F2: The Stars of the Future?
A brief introduction to the key players in F2 and the stars of the not-so-distant future.
As the Formula 1 2020 championship progresses and silly season rumours continue to wreak havoc in the paddock, attention turns to the young up and coming drivers vying for a seat in 2021 and beyond. Formula 2 brands itself a showcase of ‘the stars of the future’ - but who are the stars, and what does their future look like?
Mick Schumacher (Image credit: Ferrari.com)
Mick Schumacher, son of Michael and current leader of the championship, is undoubtedly F2’s most exciting export of the year. To label him a star of the future would be inaccurate at best; Schumacher is a star of today. With ten podiums including two wins so far this year, Schumacher’s consistently strong performance has silenced critics who once might’ve suggested that his path to F1 was carved by name rather than skill.
All roads lead to Ferrari where Schumacher’s future in the sport is concerned; he’s the lead FDA driver in the F2 championship with a seat at Alfa Romeo for the 2021 season all but confirmed through his intended FP1 drive in Germany. It’s (heavily) rumoured that Schumacher is to replace Antonio Giovinazzi and partner Kimi Raikkonen for a two year contract in the team, with eyes on a Ferrari seat when Carlos Sainz Jr’s comes up for grabs for the 2023 season.
Callum Ilott (Image credit: Formula 1 via Getty Images)
Twenty two points behind Schumacher in the championship is fellow FDA driver and former Red Bull junior, Callum Ilott. With three wins so far, Ilott equals Robert Shwartzman - who I’ll return to later - as most frequent visitor to the top step of the podium in 2020. Like Schumacher, Ilott was set to take part in his first FP1 at the Nurburgring with Ferrari customer team Haas before the session was rained off.
Ilott’s future is not necessarily as certain as his championship rival’s; his appearance for Haas in Germany obviously links him to a potential empty seat, though team principal Guenther Steiner suggests several drivers are in the running. Ilott himself has fuelled much of the uncertainty surrounding his future with comments implying he cannot afford another season in F2, though the forty super license points he’s due to collect with a second place finish in the championship may mean he’ll be making the step up instead.
Yuki Tsunoda (Image credit: Alpha Tauri via Twitter)
Fresh off the press at time of writing, third place F2 competitor Yuki Tsunoda will get his first drive in an F1 car when he tests for Alpha Tauri this year following the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix of Imola. This news comes on the back of perhaps the strongest rumour of silly season: Tsunoda will replace Daniil Kvyat at the Red Bull B-team.
The Honda-backed junior driver has had a mighty rookie campaign thusfar with two victories and a further three trips to the podium in a year that some believe could see a major shake up of Red Bull’s F1 line-up. Tsunoda’s dominating performance over Red Bull Carlin teammate Jehan Daruvala, then, might just see him be part of that change provided he can hold onto his championship position and the all-important super license points that come with it.
Christian Lundgaard (Image credit: Formula 1 via Getty Images)
The driver threatening Tsunoda for that championship position is ART Grand Prix’s Christian Lundgaard. Lundgaard graduated to F2 from his sixth place finish in 2019’s F3 as a member of the Renault Sport Academy and has quickly impressed with two wins and three second places, amassing an impressive one hundred and seven point lead over teammate Marcus Armstrong.
The question of Lundgaard’s potential future in F1, along with the rest of the Renault junior drivers, has been spotlighted by Fernando Alonso’s signing to the team in 2021, taking a seat that many slated for fellow academy driver Guanyu Zhou. With two rounds to go in the 2020 competition, Lundgaard leads Zhou by twenty five and a half points, a performance that is sure to bolster his chances of promotion should a seat become available, though it remains likely that the Danish driver will compete in F2 for a further season.
Robert Shwartzman (Image credit: Formula 2)
Rounding out the top five of the championship is the man who dominated in the early stages of the season: Prema’s Robert Shwartzman. Fresh from his victory in F3, some expected Shwartzman to go on to win the F2 title in his rookie season and immediately be promoted up to the big leagues a la Charles Leclerc in 2017. Whilst his campaign hasn’t gone quite to plan in that regard, he’s certainly shown himself to be a strong contender for the future.
Like his FDA colleagues Ilott and Schumacher, Shwartzman had been set to participate in an FP1 session before the end of the F1 season. The rain disruption at the Nurburgring, however, might delay the rookie’s opportunity; it’s likely that Ilott and Schumacher’s runs will be rearranged to the Bahrain or Abu Dhabi weekends with Shwartzman’s appearance sidelined. It’s equally likely that Shwartzman will follow in Prema teammate Schumacher’s footsteps and spend a second season developing in F2 despite already being eligible for promotion.
Guanyu Zhou (Image credit: Formula 1 via Getty Images)
That’s the top five drivers as the championship stands now - but with a grid as competitive as this, it’s hardly surprising that there’s stars to consider up and down the field. The aforementioned Zhou, particularly, has driven some of the most thrilling races of the season despite sitting six championship positions behind UNI Virtuosi teammate, Ilott. Like his Renault Academy colleague Lundgaard, Zhou’s potential promotion this year has been stalled by signings from outside the junior programme, and with lower formulae drivers such as F3 champion Oscar Piastri ascending through the ranks, could it be in his best interest to depart from Renault altogether?
A driver who did just that is twelfth place runner Jack Aitken. One of three on the grid to be signed with the Williams Driver Academy, Aitken is easily up with the likes of championship leaders Schumacher and Ilott in terms of proven ability, quality and experience. You needn’t look much further than last round’s feature race in Sochi for evidence of that; an absolute masterclass of a defensive drive that earned a P6 finish but deserved a podium at least. Aitken’s underwhelming results with Campos this year are thus not at all reflective of the quality driver he is. As for his F1 potential, he is currently signed as Williams’ reserve driver and ran in his first FP1 session for the team ahead of the Styrian Grand Prix in July. Whilst there’s no empty seat for him in 2021, it’s not inconceivable that George Russell’s inevitable eventual move to Mercedes might rightly provide a drive for Aitken in the near future.
Jack Aitken (Image credit: Xabi Bonilla)
Aitken’s Williams Driver Academy colleagues can be found in tenth and nineteenth position respectively in current F2 standings: Dan Ticktum and Roy Nissany. There is a lot to be said regarding Nissany’s prominence in the academy comparative to his results in F2, not least that he is the worst performing driver of three and yet has already participated in two FP1 sessions this year with a third to be scheduled. This conundrum is explored in depth by Amelia Taylor in this article that unearths the root cause as that of all underwhelming junior drivers’ success: money. Nissany brings with him a significant cash injection that, at the start of the season at least, Williams were not in a position to turn down. The acquisition of the team by Dorilton Capital, however, might now derail Nissany’s cash-driven ride to a seat.
On the other hand, Dan Ticktum’s potential future in F1 appears to be getting back on track. The former Red Bull junior’s impressive performances have previously been somewhat overshadowed by his reputation as a dangerous driver following an incident in British F4 that resulted in a two year suspended ban from motorsport. Since his return in 2016, Ticktum has won the Macau Grand Prix twice and was bested only by Mick Schumacher in the 2018 F3 championship, finishing ahead of key names like Shwartzman, Zhou and Daruvala. This year’s F2 campaign with defending team champions DAMS has been similarly successful, with one win at Silverstone and a less-fortunate winning drive at Monza that ended in disqualification. Unlike his Williams F2 colleagues, however, there appears to be no plans to get Ticktum into the car during the 2020 season; it’s thus unlikely we’ll see any FP1 debut from him until 2021 at least.
Juri Vips (Image credit: Red Bull)
When Ticktum’s DAMS teammate Sean Gelael suffered a back injury in Barcelona, the team called upon Red Bull junior driver Juri Vips to temporarily fill the seat. Vips’ 2020 campaign has been tumultuous to say the least; COVID travel restrictions put an end to his Super Formula season before it began and the call up to F2 came in the middle of a fairly decent run for KIC Motorsport in FREC. I’ve touched on the consequences of such events and the circumstances surrounding the FIA’s emergency changes to the super license system - namely, that Vips could be eligible for a license should one be required for the 2021 season - in a previous article exploring Red Bull’s options for the future. Regardless of this potential eligibility, it’s reasonable to predict that Vips will return to F2 for a full-time drive next season - perhaps with HiTech if new reports are to be believed. Vips’ future after that, however, is less predictable due to the struggles facing Red Bull’s senior F1 team. Recent comments made by team advisor Dr. Helmut Marko and others indicate a potential complete shutdown of the junior programme if Red Bull were to hire a partner for Max Verstappen from outside the family, leaving Vips and aforementioned fellow junior driver Daruvala’s future hanging in the balance. Only time will tell; Ilott and Ticktum as examples of careers after leaving the Red Bull programme may prove to be paths to follow.
The stars of the future that make Formula 2 as riveting as it is extend well beyond those mentioned here, with drivers from the top to the bottom of the standings competing to the highest standard. Is there a driver you think is more deserving of a seat in F1 than all those discussed above? Is there a teammate combination you see dominating in years to come? Let me know below!