Today, Stoffel Vandoorne was signed to McLaren’s Young Driver scheme- is he the next Lewis Hamilton? The team certainly hopes so, but he isn’t the only prospect being eyed by the Formula One team directors. Here’s a look at the drivers who’ve caught the attention of the F1 circus this year:
RED BULL: Red Bull was among the first to establish a young driver program, long before Red Bull Racing was a team. As a sponsor for the Sauber team, Red Bull nurtured the careers of such drivers as Enrqiue Bernoldi, Narain Karthikeyan, and Patrick Friesacher. Although these drivers never accomplished much in F1, young Red Bull Junior Sebastian Vettel left an impression at the BMW and Toro Rosso teams before becoming a triple world champion with Red Bull. This year, Red Bull will continue to support the talented duo of Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz, Jr. as they launch a GP3 title assault with MW Arden. The team will also back the impressive Antonio Felix da Costa, the favourite for this year’s Formula Renault 3.5 title and a threat to Toro Rosso’s line-up. Below da Costa in the 2.0 category of Formula Renault is the Frenchman Pierre Gasly, who is not an official member of the Junior Team, but is under observation from the Austrian giants. Also in the junior series is South African Callan O’keeffe. O’keeffe shined in Formula BMW last year but struggled in the Final. He’ll be hoping to impress this year in his likely switch to Formel ADAC Masters. Finally, Red Bull snatched Tom Blomqvist from McLaren’s program- the Anglo-Swedish driver is competing in the European F3 championship this year for EuroInternational. Although his season with ma-con last year was less than satisfactory, Blomqvist proved that his pairing with EuroInternational is that of a successful one in his 2012 partial German F3 campaign.
FERRARI: Ferrari continues to support Davide Rigon by employing him as their reserve. Meanwhile, Jules Bianchi is hoping his Ferrari backing will help him earn the coveted Force India seat. In the junior categories, Ferrari is investing in Italian Raffaelle Marciello, who will vie for the European F3 title with titans Prema. Karters Antonio Fuoco and Lance Stroll, of Italy and Canada, respectively, will also enjoy Ferrari backing in 2013.
McLAREN: New signee Stoffel Vandoorne will join McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen in the Formula Renault 3.5 series this year. Both men will compete for the series title. Meanwhile, Dutch prodigy Nyck de Vries will be hoping to emulate his stablemate Vandoorne and win the 2.0 title.
LOTUS: Lotus announced a septuplet of drivers for 2013. The most senior are Lotus’ WSR pairing of Filipino Marlon Stockinger and Dane Marco Sorensen. The latter is regarded as a favourite for the FR3.5 title. In GP3, Greco-Swiss driver Alex Fontana will commit to a full season with Jenzer with his newly-acquired Lotus backing. Lotus will also hold on to quick teenagers Esteban Ocon and Oscar Tunjo and will partner them with Red Bull dropout Alex Albon. The Anglo-Thai endured a frustrating season but he will certainly hope Lotus’ faith in him will help him deliver. Below the junior categories, Lotus will also promote the career of French karter Dorian Boccolacci.
MERCEDES: Mercedes’ young driver programme includes DTM drivers Rob Wickens and Roberto Merhi, although the duo have yet to receive testing opportunities with the F1 team. Instead, the testing is left to former Red Bull junior Brendon Hartley and Sam Bird, with the former doing sim work and the latter testing on Young Driver days. However, the Petronas backing of Malaysian Jazeman Jaafar may see him in a testing role with Mercedes.
SAUBER: Will support FR3.5 champ Robin Frijns as he seeks a GP2 drive in order to compensate with Sauber’s limited testing opportunities.
FORCE INDIA: Will continue to promote the careers of their One-in-a-Million karting winners. With Conor Daly slated to return to America with a part-time deal in IndyCars, Force India has no short-term junior team.
WILLIAMS: Have yet to announce a junior team, although Daniel Abt has been linked to Valtteri Bottas’ former reserve role.
CATERHAM: Tony Fernandes’ team will use his AirAsia brand to sponsor Singaporean karter Haim Hishammudin and Anglo-Danish karter Max Klinkby-Silver. Additionally, Malaysian Weiron Tan will enjoy Caterham’s support in the Protyre Formula Renault championship (formerly Formula Renault BARC) while Brit Matt Parry will step up to Formula Renault NEC with Fortec following his InterSteps triumph. Alexander Rossi is expected to switch to Caterham’s GP2 outfit, where he will enjoy Friday drives like his predecessor Giedo van der Garde.
MARUSSIA: Like Caterham, Marussia has teams in junior motorsport through its original guise of Manor. Its GP3 team has produced talents such as Tio Ellinas and Rio Haryanto, who remain associated with the team. Additionally, Marussia’s Russian owners have promoted the careers of Dmitry Suranovich and Ivan Lukashevich. This year, Marussia will split with Carlin but it is possible the team will ally itself with MP, given Manor’s relationship with the Dutch outfit in the junior formulae.