The Red Bull Junior Team has the reputation of being the most efficient F1 young driver program, delivering multiple grand prix winners and of course the reigning F1 double champion Max Verstappen. However, despite high expectations in 2022 with many F2 drivers that had a chance to be promoted to F1, Red Bull and Alpha Tauri made the choice to sign former Mercedes reserve driver Nyck de Vries to replace Pierre Gasly. Will 2023 be different?
By Perceval Wolff
By signing Nyck de Vries, Red Bull decided not to trust their junior drivers engaged in F2, signalling that they did not believe that they were ready for the big step to the pinnacle of motorsport. However, as Yuki Tsunoda enters his third F1 season, he is expected to show some strong progress in order to keep his seat for 2024 and beyond. If he doesn’t convince Helmut Marko that he is worthy, then one of these Red Bull Juniors could have a shot to F1…
Liam Lawson (Super Formula, Mugen)
After finishing third in his second F2 season, the 20-year-old Kiwi was not considered ready enough for F1. His four wins made him the second most successful driver of the field behind Drugovich, but they were all clinched in sprint races. Similar to someone like Théo Pourchaire, he had some struggles in qualification which prevented him from aiming for more.
In 2023, Lawson will be facing the biggest challenge of his career. Being sent to the competitive Super Formula, he will have to discover a car closer to F1 than the F2 was, as well as new tracks, new working methods, and a new culture. The objective will surely be for him to learn as quickly as possible, in the same way as Pierre Gasly did in 2017.
The Frenchman hadn’t convinced Red Bull after two years in GP2 that he was ready for F1, but he achieved this in Japan by winning races and fighting for the title, losing out by only half a point to Hiroaki Ishiura. If Lawson wants to keep his F1 hopes alive, this will definitely be his model for this season.
Ayumu Iwasa (F2, DAMS)
Could a Japanese driver take the place of another one? Supported by Honda and Red Bull, the 21-year-old Japanese had a meteoric rise through the ranks of the feeder series ladder. But 2022 has undoubtedly been a breakthrough year for Iwasa. Despite joining DAMS, who have come eighth in the teams’ championships in the previous two seasons, he has led them to podiums, pole positions and two wins at Paul Ricard and Yas Marina.
But to surprise everyone in a rookie campaign where expectations are low is much easier than replicating it the year later. This will be the target for Iwasa in 2023, who will be returning with DAMS, a team that has not won the drivers’ championship since 2014. If he manages to improve and fight for the title, he could well become the 19th Japanese driver in F1 history.
Dennis Hauger (F2, MP)
Were we expecting too much from Dennis Hauger last year? Possibly. After crushing the FIA F3 field in 2021, the Norwegian was keen to follow the successful campaigns of Robert Shwartzman and Oscar Piastri, the other F3 champions that also joined Prema in F2 the year following their title. Tenth in the standings, the 19-year-old has shown some great performances, such as his superb win at Baku. But these moments were too rare, as he didn’t score any points in six rounds.
By joining reigning teams’ and drivers’ champions MP Motorsport, Hauger will keep the #1 on his car. With more experience, he now must find some consistency to fight for the title. This could be an all-or-nothing season for the Norwegian, who could become the first F1 driver from his country if he meets success this year. This season will also be interesting to see if the Dutch squad can continue its winning streak with drivers other than Felipe Drugovich.
Isack Hadjar (F2, Hitech)
The 18-year-old Frenchman of Algerian descent was one of the biggest surprises of the FIA F3 season. For his rookie season, in the Hitech team that struggled to fight for top positions with Hauger in 2020 or Iwasa in 2021, this year was supposed to be a learning year. It clearly turned out to be much more, as Hadjar fought for the title until the last race and led the championship with superb drives, the most dominant one being on Red Bull soil, in Austria.
By joining Hitech in Formula 2, Hadjar will surely be one to watch, as he will drive in a team where he is comfortable. Just as was true of his F3 campaign, he is not expected to win the title in his rookie season, since Hitech have never fought for the championship despite being one of the quickest but also most inconsistent teams. Could Hadjar surprise us one more time?
Zane Maloney (F2, Carlin)
The Boy from Barbados was one of the biggest feeder series stars not yet signed by an F1 junior team in 2022. Following an amazing charge at the end of his rookie F3 campaign that nearly awarded him the title, Zane Maloney got signed by the Red Bull Junior Team during the winter. Winning the three last feature races in a row was probably the most impressive achievement of his young career.
At only 19 years old, Maloney now has a realistic opportunity to go to F1 in the short-term future. At Carlin, he will hope to reproduce the same kind of season that another rookie had last year: Logan Sargeant, who then went on joining Williams F1. Compared to some other rookies, he will have the advantage of already knowing the car a little, as he completed the final F2 round at Yas Marina last year for Trident.
Enzo Fittipaldi (F2, Carlin)
The year 2022 was one of redemption for Enzo Fittipaldi. After parting ways with the Ferrari Driver Academy and undergoing brain surgery for his dramatic accident at Jeddah the year before, it was difficult to imagine Fittipaldi where he is now. The Brazilian-American had a stellar season with one of the smallest teams, Charouz Racing System, managing to finish eighth in the standings with six podiums and strong consistency. As with Maloney, he is a new recruit of the Red Bull Junior Team.
With Carlin, the 21-year-old driver is now expected to fight for the title. He will have to dominate his younger and less experienced teammate Zane Maloney, in an all-Red Bull line-up that looks to be very exciting. We will also see if Fittipaldi can progress in the series and achieve poles and wins, to demonstrate that he has the special quality that makes drivers F1-worthy.
Jak Crawford (F2 & FRMEC, Hitech)
Alongside Ollie Bearman, Jak Crawford will be one of the youngest drivers of F2 this year. At only 17 years of age, the American had a good sophomore F3 season with Prema… but he was surely expecting and was hoping to follow the footsteps of Dennis Hauger, who was crowned F3 champion in his second year with Prema. Seventh in the standings, Crawford has not shined as much as Hadjar or Maloney in F3.
There is now less pressure on him compared with Hadjar or Maloney, who impressed everyone last year. Without this pressure, he could feel himself freed and more able to focus on driving, while the status of being a favourite in 2022 may have overwhelmed him a little. Crawford is still very young and keeps a great potential for improvement.
Sebastián Montoya (FIA F3 & FRMEC, Hitech)
The son of Juan Pablo Montoya definitely had a breakthrough year last season, with three poles and two feature race wins in the three rounds of Formula Regional Asia he did, against some very strong opposition (including Hadjar). The FRECA campaign was less successful, especially after being announced as a Red Bull athlete, where he disappeared from the points.
However, his strong performance at Zandvoort in his maiden round in FIA F3 showed his raw speed and potential. He will have a very fast rookie alongside him at Hitech in F3, partnering FRECA runner-up Gabriele Minì. The Colombian-American will be keen to reproduce Hadjar’s success with the British team, but the most reasonable expectation is to see a learning year from him, with maybe some podiums towards the end of the year.
Souta Arao (GB3, Hitech)
GB3 was probably one of the most unexpected destinations for a Red Bull-Honda Junior driver coming from French F4. Third in the series for his maiden season in Europe, the Japanese driver is now stepping up to GB3, where he will have to team up with the title favourite Alex Dunne.
Arao managed to adapt himself very quickly to European racing, with strong results from day one, but struggled to show any significant progress from there. Racing in Great Britain, he will now face a new challenge of adaptation and discovery.
Arvid Lindblad (Italian F4, Prema & F4 UAE, Hitech)
The 15-year-old British-Swedish driver will have his first full season in single-seaters. After a 2022 season shared between direct-drive karts, shifter-karts and F4, Lindblad is committing to the next step of his career. After collecting 12 points in his first three rounds of Italian F4, he now aims for more.
Currently engaged in F4 UAE with Hitech, the Red Bull protégé has already won his first F4 race at Dubai in the opening round. Currently second in the standings, he will hope to challenge the Prema and Mumbai Falcons drivers for the UAE title before joining them to fight for the Italian F4 title. His highly rated teammates, including Ugo Ugochukwu and Tuukka Taponen, will do everything to prevent the Red Bull junior driver from capturing this prestigious crown.
Enzo Deligny (Spanish F4, Campos)
While Maloney, Fittipaldi and Montoya were already announced during the winter, this was the main announcement of the day. Following an impressive maiden season in the OK category in karting, 14-year-old Frenchman Enzo Deligny will be joining the Red Bull Junior Team, as well as Campos in Spanish F4.
The single-seaters debuts of the China-born teenager are expected, following some impressive post-season testing in Spanish F4. Despite only just discovering the car, he managed to set the fastest times on different tracks, under dry or wet conditions. Advised to sign Deligny by their reigning champion Nikola Tsolov, Campos would be eager to reproduce the same kind of success with the Frenchman.
Enzo Tarnvanichkul (Karting)
At only 13 years old, Enzo Tarnvanichkul will be the youngest member of the Red Bull Junior Team. The reigning OK-Junior World Karting champion will now go to the higher category in OK this year. He will hope to meet the same success as in the OK-J category, before eventually stepping up to single-seaters in 2024 or 2025.
Header image credit: Red Bull Content Pool
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