The Red Bull Junior Team is the most successful F1 junior team around, having brought Grand Prix winners and world champions like Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo, Pierre Gasly and Max Verstappen to the pinnacle of motorsport. This year, twelve drivers from go-karting to Formula 2 will receive support from Red Bull. Could one (or two) of these drivers step up to AlphaTauri in 2023?
By Perceval Wolff
Dennis Hauger (F2, Prema)
As expected, the reigning Formula 3 champion will join Prema Racing in Formula 2. After a dominant season with the Italian squad, he will undoubtedly be the rookie driver to watch this season. It’s always difficult to fight as a rookie for the title, but Oscar Piastri has managed to do it last year. If he achieves this, he should be in strong contention for an AlphaTauri seat for 2023.
Given his young age (he will turn 19 in March), Hauger doesn’t have so much pressure on his shoulders for this season, especially compared to last year when he absolutely had to win the title. He’s still a very young rookie and can use this year to learn, and then get the title the year after. In short, Hauger has nothing to lose and a lot to gain.
Jehan Daruvala (F2, Prema)
The Indian driver enters the most important season of his career. After two good years with Carlin (12th in 2020 and 7th in 2021), Daruvala joins the best Formula 2 team of the last two seasons, which is also his former F3 team. It will be his third season in the category, and he is meant to be the leader of Prema because of his experience.
This may be his last chance to prove himself worthy of Formula 1 and become the third Indian F1 driver in history. In 2020, Daruvala was denied an F1 promotion to AlphaTauri by his Carlin teammate Yuki Tsunoda. This year, the 23-year-old driver from Mumbai must beat Hauger to get a shot at an AlphaTauri seat.
Liam Lawson (F2, Carlin)
The Kiwi driver will also change teams this year, joining Carlin Racing. After delivering a solid rookie season (9th in the standings, third-best rookie behind Piastri and Pourchaire), Lawson will obviously aim for more in 2022. Carlin has showed in recent years they can win races and fight at the front, so the New Zealander should have something to say about the title fight.
After being denied the DTM title in a controversial finale, Lawson won’t return to the German championship. In Formula 2, he’ll have to fight his way to an F1 seat against both Prema drivers and his former teammate at Hitech. He may not be the favourite to join AlphaTauri next year, but Lawson showed in 2021 he has the speed to do it (pole position in Baku, victory in the opening race at Bahrain). He just needs to find a bit more consistency.
Jüri Vips (F2, Hitech GP)
The Estonian driver is one of the rare Red Bull juniors to stay with the same team as last year, coming back for a second full season with Hitech GP. Sixth in the standings last year, he’ll be the second highest-returning driver behind Théo Pourchaire, and just like the Frenchman, he’ll have the advantage to know his team for more than one year now.
But will it be enough to fight for the title? After a 2020 season totally ruined by the COVID pandemic, the 21-year-old once again had his run of bad luck last year, with many mechanical issues. He is a dark horse in the fight for the title but if he and his team manage to put everything together, his Red Bull Junior teammates could be surprised.
Ayumu Iwasa (F2, DAMS)
What a rise for the Japanese driver. Two years ago, Iwasa was getting ready for his maiden season in Europe in French Formula 4. After getting the title, he then joined Formula 3, finishing twelfth and as highest rookie driver coming from F4 (beating his Red Bull teammates as Crawford or Edgar). Now he is just one step away from Formula 1.
It may sound a bit early, as some would have preferred to see him doing a second season in F3 in order to get the title, but Red Bull and Honda chose otherwise. Unlike Hauger, Daruvala, Lawson and Vips, Iwasa’s target will not be the title but to learn as much as possible to fight for the title in 2023 or 2024. This is supposed to be a learning year for him, but the discreet Japanese driver could once again impress the world.
Jak Crawford (F3, Prema & FRAC, Abu Dhabi by Prema)
Jak Crawford will turn 17 only this year, but this will already be his second year in Formula 3. After a learning year with Hitech where he became the youngest ever driver to step up on a GP3/F3 podium, the American driver is joining Prema Racing, alongside Ferrari juniors Arthur Leclerc and Oliver Bearman.
That means Crawford follows the path of Hauger: a stellar year in ADAC/Italian Formula 4 with Van Amersfoort Racing, followed by a good season in F3 with Hitech with a single podium. So will Crawford also clinch the title with Prema Racing? As with Hauger last year, this may already be one of the most decisive seasons of Jak Crawford’s young career. To fully prepare for the battle he will take part in FRAC with Abu Dhabi by Prema.
Jonny Edgar (F3, Trident)
After winning ADAC Formula 4 in 2020, the British driver could have had a lot of expectations by joining Carlin in Formula 3. However, even though he scored 90 per cent of his team’s points, he only finished 18th in the standings and couldn’t prevent Carlin finishing last in the standings. However, the young Brit showed his potential on some races and that’s why he’s joining reigning team champions Trident.
After battling with Crawford in ADAC F4 for the title, we could well see a revival of this battle in F3 this year. Both Red Bull Juniors will be desperate to get that title and follow in the footsteps of Hauger. As is the case for Crawford, it’s a very decisive year for Edgar who needs to come back to the top step of the podium.
Isack Hadjar (F3 and FRAC, Hitech GP)
The young Frenchman is one of Red Bull’s latest recruits. Coming from Formula Regional Alpine (FRECA), Hadjar left an impression with Helmut Marko during the Monaco weekend where he stormed to his first pole position and then his first win. The evening after the race, Hadjar signed for Red Bull for the 2022 season. Some months later, he would be crowned rookie champion and 5th in the standings.
The 17-year-old Frenchman will join Hitech GP, as Crawford and Iwasa did last season. As it was for them, this is supposed to be a learning year before fighting for the title in 2023 in a top team. The most important task for Hadjar will be to progress throughout the year and maybe climb on some podiums at the end of the season. Before the start of the season, Hadjar will race several rounds in Formula Regional Asia with Hitech.
Noel León (FRECA, Arden)
Here’s another new Red Bull driver. The 17-year-old Mexican driver had been in contact with Red Bull for some time, first following his NACAM Formula 4 title in 2020. After winning the US F4 Championship last year, León will now step up to the Formula Regional level and will have his maiden season in Europe.
By joining Arden Motorsport (4th in the standings last year), the team managed by Christian Horner’s father Garry, León should have the opportunity to fight for points, podiums and even wins. Adapting to European motorsport can be hard for some, but León will surely follow the wise advice of his mentor Sergio Pérez.
Yuto Nomura and Souta Arao (French F4)
These young Japanese drivers, both 16 years old, won the Suzuka Racing School Scholarship last November, a tournament organized by former Formula 1 drivers Takuma Sato and Shinji Nakano. Following in the footsteps of Iwasa, the winner of the 2019 edition, Nomura and Arao will step up to French Formula 4 this year.
In 2020, Iwasa and Ren Sato dominated the championship. Can Nomura and Arao continue this tradition? One thing is certain: they face a lot of opposition with 2021’s runner-up Hugh Barter and junior champion Alessandro Giusti poised to return this year.
Arvid Lindblad (Karting and F4, Van Amersfoort Racing)
After another very successful year in karting, the British-Swedish 14-year-old is set to step up to KZ2 shifter karts. However, as he turns 15 in August, Red Bull has confirmed he’ll do a few single-seater races with Van Amersfoort Racing. Those will probably happen in Italian Formula 4 before he becomes a full-time F4 driver in 2023.
Header photo credit: Red Bull Content Pool