Formula 2’s recent record for launching drivers onto the Formula 1 grid is strong, with Charles Leclerc, George Russell, Lando Norris, Pierre Gasly, Antonio Giovinazzi, Nicholas Latifi and now Mick Schumacher, Yuki Tsunoda and Nikita Mazepin reaching the top level either straight from F2 success or via a mild detour.
While Schumacher was always likely to reach F1 rapidly, very few people can claim to have predicted that Tsunoda would turn a rookie campaign in Formula 2 into an immediate AlphaTauri F1 seat – and that alone shows how volatile the path to F1 is.
F2’s 2021 season begins this weekend too, so which of the drivers on its grid will be lining up in F1 cars in the future?
We took a look at the prospects:
(Almost) a sure thing
Robert Shwartzman (Prema)
F2 stats (2020): 24 races, 4 wins, 6 podiums
5-7 qualifying score vs F2 team-mate
Is it possible to envision a scenario where Robert Shwartzman misses out on F1? Sure. But of this list and this grid, he’s the only driver where such an outcome would mark a total collapse and a season significantly under par.
The Russian’s F1 credentials are built on a superb F3 championship season and a lightning start to his F2 rookie campaign last year. Though the Ferrari Driver Academy member’s qualifying form since 2019 has been somewhat dubious, he has long proved himself as one of the most incisive and intelligent racers around, and already an F1-ready prospect.
Ferrari customer Alfa Romeo looks like it’ll change at least one seat in 2022. And yes, Ferrari tester Callum Ilott remains a threat despite his F2 exit, and so does Marcus Armstrong, but there’s little doubt Shwartzman is first in line for the next Ferrari promotion, and it’d take something unexpected for that to change this year.
Theo Pourchaire (ART Grand Prix)
F2 stats (2020): 4 races
1-1 qualifying score vs F2 team-mate
The only junior driver who can claim to have had a bigger reputation boost than Theo Pourchaire in 2020 is Yuki Tsunoda. And with Tsunoda now a grand prix driver, Pourchaire may just be taking his place as one of the hottest talents on the market.
The Sauber-backed youngster was an excellent second in F3 last year, fighting for the title against more experienced drivers. Though he’s only 17, his F2 promotion raised no eyebrows.
But though Pourchaire was winning by his fourth (and fifth) race in F3, F2 could be a different story, even despite him having looked to bed himself in with four races in the category in 2020 with HWA. ART is an upgrade compared to HWA but doesn’t have a great record for having two competitive cars, and the grid is stacked.
“Every time I want to win, it’s my only goal, but for sure I will take the time to do it,” Pourchaire told The Race. “I have the time, I’m young.
“I will take the time to win. I think F2 is even more difficult – with the pitstop, with the tyre degradation, so you have a lot of things to learn and I will take the time to do it.”
Juri Vips (Hitech)
F2 stats (2020): 8 races, 1 podium
1-2 qualifying score vs F2 team-mate
Yes, Tsunoda did jump ahead of him in the queue, but Red Bull clearly retains faith in Juri Vips, who served as its reserve driver at some races in 2020, got an Abu Dhabi test run-out and is seemingly finally in possession of superlicense thanks to the FIA’s point breaks introduced due to COVID-19.
And with Hitech having already established itself as a serious-business F2 team in 2020, a decent season from Vips should be enough to get his name on the 2021 F1 entry list, presumably with AlphaTauri.
There is a scenario in which he misses out – say, Red Bull keeps Sergio Perez alongside Max Verstappen, neither Yuki Tsunoda nor Pierre Gasly is promoted or dropped from AlphaTauri and Gasly isn’t handed off to a different F1 team – but it’s still good to be first in line.
Christian Lundgaard (ART Grand Prix)
F2 stats (2020): 26 races, 2 wins, 6 podiums
10-3 qualifying score vs F2 team-mates
Lundgaard had hopped into a new category for each of his first four seasons in junior single-seaters, and so silverware has been in somewhat limited supply since his two titles in entry-level Formula 4 racing in 2017.
But make no mistake – when it comes to pure results and sheer pace, he is the cream of the Alpine Academy crop, to the point where a two-win yield from his rookie F2 campaign in 2020 can actually be seen as a little disappointing.
“I think, if you were to look at the rookie-ness of him, you’d have to say, two wins and four podiums, you’d take it – but you see a lot more of his potential,” Alpine Academy chief Mia Sharizman said of Lundgaard’s 2020.
“So I think it’s more about taking what’s last year and bringing it forward and analysing what… I wouldn’t say ‘has gone wrong’, but just to make everything better.
“[The word] ‘consistency’ has been used quite a lot [as a target] with Christian – having said that, we never forget that he has the pace, he has the speed, he has the racecraft.”
Staying in the same category, and with the same team, can only help in that regard, and after topping the pre-season test Lundgaard may well be the pre-season favourite. And if he delivers on that, Alpine will need to figure out how it gets him into an F1 car – or someone else will.
Guanyu Zhou (UNI-Virtuosi)
F2 stats (2019-20): 46 races, 1 win, 11 podiums
9-15 qualifying score vs F2 team-mates
Zhou’s sights are firmly on earning an F1 graduation in 2021, and most of the checklist for that is taken care of. The budget should be in place and the requisite superlicense points are almost in the bag (a narrow title win over Formula Regional racer Pierre-Louis Chovet in the off-season Asian F3 series will have come as a nice boost). But the CV still lacks a true F1-caliber achievement.
“Definitely being a title contender is the key – and if not, finish top three, I think we saw in the past that drivers who finished top three in the Formula 2 championship, they’re in Formula 1 the following year,” Zhou said of his 2021 targets.
And he’s largely right – since the rebranding of GP2 to F2, of the 12 drivers who finished top three seven found their way into grand prix racing the next year.
But Zhou’s situation is complicated, too. He’s heading into his third F2 season, and is sharing the grid with two fellow Alpine juniors. Finishing in the top three but behind a Lundgaard or a Piastri would probably not do wonders for his chances of getting into the blue car – so he’d do well to prove himself against those drivers in particular.
Oscar Piastri (Prema)
Though he’s brought home back-to-back titles in Formula Renault and F3, the Mark Webber-managed Piastri can’t be considered a sure thing for F1 yet – not when the former title came in his sophomore season in the category and the latter occurred in a season where he’d never got on the front row in qualifying.
Equally though, Piastri having a solid rookie season in 2021 and thrusting himself into longer-term F1 contention would be no big surprise at all, but the 19-year-old master of social media humour has even loftier goals.
“I’ve got a very strong team-mate in Robert Shwartzman, I expect him to be challenging for the title, and I think if I can be matching him or beating him more often than not then I’ll be in a very good place in the championship,” Piastri said.
If he does indeed show up Shwartzman, the pressure will suddenly be immense on Alpine to get him to F1 as soon as possible.
Marcus Armstrong (DAMS)
F2 stats (2020): 24 races, 2 podiums
2-10 qualifying score vs F2 team-mate
Gone are the days that Armstrong and Shwartzman looked about on the same echelon within the Ferrari Driver Academy – if Shwartzman’s F3 title beating Armstrong didn’t emphatically put him on a higher level, 2020 certainly did.
Armstrong scored two podiums in his first four F2 races, but spent the rest of the campaign fighting for scraps as his form nosedived. Since 2018, every ART intra-team battle in F2 has been a blowout, and it was fellow rookie Lundgaard rather than Armstrong who asserted himself last year.
But the affable Kiwi’s F1 hopes are no lost cause just yet. Not only has there been enough pre-F2 good will to rely on, but Armstrong did seem to recover towards the end of that largely miserable 2020, and he was also fast in the 2021 pre-season with his new team DAMS.
He’d have to have a truly outrageous campaign to stake a claim to a 2022 F1 seat over Shwartzman, but even just putting in a good shift for a DAMS team that is itself recovering from a miserable 2020 should buy him some more time in making an F1 case.
Felipe Drugovich (UNI-Virtuosi)
F2 stats (2020): 24 races, 3 wins, 4 podiums
11-1 qualifying score vs F2 team-mates
Even though he was a thoroughly convincing Euroformula Open champion in 2018 (16 races, 14 wins, 16 podiums), Drugovich wouldn’t have made this list at all if not for a genuinely spectacular rookie season in F2 last year.
Yes, his MP Motorsport team had been on an upward curve in F2, but Drugovich’s three wins doubled its win tally in its eight-year tenure in F2/GP2. Those wins were not flukes – Drugovich, though still a bit unrefined, has proved beyond doubt that he’s rapid.
And while there’s no existing public links to F1 teams next to Drugovich’s name, a seat with UNI-Virtuosi is a great sign. This team was runner-up in both of its F2 seasons so far, and if Drugovich can help keep it there in the standings, F1 teams are bound to come calling.
Liam Lawson (Hitech)
Lawson’s going to be a busy boy this year, combining F2 with what is intended to be a full DTM season. And while on the one hand being handed a DTM drive doesn’t usually suggest that you’re seen as an F1 driver of the future (the one exception being Esteban Ocon), it does give him a very handy opportunity of being benchmarked against Alexander Albon… in Ferrari GT cars.
The big questions will instead be answered in his F2 campaign at Hitech alongside Vips, and it’s there that the 19-year-old Lawson could do some serious damage on the Red Bull junior ladder.
His results since joining Red Bull’s junior scheme in 2019 have not been exceptional on paper, but all came with important bits of positive context – in his Euroformula Open runner-up season he outperformed Tsunoda in the same team, and his 11th place and fifth place in two seasons in F3 both came with midfield-ish teams that he led.
Red Bull likes betting big on young talent regardless of relative experience, so if Lawson asserts himself against Vips there’s every chance he could suddenly become Red Bull’s next-in-line.
Dan Ticktum (Carlin)
F2 stats (2020): 26 races, 1 win, 4 podiums
11-1 qualifying score vs F2 team-mates
An F3 runner-up, F2 race winner as a rookie and two-time Macau GP winner already by the age of 21 should probably have a bit more buzz about him as an F1 prospect. But Ticktum’s career has been just too eventful for his own good.
There was the one-year ban for unsavoury on-track behaviour during his time in British F4 , of course. There were the Schumacher comments during their F3 title fight that got Red Bull to publicly tell him to zip it. There was the subsequent Red Bull exit after a Super Formula foray that’s best forgotten.
If you have a ton of money, all of that can be overcome. But if not, you have to be so quick that it doesn’t matter.
But Ticktum could yet make the case that he is. His Williams affiliation shows he’s still on the F1 radar and his first season in F2 was at least sensible. “Sensible” won’t cut it for year two – but a switch to Carlin places him at a team that hit a spectacular vein of form in the latter half of 2020, especially with Tsunoda, one Ticktum has enjoyed his time with the past.
Jehan Daruvala (Carlin)
F2 stats (2020): 24 races, 1 win, 2 podiums
4-8 qualifying score vs F2 team-mate
Daruvala has much in common with team-mate Ticktum – he’s only heading into his second F2 season, but feels like he’s been around forever on the junior single-seater scene, and has some success to show for it (albeit arguably not as much as Ticktum).
In other words, he and Ticktum really need to just about demolish one another to make a convincing F1 case, even if Daruvala does boast a Red Bull Junior team affiliation.
It’s touch-and-go superlicence-wise for the Indian, who did shore up his prospective tally with third place in Asian F3 last year but will have been disappointed to end the mini-campaign adrift of Zhou and Chovet. But it surely won’t come down to those single-digit superlicense points anyway – if Daruvala’s to race in F1, he’ll need an F2 season good enough where the superlicense becomes a formality.
Saying all that, Carlin was really, really good last year, and Daruvala did sign off from the campaign – in which he wasn’t miles away team-mate Tsunoda – with a win.
Gianluca Petecof (Campos)
There was much consternation in social media circles when Petecof was passed up for a ‘golden ticket’ Prema F3 seat despite narrowly beating Arthur Leclerc – who did get that drive – to the Formula Regional title.
And though given the actual dynamics of that Formula Regional European Championship season it’s hard to object to Leclerc Jr getting the nod, it’s great that Petecof has found a programme too, even if now he faces a future outside the Ferrari Driver Academy following the two parties going their separate ways.
Just how much he’ll be able to show being thrust in F2 right away is a bit of an open question, especially given the Campos team he’s landed with didn’t have a very good 2020 at all.
But a best-case scenario of a Drugovich-like breakout cannot be ruled out, and it would immediately put the 18-year-old right on the F1 radar.