Well, Will Buxton, GP2 and GP3 commentator, tweeted the following:
‘First reaction? Yet another Red Bullshit decision that defies any kind of logic and leaves another huge talent on the waste dump.’
Is there some truth in that? And how does it fare against other programmes by other teams?
Red Bull Junior Team
Some do argue that Sebastian Vettel alone made the programme worthwhile, with three world championships and a fourth on its way. But in fact, from the 29 drivers the program has had in between 2001 and now, only Vettel has been on the podium. Only 9 have scored championship points.
Yet, 14 drivers (Kvyat included) did make it into Formula 1, but it’s worth mentioning that it’s easier to do so when you have your own backmarker team (Toro Rosso), and money to spare to put them into other teams. Ricciardo and Chandhok debuted at HRT, Bernoldi at Arrows, Doornbos and Friesacher at Minardi and Klien at Jaguar. Only Liuzzi debuted in a Red Bull car.
Red Bull does pick its talents very early (Vettel was only 11), so it does make their results look less successful, whereas for instance, Elf’s program picked only the rising stars.
Ferrari Driver Academy
Ferrari’s programme is much smaller than Red Bull’s, and only had eight drivers, since its start in 2009, two making it into Formula 1: Perez and Bianchi. Perez did score several podium finishes, unlike 28 of the 29 Red Bull Junior Team drivers, and Bianchi could be well on his way as well, once he lands a driver at a better team.
Lotus F1 Junior Team
This programme, formerly known as Renault Driver Development, started back in 2002. 37 drivers where (or still are) taken in, of whom 9 made it into F1 (Kubica, Monteiro, Kovalainen, van der Garde, Maldonado, di Grassi, Grosjean, Pic, d’Ambrosio and di Grassi). Three race winners in there, and five never scored a point finish.
French oil company Elf’s program started in the early 70′s: The first two talents of the Elf program were Patrick Tambay and Didier Pironi, who both went on to win several Grand Prix. Pironi would have been France’s first World Champion in Formula 1, had he not injured both his legs in the 1982 German Grand Prix. That honour would go to Alain Prost, another Pilotes Elf, who would win 1985, 1986, 1989 and 1993 championships. Other Pilotes Elf include Pascal Fabre, Olivier Grouillard, Paul Belmondo, Éric Bernard, Érik Comas and Olivier Panis, who all made it into F1, yet from those, only Panis would luck his way into a Grand Prix victory.
Mercedes-Benz junior racing programme
There’s not a lot to be found about this programme, but the German carmaker did help three young Germans into Formula 1, namely Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Karl Wendlinger and Michael Schumacher. Frentzen would go on to win three Grand Prix, but Wendlinger’s career was cut short after an accident in the 1994 Monaco Grand Prix. Schumacher would turn out to be F1′s most succesful driver ever, with 7 championships and 91 victories.
Which programme is the most successful? Judging on their most successful driver’s, it’s hard to look beyond Mercedes-Benz or Red Bull. With Mercedes-Benz’s help, Schumacher got a seat World Sportscar Championship, and Le Mans, and it did pay for Schumacher’s seat at Jordan. However, Schumacher never won a race in Formula 1 with a Mercedes-Benz. Red Bull did nurture Vettel since 1998, and it only took 10 years before he’d win his first F1 victory, making him the youngest race winner of all time.
But, like comparing drivers, it’s very hard to say which programme is the best. In any case, I do think talent programmes are good for the sport. Even though the careers of many talents where abruptly ended when dropped by the programmes, they would not have come so far without the help of them in the first place.