The most controversial driver in junior single-seater racing says graduation to Formula 1 is “in the back of my mind when I wake up most mornings”, but how realistic are Dan Ticktum’s chances of an F1 seat and does he deserve one?
Some people believe Ticktum should have never raced again after he overtook several cars to crash into his rival under the safety car in a 2015 MSA Formula (now British Formula 4) race at Silverstone.
Ticktum was handed a two-year ban (one of which was suspended), and it’s an incident that – rightly or wrongly – isn’t far from been brought up every time his F1 future is discussed.
It’s also often forgotten that Ticktum was disqualified from an entire race weekend earlier in that season for an ill-judged move on current F1 driver Lando Norris at the final corner at Croft.
At that point in the season the duo were leading championship contenders and while Norris has subsequently had a fairly comfortable and successful ride to F1, the path has been anything but smooth for Ticktum.
But a driver with his raw speed was never going to be left on the sidelines, even after he’d served a ban for such a dangerous and PR-damaging move.
It was Red Bull who gave him an opportunity and, at the end of his first full season back, he claimed victory at the famous Macau Grand Prix in 2017 and had largely managed to avoid causing any controversy.
He led the highly competitive European Formula 3 championship in 2018 before Mick Schumacher and Prema went on an unstoppable late-season tear, leaping from 10th to first in the standings and obliterating Ticktum’s title hopes.
It was a bitter blow for Ticktum who caused a social media storm at the time for labelling Schumacher’s sudden upturn in pace as “interesting” – although he was far from the only one in the paddock to make similar claims.
While Schumacher headed to F2, Red Bull sent Ticktum to Japan – but not before he won Macau again – to race in Super Formula where it all quickly unravelled with yet more controversy.
Racing on the other side of the world at least meant that the controversy this time was not as well-documented as his European exploits, but it soon led to Red Bull dropping Ticktum.
Williams gave Ticktum a second opportunity but a maiden FIA Formula 2 campaign with DAMS proved – despite yielding a maiden race win – more frustrating than fruitful last year.
His rather colourful team radio messages on the F1 support bill brought Ticktum back under the spotlight and although he was rightly scorned at times, it began to feel like the championship was exploiting his ‘bad boy’ reputation and broadcasting his radio rants far more than his rivals.
Ticktum often does not help himself with his candid comments, but the fact is he’s been the target of swathes of social media abuse since he was 16 years old and that’s not an easy thing to deal with – even if the criticism is justified, the abuse isn’t.
While he’s not immune to causing an accident, there’s not been so much as a glimmer that anything like the 2015 Silverstone incident would happen again.
Ticktum is also currently in the F2 championship mix and is driving better than he has for a very long time, having taken F1 rookie Yuki Tsunoda’s Carlin seat and claimed one victory and four other podiums.
The 22-year-old is fourth in the championship behind his old Euro F3 rivals Robert Shwartzman and Guanyu Zhou, while FIA Formula 3 champion Oscar Piastri heads the table.
While they’re all arguably talented enough to race in F1, there’s a real feeling that none of them are anywhere near a sure thing to make it.
Alpine juniors Zhou and Piastri know their prospects are limited with Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon signed up until 2023 and 2024 respectively, and no customer teams to be placed in.
Although Alfa Romeo should have vacancies, Shwartzman has to contend with Alfa’s test driver Callum Ilott and the likes of Nico Hulkenberg and Valtteri Bottas, who may be looking for a new challenge.
Ticktum’s only realistic option is with Williams if Russell ends up at Mercedes and/or Nicholas Latifi leaves the team.
“How could you not?” Ticktum said when asked if he’s thinking about F1 graduation.
“I’ve been on the verge of Formula 1 for a few years, a couple of years certainly, firstly with Red Bull, but that didn’t go to plan. But now I do have a good opportunity at Williams.
“Being completely transparent, I don’t know what the situation is. I know I have an opportunity and all I’m told by the boss is just to do my job here.
“And that’s what I do regardless, even if I knew I was getting the seat or not I’d still just be trying to tick the boxes here and finish as high as I can. But yeah, it’s in the back of my mind when I wake up most mornings, trust me.”
Ticktum’s chances appear slim, and his best bet perhaps lies in Williams signing an experienced driver like Bottas or Hulkenberg and deciding it wants a fast rookie alongside them.
After all, Russell has shown the impact a fast driver can have for a back-of-the-grid team by the difference he’s made in Williams’ fight with the likely faster Alfa Romeo.
If Dorilton is serious about returning Williams to the front of the F1 field, it needs two drivers capable of regularly dragging the car into Q2 and on the verges of the top 10 just like Russell consistently does.
Two-time Macau GP winner and F2 race winner Ticktum would fit that bill nicely. Even if he’ll inevitably bring a wave of controversy, he’s likely to get the job done on track.
However, we all know the financial considerations involved in F1 and there are a plethora of drivers with equally glittering – and probably less blotted – junior CVs that could make a similar case and provide more cash.