8 Drivers Who Should’ve Raced In F1 – Part 2
The second half of my list of 8 drivers who showed they had the talent to be successful in Formula 1
Naoki Yamamoto (Japan)
Yamamoto driving for Toro Rosso at the 2019 Honda Japanese Grand Prix // Image credit: The Checkered Flag
When 2009 F1 champion Jenson Button heralds you as a driver worthy of Formula 1, you know you’re doing something right. That is exactly what Jenson did at the end of 2018, when he and Naoki won the Super GT Championship together – Jenson’s first season in Super GT.
The Brit said, “I personally feel this guy should be in F1,” the 2009 F1 champion said. “Whether he wants to or not, that’s my opinion.
“Seeing what he’s achieved in SuperFormula, which I think has been a very good proving ground for Formula 1, if you look at [Pierre] Gasly and also Stoffel [Vandoorne] and many other drivers. But also his diversity in his driving.
"So [he's] champion in SuperFormula, champion in Super GT. The wealth of experience from different types of racing all of this helps when you find yourself under pressure at the top.”
Naoki also won the SuperFormula title in 2018, a series that is often citied as an alternative final step in the single seater ladder to F1, becoming the first driver in 14 years to win both of Japan’s premier racing series in the same year.
His Super GT success meant he became a two-time Super GT champion, adding to his title win in 2013, and followed up his 2018 performance by finishing runner-up in 2019 for Dandelion Racing.
Naoki is quite possible the only person to be reluctant to drive an F1 car, however having the required 40 superlicense points and with Honda’s backing, he drove for Toro Rosso in FP1 for the 2019 Honda Japanese Grand Prix, an event that Honda was also title sponsor for.
Since then, the hype around Naoki has moved on – Honda and Red Bull junior Yuki Tsunoda in F2 is hotly tipped for an F1 seat next season, and with Honda pulling out from F1 after 2021 anyway, it is unlikely that the older Naoki Yamamoto will get a chance to race an F1 car.
Nick Cassidy (New Zealand)
Cassidy celebrating in SuperFormula // Image credit: Driven
Another Kiwi on the list, however like Naoki, Nick has a very strong record in the world of Japanese motorsport. He may only have 1 title apiece in both SuperFormula and Super GT, but he has come runner-up twice in Super GT and once in SuperFormula, with the gap to the champion being no greater than 3 points in any case.
Nick also currently lies second in the 2020 SuperFormula season, looking to retain his 2019 crown, and still with 3 races left there is plenty of time for him to close up the 11 point gap to Ryō Hirakawa.
The Kiwi has also had a lot of success in lower single seater categories – he is a two-time Toyota Racing Series champion in his native country, as well as the 2015 Japanese F3 champion. Outside of single seaters, Nick is also the inaugural endurance champion of the short-lived V8SuperTourer championship in 2012, with Greg Murphy and Jack Perkins.
Why Nick has never got the chance to race in Europe at the highest level, let alone be snapped up by an F1 team, is somewhat of a mystery. However in 2021 he will finally bring his premier motorsport career into Europe after signing for Envision Virgin Racing in Formula E, stepping into the big (and small) shoes of Sam Bird after smashing the Marrakesh lap record in the Formula E rookie test just before the COVID lockdown.
At 26 years of age, an F1 debut isn’t completely off the cards, however with a very strong raft of young drivers coming through F2 and F3 in the next few years, it will be very difficult for Nick to break in, so a long-term future in Formula E looks more likely.
René Rast (Germany)
Rast celebrating a win on the podium in DTM // Image credit: Touring Car Times
While the majority of René’s career has been in GT or touring cars, his success in the high downforce DTM championship is what has cemented his position on this list.
Out of 4 full seasons in DTM, René has taken the title in 3 of them, and finished runner-up in the other, proving himself to be the master of DTM’s final era of cars. Despite losing out to Gary Paffett by 4 points in 2018, René scored an incredible 6 straight wins to see out the season, and in 2020 he scored 10 straight podiums to overcome Nico Müller’s points lead for the title.
René also had a dominant run of years in the Porsche Carrera Supercup, finishing runner-up in 2009 before taking three straight titles from 2010-2012, and has taken class victories in the World Endurance Championship, WeatherTech SportsCar Championship 24hrs of Daytona and Blancpain GT Series over the years.
However at 34, an F1 career looks very unlikely, and with strong ties to Audi, they will want René racing for them elsewhere, as Audi have no links to F1 currently. For 2021, he will make his full season debut in Formula E with Audi, having participated at the Berlin sextuple header in August, claiming his maiden podium in the penultimate race of the season. After a strong finish to the season, René will be looking to carry the momentum from both that and his 2020 DTM title into the 2021 Formula E season.
Filipe Albuquerque (Portugal)
Albuquerque celebrating a win in IMSA // Image credit: Autosport
Filipe is a driver who had reasonable results in the junior formulae, but really found his pace in endurance racing. We have to go back to 2006 for Filipe’s main junior formulae success, taking both the Formula Renault Eurocup and Formula Renault 2.0 NEC championships in the same year, however never got the chance to fully prove himself in GP2, with only two race appearances in the 2007 season.
Filipe did have success in the infamous A1 GP series, giving Team Portugal a third place trophy at season’s end in the 2008-09 season, however this would be his last success in single seaters, being forced to turn to GT racing like so many talented drivers who lack the budget to climb the single seater ladder.
Filipe hit the ground running in 2010, securing the runner-up spot in the Italian GT Championship’s GT3 category, finishing just 10 points off champion Gianluca Roda, before moving into the spotlight of DTM and Blancpain GT, finishing third in Blancpain’s Endurance Series in 2011.
Filipe’s talent was displayed evidently in the 2010 Race of Champions – Portugal may have been knocked out in the Cup of Nations, but in the Champion of Champions event, Filipe secured a surprise victory, beating 9-time World Rally champion Sébastien Loeb in the finals, and then reigning F1 champion Sebastian Vettel in the semis.
For the next few years he went a bit under the radar, but returned to winning ways in 2014 in the European Le Mans Series, taking another runner-up finish for Jota Sport with Harry Tincknell and Simon Dolan with 74 points, before scoring exactly the same number of points the year after, but ending up third instead.
At the same time, Filipe entered both the Spa 6hrs and the Le Mans 24hrs in the World Endurance Championship with Audi, continuing their partnership in sportscar racing, with a best result of P4 overall in the 2015 Spa 6hrs, with René Rast and Marco Bonanomi. In 2016, he entered WEC’s LMP2 category for a full season, taking class wins at Silverstone and Mexico, and podiums at all races bar Le Mans and Spa. Due to missing out on the increased points for Le Mans, Filipe once again had to settle for P2 at the end of the year, very much becoming the ‘nearly man’ in sportscar racing.
An overall victory at the 2018 24hrs of Daytona was a taster of what was to come, and in the 2019-20 WEC season Filipe finally broke his curse and took the LMP2 championship title with United Autosports, as well as the European Le Mans Series title and a class victory at the 24hrs of Le Mans.
Its arguably too little, too late for the 35 year old regarding an F1 career, especially with hype surrounding compatriot Antonio Felix da Costa after his Formula E title victory. However, with his recent success in endurance racing, Filipe will be hoping to carry momentum into the coming years to add to his titles in WEC.
Those are the other 4 drivers I feel have the talent for F1, but will most likely never get the chance to race in the pinnacle of motorsport. I hope you enjoyed the article, and feel free to let me know your opinions on the topic in the comments!