The Revolving Door of Junior Teams
It's 2021 and the revolving junior teams door has already started.
Junior teams, young driver programmes and driver academies are all different names for drivers attached to an F1 team in the lower formula. But, they often prove themselves to be stupid. Talking about these academies has been coming for a long time.
As of writing, it just came out Gianluca Petecof has been let go by the Ferrari Driver Academy. Him leaving came as a shock to many as Petecof won the Formula Regional European Championship in 2020. The Brazilian beat the likes of Arthur Leclerc and Jamie Chadwick. But has seen himself dropped from the FDA and it seems rather odd.
The FDA's books have way too many drivers on them. Petecof's release seems strange because he was proving his worth during the 2020 season. But the FDA is way too overcrowded, with that, not many of them will make their way to F1 because Ferrari has two seats. (maybe four with Alfa Romeo)
Then again, welcome to the ever-revolving cycle of junior formula and driver academies.
Now, do junior programmes work? At times, yeah they do. Sir Lewis Hamilton, Charles Leclerc, Sebastian Vettel, Max Verstappen and many other drivers have come through different team programmes to make it to F1.
But pointing out all the drivers who make it to F1 through the programmes is easy. But all those who drivers, who don't make it, now, that is very hard to count.
Callum Ilott stands out as a driver, who should currently have an F1 seat. He battled with, Haas driver and F1 Rookie, Mick Schumacher for the F2 title. Ilott proved himself as one hell of a driver in 2020. But because of a Russian driver, who shall remain nameless, the grid filled and there was no place for the FDA driver.
Team backing should help drivers get seats in, not just F1, but the junior series, yet Ilott will not be on the F2 grid this season. While the likes of Roy Nissany will, and no it is not because of his Williams backing.
Ilott shows how these programmes fail to help. He sees himself without a seat because despite being attached to the biggest Formula one team, he does not receive money backing from them. No money backing is one of the largest issues. It is well-known, it can be hard to get money backing in the forms of sponsors.
Only one academy seems to provide backing in terms of money, almost surprisingly, it's Red Bull. But this doesn't mean they are great. But, it does show teams could afford to back their drivers. They choose not to do so.
This article is not all just about bashing the FDA. But, they are not exactly a standout in terms of driver academies. The top teams all have junior programmes attached to them; Mercedes, Red Bull, Renault/Alpine.
As already mentioned, the FDA is an overcrowded programme meaning drivers have to stand out within it. But Red Bull and Alpine manage to keep up with the FDA as not being great junior teams.
The critisim of Red Bull arose, once again, after Alexander Albon was dropped at the end of the 2020 season. Albon had been apart of Red Bull at two different times, joining the junior team in 2012, then being taken off the programme but picked up again in 2018 after his season in F2.
Albon showed failure within the junior team because they had to search outside the Red Bull family for a driver to partner Verstappen. Despite having a junior team with Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kvyat in.
Red Bull is a consistently criticised programme. The criticism for Red Bull is due to the harsh nature of the programme, which is well known. They drop drivers quickly and promote them quickly. They have often ruined drivers careers, is Albon possibly the next victim? Well, we will have to see.
But a shift in focus, Alpine. Or Renault, not sure what to call them. But, Alpine will do. Alpine's junior programme is interesting. They are a team who has never promoted a driver into an F1 seat. Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull have promoted many different drivers. But Alpine? No.
Not promoting drivers is the prime reason they get criticism. Instead, they pick out a nearly forty-year-old to join the team.
At the end of 2020, both Christian Lundgaard and Guanyu Zhou were found fault in over their seasons. Both had performed pretty well, maybe should have done better but Lundgaard was rookie and F2 is hard to prove yourself in, in your rookie year. But both had impressive performances, but, their cars, additionally, had some bad reliability.
These interesting comments and showed they were not promoting drivers anytime soon. To add to troubles; Zhou, Lundgaard and Oscar Piastri are all competing in the same championship next season. With maybe one open seat at Alpine.
It seems Alpine is also getting crowded based off of that. It means that Alpine cannot promote all their junior drivers, showing, again, their programme isn't working. They are not exactly going to get rid of a two-time World Champion, in Fernando Alonso, for two rookie drivers.
It raised the point, of why have a junior team if you don't promote? Well, it is unknown. Alpine will continue to be critiqued because they cannot get drivers from within their team to race for them.
It feels as though all of the above proves why driver academies are a struggle. It is a revolving cycle, we can all criticise them. But nothing will change because it is motorsport and this is how it works.
But are junior teams a struggle and wasting talent? Yes, this is evident and well known.
And we will probably have this conversation of the problems in junior teams during the 2021 season.