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20th March 2024

The new generation of F1 drivers: Wasted potential?

F1 is the highest class of international racing for single-seaters, but with such extreme competitiveness and only 20 seats on the grid what are the options available to talented drivers like Liam Lawson or Oliver Bearman?
The new generation of F1 drivers: Wasted potential?
Credit: Jenda Kubes @ Pexels

Even non-F1 fans have likely heard the news that seven-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton will be leaving the Silver Arrows of Mercedes to join Ferrari in 2025. Hamilton will be taking Carlos Sainz’s seat when his contract expires at the end of this year; even though Sainz was the only non Red Bull driver to win a race in 2023. Most drivers only have seats until the end of 2024 so some reshuffling is to be expected; but in the past nine months we’ve seen two junior drivers step up into F1 seats and deliver spectacular performances which, bringing into question exactly how many changes we’re going to see this silly season.

Last season Daniel Ricciardo broke his hand at the Dutch GP following a crash with fellow Aussie driver Oscar Piastri. Surgery was needed to repair the damage and consequently Ricciardo couldn’t finish the weekend or compete in the following four races. Reserve driver Liam Lawson stepped in to replace him and made quite the impression. Lawson scored points, out-qualified and placed ahead of his teammate Yuki Tsunoda; and, in one of the most surprising moments of the season, knocked current World Champion Max Verstappen out of qualifying for the Singapore Grand Prix.

Similarly, this year Sainz could not qualify or race at the Saudi Arabian GP as he was hospitalised for appendicitis. Current F2 and Ferrari Academy driver Ollie Bearman took his place jumping straight in at Free Practice 3. Bearman qualified 11th only 0.036s off Hamilton in 8th place. In the first lap of the Grand Prix, Bearman already tried to make a move on Yuki Tsunoda ahead of him. He kept moving up the grid to 7th place and defended against Lando Norris and Hamilton to maintain his position and score points, an incredible F1 debut from the 18 year old.


#LewisHamilton waited for #OllieBearman to congratuate him 👏 #f1 #formula1 #sportsmanship

♬ original sound – ESPN

Despite these brilliant performances, neither driver currently has a seat on the grid, but that doesn’t mean they won’t have a shot next year.

However, even when rookie drivers do make it in the sport, the ultra-competitive nature of the sport makes it difficult for them to succeed. We’ve seen it before where young drivers are given these opportunities, only to have them taken away prematurely. In 2019, Pierre Gasly lost his Red Bull seat mid-season to Alex Albon, while last year Nyck de Vries was replaced by Ricciardo after only ten Grand Prix’s.

The other issue with these junior and reserve drivers is their affiliation to their young driver programme’s team. Alpine, Aston Martin, Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes, and Red Bull all have young driver programmes with the intention of promoting these drivers to F1 seats in the future. When asked about his 2024 options Lawson said, “I’m a Red Bull driver. If I ever get a chance in Formula 1, it’ll be through Red Bull Racing. I think it would be Red Bull that give me my shot.”

Of course, that’s easier said than done though as at the moment Max Verstappen is locked in to Red Bull until 2028 despite rumours of him leaving to Mercedes. Sergio Perez, despite finishing 290 points behind Verstappen last season, still secured second place for himself in the Driver’s Championship. The gap between himself and Verstappen has already reduced by nearly ten seconds between Bahrain and Jeddah, meaning unless he really underperforms this year, it’s unlikely he will lose his seat in 2025. Both RB drivers, Ricciardo and Tsunoda, only have contracts until the end of 2024, so could we see Lawson driving under Laurent Mekies?

Similarly for Bearman, despite being the third youngest driver to secure points in an F1 debut, it’s almost impossible that he will drive for Ferrari in the near future with Charles Leclerc and Hamilton both secured for the next few years. He said, “I have a lot of practices with Haas this year, so I’m looking forward to building up a relationship and gaining more miles in the car.” Whilst it would be great for Bearman to get more experience in an F1 car, it seems a shame that he won’t get to drive for Ferrari yet, as Haas came last in the Constructor’s Championship last year.

Not to forget there’s also former Mercedes reserve driver Mick Schumacher and F2 driver Kimi Antonelli who are both possibilities for Hamilton’s seat at Mercedes next year.

With F2, reserve drivers, the young driver programmes, and F1 Academy, there are dozens of drivers looking to break into F1 when the contracts of 12 out of the 18 drivers on the grid expire at the end of the year. Is there a solution? Fans were hopeful when Andretti bid to join the grid that this would inevitably open up more spaces for drivers, but F1 rejected the offer until at least 2028. This means that for the moment there are still only 10 teams and 20 drivers in F1 but a very saturated driver market. Make your predictions for the 2025 grid now before silly season over the summer break – there are bound to be some wild cards.

Imogen Mingos

Imogen Mingos

Head Fashion & Beauty Editor 2023-24 | Winner of Best Newcomer (The Mancunion) at SU Awards 2023

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