Formula 1 teams spend millions upon millions on car development to ensure they are the pace-setters in the future. For some of the teams, that future planning extends to identifying the future stars of the sport and signing them up to their young driver programmes.
These junior teams are full of the brightest young drivers in single seater racing from karting all the way up to Formula 2, and will often have at least one entry in almost every category in between.
It provides those willing to spend on younger talent a conveyor belt of potential winners and in some cases, advertising opportunities in vital markets around the world, but which driver has the best chance of a Formula 1 future?
While Red Bull’s early start in the 2000s gave it an advantage over other teams in terms of picking up junior talents, rivals have now got their own programmes and have some gems of their own on their way up the ranks.
We’ve selected the most promising of the young drivers of the F1 juniors ahead of the 2022 season you may want to watch out for and ranked them by how likely they are to make it to their respective F1 homes.
5. Oliver Bearman (FIA Formula 3 – Ferrari)
Oliver Bearman was one of two winners of Ferrari’s FDA Scouting World Finals in 2021 and has become the second British driver to join the team’s junior programme after Callum Ilott.
While Ilott is now on an American escapade in IndyCar, the Academy does have a history of filtering through its most talented youngsters into Formula 1 seats. The most successful star is of course Charles Leclerc but Mick Schumacher and Antonio Giovinazzi have both made F1 after being part of the Ferrari junior set up.
Bearman finished off his karting career in 2019 with IAME International Final, IAME Euro Series and IAME Winter Cup titles before graduating to Italian and German F4 in 2020.
With a season in F4 under his belt, Bearman’s 2021 campaign was immense. He dominated both the German and Italian F4 championships, winning both titles with six and 11 wins in each series respectively as well securing a combined 10 pole positions.
The junior programme has developed plenty of talented series winners and Bearman looks set to benefit next. The Ferrari Driver Academy has been one of the better ladders in single seater racing due to its link up with the PREMA, one of the best teams in junior single seater racing.
Ferrari has decided that such is his talent and potential, he will be skipping the Formula Regional European Championship series and going directly into a season of FIA Formula 3 with PREMA.
His 2022 season won’t be a make-or-break one for him but if he can impress in F3 then the future is looking very bright for Ferrari’s next British talent.
4. Andrea Kimi Antonelli (Italian/UAE Formula 4 – Mercedes)
The Mercedes Junior Team will have one of its own driving a Silver Arrow after George Russell finally secured his spot at the table alongside Lewis Hamilton for the 2022 F1 season.
One of its junior drivers following in those footsteps is doing his chances no harm as he continues to mop up the junior accolades while still below the age to legally drive a car on public roads.
His middle name will have you thinking of another F1 talent but Andrea Kimi Antonelli appears to be well on his way up the ladder in his junior career.
The Italian’s karting years were peppered with victories and championships between 2015 and 2021 having started at nine years old. He turned 15 last year, reaching the minimum age to drive a Formula 4 car and competed in the final three rounds of the Italian F4 season.
Despite entering just nine races in what amounted to less than half a season, Antonelli finished 10th in the championship and scored three consecutive podiums at the final round of the season at Monza. He finished outside of the points just twice in all nine races.
This season he will continue with PREMA in Italian F4 and will be making an appearance at select rounds of the UAE F4 championship alongside rival academy drivers.
Fellow Merc junior drivers Paul Aron and Frederik Vesti are ahead on the ladder so there is a potential queue formed in front of Antonelli. Should he continue to achieve the success he has done already in his young career, that might not be a problem for much longer.
3. Liam Lawson (FIA Formula 2 – Red Bull)
One of five Red Bull Junior drivers competing in Formula 2 this season, 2022 will be Liam Lawson’s second year in the series though he’s not alone in that regard when compared to his fellow junior team talents.
Jüri Vips will also be in his second season while Jehan Daruvala will be in his third. Lawson’s record in 2021 arguably makes him the most intriguing of the quartet with prior experience.
He was also involved in the DTM championship fight last season that ended in controversial circumstances.
The Kiwi was on course for the title until rival Kelvin van der Linde made a flimsy attempt to overtake him in the final weekend fairly, resulting in damage for Lawson that all but ended his hopes of the title. Subsequent team orders from Mercedes ensured the title remained out of his hands and went to Maximilian Götz instead.
Still just 19 years old, his competitive 2021 season means he’s a prospect that could still wind up in the frame should one of the current AlphaTauri drivers find themselves on the move or kicked to the kerb. He took part in the post-season test in Abu Dhabi with the team at the end of last year.
Lawson will stick with Carlin for the 2022 F2 season and will be aiming to build on his ninth-place finish in the standings last year. He took a single victory in ’21 but showed flashes of his potential during a busy season for the New Zealander.
2. Dennis Hauger (FIA Formula 2 – Red Bull)
The Red Bull Junior Team programme has produced grand prix winners and provided talent that comprises much of the 2022 grid.
Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo and Carlos Sainz have each moved on from the Red Bull stable but enjoyed success in subsequent years. Pierre Gasly seems to be the star-in-waiting should he ever arrive at a truly top team after his 2019 trial by fire alongside Max Verstappen.
Reigning FIA Formula 3 champion and entering F2 with PREMA this season, Dennis Hauger is the top talent in the Red Bull junior ranks at the moment. The Norwegian dominated the F3 season last year, taking four victories on the way to the crown, beating Jack Doohan to the title by 25 points.
It was the second championship title he’s won in single seaters. Back in 2019, Hauger claimed the Italian F4 championship ahead of Mercedes junior Paul Aron by dominating the campaign. He won 12 races that season as well as scoring seven pole positions.
Hauger could be fighting with Doohan once again this year with both graduating up to F2 though the latter is no longer affiliated with Red Bull. Hauger will be driving with PREMA alongside fellow Red Bull junior Jehan Daruvala.
If you leave the TV on post-F1 qualifying or tune in a little early on Sunday morning and catch an F2 race, keep an eye out for Hauger this season.
1. Théo Pourchaire (FIA Formula 2/Sauber)
While Theo Pourchaire didn’t finish in the top three of last season’s Formula 2 championship, his performances and outright speed were already high enough that there have been some question marks over why he isn’t on the F1 grid in 2022.
Some of that is in part due to Guanyu Zhou filling the vacant Alfa Romeo seat late in the ’21 silly season but Pourchaire is being given another year of F2 in which to refine his already vast skillset ahead of a probably 2023 call up.
The Frenchman has a German F4 title to his name, winning the series back in 2019 and narrowly missed out on adding the FIA F3 championship to his CV, losing out to Oscar Piastri by three points.
Alfa team boss Fred Vasseur has made clear his admiration of Pourchaire and the team’s link up to the Sauber Driver Academy means that a seat at the team in the future is almost a given.
Valtteri Bottas made clear he has signed a multi-year deal with the team meaning Zhou’s deal is likely a single-year affair. That would leave space for Pourchaire to move up from F2 should his 2022 season go according to plan.
He’s one of the favourites for the championship after already starring during his rookie campaign, taking two wins and a further podium finish, though his season was impacted by injury stemming from a fractured wrist sustained during the Azerbaijan feature race.
2022 should be even stronger for Pourchaire and his F1 future looks all but assured.