BEST OF BRITISH STILL TO COME?

1y ago

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When Lewis Hamilton lines up on the grid at the United States GP, he will have one thing on his mind; securing a record-breaking fourth world championship title. However, regardless of the end result this weekend, the Mercedes driver will be putting his own personal stamp in the Formula 1 history books.

Unfortunately, it comes under circumstances that are somewhat concerning for British motorsport.

Jolyon Palmer's early exit from Renault and the sport means that, for the first time since 2005 - when Jenson Button was disqualified for two rounds before only six cars entered the race at Indianapolis - there will only be one British driver starting an F1 Grand Prix.

Hamilton will be flying the flag alone.

For a nation steeped in motorsport history, and where a number of teams, drivers and iconic circuits are based, there has been a worrying paucity of stars emerging in recent years. Since Hamilton broke through in 2007, only four Brits have made their F1 debuts (their identities revealed at the bottom of the page).

Compare that current shortage with the 1980s and 1990s when a total of 26 British drivers competed in F1, and it's an alarming drought.

"As a former British F1 driver it saddens me," Sky F1's Martin Brundle wrote in his latest column. "Especially when I recall fighting Mansell, Coulthard, Warwick, Blundell, Palmer, Herbert, Hill, Irvine, Donnelly, Dumfries and others over 10 seasons."

But is it really all bad?

After all, Hamilton looks likely to make history in 2017 - maybe even this weekend in Austin if things go his way - by becoming a standalone British four-time world champion, joining only Michael Schumacher, Juan Manuel Fangio, Alain Prost and Sebastian Vettel in reaching that total.

He already holds the all-time pole record and has single-handedly ensured that Great Britain has the highest number of race wins as a nation on the current grid. His victory count is a staggering 61 - a tally that is more than the next two Brits in the standings, Nigel Mansell and Sir Jackie Stewart, combined.

Hamilton's standing in the pantheon of greats and as a British F1 legend cannot truly be disputed.

Paul di Resta is still in contention for a Williams 2018 seat but even if Hamilton is the only driver from the home nations on the grid next season - something that has never happened over a full F1 campaign - is British motorsport in that bad a place? The next generation would surely argue it's not...

A TALENTED CROP ON ITS WAY

While there were as many as four Brits on the F1 grid in 2013 in Hamilton, Di Resta, Jenson Button and Max Chilton, only one of that quartet has claimed a victory in the last five years.

But despite recent concerns about funding and the cost of advancing through the junior categories, it certainly looks like Britain has a crop of young winners on their way up.

In the last two months alone, Enaam Ahmed (British F3), Jamie Caroline (British F4), George Russell (GP3) and Lando Norris (European F3) have all become British champions.

"There's been a bit of a generation gap of the high-performing Brits," said Sky F1's Marc Priestley. "But the great thing is that we've got a fantastic array of youngsters, so the future looks very bright for British motorsport and British drivers."

And while Russell and Norris are in Mercedes and McLaren's respective stables and have already impressed in F1 in Hungary's in-season test, that list doesn't even take into account the number of talented British juniors currently in F1's young driver programmes.

Dan Ticktum (Formula Renault 2.0 and GP3) is with Red Bull, Oliver Rowland (F2), Jack Aitken (GP3) and Max Fewtrell (Formula Renault 2.0) have earned Renault's trust - while Jordan King (F2) has F1 experience through Manor.

The list makes for impressive reading - and all the names on it will be hopeful of making the step up to F1 in the coming seasons.

"We've gone through a bit of a spell where there hasn't been many British drivers coming into Formula 1," Mercedes junior Russell told Sky F1 on the F1 Report. "But I feel that in two or three years' time it could all change again."

A LACK OF OPTIONS?

After restructuring the former GP2 series into what is now Formula 2, the FIA claimed they had completed the "final piece of the puzzle" and that the "single-seater pyramid provides a clear path for drivers from grassroots to the pinnacle of motor racing."

But while Russell and Norris expect to move up to F2 in 2018, it looks likely that there will only be one graduate from the series on the F1 grid next year in runaway 2017 champion Charles Leclerc.

If a current shortage of British drivers is the problem of the present, a shortage of available F1 seats could be the problem of the future.

"I feel reaDy for a seat next season but I'm also realistic," Russell admitted when discussing his chances. "It's all about timing in this sport and unfortunately the timing isn't quite right for next year."

Indeed, Russell's GP3 success could well have catapulted him straight into F1 a few years ago, but though Leclerc looks likely to have a Ferrari-affiliated Sauber team to jump into, the options beyond that and Red Bull's Toro Rosso proving grounds appear limited.

The early-2017 collapse of Manor Racing - essentially a Mercedes junior team who had given chances to two Brits in Chilton and Will Stevens - hasn't helped.

Renault starlet Rowland certainly knows the struggles of getting into F1 - much like former Williams protégé Alex Lynn and 2014 GP2 champion Palmer before him - and even the driver who finished second behind Leclerc in F2 could move onto Japan's Super Formula next year after two seasons in his current series.

Norris, however, could be a full-time reserve driver next year with McLaren and may have a better chance of fulfilling his F1 dreams than others.

Apart from Lance Stroll at Williams and Palmer at Renault, McLaren's Stoffel Vandoorne is the only new F1 driver from the last three years who hasn't made his debut with Sauber, Manor, or Toro Rosso.

But even Norris' future could be dependent on Fernando Alonso's, while a bumper 2019 driver market - in which Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo may both be free agents - might also have an impact for British hopefuls.

And Norris, Russell and any other young British driver need only to look at Rowland, Lynn, Palmer and the rest to understand the challenge awaiting them. It's a complicated market with a limited number of goods - well, seats - available.

But the Brits will be worth keeping an eye on in the coming years. There are few options, but lots of talent - and the future is starting to look bright again.

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Comments (1)
  • Really interesting article. Awesome read and some good points. Cheers!

    1 year ago

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