Champions in the making?
With much of the field being made up of young drivers, where do we see the current crop of talent ending up?
With Lando, Max, George, Charles and Alex too, F1's future is looking exceptionally healthy in terms of talent. Given that F2 also has a healthy crop coming through, I'd like to focus a spotlight on the drivers coming for the establishment of Vettel, Hamilton, Raikkonen and Alonso.
Currently, Max Verstappen or maybe at a stretch, Charles Leclerc are the two drivers you'd expect will take the mantle of the drivers title in a post-Hamilton era. I say at a "stretch" for Charles, because Ferrari really need to put him in a race winning car come 2022.
In this post I wanted to look at where the youth of F1 could potentially end up. So let's dive into it!
Clearly a top 3 or even top 2 driver on the grid. World class, race winner, exciting and aggressive. I think everyone hand on heart can say they think he will be world champion, however, I am starting to get a little hazy on when this might happen. A lot of folks thought perhaps this year would be his best chance as the circuits on offer in this pandemic hit season were regarded as "Red Bull circuits". Not so thus far, Mercedes as usual.
If given the right machinery and the right run of form, I think it will be dead certain. He won't be the youngest world champion, but he still has a good 10 to 15 years ahead of him should he choose to go that long to acquire a good number of titles. Like I say, it feels inevitable that he gets his hands on the fastest car on the grid, but crazier things have happened to drivers as talented in the past.
Not sure Jean Alesi counts though. Actually that's a criminal comparison. You get what I mean, hopefully. What I'm trying to say is, the battle we all want to see other than Charles and Max is Lewis and Max. Not in one Grand Prix here or there, but over the course of a whole season in equal machinery.
Perhaps the next young driver on the grid with the star quality 'they' love to talk about, is Charles Leclerc. Already in his third season, his rise has been meteoric since winning the GP3 and then the F2 championships back to back in 2016 and 17. This earned him a move to the now Alfa Romeo, then Sauber team.
Like Max's first season in a Toro Rosso, Charles impressed with feisty drives and inching performance out of an admittedly average car. This encouraged Ferrari to push their young academy diver into their second car far sooner than they may have thought. In his first season, he proved an absolute handful for a legend and 4 time world champion Sebastian Vettel.
The story pretty much tells itself from there, winning an emotional Grand Prix at Spa on the same weekend as the death of his childhood friend Anthoine Hubert and a coming of age victory at Ferrari's home race of Monza.
One thing we're all eager for is the karting rivalry with Max Verstappen to come to fruition season after season. We've had glimpses in Austria and Japan in 2019 of how feisty this rivalry can be. This is definitely one to watch.
To me the next driver in the field who has world champion potential is George Russell. The fact that he's hamstrung by a super uncompetitive Williams has blighted the early years of his career in my view, but his speed is present. His absolute wiping of Robert Kubica and so far Nicholas Latifi in qualifying has pretty much made his streak greater than the Undertaker's at Wrestlemania for so many years.
His attitude for me matches so much Max and Charles, but he needs some seats to clear up at the top. You'd hope that whenever Bottas or Hamilton move on, Mercedes consider promoting him to the top seat and don't bin him off like they did with Wehrlein. For me he's clearly way more talented than Esteban Ocon and would be prime candidate should Bottas not renew or Hamilton decide to hang up his gloves.
If 2022 throws us into an era like 2009 to 2013 where any one of 4 or 5 drivers can win the title per season, I think in the right car he will always be in the mix.
This guy is what F1 needed. F1 needed to move into a new era with their new branding and new injection of fresh blood to the grid, my how has he impressed. Despite a fairly okay first season in a decent McLaren, at times he could be found wanting or running out of luck (e.g. "IT'S BWOKEN!"). However, one of the world's most entertaining sim racers also happens to be an elite F1 driver.
His start to this season this season shows his ability to learn fast, adapt and critique himself into a better driver. This is something he shares with Charles Leclerc who is also very self critical when he makes a mistake. Hopefully for both of them, this isn't something that eventually becomes mentally taxing, but something that spurs them on to win. Much like Georges St. Pierre in the UFC, very self-critical, very dedicated and usually always comes out on top.
I think he could potentially sneak a world title, but it very much depends on how 2022 plays out. If it's not a Mercedes washing of the field for the next 5 or 6 years from there, I think he could be a shout for a title here or there. If not, definitely plenty of wins and records along the way. Was a delight to see him get his first podium in Austria and those last 2 laps of Styria, WOW.
Last on this list I've put Alex Albon. Not because he followed the others from F2 to F1, but I genuinely believe there is a monster of a driver in there. Like Lando and Charles, he criticises himself often, especially when he doesn't meet the un-meetable expectations of Dr. Darth Vader at Red Bull.
With a little bit more luck, I think we could be sitting here talking about a Grand Prix winner already. Had he not tagged Hamilton in Austria, potentially he could have went on to lift his trophy in F1. He's often criticised by the press for being off the pace of his much more experienced team mate, but this where drivers like him and Gasly need time.
It seems the success of Max and Charles has warped the path for a lot of young drivers coming in. Personally I feel Pierre Gasly wasn't given enough time. He could have done with one more season at Toro Rosso perhaps, but similarly with Albon. Despite doing great in his debut season for two teams, no one should be expecting him to be any further than where he is right now.
If given the time to be nurtured, I'm certain he will become a race winning driver and could very well have a career like a Bottas or Ricciardo. Only time will tell how trigger happy Red Bull are, but for me they should have patience now.
As alluded to in the post, some other drivers on the grid that could find themselves further up and back at big teams could be a Gasly or an Ocon. With the F2 crop also soon to be knocking at the doors of the grid, I'm not sure where that leaves drivers like Kyvat or Giovanazzi, but one thing is sure, there could be a complete left of field meteoric rise from anyone of these honourable mentions when 2022 rolls around!
What do YOU think?