Every year in motorsport there is a heap of young drivers joining the entry level of single-seater racing, Formula 4, with the hope of one day fulfilling their dream of starting an F1 Grand Prix. This year has a number of interesting prospects from around the world that could, if they are fortunate enough, do exactly that. F1 Feeder Series analyses the prime candidates.
By Alexander Studenkov
Before we begin with the six names chosen, it is to be noted that this article is not a definitive prediction of who will reach Formula One. Each driver develops at a different rate to another; therefore, it is not a given that all drivers on this list will be able to achieve their big goal. Neither does it that mean that drivers who just missed the cut cannot still reach F1 in the future. Factors like funding and academy support are crucial to the progression of a talent and the different facets of the industry can hinder drivers from making their mark.
Andrea Kimi Antonelli – 15, Prema Racing (Italian/ADAC F4)
Starting off with the most well-known driver within the category, Kimi Antonelli has merited the attention through his domination of the Italian and German F4 series this season. From the start of his feeder series journey in 2021 it was evident that the man from Bologna, Italy, had an immense level of skill and great understanding of his machinery, which he has so far used to win 17 races this year, with him currently being on six victories in a row and counting in his domestic championship.
The talent first scouted by Ferrari in 2017 is in his fifth year of being a member of the Mercedes Junior Team, an academy, which has thus far brought each one of their drivers, namely Pascal Wehrlein, Esteban Ocon and the team’s current driver George Russell up to the main game, which will give Antonelli hope for his career’s future.
Alex Dunne – 16, US Racing (Italian F4); Hitech GP (British F4)
Alex Dunne is a name that has only recently shot to prominence through his British F4 performances, although people who had been more attentive would have kept an eye on him from the start of his F4 debut. After scoring a maiden pole as the lone car of Pinnacle Motorsport at the opening round of the Spanish F4 series, the Irishman switched to the German Championship mid-season, where he would score two podiums and a pair of pole positions.
This season has proved to be his breakthrough, as after two wins in F4 UAE he would take a heap of podiums in Italy whilst having to contend with rivals Prema being far ahead of all other teams. His biggest asset has been his level-headedness, which he has used to perfection in British F4, winning almost half of the races and leading the standings by a comfortable margin going into the second part of the season. With his father suggesting that Dunne would make the step to FIA Formula 3 in the coming year, the man from County Offaly has every chance to show himself off to the prying eyes of the F1 paddock.
Nikola Tsolov – 15, Campos Racing (Spanish F4)
Contrary to Dunne, Tsolov does not have to make his name any more known to the big names of the industry, as the Bulgarian youngster is a member of Alpine’s affiliated drivers. Added to that, he has a direct link to Alpine F1 driver and two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso through the Spaniard’s management scheme A14 Management, which has given Tsolov the chance to consult with the two-time world champion over his driving and the plans going forward.
Speaking of Tsolov’s driving, a very strong final year in karting, finishing fourth in the European Championship in spite of KR Motorsport’s dominance, has been followed up by what can only be described as an annihilation of the Spanish F4 grid. Two stalls from pole position that cost him victory at the opening round have been the only missed opportunities of a season in which the Bulgarian has taken nine wins – from just 12 races.
Rafael Câmara – 17, Prema Racing (Italian/ADAC F4)
Having become a member of the Ferrari Driver Academy at the end of last year, the Brazilian has been a driver always in contention for podiums and wins, even when starting from the back of the grid. Câmara has shown to possess a great level of speed and has the aptness to progress up the field in a short amount of time.
Being a rookie, Câmara has been on it since his debut in the UAE, where he took the runner-up spot in the championship despite missing the opening round due to Covid, and he now only sits behind Antonelli in the Italian and German F4 Championships. His results are impressive, but him being beaten convincingly by his Italian rival makes it difficult to fully assess his skill going forward.
Ugo Ugochukwu – 15, Carlin (British F4)
The only member of the McLaren Young Driver Programme, Ugochukwu participated in a packed testing programme during the winter in preparation for his debut in the British F4 Championship with Carlin, which would come on the day of his 15th birthday. A maiden pole position made the celebrations even sweeter, and the American with Nigerian roots has picked up six podiums so far this season, which include a win at the Brands Hatch Indy Circuit.
The 2020 European Junior Karting Champion has been particularly impressive during qualifying despite only picking up that sole pole, although his racecraft needs to be honed if he is to attain the heights of Formula One.
Hugh Barter – 16, Campos Racing (Spanish F4); French F4
Barter is a driver already seasoned by the standards of this list, as he took second place in the frantic three-way duel for the French F4 crown last season. Having considered a move to FRECA for 2022, the Japanese-born Aussie returned to France in hopes of winning the championship. This has, so far, been a merited decision, as Barter has built up a gap of 67 points after just three rounds, with his commanding performances in the feature races stealing the spotlight away from the rest of the grid.
He is also racing with Campos in the Spanish F4 series, although this has posed him more of a challenge: whilst Barter is entangled in a fight for second place overall, his rookie teammate Tsolov has created a virtually insurmountable gap to the Australian, which could play down his accomplishments in France. However, with no shortage of financial backing, it will be easier for him to progress through the different categories on the ladder, opening opportunities for Barter that others wouldn’t have.
Header photo credit: Prema Racing
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