But no driver that won the F3000 or GP2 championship has then won the F1 title.
In this four part series we take a look at the 22 champions – and what became of their F1 careers.
1990 F3000 champion with 51 points (2nd Eric van de Poele, 31)
Having missed out on the title so narrowly in 1989, Comas made amends in 1990 in a year that boasted such talents as Damon Hill and Eddie Irvine.
He entered F1 with Ligier in 1991, but scored no points. With the same team in 1992 he suffered a huge crash at Spa-Francorchamps. That was followed by two unfruitful years at Larrousse after which he quit F1 for sports and touring car racing.
1991 F3000 champion with 47 points (2nd Alessandro Zanardi, 42)
Emerson Fittipaldi’s nephew’s F1 career is best remembered for his somersault on the final lap of the 1993 Italian Grand Prix.
He entered F1 in 1992 with Minardi, scoring a point in the Japanese Grand Prix. He scored another five in 1993 before switching to Footwork. After that he moved to Champ Cars in America where he stayed until 2002, scoring two wins. He still races in the Le Mans series.
1992 F3000 champion with 46 points (2nd Andrea Montermini, 34)
Badoer’s F1 debut came with the hopeless BMS Scuderia Italia Lola team in 1993. They gave up before the end of the season. After a year as a Minardi test driver he was promoted to their race driver in 1995.
The next year was spent with another back of the grid team, Forti, which expired halfway through the season.
After a year of GT racing he became a test driver for Ferrari and in 1999 raced for Minardi again. He was not given the chance to replace Michael Schumacher when the German injured his leg – that opportunity instead went to Mika Salo.
Badoer famously broke down in tears after his Minardi failed him while he was running fourth in the European Grand Prix at the Nurburgring.
He never did score a point and when his F1 race career finished at the end of that year he had become the driver to have started the most races without scoring a point (49) a record he still holds.
He has remained a dedicated servant of Ferrari, however, testing both their road and race cars and playing an integral part in the success of the F1 team.
1993 F3000 champion with 32 points (2nd Pedro Lamy, 31)
Panis was a Ligier man for years, even after the team turned into Prost in 1997. Before that he gave the team its first win, an opportunistic gem at a wet Monte-Carlo in 1996.
Many said he was never the same after his leg-breaking crash at Montreal in 1997. He certainly never troubled the leaders again or in two years at BAR (2001-2) and Toyota (2003-4).
1994 F3000 champion with 34 points (2nd Franck Lagorce, 32)
With three races to go in the 1994 championship Boullion was fifth with nine points, 19 behind Franck Lagorce. But he won the last three races and snatched the title.
That year he was also a test driver for Williams largely at the behest of engine supplier Renault. He replaced Karl Wendlinger at Sauber from the Monaco Grand Prix in 1995 and scored three points, but was dropped for the last two rounds when Wendlinger returned.
Bouillon remained a test driver for Williams, then Tyrrell in 1998. He now races sports cars and has been champion in the LMP1 category of the Le Mans Series for the past two years.
1995 F3000 champion with 42 points (2nd Ricardo Rosset, 29)
Many of these drivers could claim to be hard done by. But 1995 champion Sospiri deserved more than one DNQ in the appallingly slow Lola of 1997 (where he was team mates with Rosset) before being forgotten by Formula 1. He was also briefly a test driver for Benetton.
Photo: GP2 Media Service / Alastair Sately
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