Formula 1: The key problem with the young driver system

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Christian Lundgaard, Formula 2, Formula 1

Christian Lundgaard, ART Grand Prix, Formula 2 (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

What happens when you combine a surplus of talent with a severe shortage of opportunities? Formula 1 has troubles within its young driver programs.

Currently, among the 10 teams on the Formula 1 grid, seven actively operate Young Drivers’ Academies. These programs currently range from a single member within the lowest-ranks of formula racing (McLaren) to rosters of up to 10 talented young racers tied into the Ferrari and Red Bull Academies.

With a total of 41 talented individuals across these academies, there is inevitably enough talent to inhabit a handful of seats across Formula 1 within the next three years, but that remains unlikely to occur because of the backlog which plagues the sport and stains the hopes of upcoming drivers.

With only 20 seats available across the entirety of the sport, Formula 1 is undoubtedly the single most competitive pinnacle of sport across the globe in terms of an individual simply getting a first chance to showcase talent.

This means when a bona fide centerpiece of the sport such as Fernando Alonso returns to take one seat for his own, there is only a further excess of demand to supply within the driver market.

Selection criteria of teams for young drivers then skews further towards financial backing rather than solely on on-track performance, and it becomes an unavoidable topic of discussion within the motorsport community as a whole.

This growing cyst on the beauty of the sport has culminated into the “benching” of one of the single most talented junior drivers to compete in the junior formula categories in recent years. From 2019 to 2021, Alpine Academy driver Oscar Piastri achieved a treble of junior championships in Formula Renault, Formula 3, and Formula 2.

Most impressive of all, Piastri won the Formula 3 & Formula 2 championships in his rookie campaigns, first with a three-point advantage over Theo Pourchaire followed by a simply dominant Formula 2 season which saw him win the championship with a 60.5-point advantage over Prema Racing teammate Robert Schwartzman.

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