It makes sense for Gasly to join the RB Junior team. Considering Vergne is likely to have just one more year left at RB, he could actually find himself in Kvyat’s position this time next year, if the contends for the FR3.5 title and beats Sainz Jr convincingly. Else he is still young and can wait another year or two for Kvyat to graduate (I’m thinking to Red Bull, as a replacement for Vettel should he move to Ferrari, or if Ricciardo is worse than these other two). Trimming the rest of the RB junior team seems to indicate that they do not have any further plans once Sainz Jr and Gasly graduate into F1… just yet… but for now they are gradually cutting down quantity to end up with quality..
Ferrari’s line up looks strong, and they could easily make a team in future of the best two outlined there, or the best one combined with a WDC. McLaren’s one is similarly strong, although I’m surprised they trimmed off any competition for Nyck de Vries – such as Oliver Rowland, Jack Harvey or Jake Dennis. They could always look at Seb Morris among F4 graduates. But perhaps they have compared all these drivers (along with the annual McLaren Autosport award winner each year as well) and have come to the conclusion that Magnussen and Vandoorne can graduate, then de Vries can try and join when he’s ready for F1. Him and Max Verstappen have to be the best catches in that now 16-18 age group, along with Gasly. So it’s quality over quantity for these two prestigious marques.
Lotus and Gravity do a bit more of a wide net, perhaps trying to fund their program through this. They have RB reject Albon, Tom Pryce tribute helmet wearing Fontana (could do well next year in GP3), highly rated Ocon and Tunjo, while Sorensen and Stockinger have been in FR 3.5 for a few years now. Richie Stanaway recovered from his injuries and moved into Porsche Supercup, he did look promising before his back injury. You could also include the Caterham junior team, so far of Alexander Rossi (GP2), Will Stevens (FR3.5), Matt Parry, Weiron Tan (FR2.0), so they have a few promising guys as well. Not sure if Sergio Canamasas or Aurelien Panis are still connected with the program.
There’s a good stream of youngsters coming through from New Zealand, including Mitch Evans (protege of Mark Webber), but Nick Cassidy doesn’t have much backing, so I would be tempted to pick him up and see how he goes in FIA F3 or a national series. Alex Lynn (British F3 champion) also doesn’t seem to be mentioned with any junior teams, and Lucas Auer should be a shoe-in for a RB Junior Team slot (Austrian, and Gerhard Berger’s nephew). Those two were the main competition for Marciello and Rosenqvist last year in FIA F3. I imagine Jordan King is probably funding his own way up the ladder and doesn’t need a junior team. Him and Harry Tincknell were also the main FIA F3 next level, along with Blomqvist for RB.
Mercedes always talk about their junior team, but it seems to be simply the guys in DTM for them (Wickens, Vietoris, Juncadella and Merhi), with only Juncadella actually getting some F1 YDT time with Williams. I would try-out Wickens and Vietoris first, as they have done well in the championship this year and are ready for an F1 YDT shot (first one I think for Vietoris, Wickens had some a few years back). When Juncadella and Merhi mature in the DTM and finish in the top handful, then they will be ready for an F1 YDT shot. Guys like Albuquerque and Mortara went through graduation phase this last year or the year before.