Max Verstappen

What Next for the Red Bull Junior Program?

The first weeks of August are typically a quiet one within Formula One. This is the referred to as the “summer break”, a three week break between the Hungarian and Belgian Grand Prix’s. That tranquility was shattered last Monday when it was announced Red Bull racing driver Pierre Gasly was being demoted to the junior Scuderia Toro Rosso team, with Alex Albon going the other way.

The news caught the paddock by surprise, despite what has been a disappointing 2019 season for Gasly. Only just over a week ago at the Hungarian Grand Prix Red Bull team principal Christian Horner publicly said he was not in danger of losing his seat. Clearly since then there has been extensive talks within Red Bull which has led to this change, but what does it mean for the famed Red Bull junior program?

On the surface it doesn’t look good for them. The program has since 2001 helped young drivers and graduates of the scheme has included four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, seven time GP winner Daniel Ricciardo and McLaren driver Carlos Sainz Jr along with countless other drivers who have forged careers outside F1. This year has not been kind to the development program as they now two of their four F1 seats occupied by drivers they previously dropped.

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Pierre Gasly in his now final race for Red Bull this year at the Hungarian GP. It will be interesting to see how he handles the demotion to Toro Rosso. Photo: Motorsport.com.

Both Toro Rosso driver Daniil Kvyat and newly promoted Albon found themselves coming in from the cold as Red Bull lacked suitable junior candidates to fill these seats. This sends a mixed PR message to their current junior drivers. At the end of June they announced they had dropped Dan Ticktum from the program after a poor start to his 2019 season in the highly competitive Super Formula series in Japan. This was only eight months after he had won the prestigious Macau Grand Prix, and was close to joining Toro Rosso for the 2019 season.

With one of their brightest talents no longer involved with the program, the viable alternatives are a little further away. They have now supported Mexican Patricio O’Ward, however it is very difficult to judge his results in his results in FIA F2 and Super Formula debuts. Lucas Auer is also racing in Japan, currently he is 9th in the Super Formula series after four of seven rounds.

The current issue for Red Bull is that they currently do not have any young drivers who would qualify for a F1 super-license. This is only awarded based on points earned for success in junior categories, with 40 the minimum required. The closest to earning one so far in the Red Bull ranks is Estonian Juri Vips, who would gain 25 points for his current second place in the FIA European F3 series.  This would mean he would need a top five finish in FIA F2 or a top three in Super Formula to gain enough points.

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Estonian Juri Vips is battling for the FIA European F3 title, and at this moment looks the most likely Red Bull junior driver to progress to F1. Photo: Motorsport.com.

At the present moment Vips is the teams best bet for a future F1 role. Vips is in contention for the title and a likely promotion into either F2 or Super Formula. The issue is that the talent pool at Red Bull has run dry in recent years, leaving the team short on young drivers which is leading them to look elsewhere at the likes of Kvyat and Albon. This problem won’t be rectified for several years as the likes of Vips, Liam Lawson and Yuki Tsunoda potentially progress from European F3.

Of the nine Red Bull young drivers Vips appears the most likely to step up to F1, although this could be two-three years away yet. This is a problem for a team that is notoriously ruthless with their drivers, as shown with their mid-season demotion of Gasly. So much can change in that time as drivers may struggle to step up or the team might want to go in a different direction with drivers.

The future is almost impossible to predict in a sport that is so focused on the here and now. What will the team do at the end of the year? Will they retain Kyvat, Gasly or Albon? The team have one of the brightest young talents in Max Verstappen, but they need another young talent to fill the other space at Red Bull. At this early stage it’s hard to tell if the likes of Vips or any of their other young drivers can fill that seat in the future.

If you have any comments on this piece let me know down below in the comment section or find me on Twitter @JWjournalism. Finally, a massive thank you for reading this piece I massively appreciate it!

 

 

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Are The New Generation On The Cusp Of An F1 Revolution

Despite last weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix the month of August is usually a quiet one for the Formula One community. The three week summer break and subsequent dearth of on-track action usually means it’s rumours and talk of the following year which create the headlines. In this forward thinking vain I initially started this article several weeks ago, before life got in the way for several weeks.

In recent weeks the speculation has been centered on the futures of both Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso, two of the three oldest drivers on the F1 grid at 37 and 36 respectively. Don’t let this fool you however. The current top order of Formula One is on the verge of a major generational shift. Both Raikkonen and Alonso are former world champions, along with 32 year-old Lewis Hamilton and 30 year-old Sebastian Vettel.

Five years from now Raikkonen and Alonso will have retired, and it will be unclear at what competitive level both Hamilton and Vettel will be at age 37 and 35 respectively. It’s likely that young contenders right now such as Valtteri Bottas, Daniel Ricciardo, Carlos Sainz Jr and Stoffel Vandoorne will be entering their prime, but who will be pushing them at the front?

A special talent such as Max Verstappen has already reached this point at the tender age of 19. Esteban Ocon has impressed this season in his sophomore F1 campaign and at age 20 has plenty of time on his side. Williams rookie Lance Stroll is only 18 yet has already proved his doubters wrong. Pascal Wehrlein is highly rated by Mercedes at 22.

These are the next generation that are currently already in F1, but just who are the young talents looking to smash through the F1 glass ceiling? Ferrari has been grooming current FIA F2 championship leader Charles Leclerc since the beginning of 2016, and looks a perfect replacement for Raikkonen in the coming years. Mercedes have this season taken on young Brit George Russell, who currently leads the GP3 championship and could take over seamlessly from Hamilton at the front running team.

Red Bull currently have two of the best young drivers on the grid in Ricciardo and Verstappen, and have a well known driver programme that has produced an abundance of very talented young drivers. ¬†Reigning FIA F2 champions Pierre Gasly is the latest driver deserving of an F1 shot with Red Bull, likely with it’s junior Scuderia Toro Rosso team.

Renault have two of the top contenders in F2 and GP3 in Oliver Rowland and Jack Aitken, and McLaren have the very promising Lando Norris on their books. At the present moment it appears that Leclerc and Norris have the highest profile amongst the F1 paddock. Leclerc has impressed at every stage of his career and has some F1 experience both with Ferrari and Haas.

Norris is currently taking the FIA European F3 championship by storm in his rookie campaign, leading the championship after seven of ten rounds. He also massively impressed in the Pirelli tyre test, posting the second fastest time behind only Sebastian Vettel.

In the coming seasons it will remain to be seen how many of the young drivers mentioned will reach F1, as unfortunately other factors sometimes determine if a talented driver reaches the pinnacle of the sport. What happens in the future no one can ever accurately predict 100%, however do not be surprised at all to see the F1 grid filled with many of the young drivers mentioned in this article. I may well be wrong,but at the present moment these are the brightest young talents in the F1 community.

Any thoughts on this article or any of the drivers involved? Please feel free to let me know in the comments section below. Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95 and I hope you enjoyed the article. 

Initial Observations From F1 Pre-Season Testing

This week Formula One 2017 fired into life with the first pre-season test at the Barcelona circuit, the venue for the Spanish Grand Prix in May. After the initial launches of the new 2017 spec cars last week, many questioned whether the established order from years previous would be shaken by the new 2017 regulations?

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