F1 young driver programmes: Which drivers are signed to which teams?

Most F1 teams have young driver programmes to develop new talent: who are they and where do they race?

F1 young driver programmes: Which drivers are signed to which teams?

When you’re trying to go as fast as possible around a race track, the most important piece of the puzzle is almost always the driver.

Sure, Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen wouldn’t be winning races every week if they didn’t have the best equipment, but there’s a reason they’ve ended up with the fastest cars on the grid.

They are special talents who can push their machines to the absolute limit, unlocking pace that few other drivers can find. In a sport measured in thousandths of a second, that ability can be the difference between finishing first or not finishing at all.

For this reason, most of the teams invest millions between them in the hunt for the next racing star. Young driver programmes help fund the fledgling careers of the most promising junior drivers in the hope of nurturing them into the F1 drivers of the future.

So which drivers are on which team’s books right now? And where are they learning the art of racecraft?

Liam Lawson, Hitech Grand Prix, Jehan Daruvala, Carlin

Liam Lawson, Hitech Grand Prix, Jehan Daruvala, Carlin

Photo by: Formula Motorsport Ltd

Red Bull & AlphaTauri current young drivers

  • Jehan Daruvala – Formula 2
  • Liam Lawson - Formula 2
  • Juri Vips - Formula 2
  • Jack Doohan - Formula 3
  • Jak Crawford - Formula 3
  • Ayumu Iwasa – Formula 3
  • Dennis Hauger – Formula 3
  • Jonny Edgar – Formula 3
  • Arvid Lindblad - Karting

The Red Bull young driver programme is arguably the most successful of the lot, having reared four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel and multiple race winner Daniel Ricciardo since its inception in 2001. Other notable names include Daniil Kvyat, Sebastien Buemi (2015-16 Formula E champion), Brendon Hartley (two-time WEC champion and Le Mans winner), Jean-Eric Vergne (double Formula E champion) and Carlos Sainz Jr, among others.

Max Verstappen joined the programme in the summer of 2014 and was promoted to F1 just months later, becoming the youngest driver to start a grand prix at 17 years and 166 days when he raced in the Australian Grand Prix for Toro Rosso - Red Bull’s junior outfit - in 2015. A year later he was promoted to the main Red Bull team, and the teenager won his first race immediately at the Spanish Grand Prix. Since then he’s scored dozens of podiums and several race wins.

Red Bull’s sister team - renamed AlphaTauri for 2020 - currently employs Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda, both of whom graduated from the young driver programme. Gasly was promoted to Red Bull in 2019 but demoted again halfway through the season: he scored his maiden podium at the Brazilian Grand Prix not long after, and took his first victory for AlphaTauri at the Italian Grand Prix in 2020.

Alex Albon was handed an F1 seat at Toro Rosso in 2019, impressing enough to replace Pierre Gasly after the summer break. Albon retained his seat until the end of 2020, but inconsistent performances saw him lose his place on the grid altogether as Red Bull looked outside of its roster for a replacement for the first time in years. Red Bull still have Albon under contract and haven’t ruled out a return for the Thai driver one day: he’ll compete in DTM in 2021.

Red Bull’s current young driver programme contains three Formula 2 drivers: Jehan Daruvala, who drives for Carlin, and Hitech teammates Liam Lawson and Juri Vips.

Meanwhile in Formula 3, Red Bull has an interest in five drivers: Trident’s Jack Doohan, son of five-time 500cc world champion Mick Doohan, Hitech teammates Jak Crawford and Ayumu Iwasa, Prema’s Dennis Hauger and Carlin’s Jonny Edgar.

In karting, Red Bull is backing teenager Arvid Lindblad, who was crowned champion of the OK Junior category of the WSK Super Master Series in 2020.

George Russell, Mercedes F1 W11

George Russell, Mercedes F1 W11

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Mercedes current young drivers

  • George Russell – Formula 1
  • Esteban Ocon – Formula 1
  • Frederik Vesti – Formula 3
  • Paul Aron – Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine
  • Andrea Kimi Antonelli – Karting
  • Alex Powell - Karting

Mercedes’ young driver programme isn’t as broad as Red Bull’s, but having won every drivers’ and constructors’ title since 2014 that can hardly be called a weakness.

Pascal Wehrlein was the team’s first official junior driver, joining as the team’s reserve in 2014. A championship-winning campaign in DTM in 2015 eventually led to an F1 drive with Manor in 2016, with Wehrlein moving to Sauber the following season. However, opportunities in F1 dried up and he eventually made the switch to Formula E, leaving Mercedes’ programme in 2018.

The German’s stint overlapped with that of Esteban Ocon, who signed with Mercedes in 2015 and made his F1 debut for Manor alongside Wehrlein mid-way through the season in 2016. An impressive campaign with Force India (since Racing Point and now Aston Martin) followed a year later, but despite faring well against the vastly more experienced Sergio Perez, Ocon was forced to make way for Lance Stroll when the Canadian driver’s father bought the team.

Ocon was allowed to leave Mercedes’ F1 programme in order to kick-start his career with Renault (now Alpine) in 2021, although the Silver Arrows still manage the Frenchman. His contract with Alpine is due to expire at the end of 2021, and a return to Mercedes hasn’t been ruled out.

George Russell joined the Mercedes setup in 2017, winning the GP3 title that year and backing it up with an F2 crown the following season. The results earned him an F1 drive with Williams for 2018, although a series of poor cars in the seasons since meant that Russell’s impressive performances went largely unnoticed at the back of the field.

That all changed when Lewis Hamilton contracted COVID-19 ahead of the Sakhir Grand Prix in 2020, and Mercedes was given permission by Williams to use Russell as Hamilton’s stand-in. The youngster shone by qualifying on the front row and then dominated the race itself, only to be denied his maiden win by a pit stop error by the team and then a puncture late on. With both his and Valtteri Bottas’s contacts running out at the end of 2021, Russell is hotly tipped to replace the Finn next season.

Outside F1, Frederik Vesti is the most prominent member of the Mercedes junior team, competing in F3 for ART in 2021. Another of its drivers - Estonia’s Paul Aron - is racing in the Formula Regional European Championship this season, while karting talents Andrea Kimi Antonelli and Alex Powell also have the backing of Mercedes.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF21

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF21

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images

Ferrari current young drivers

  • Antonio Giovinazzi – Formula 1
  • Mick Schumacher – Formula 1
  • Callum Ilott – Official test driver
  • Robert Shwartzman - Formula 2
  • Marcus Armstrong – Formula 2
  • Arthur Leclerc – Formula 3
  • Maya Weug – Italian Formula 4
  • James Wharton - Karting

The Ferrari Driver Academy has nurtured several F1 talents over the years, including Sergio Perez, Lance Stroll and Charles Leclerc. The Monegasque driver is the only one to date to have progressed to the race team, winning his first grand prix with the Scuderia at Spa in 2019. A second victory followed a week later at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in front of the Tifosi, although he’s yet to add to that tally due to Ferrari’s poor form since.

The last driver from the programme to be held in such high regard was Leclerc’s godfather Jules Bianchi, who raced for Marussia in F1 in 2013 and 2014. The 25-year-old was tipped to graduate to Ferrari one day, but he lost his life nine months after a collision at the Japanese Grand Prix which left him in a coma.

Alfa Romeo driver Antonio Giovinazzi is now in his third full season in F1, placed at the team by Ferrari having been affiliated with the Italian outfit since becoming their reserve driver in 2017. Giovinazzi became the first Italian driver to race in F1 since Jarno Trulli and Vitantionio Liuzzi when he made his debut for Sauber as a stand-in for the injured Pascal Wehrlein that season. His best finish to date was the fifth place he scored in Brazil in 2019.

The other Ferrari Driver Academy member who’s plying his trade in F1 is Mick Schumacher, son of seven-time world champion Michael. Now driving for Haas, Mick was signed by Ferrari in 2019 and went on to win the F2 title in 2020, underlining his credentials as a possible star of the future.

Schumacher beat fellow Ferrari prodigies Callum Ilott and Robert Shwartzman to the Formula 2 crown; Ilott is now Ferrari’s official test driver, while Shwartzman is contesting his second F2 season in 2021 with Prema. The Russian driver is joined on the grid by rookie Marcus Armstrong, another young driver with ties to Ferrari.

Further down the ladder in Formula 3, Ferrari is backing Enzo Fittipaldi - grandson of two-time world champion Emerson - and Arthur Leclerc, the young brother of Charles.

Maya Weug earned her place in the academy by winning the Girls on Track - Rising Stars competition in 2021, and will race in Italian Formula 4 this season. Elsewhere James Wharton has attracted Ferrari’s interest in karting, and the Australian is aiming to make his single-seater debut in 2022.

Guanyu Zhou, Uni-Virtuosi Racing

Guanyu Zhou, Uni-Virtuosi Racing

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Alpine current young drivers

  • Guanyu Zhou – Formula 2
  • Christian Lundgaard – Formula 2
  • Oscar Piastri – Formula 2
  • Caio Collet – Formula 3
  • Victor Martins – Formula 3

The Alpine Academy - recently rebranded following the team’s switch away from Renault - was set up in 2002, making it one of the most well established young driver programmes operated by an F1 team.

Over the years it has worked with Jerome d’Ambrosio, Lucas di Grassi (Formula E champion 2016-17), Giedo van der Garde, Romain Grosjean, Heikki Kovalainen, Robert Kubica and Pastor Maldonado, but only the latter trio have tasted victory in F1, each doing so just the once in their racing careers.

One driver in the programme who could’ve gone further was Anthoine Hubert: the young Frenchman displayed all the marks of a great driver when he was climbing the ladder, winning the French F4 championship in 2013 and the GP3 title in 2018. Hubert had won two sprint races for BWT Arden in his rookie year in F2 in 2019, but tragically his life was cut short after a crash at Spa later that season.

Between 2012 and 2015 the academy was known as the Lotus F1 Junior Team, but of the drivers associated with the programme in that period, only Alex Albon - who was dropped from Red Bull’s programme in 2012, only to be rehired in 2019 - progressed to F1.

Alpine has three drivers contesting the F2 championship in 2021: Guanyu Zhou, a first-time feature race winner at the season-opener in Bahrain, Christian Lundgaard, a two-time sprint race winner in his rookie campaign in 2020, and Oscar Piastri; 2020’s F3 champion and now teammates with Ferrari young driver Robert Schwartzman at Prema.

In F3, Alpine pair Caio Collet and Victor Martins line up for MP Motorsport for the 2021 season.

Jack Aitken, Williams FW43

Jack Aitken, Williams FW43

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

Williams current young drivers

  • Jack Aitken – Official reserve driver
  • Dan Ticktum – Formula 2 & development driver
  • Jamie Chadwick – Extreme E & development driver
  • Roy Nissany – Official test driver

The Williams Driver Academy was established relatively recently, although the team has a long history of developing drivers having given the likes of Damon Hill, David Coulthard, Jenson Button, Nico Rosberg and Valtteri Bottas a route into F1.

Jack Aitken is Williams’ official reserve driver, with the 25-year-old called up to deputise for George Russell at the Sakhir Grand Prix in 2020 while the latter stood in for an ill Lewis Hamilton. Aitken qualified 18th on the grid and was only a tenth of a second slower than teammate Nicholas Latifi, although a spin during the race forced him to pit for a new front wing. This triggered a series of events that caused Mercedes to foil both of its drivers, resulting in a maiden win for Racing Point’s Sergio Perez.

2017 McLaren Autosport BRDC Award winner Dan Ticktum and inaugural W Series Champion Jamie Chadwick are Williams’ development drivers, with the pair competing in F2 and Extreme E respectively in 2021.

F2 driver Roy Nissany is the team’s official test driver for 2021, having taken part in three practice sessions in 2020.

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35M, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35M, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images

McLaren current young drivers

  • Ugo Ugochukwu - Karting

The McLaren Young Driver Programme has existed under several names since it was established in 1998. It’s first two beneficiaries were a pair of British karting talents: one was Wesley Graves, the other was Lewis Hamilton.

Hamilton’s career hardly needs summarising: with McLaren’s backing he graduated from karts to single seaters, becoming Formula Renault UK champion in 2003, Formula 3 Euro champion in 2005 and GP2 champion in 2006. Promoted to F1 with McLaren alongside Fernando Alonso for 2007, Hamilton very nearly added the world title to his glittering junior CV as a rookie, but fell just short as mistakes and bad luck cost him the crown at the final race of the season.

Since then Hamilton has made history: now a seven-time world champion, the boy from Stevenage has recorded more wins, more podiums and more pole positions than anyone else in over 70 years of F1. Now in his 15th season, he continues to add to those tallies in the hunt for a record-breaking eighth title.

Numerous other McLaren young drivers have graduated to F1 over the years, albeit without the same levels of success that Hamilton has enjoyed. Giedo van der Garde, Alex Albon, Kevin Magnussen, Stoffel Vandoorne and Lando Norris have all made it to the top tier of motorsport, with the latter trio all representing McLaren for a period. However, to date only Norris has survived for more than a single season.

Other McLaren young drivers include Oliver Rowland, Oliver Turvey, Nick de Vries, Tom Blomqvist and Sergio Sette Camara, all of whom have gone on to race in Formula E at various stages of their careers.

Recently McLaren went through a spell without any drivers in its young driver programme, but in March 2021 it signed a long-term deal with 13-year-old US karting star Ugo Ugochukwu, who won the FIA OKJ European Championship in 2020.

Theo Pourchaire, ART Grand Prix

Theo Pourchaire, ART Grand Prix

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Alfa Romeo (Sauber Academy, launched 2020) current young drivers

  • Theo Pourchaire – Formula 2
  • Emerson Fittipaldi Jr – Danish Formula 4
  • Petr Ptacek
  • Dexter Patterson – British Formula 3
  • Maciej Gladysz – Karting
  • Tiziano Monza – Karting
  • Miguel Costa – Karting
  • Christian Ho - Karting
  • Gustaw Wisniewski - Karting

Alfa Romeo doesn’t have a young driver programme of its own, as the team is run by Sauber. The Sauber Junior team was launched in 2018 with partners Charouz Racing System, but after that deal ended the outfit established the Sauber Academy in June 2020.

Four drivers are currently associated with the programme, with Theo Pourchaire the furthest along in his junior career: the French teenager won the ADAC Formula 4 Championship in 2019 and finished second behind Oscar Piastri in F3 in 2020, narrowly missing out on the title by a mere three points. Pourchaire has made the step up to F2 for 2021, representing ART alongside Alpine’s Christian Lundgaard.

The other inductees include Emerson Fittipaldi Jr, son of the eponymous two-time world champion, plus 2018 Italian F4 Rookie Cup winner Petr Ptacek and Sauber Karting Team graduate Dexter Patterson.

The Sauber Karting Team was set up to support young racers and can provide a pathway to the Sauber Academy. It currently has Maciej Gladysz, Tiziano Monza, Miguel Costa and Christian Ho on its books.

Pietro Fittipaldi, reserve driver, Haas F1

Pietro Fittipaldi, reserve driver, Haas F1

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

Haas current young drivers

  • Pietro Fittipaldi – Official reserve driver & ELMS

Haas is one of two teams that don’t run an official driver development programme. Instead, it has signed a handful of young drivers as reserve and development drivers since its arrival in F1 in 2016.

Santino Ferrucci, Arjun Maini and Louis Deletraz have all been associated with the team in that time, but Pietro Fittipaldi is the only driver connected the US outfit at present. Nominated as Haas’s reserve drive since 2019, Fittipaldi - brother of Enzo and grandson of Emerson - stood in for the injured Romain Grosjean at the end of the 2020 season following the Frenchman’s horrifying crash at the Bahrain Grand Prix. Fittipaldi finished last in both races, but was praised for his performance having not driven an F1 car for a year before his sudden call-up.

Lance Stroll, Aston Martin AMR21

Lance Stroll, Aston Martin AMR21

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images

Aston Martin current young drivers

  • None

Aston Martin - the team which existed as Racing Point between 2019 and 2020, and as Force India before then - doesn’t operate a young driver programme at the moment.

Former driver Nico Hulkenberg is the team’s official reserve driver for 2021. The German was dropped at the end of the 2019 season, but started two races for the team in 2020 when Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll contracted COVID-19. Despite being called up late - on the latter occasion in the morning before qualifying for the Eifel Grand Prix - Hulkenberg scored points both times.

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