Which young drivers deserve race seats in 2013?

Debates and polls

With Michael Schumacher on his way out of F1 a space has opened for a driver who isn’t currently on the grid.

There’s no shortage of talent out there looking for an opportunity. But in tough financial times sheer ability may need a bit of cash to go with it.

F1’s Young Driver Tests ended in Abu Dhabi yesterday and several of the top racers from championships such as GP2 and Formula Renault 3.5 were in attendance.

But who will claim a place on the 2013 grid? Here are 20 drivers who’ve impressed in the leading feeder series recently:

Davide Valsecchi

Davide Valsecchi, Lotus, Yas Marina, 2012CV: 2012 GP2 champion, 2009 GP2 Asia champion
Age: 25

Valsecchi took the DAMS GP2 seat vacated by outgoing champion Romain Grosjean and delivered the title himself. But it took the five-year veteran of the category until the final weekend in Singapore to do it, and a tally of four wins (three at the same track) from 24 races showed it was not an emphatic triumph.

Still he got the job done, and few are the drivers who’ve finished in the top two in GP2 and not progressed to F1. Worryingly for Valsecchi, the only two who have are fellow Italians Giorgio Pantano (in 2008) and Luca Filippi (last year).

Valsecchi might not be the third – he is known to F1 teams having tested for HRT in 2010, Lotus (now Caterham) in 2011 and the other Lotus this year. But as with so many drivers at this level he’s likely to require a budget to progress further.

Luiz Razia

CV: 2012 GP2 runner-up, 2006 F3 Sudamerica champion
Age: 23

Razia led much of this year’s GP2 championship, only to falter in the final rounds and end up second-best to Valsecchi.

He drove in two first practice sessions last year and has already made Young Drivers’ Test appearances for Force India (at Magny-Cours) and Toro Rosso (at Yas Marina). The latter declared themselves happy with his progress but with two drivers already confirmed for next year and a third waiting in line (see below) there’s no room for Razia there.

Esteban Gutierrez

Esteban Gutierrez, Sauber, Yas Marina, 2012CV: Third in GP2 this year, 2010 GP3 champion, 2008 Formula BMW Europe champion
Age: 21

Gutierrez is following Sergio Perez up the ladder on Mexico’s Escuderia Telmex driver programme. He’s considered Sauber’s most likely choice of driver to partner Nico Hulkenberg next year (see today’s round-up).

This is despite a somewhat disappointing second season of GP2 this year. Gutierrez gave Jules Bianchi a run for his money at ART in 2011 but this year rookie team mate James Calado often outshone him, and the pressure that brought seemed to provoke over-driving.

Max Chilton

CV: Fourth in GP2 this year
Age: 21

Max Chilton didn’t place higher than ninth during his first season of GP2 last year, but showed considerable progress in 2012. He began the year as a regular visitor to the points, and although that tailed off on he did land a pair of feature race wins.

This timely success and the backing of insurance company Aon (who his father Grahame sits on the board of) may help him land a seat at Marussia next year, having made his practice debut for them in Abu Dhabi last week.

Robin Frijns

Robin Frijns, Sauber, Yas Marina, 2012CV: 2012 Formula Renault 3.5 champion, 2011 Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup champion, 2010 Formula BMW Europe champion
Age: 21

Frijns stepped up from karting to to Formula BMW Europe in 2009, winning a race in his first season. He’s won a championship every year since, starting with the last Formula BMW title in 2010, then Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup the next year. From there he stepped up to Formula Renault 3.5, with its considerably quicker 2012 machines, and spent most of the year leading that championship.

The title nearly slipped from his grasp after a poor weekend in France. He bounced back in Spain and eventually claimed the championship after a controversial clash with rival Jules Bianchi.

That earned him a test for Red Bull and he also drove for Sauber in Abu Dhabi. Frijns brings little backing but he’s clearly got potential.

Jules Bianchi

CV: 2012 Formula Renault 3.5 runner-up, 2009 F3 Euroseries champion, 2008 F3 Masters winner, 2007 Formula Renault France champion
Age: 23

Bianchi has probably still not come to terms with losing the Formula Renault 3.5 title to Frijns yet. “I?d be lying if I said that what happened two weeks ago in Barcelona is now all behind me,” he said last week.

He has been a Ferrari test driver for four years and has driven in nine practice sessions for Force India, who have a vacancy at their team for next year. Now is surely the time for Bianchi to make the move up.

Sam Bird

CV: Third in Formula Renault 3.5 this year
Age: 25

Bird joined Bianchi in switching from GP2 to Formula Renault 3.5 this year, which promised quicker cars, F1 tracks to race on and the possibility of dovetailing a race programme with appearances in F1 practice sessions. But unlike Bianchi, Bird hasn’t had that kind of seat time.

It’s easy to overlook that he ended the season just ten points behind Frijns. Bird won brilliantly in Monaco and has tested for Mercedes several times. But it’s hard to see where he might fit into the 2012 F1 driver line-up.

Antonio Felix da Costa

Antonio Felix da Costa, Red Bull, Yas Marina, 2012CV: Third in GP3 and fourth in Formula Renault 3.5 this year, 2009 Formula Renault NEC champion
Age: 21

Red Bull-backed Antonio Felix da Costa had a solid season in GP3, winning three times and ending the year third.

But it was in Formula Renault 3.5 that he impressed most, finishing the season fourth overall despite only joining the category at round six. He out-scored Bird, Bianchi and Frijns throughout those races and his last five starts yielded four wins and a second.

Da Costa will surely be the next talent to find himself at the wheel of a Toro Rosso, the question is when? This is the guy Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne have to be wary of.

Kevin Magnussen

CV: Seventh in Formula Renault 3.5 this year, 2011 British F3 runner-up, 2008 Formula Ford Denmark champion
Age: 20

Magnussen excelled in qualifying in Formula Renault 3.5 this year but only had one win to show from his efforts – though he also retired while leading in Hungary.

The son of former F1 driver Jan Magnussen is on McLaren’s driver development programme and drove for the team in Abu Dhabi.

James Calado

CV: Fifth in GP2 this year, 2011 GP3 runner-up, 2010 British F3 runner-up, 2009 Formula Renault 2.0 UK runner-up
Age: 23

Calado was pipped to the GP3 title last year by ART team mate Valtteri Bottas. While Bottas was snapped up by Williams, Calado moved up the ladder to GP2 where he enjoyed almost immediate success, winning in Abu Dhabi at the end of the year.

He won again in the second race of this year, holding off team mate Gutierrez. Calado was a regular fixture at the front of the field and was robbed of a likely win in Valencia by poor strategy.

He slipped from third to fifth in the championship standings over the final four rounds in which he failed to score, partly due to racing while ill in Singapore. Nonetheless Calado was clearly the top rookie in GP2 this year. But where is the interest from F1 teams?

Giedo van der Garde

Giedo van der Garde, Caterham, Yas Marina, 2012CV: Sixth in GP2 this year, 2008 Formula Renault 3.5 champion
Age: 27

Finishing outside the top five in GP2 this year (though level on points with Calado) was a poor return on the experience van der Garde has accumulated at this level.

Nonetheless he has had plenty of F1 track time with Caterham lately and may be in with a shot of landing a seat for next year. He has prior F1 experience too, having tested for Spyker as long ago as 2007.

Johnny Cecotto Jnr

CV: Ninth in GP2 this year
Age: 23

Could Venezuela have two F1 drivers in the near future? Johnny Cecotto Jnr had a mixed season in GP2 but impressed with a feature race win in Monaco.

He drove for Force India in last year’s Young Driver Test and turned out for Toro Rosso in Abu Dhabi this week. But was this a case of them sizing up a potential talent of the future or tapping into a source of quick cash?

Felipe Nasr

CV: Tenth in GP2 this year, 2011 British F3 champion, 2009 Formula BMW Europe champion
Age: 20

Last year’s British F3 champion had the highly experienced Valsecchi to learn from at DAMS and made clear progress throughout the season: he scored 28 points in the first half of the season and 66 in the second.

Alexander Rossi

CV: Eleventh in Formula Renault 3.5 this year, 2009 Formula BMW Americas champion
Age: 21

Caterham’s American test driver Alexander Rossi had a tough year in Formula Renault 3.5 with Caterham, then was soundly beaten by Da Costa when he arrived. He drove in first practice for the Spanish Grand Prix, appeared at the Abu Dhabi Young Driver Test and has also tested for Caterham’s GP2 squad.

Rio Haryanto

CV: 2009 Formula BMW Pacific champion
Age: 19

Haryanto tested for Marussia at Silverstone in July. The highlight of his GP2 season was taking pole position in a wet qualifying session at Spa. He ended the year 14th, but he looks like Indonesia’s best prospect for its first Grand Prix driver.

Edoardo Mortara

Edoardo Mortara, Lotus, Yas Marina, 2012CV: Fifth in DTM this year, 2010 F3 Euroseries champion, 2009 and 2010 Macau Grand Prix winner
Age: 25

Mortara did the double in Macau in 2009 and 2010, but has been racing in the DTM since then. It’s a path used by a few drivers to reach F1, notably Paul di Resta and Christijan Albers, but will it work for him?

In the ten-round series Mortara stood out by being the only driver to win for Audi – twice – ending the year fifth overall. Lotus gave him a test in Abu Dhabi and he admitted: “it was pretty tough – I?ve come from a car which is a lot slower and the first laps were certainly an eye-opener.”

Robert Wickens

CV: 2011 Formula Renault 3.5 champion, 2006 Formula BMW USA champion
Age: 23

What of last year’s Formula Renault 3.5 champion? Robert Wickens tested for Virgin (now Marussia) at the end of last year but joined Mortara in the DTM. He didn’t enjoy as successful a year with Mercedes, two seventh places the highlight for him.

Luca Filippi

CV: 2011 GP2 runner-up, 2005 F3000 Italy champion
Age: 27

Still among the ranks of Italy’s upcoming drivers trying to get an F1 break is Luca Filippi. He appeared in the final two GP2 weekends this year and impressed by winning at Monza on his return and claiming pole position in Singapore.

But if it hasn’t happened for him by now you have to wonder if it’s ever going to. IndyCar may be a more likely destination.

Valtteri Bottas

Valtteri Bottas, Williams, Hockenheim, 2012CV: 2011 GP3 champion
Age: 23

Last year’s GP3 champion has driven in most first practice sessions for Williams this year, invariably at the expense of Bruno Senna. He is strongly tipped to take over Senna’s race seat next year.

In his 14 practice appearances he’s impressed the team with his speed, outpacing Pastor Maldonado six times.

But is a year out of competition really the best way to prepare for an F1 race seat?

Fabio Leimer

CV: Seventh in GP2 this year, 2009 Formula Master champion, 2008 Formula Master runner-up
Age: 23

Leimer tested for Sauber last year but wasn’t in action at the Young Driver Tests this year after a somewhat disappointing GP2 season for Racing Engineering with no wins.

Over to you

Which of these drivers deserves a place on the 2013 grid? Cast your vote below – you can pick as many drivers as you like.

Which young drivers deserve race seats in 2013?

  • Davide Valsecchi (29%)
  • Luiz Razia (11%)
  • Esteban Gutierrez (20%)
  • Max Chilton (5%)
  • Robin Frijns (44%)
  • Jules Bianchi (29%)
  • Sam Bird (7%)
  • Antonio Felix da Costa (41%)
  • Kevin Magnussen (12%)
  • James Calado (11%)
  • Giedo van der Garde (12%)
  • Johnny Cecotto Jnr (1%)
  • Felipe Nasr (6%)
  • Alexander Rossi (5%)
  • Rio Haryanto (2%)
  • Edoardo Mortara (6%)
  • Robert Wickens (10%)
  • Luca Filippi (6%)
  • Valtteri Bottas (59%)
  • Fabio Leimer (1%)

Total Voters: 287

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Who else should be considered for a 2013 race seat? What about former F1 drivers such as Jerome D ‘Ambrosio, Jaime Alguersuari, Sebastien Buemi – or even the injured Robert Kubica?

Have your say in the comments.

See the list of 2013 F1 drivers and teams

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102 comments on Which young drivers deserve race seats in 2013?

  1. Jayfreese (@) said on 9th November 2012, 11:50

    Nicolas Prost is not on the poll, why? By the way I voted bump-drafter-rising-star Antonio Felix Da Costa

    • @jayfreese – Because he’s not a “young driver” per se and he isn’t Lotus’ first option and his lap times in the YDT were far from impressive. But the main fact is this: at his 30+ age I don’t think an F1 debut is in question anymore. He just does for Lotus what Gary Paffett does for McLaren.

      Plus, his career in endurance started off on the right foot with Rebellion Racing. He’s been driving well for the last two years or so. Why throw that away? He could very well become a highly rated driver in the Le Mans paddock. WEC is the place for him, I believe.

  2. 91jb12 (@91jb12) said on 9th November 2012, 12:18

    Voted Frijns, Bianchi, Calado, Bottas and da Costa
    Frijns won WSBR in his debut year, and Bianchi has been thereabouts for 2 or 3 years. da Costa has burst on the scene from nowhere in spectacular fashion. Calado did great in GP2 and was very unlucky not to take it right to the wire and Bottas has done admirably for Williams and looks a shoe-in for Sennas seat

  3. Alves (@alves) said on 9th November 2012, 12:26

    Obviously he is not in the run for 2013, but I like what I’ve seen so far of Aaro Vainio.

    I think he will fight for the title if he competes in WSR3.5 next year. Like Félix da Costa he quickly got used to the car coming from GP3, and had some strong races already against the big boys. Just turned 19.

    • Jayfreese (@) said on 9th November 2012, 19:08

      Yep for Aaro Vainio mate! GP3 field was massively awesome this year. Mitch Evans, Daniel Abt, Antonio Felix Da Costa, Aaro Vainio, Matias Laine, Tio Ellinas, Patric Niederhauser, Lewis Williamson and the three girls!

  4. snowman.john (@snowman-john) said on 9th November 2012, 12:59

    Every introduction to Bottas starts with “the highly rated”. Personally I don’t see it and it seems to me just because one person said it, now everyone must. At least Williams are giving him a lot of car time so he will be well prepared, you have to wonder whether Senna would have done better with more practise time.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 9th November 2012, 13:01

      @snowman-john

      Every introduction to Bottas starts with “the highly rated”.

      Mine didn’t!

    • @snowman-john are you aware of Bottas’ junior record? Any driver who wins three junior formula titles (FR 2.0 NEC, FR 2.0 Euro and GP3) has serious talent. Also Williams, who have access to the telemetry from his FP1 sessions, seem to genuinely rate the guy. Neither of those factors is an absolute guarantee he will succeed at F1 level, but I’d be curious to know why you seem to rate him less highly than most others.

  5. Osvaldas31 (@osvaldas31) said on 9th November 2012, 13:40

    Young drivers should be in F1 only if they impress in junior categories initially. Then it shows, that he has the potential. If a driver drives for 5 years in junior categories, he doesn’t deserve seat in F1. So in my opinion, only 3 drivers really impressed in this or previous years: da Cost, Frijns and Bottas. Others should drive in other racing categories or try their abilities in other proffesions.

  6. Timothy Katz (@timothykatz) said on 9th November 2012, 13:52

    So to make way for more than just one of these young guns, there will have to be more than just Schumacher leaving the field.
    Who else will be leaving? Or is that tomorrow’s article, Keith? :)

  7. Estesark (@estesark) said on 9th November 2012, 15:08

    Is Bottas as good as he is made out to be? Difficult to say, but I can think of one way to find out! I’d obviously like to see another Finnish driver in the sport, especially as Kovalainen’s future remains uncertain, so I voted for Bottas alongside Frijns and da Costa. I’m not sure where the latter would find a seat though.

  8. Fixy (@fixy) said on 9th November 2012, 15:09

    My pick, on drivers who deserve F1 based on their talent/results. Not saying they will have success or the others won’t.
    Valsecchi He’s won GP2, i.e. is currently better than most of the GP2 drivers, which, in turn, should be second-best to F1 drivers. If winning F1’s feeder series doesn’t make you worthy of an F1 seat, what does? And although he has more experience in the category than most others, Maldonado still did quite well in F1.
    Frijns His results have been impressive, not only this year. Winning titles in different categories in consecutive years is impressive, and above all the way in which he beat good drivers such as Bianchi and Bird, as a rookie.
    Bianchi He’s had some bad luck and some down moments in his career but he clearly has speed as both Ferrari and Force India have high hopes for him. After a strong season in FR3.5, if he doesn’t enter F1 in 2013, apart from a slight hope to do so in 2014 there are little chances for him.
    Da Costa His results this year in GP3 and most of all in FR3.5 have shown his talent is undeniable. However, I think he could do with a full season in Formula Renault before entering F1, just for the experience.
    Calado He has greatly impressed in GP2 and he thus deserves to be in F1. However, as was the case with Da Costa, I think an extra GP2 season could improve his driving a lot.
    Wickens He deserves F1 in 2013 as much as he did in 2012, and I hope he finally takes a seat because lately few drivers who have won championships have been promoted to the following category, which is unfair and strange.
    Filippi He has proved he is miles better than anyone in GP2, and as is the case with Valsecchi he must therefore be F1 material. If his deserved chance doesn’t come immediately, though, I fear it will never come.
    Bottas His CV is impressive and his outings so far this year have been impressive as well. I’ve never found someone who has not admitted the Finn has talent.

  9. Fernando Cruz said on 9th November 2012, 16:05

    I think Da Costa is the one who would do the best job if he was given a F1 seat next year. I hope he wins WSR next year and gets the Toro Rosso drive in 2014, but I would have liked to see him in F1 already in 2013. Bottas is not as good as him and won’t do better than Senna can do in a second year. Consistency is very important and doing only FP1 is not the best way to develop a driver. He should have raced somewhere, maybe in WSR. I’ d like to see Bottas in a Marussia or a Caterham and Senna getting a proper chance to develop, without losing all those FP1. But I also would like to see Bottas in Williams if Senna gets a seat in Force India.

  10. Pedro Costa (@pnunocosta) said on 9th November 2012, 16:16

    I think that in 2014 we will see some very hot prospects ascending F1:
    James Calado – best driver in this year´s GP2 field and probably next year´s champion.
    Robin Frijns – this year WSR 3.5 champion and I believe next year he will defend his title or challenge Calado
    António Félix da Costa – an ascending star that will try next year´s WSR 3.5 and then join STR

    These drivers alongside with Bottas and Magnussen can be in F1 just for their talent while all the others… only if they complete their talent with money.
    So I am guessing that neither one of these will reach F1 next season, while all the others that actually do, it will only be for one season, because it´s hard to get there but much harder to stay.

  11. xabregas (@xabregas) said on 9th November 2012, 16:42

    Snice i´m Portuguese i picked Da Costa but the truth is if Redbull Racing picked for his Racing junior team the kid has to have talent and he has proven that way more than i would ever expect in such a short time.
    Now if i was an F1 team boss i would give a chance to Mortara, he has been the best driving the Audis in the DTM series. Don´t forget Di Resta came to F1 from there.
    There´s also a kid that has impressed me a lot, Aaro Vainio.
    So my F1 team would be with Da Costa and Mortara.

  12. William Brierty said on 9th November 2012, 17:08

    This is what I think will happen…
    Bottas – Williams
    Gutierrez – Sauber
    Bianchi – Force India
    Valsecchi – Caterham
    Chilton (groan) – Marussia
    Razia – HRT
    Fijns, Da Costa, Magnessun, Evans, Bird – GP2
    Abt, Vainio, Neiderhauser, Mortara – Formula Renault 3.5
    Shame about Wickens, but drivers that get to the top of single seaters only to find that there is no room in F1 often end up the DTM, or Le Mans racing, as with GP2 star Nicholas Lapierre.

    • Da Costa will not be in GP2. He has said he will be in WSR 3.5 next year. Red Bull put all their juniors through GP2 as the final step to F1, they never go through GP2. Helmut Marko is on record as saying GP2 is too expensive.

      • Da Costa will not be in GP2. He has said he will be in WSR 3.5 next year. Red Bull put all their juniors through GP2 as the final step to F1, they never go through GP2. Helmut Marko is on record as saying GP2 is too expensive.

        Correction – Red Bull put all their juniors through WSR 3.5 as the final step to F1, they never go through GP2.

  13. Boxcar Racer (@mojopixel) said on 9th November 2012, 17:54

    If anyone “deserves” a seat then I think it has to be Robert Wickens for me. Renault 3.5 Champion last year and is unfortunately stuck in DTM.

  14. xjr15jaaag (@xjr15jaaag) said on 9th November 2012, 19:00

    Bottas deffo next year, and da Costa I don’t think is ready for F1 next year; 2014/2015 maybe

  15. KGBVD said on 9th November 2012, 19:44

    I was glad to see Wickens on this list. His results in DTM are more representative of his amateur-rank team than his ability. He matched DC for results and out-drove him often.

    He won’t be in F1 next year, having already been confirmed by Merc for next year. Let’s hope they promote him to a more senior squad so he can show what he can do!

  16. Irejag (@irejag) said on 9th November 2012, 21:31

    F1 NEEDS a Canadian driver! Robert Wickens should be getting a seat with a decent team…. but it all comes down to money and he apparently doesn’t have enough.

  17. dam00r (@dam00r) said on 10th November 2012, 8:18

    Only Valtteri Bottas. Finnish sisu!
    The other drivers are too inexperienced for Formula 1.

  18. Bruno (@brunes) said on 10th November 2012, 12:04

    Young drivers? ***
    F1 is no longer the place for the “best only”. It is actually the place for the one whose sponsors can afford it.

    Just look at Kobayashi’s situation. He is having to look for sponsors to be able to stay in F1 when he is clearly a top driver, possibly better than Massa and even Perez.
    Sauber will probably ditch a really talented driver to welcome a paying “mummys boy” – Young driver

  19. Milos Zivkovic (@iamaflyingfinn) said on 10th November 2012, 13:44

    Davide Valsecchi is the best in my opinion. Of course it is hard to judge accurately where all the drivers from the Young Driver Test are, but to beat Mclarens and Red Bulls straight up is quite impressive. Again the teams may have different bits to test in addition to tyre strategies over the course of the day. For da Costa and Magnussen to be approached by two teams such as Red Bull and Mclaren requires a high ability, but Valsecchi beat them in a car arguably not as good (looking at qualifying times this year). Where he compares to Bottas and Bianchi who were quickest in their YDTs is impossible to tell, but nevertheless a strong achievement by Davide.

  20. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 10th November 2012, 20:38

    No one stands out for me in all honesty however I did vote for Valsecchi, Razia and Gutierrez. I voted for them as one of them is the incumbent GP2 champion with the other two not far behind. Nasr impressed me this year quite a bit and so did Da Costa at times but they’re not ready yet. Two of our recent additions to the F1 grid have come with some amateur habits so we shouldn’t be so keen to promote anyone too quickly.

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