citroën, Dodge, DS, Fiat, Jeep, Lancia, Maserati, Opel, Peugeot, Ram and Vauxhall and it will be fascinating to see whether Tavares decides to continue being involved in what is an unsuccessful F1 sponsorship, or whether he will decide to use a different brand, or to do nothing at all. The one thing we do know is that Peugeot will be used for Le Mans and DS is being used in Formula E.
Ferrari will probably nominate Schumacher for the Alfa Romeo seat and that will mean that Kimi Raikkonen will probably be retained for another year to help train up Schumacher and give the team some stability. It is not doing such a bad job as this year we have seen Alfa Romeo beating Ferrari on occasion, although this is really down to the fact that Ferrari is doing so poorly.
Another Formula 2 championship contender, Callum Ilott, a British driver, will be seen in a Haas at the forthcoming session at the Eifel Grand Prix at the Nurburgring and that is a pretty clear sign that Haas is thinking of changing at least one, but perhaps even two, of its drivers next year.
Ilott is a Ferrari Academy driver as well and Haas uses Ferrari engines (for now) but there is also the possibility that a third Ferrari Academy driver, Russia’s Robert Shwartzman, could find a place at Haas next year. This might be helpful for F1 because it looks more and more likely that Japan’s Yuki Tsunoda, who races a Red Bull car in Formula 2 and is also a championship contender, will get a Super Licence this year and Honda and Red Bull will put him into the second AlphaTauri, alongside Pierre Gasly. This will mean that Dany Kvyat could be out of a drive.
Another quick F2 driver is Nikita Mazepin, the son of billionaire Dimity Mazepine. The elder Mazepin has been trying to buy an F1 team for the last couple of years so that his son can be in F1 (along the lines of the Stroll family). He is believed to been in the running for the Williams team earlier this summer.
Nikita Mazepin is currently sixth in the F2 points standings.
The other name to watch out for is China’s Guanyu Zhou. He was awarded victory—his first in Formula 2—after the Aitken-Ghiotto crash but he is seen by many in F1 as an important figure, as he would be the first Chinese F1 driver who looks to have the kind of pace that is required—and F1 would love to have a Chinese driver.
Zhou is a Renault Young Driver and has been out testing old F1 Renaults on a regular basis for the last two years. It is clear that he will get a drive if he develops in the right way—and if Renault can find a place for him. The French company is keen to get a second team to help it with data (as McLaren is moving to Mercedes engines in 2021) and the signs are that Haas might make the switch in 2022. That would give Zhou a place to learn the F1 ropes.
And, if you think that it is bit depressing that there no American youngsters on the way up, watch out because this year 19-year-old Florida driver Logan Sargeant has been an impressive front-runner in Formula 3 and he will likely step up to Formula 2 in 2021, probably taking over the seat vacated by Schumacher.
Cracking the US market remains key for F1 so Sargeant is worth watching.
Clearly, the F1 cupboard is far from bare when it comes to drivers on the way up.
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