Red Bull

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!

 

 

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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Antonio Felix Da Costa: Proof F1 isn’t Always Right

Recent events have further reminded anyone who has carelessly forgotten that Antonio Felix Da Costa is a seriously quick young racing driver, and is living proof Formula One is not always right. The paddock deemed him not worthy of a seat at the top table of motorsport, he’s now proving them fatally wrong.

In the two years of 2012 and 2013 he set the junior single seater categories alight, with a very close third in the GP3 series being topped by an incredible partial campaign in the Renault World Series. On a grid that arguably bettered that years GP2 series, Da Costa finished an incredible fourth in the series, after missing the opening three rounds.

Replacing fellow Red Bull driver Lewis Williamson, he won four of the twelve races he competed in, he finished only 23 points behind eventual champion Robin Frijns. With a full campaign he surely would have won the championship at a canter. Completing a year unlike almost any other junior categories racing driver, Da Costa then went and won the highly prestigious Macau Grand Prix, a race graced with a winners list that reads like a who’s who of the F1 grid.

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Antonio Felix Da Costa in action for the dominant Red Bull team at the end of year young driver test in Abu Dhabi, sadly this would prove a fleeting outing just as the Portuguese driver was on the cusp of a full time F1 seat. Photo copyright Red Bull Racing/Getty Images. 

Alas, after being tipped by Red Bull for promotion to their junior Scuderia Toro Rosso F1 team for 2014, the wheels fell off in 2013. Much was expected of Da Costa but he underwhelmed as he was over matched by Kevin Magnussen and rookie Stoffel Vandoorne. Third in the standings and three wins were not enough to save him, with GP3 champion Kvyat being promoted in place of him, an offer to join BMW in the DTM his best option for 2014.

From this point onwards F1 began to leave him behind, focused on hyping the next wave of young drivers rising the ranks. Da Costa has made the transition to becoming a fully paid professional racing driver, but for some they would have foresaw him F1 this year, not the DTM.

The highly competitive German Touring Car Championship is a very tough series to master, therefore it should not be shocking Da Costa has struggled to adapt to the series and his BMW M4. He shows flashes of potential but has yet to string it together for an entire year, with one win in three years of the series and a best final finishing place of 11th in 2015.

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Da Costa accepted a factory BMW drive in the highly competitive German DTM touring car series, something he struggled to adjust too so far. Flashes of potential show he’s still the same driver who should have found a place in F1. Here he is in action in 2014. Photo copyright BMW AG.

Rising through the ranks it was clear Da Costa was a special driver. A karting series world championship runner up in 2006 first brought him to the attention of the motorsport world, before a move into cars for the 2008 season. Stepping right into the competitive Formula Renault categories, he focused on the Northern European Cup whilst team mate Valtteri Bottas fought it out for the Eurocup.

Best of the rest behind the more experienced Bottas was no disgrace for Da Costa in his first year, with flashes of good form carrying over into the partial Eurocup campaign for him. 2009 would be the year to go for it and emulate Bottas by claiming both the Eurocup and NEC Formula Renault titles, the two most prestigious of the formula itself.

A close third in the Eurocup was deemed slightly disappointing but not a career breaker, with a disqualification from the Nurburgring round for a technical issue in qualifying reining in a campaign just as he was closing in on the title. A dominant win in the NEC series was a good consolation prize and cemented his reputation as an up and coming young talent.

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Before F1 testing and the DTM was Formula Renault, where it all started for Da Costa. Victory in the NEC series and third in the Eurocup cemented his reputation as a rising star of the future. Photo copyright Renault Sport.

F3 was the next rung in the ladder, Da Costa acquitting himself well with the Motopark team. Three reverse grid wins and a solid rest of year put him seventh in the final standings, also claiming the prize for being the highest placed rookie in the series. A switch to the British Carlin team for the unofficial F3 World Cup in Macau also proved fruitful, a sixth place finish a great sign of things to come in the former Portuguese colony.

2011 proved tough as he adjusted to a switch into the GP3 category, with only one win and 13th in the final standings to show for it. A partial campaign in British F3 prepared him well for Macau, but sadly a retirement put paid to any chance of resurrecting his career on the world’s fastest street track.

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In case needed reminding of his talents in a single seater, Da Costa made a one-off return to F3 for the prestigious Macau Grand Prix. The F3 World Cup proved a commanding and popular victory in the former Portuguese colony.  This was a master class in how to win on the demanding streets of one of the worlds premier junior events, but by now the F1 paddock ad stopped watching. Photo copyright Motorsport.com

Victory on his return to the Macau Grand Prix proved a welcome fillip for him after a difficult year in the DTM, but he was quick to pour cold water on the idea this would re-ignite any F1 ambitions. He seems very comfortable and happy with his roles at BMW and in the emerging Formula E championship.

Whilst at one stage he seemed destined for Formula One, Antonio Felix Da Costa is by no means a failure because he didn’t reach his goals. He can be very proud of his achievements in his career, and whilst some in the F1 paddock may have forgotten about him, victories such as his latest at Macau are reminders to the motorsport world of his talent, and that he is entirely worthy of a place in Formula One.

By Jordan Wilkins

Any thoughts on this article? Feel free to comment below and share your views, find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95 and a huge final thank you for reading!

 

Strange Timing for Verstappen Promotion

This morning Red Bull Racing finally dropped the news many within the F1 paddock had been predicted over the past few weeks. The decision to swap Max Verstappen and Daniil Kvyat at this moment seems a strange one, especially at this early stage of this season.

Four races into the 2016 season and the career of Kvyat has taken a significant turn, after only just over a season with the main Red Bull Racing team. Many have lamented the fact that Kvyat secured a podium only two races ago in China, yet after a poor Russian Grand Prix last weekend he is being replaced for the rest of the season by Max Verstappen.

Ever since his incredible debut year in cars, where he challenged for the highly competitive FIA European F3 title, Verstappen has carried the tag of a future F1 world champion. He made headlines for being the youngest ever driver to enter F1 at age 17, after a single year racing cars.

He has been in demand since he started his career, with both AMG Mercedes and Red Bull competing to sign him in his debut F3 season in 2014. He has so far impressed in his short F1 career with Scuderia Toro Rosso, and will now have a great opportunity to compete against Australian team mate Daniel Ricciardo, arguably the best of the current crop of younger drivers some may say.

For Daniil Kvyat this must be the hardest point of his career so far, as he finds himself demoted to the junior Toro Rosso team, and it will be very hard for him to reclaim his Red Bull seat now. He knows the Toro Rosso team well from his previous stint there in his rookie F1 season in 2014.

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Verstappen in action for Toro Rosso during pre-season. He will return to Barcelona next weekend having swapped his Toro Rosso for a Red Bull. Photo copyright XPB Images.

Much like Verstappen he impressed that year and earned a promotion to the main Red Bull Racing team after quadruple world champion Sebastien Vettel left for Ferrari. At age 22 being so publicly demoted must be very difficult to deal with, and will surely be something that lingers in his mind for a long time.

He will now have to seriously impress starting with next weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix, if he wants a return to the Red Bull team. At this moment it’s difficult not to think of previous Red Bull young drivers who were discarded such as Jaime Alguersuari, Sebastien Buemi and Jean Eric Vergne and wonder if this is their plan for Kvyat too.

From the early news surrounding this story it appears this move has been discussed for the past few weeks even longer perhaps, suggesting this is not a decision the Red Bull management have taken lightly. Only two races ago team principal Christian Horner was publicly supportive of Kvyat and his podium place, however it seems a lot can change very quickly in Formula One. Some have suggested that Red Bull motorsport programme chief Helmut Marko has been looking for an opportunity to promote Verstappen this season, and Kvyat gave him the perfect chance after his poor Russian GP.

It may seem harsh to demote a driver after only one poor race, but clearly for Red Bull management they have had concerns on Kvyat in terms of long term potential. This move would appear to be thinking towards the future, as they would appear to feel Verstappen is the better, longer term option for the team.

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Daniil Kvyat celebrating his podium in the Chinese GP. How quickly things can change in F1 as two races later he finds himself demoted to the junior Toro Rosso team. Photo copyright Motorsport.com

For now the future is unclear for Kvyat. He remains in F1 and is a very talented driver, but he will likely not be given too long with the Toro Rosso team. The team is primarily a junior Red Bull team, therefore their drivers are usually not given a lot of time before they are either promoted to dropped from the team. With the likes of Pierre Gasly waiting in the wings, the future of Daniil Kvyat may not feature F1 in three-five years time.

The future is also unclear for Verstappen. Whilst his career trajectory continues to skyrocket, we must remember he is still only 18 years old, and now finds himself in the media spotlight and competing at the front of the Formula One grid. He finds himself in a car that is capable of podiums, although the team finds itself behind both AMG Mercedes and Ferrari in the overall pecking order.

His team mate Ricciardo is in top form and is one of the best drivers in F1 right now, providing a stern test for Verstappen. He will receive plenty of advice and support, and he will need to learn from the mistakes of his father Jos Verstappen. He was promoted to F1 in 1994 at a young age, and found himself unable to meet expectation as he carved out an average F1 career.

Red Bull have now put a lot of expectation and pressure on the shoulders of Max Verstappen, but will be able to cope with it and still upstage his team mate. If he can do this, then he will have lived up to his hype as a future world champion. Only time will tell whether he can produce results whilst under major attention and scrutiny.

 

 

What now for Jean Eric Vergne?

First of all, Jean Eric Vergne deserves to be on the grid at the next years Australian Grand Prix. Vergne has shown more than enough potential and results over the past three seasons to warrant a place on the grid in 2015. Vergne has simply become a casualty of the ruthless Red Bull young driver scheme.

Whilst Red Bull have backed him from a young age and gave him a shot in F1 for three seasons, if you don’t show the necessary progress you will quickly be replaced with the next young hot shoe product from the Red Bull line up. With the news last Friday that Red Bull junior F1 team Scuderia Toro Rosso would replace Vergne with their latest prospect Carlos Sainz Jr. For now it seems Vergne has few options to remain in F1 next year, so what options does he have to remain racing next year?

The most likely option it seems for Vergne to remain within Formula One next year appears to be with the Williams team. Rumors began during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend as Vergne was spotted spending a fair amount of time in the Williams hospitality area. Whilst both Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa are confirmed to 2015 their reserve driver role is vacant as Felipe Nasr joins Sauber for next year. If this move comes to fruition it’s likely Vergne will get some Free Practice runs next year, and would be well placed to impress as Williams will be looking to replace Felipe Massa in several years time.

It seems the Williams role seems the most likely option to stay in F1 next year, with the only other likely reserve driver role would be with the Red Bull team, although this is unlikely to interest Vergne as there will be very little chance of being promoted to a race drive.

Vergne can be heartened by the thought that he will likely find plenty of offers from other disciplines of motorsport, and can take heart from the example of fellow Red Bull refugee Sebastien Buemi. Vergne was one of the drivers who replaced Buemi at Toro Rosso for the 2012 season, and Buemi became the Red Bull reserve driver before rebuilding his career with Toyota in the World Endurance Championship, where he has shown his tremendous speed to claim the drivers title in the WEC alongside Anthony Davidson.

The World Endurance Championship is growing in significance every year with Nissan joining Audi, Porsche and Toyota in competing for wins next year. Vergne would be able to retain a reserve driver role in F1 with a WEC campaign with a manufacture or privateer team.

Another option for Vergne could be the new Formula E championship. The series has a prestigious line up of drivers and teams and is growing with every race in it’s debut season and would be an attractive option for next year. Formula E would be another series which could inter link with his reserve driver commitments should he find a drive within F1.

Other much less likely options would be for Vergne to swap F1 for Indycar, with his single seater skills would be clearly evident as he would likely become a household name in the series. Vergne once adjusted to the Dallara DW12 Indycar could become a multiple series champion such is his skill. Another option could be a top line career in GT racing with prominent series such as the Blancpain Endurance Series or GT classes within the WEC would be a great chance to rebuild his career after F1.

From here it’s not known where Jean Eric Vergne will be racing in 2015, with several options for him it’s up to him and his agent to decide which is his best option for next year. For me the best option would be a reserve driver role in F1 to keep his face known within the F1 community, with a sportscar campaign the perfect chance to show his considerable talent such as Sebastien Buemi has done this year. It would be a shame if Vergne isn’t racing at all next year, as he’s shown in his 3 years at Toro Rosso he deserves to remain at the top line of motorsport, where his talents belong.

Red Bull have dilemma with Toro Rosso seat

Since the shock announcement of Sebastien Vettel last month that he was leaving Red Bull at the end of the season, and the immediate response of Red Bull to announce Daniil Kvyat as his replacement, many have been speculating as to who will take the second Scuderia Toro Rosso seat for next season.

With the headline making rookie Max Verstappen joining for next season, it now seems Red Bull have a straight choice of four drivers to partner him at the Red Bull junior team next season. The ultimate aim of the team has always been to promote young Red Bull talent to the main team and therefore suggests Carlos Sainz Jr will be the favourite to take the seat.

The young Spaniard and son of rallying legend Carlos Sainz has impressed this season to take the prestigious Formula Renault 3.5 series and was a shoe in for a Toro Rosso seat before Verstappen stole his thunder this Summer. Now with Kvyat moving up he has a second chance at a Toro Rosso and it would be difficult to see him moving anywhere higher other than F1. He has impressed in testing with Red Bull and Toro Rosso, and his talent deserves an F1 seat with this being his perfect chance.

Sainz Jr in action earlier this year in the Renualt World Series

The next most likely driver to keep his drive would be the Frenchman Jean Eric Vergne. It looked as if he would be turfed out of F1 after the Verstappen announcement, although he is another to be given a second chance with the Kvyat announcement. Vergne is a quick driver who more than matched ex-team mate Daniel Ricciardo during the races during their two seasons together at Scuderia Toro Rosso.

Vergne is more than deserving of a place in F1, and his main plus for him right now is the experience he can provide to both the team and Verstappen next year in comparison with another rookie like Sainz Jr.

The other two contenders are still being considered, although it does seem from here that both Pierre Gasly and Alex Lynn still have some rungs of the single seater ladder to climb before they reach F1.

Firstly Gasly was hugely impressive in his rookie year in the Renault World series, as the reigning Formula Renault Eurocup champion ended the year well to claim a distant 2nd in the standings behind fellow countrymen Sainz Jr. From here it appears the most likely move for Gasly is to move to GP2 for next year, something he completed a part season in this year for the Caterham team. A deal with the reigning champion DAMS team seems right now the most likely option for Gasly next year, with his talent meaning he will be an immediate title contender next year.

Pierre Gasly racing for Caterham in GP2 this season. Credit goes to GP2 media service for the photo.

The final and most unlikely contender to get a promotion to F1 is the impressive young Brit Alex Lynn. The GP3 champion elect has an impressive junior racing CV including a Macau GP F3 win and numerous titles in British junior racing. He has done everything asked of him this season for Red Bull, although it seems his most likely option right now is to step up to either the Renault World Series or GP2, also at this time it is unclear which series or team he will race with next season.

A time frame for when the announcement will be made has yet to be announced, although for both Red Bull and the driver they choose, the sooner the better as this gives them plenty of preparation time for the coming 2015 F1 season.

At this moment it seems a straight decision between Sainz or Vergne, although Gasly and Lynn could be outside contenders for a role with the team next season. Whichever driver they choose, Red Bull will have picked a very fast young driver, with plenty more queuing up behind him for the moment they falter.