Updated 22 Aug 2023 2:41 pm:
As Formula One parks its cars for the summer break, eyes turn to the most chaotic off-track action of the year – silly season. The rollercoaster period is when contracts are renewed, broken or snubbed, and teams try and get their driver lineups in order for the upcoming campaign.
Nyck De Vries was the first driver on the chopping block when he was ousted in favour of the much-loved Daniel Ricciardo ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix. However, he will surely not be the last. With heaps of talent waiting in the wings in Formula Two, F1’s primary feeder series, many drivers will be looking nervously over their shoulders.
In tandem with the majority of motorsport, raw talent is not the only factor that teams consider when they sign a new F1 driver. Money, driver academies and driving style all play a part in the decision. So who amongst the current F2 rostrum could we see on the F1 grid next season?
Championship leader Theo Pourchaire has had eyes on his motor racing career from a very young age. He burst onto the F2 scene aged 17 and remains the youngest race winner in the category to date.
He is now in his third full season, having finished runner-up last year after his championship charge unravelled through a series of mistakes and misfortune. In contrast, he has built his campaign on consistency this year, having only won one race – all the way back at the season opener in Bahrain.
Still just 19, Pourchaire is a member of the Sauber driver academy, who is expected to have their name on an F1 car once more when Alfa Romeo’s contract with the Swiss-based team runs out at the end of 2023.
This provides a viable route into an F1 team. Current driver Zhou Guanyu is out of contract at the end of the year and has been solid, but unspectacular during his 18 months in F1.
Whilst the Chinese driver boasts serious financial backing, and F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali is keen on having a Chinese driver on the grid next year when F1 returns to the country for the first time since the pandemic, Pourchaire’s talent is hard to ignore.
The Frenchman could be the person that Sauber looks to build their future around ahead of Audi’s much-anticipated takeover of the manufacturer. The team have already laid down a marker by poaching McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl, so why not continue this trend by signing a rising star?
Vesti had largely flown under the radar before 2023 but has shown his credentials by leading the championship for most of this season. Had it not been for an unlucky retirement in Silverstone and a DNS at Spa after crashing on the reconnaissance lap, he would have a healthy buffer at the top of the standings.
As a Mercedes junior, could he be the long-term replacement for Lewis Hamilton? It is unclear when the seven-time world champion will hang up his boots, but Mercedes will want to have someone waiting in the wings to replace him when that day comes
Vesti could follow the footsteps of George Russell by initially finding his feet at Williams, whom Mercedes have an excellent relationship with, before stepping up when necessary.
Logan Sargeant is yet to sign for next year and has struggled in his rookie season. Vesti’s strong one-lap pace and remarkable consistency would make him an ideal driver for the team languishing in the lower midfield, taking points when chaos presents an opportunity.
It was recently announced that Vesti would drive the Mercedes in an FP1 session when F1 visits Mexico this year, so he is evidently well-regarded within the team and on their radar. However, it is unclear whether he would bring the same financial firepower that Sargeant can.
The most probable vacancy on the 2024 grid will be alongside Yuki Tsunoda at Alpha Tauri. Whilst Ricciardo has filled the gap left by De Vries, it is unlikely that the Aussie will be satisfied with driving a car that is currently bottom of the constructors’ standings.
Should Ricciardo look elsewhere, it opens up the seat at the Red Bull sister team, which will surely look to add another academy driver to their lineup. Enter Ayumu Iwasa.
Whilst F2 is on paper a spec series, with every team using the same machinery, in reality, there are some teams that have an advantage, through strategy, setup and personnel. Iwasa currently drives for DAMS who, compared to Pourchaire’s ART and Vesti’s Prema, are significantly less high-profile.
The fact that the F2 title is still just about within reach despite all of this says everything you need to know about the young Japanese driver. His racecraft is excellent and he is not just a Red Bull junior, but crucially part of the Honda academy.
Honda still have a major influence on the engine that powers Alpha Tauri and has already agreed on a works partnership with Aston Martin from 2026, underlining their long-term ambitions to stay involved in F1. They will be eager to see their academy prospects getting experience at the pinnacle of motorsport, so will push for Iwasa to get the nod.
However, he will be rivalled for the seat by fellow Red Bull junior Liam Lawson. Lawson is more experienced across other forms of motorsport but arguably has a slightly lower ceiling than Iwasa. It looks to be a straight fight between these two for the seat and both drivers certainly have their merits.
The only rookie on this list, Oliver Bearman already holds three pole positions this season – the same number as Pourchaire, Vesti and Iwasa combined. Only 18 years old, he has shown incredible pace over a range of tracks.
Bearman is a Ferrari junior and would look to get into F1 through Haas, who not only use Ferrari engines but also their gearbox and even share offices with the Scuderia in Maranello. In return, Ferrari might ask Haas to take on the Brit in exchange for the parts.
Unfortunately for Bearman, this is currently a long shot. Yes, Kevin Magnussen has failed to impress so far this season and his deal expires at the end of the year, but team boss Guenther Steiner will be wary of taking on rookies after previous experiences.
Nikita Mazepin joined in 2021 along with backing from his father’s title sponsor Uralkali, but a disappointing campaign put him under pressure before his contract was terminated on the eve of the 2022 season following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Mick Schumacher also made his debut that year and, whilst he impressed in his rookie year, a crash-laden 2022 ultimately cost him his seat. Steiner will know better than anyone about the financial cost of a crash-happy driver.
Moreover, Bearman would undoubtedly benefit from another year in F2. He still has some creases to iron out, such as his temperament and consistency, but he is certainly F1 calibre in the near future.