On Wednesday Sauber announced their inaugural Academy lineup, before the bulk of feeder series championships get underway. It looks to have replaced the Sauber Junior Team, although in a slimmed-down guise with only four drivers signed to the team: Theo Pourchaire, Petr Ptacek, Dexter Patterson and Emerson Fittipaldi Jr.
Here we look who those drivers are, their pedigree that’s earned them a place in the programme and their prospects moving forward.
A statement from their website said: “The Sauber Academy represents the completion of a full development pathway, designed to lead drivers from grassroots to the pinnacle of motorsport and nurture the next generation of Formula One drivers.”
Beat Zehnder, Sporting Director Sauber Motorsport AG, added: “I am looking forward to working with these four extremely talented drivers. They are all at different stages of their career but each of them has the raw skills we will need to harness to help them in their journey to Formula One.
This is our first junior team profile of the season, but we’ll be looking at all the big players in junior formula racing across the next few days.
Theo Pourchaire – FIA F3
Pourchaire is the most senior driver in the programme, set to race in FIA Formula 3 for ART GP in 2020. He’s one of two returning members retained from the junior team, having signed for them in 2019. Aged 16 he has an impressive racing resumé, having won a race in his debut campaign of French F4, against a field that included Caio Collet and Arthur Leclerc. He also dominated the junior championship winning 13 rounds out of a possible 18.
Last season he moved to ADAC F4 competing for US Racing-Charouz, where he enjoyed a close title fight with Dennis Hauger (currently a Red Bull Junior). Hauger won two more races than the Frenchman, but Pourchaire had a more consistent season overall recording and extra podium and more points finishes to take the title by seven points. He’ll face up with his rival again in F3 this season.
Pourchaire graduated to cars with a strong karting pedigree too, a string of titles in national championships and third place in the FIA OK World Junior Championship.
Future prospects: Competing in FIA Formula 3 this year, the Frenchman is in pole position to take advantage of Sauber’s links further up the ladder. ART have two first-year drivers in F2 currently so that route will likely be blocked for the time being but Pourchaire has time on his side given his age. If he’s able to learn this season and put in competitive performances his stock will be strong for further promotion and title challenges in the future.
What he said: “I will be the youngest on the grid in FIA F3, where I will be driving with ART Grand Prix, and the support I’ll receive will be crucial to fulfil my goal, which is to win.”
Petr Ptacek – Formula Renault Eurocup
Ptacek is a rare commodity as a driver who has 2020 racing experience, having placed fifth in the Toyota Racing Series in New Zealand at the start of the year. At 17 he’s the oldest driver in the Sauber Academy – ten months older than Pourchaire – and signed to R-ace GP for 2020 Formula Renault Eurocup.
Ptacek has a range of experience at Formula 4, racing in the ADAC, Spanish, Italian and UAE series, with his best result being a fifth place with six podiums in the 2018 Italian F4, and made the step up to Asian F3 and TRS last year.
His second season of TRS showed strong improvement from his 11th place in 2019, he took three podiums and a pole position to finish fifth and only 16 points off Yuki Tsunoda, who’s set to make his debut in Formula 2 this year.
Future prospects: Ptacek’s eighth place in Formula Renault Eurocup last season was one of the better rookie performances, but still some way off the leaders. There’s a strong second-year class in the competition this year but if Ptacek can show the same improvement as he did in TRS he’s in a strong position to challenge at the top.
The main work-on will be improving on top-end results; he’s only scored one win from over 100 races in his career, and that could be the difference between a title challenge and finishing outside the top five in an ultra-competitive Eurocup field. His performance will be a defining moment in his career, with several of next season’s FIA F3 seats set to be taken from this championship.
What he said: “From the first moment I drove a kart, my ambition has always been to push towards Formula One and to work hard every single day, this is the beginning of an exciting journey for me and I’m looking forward to taking my development and results to the next level – both on and off the track.”
Dexter Patterson – Italian F4
The Scot is making the step from karts to cars this season, and is due to race Italian F4 after having one weekend of UAE F4 at the end of last year.
He performed well, scoring two fourth places and sixth in the opening round at the Dubai Autodrome, but is untested over a season of F4 so it will be interesting to see whether he can carry that speed into the season. He’s signed to Bhaitech.
He’s the first driver to graduate to the Academy from the Sauber Karting Team, and his transition is backed by a strong karting pedigree. He won the CIK-FIA World Championships OK Jr in 2017 and has picked up wins and podiums in championships across Europe and the world.
Future prospects: Patterson has every chance of making a successful transition to F4, based off his karting results and form in his taster in the UAE. However, there’s only so much we can learn from his past results until he gets a full season under his belt, so at the end of this season it will be much clearer what the next steps in his career are.
What he said: “This is my rookie year in single-seaters and I will race in the Italian F4 Championship. My aim is to keep improving my knowledge and understanding of the car to attain good results throughout the year.”
Emerson Fittipaldi Jr – OK-J Karting
The 13-year old will continue in karts for the 2020 season, having had a two-day F4 test in the USA recently. A third place in the 2017 Florida Winter Tour, is the best result in the career so far for the the son for two-time F1 World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi Sr.
Future prospects: Currently it’s too early to project Fittipaldi’s career prospects, but with his financial backing and family name, plus the know-how that being part of the Sauber setup will bring, means he can go as far as his talent and work ethic will take him.
What he said: “I am very proud to be selected by the Sauber Academy along with these three very talented drivers. With the sponsorship and support of Brand Institute, and now being part of the Sauber Academy, I will have a better chance to achieve my dream of becoming a Formula One driver.