Badger GP’s newest scribe, Hayley Turner, took the opportunity to look at this year’s rookies already making headlines since stepping up into F1.
While all eyes were on Lewis Hamilton and his heartbreaking attempt to bring it home at the British GP to break yet another record at Silverstone, I spent some time in the paddock of F1’s feeder series, Formula 2. Not only did I witness future Badger GP’s TOP DOG nominees in action, I saw some of the most recent F2 graduates making their mark in the world of F1.
They’re called the stars of tomorrow and #FerrucciExcuses aside it has to be said that some of the support races have had even more action than Haas F1 driver Romain Grosjean’s season so far. While most fans flocked to the British GP for all the F1 action I was lucky enough to watch the rising stars in action close up. I might not have predicted the 30-degree heat at Silverstone but I will put it out there and say that it might not be long before our solo-Brit Hamilton is joined by a trio of F2 (previously called GP2) compatriots. George Russell, Jack Aitkin and Lando Norris are already reserve drivers for big F1 teams so could a championship win in the feeder series secure them a F1 seat next year?
The reality is stepping up into F1 isn’t as easy as winning the F2 championship for our young British drivers and it must be frustrating waiting for that phone call to hear the words, you’re in. Of course I’m being biased focusing on the Brits and I should mention that other F2 drivers are available. In fact Lady Luck was certainly on side for three talented F2 graduates this season due to driver retirements, dismissals and switches at the end of 2017. So in a sideways nod to our TOP DOG award it’s time to meet the excited puppies already starting to mark their territory.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the 2018 F1 Rookie of the Year is Charles Leclerc. Almost every race weekend I’m in disbelief to see Sauber not only being consistent on track, but also leading Williams in the constructor’s championship and trailing Toro Rosso by only three points. Undeniably last year’s F2 Champion has outperformed his more experienced teammate Marcus Ericsson in seven out of 10 races. It may be silly season up and down the F1 paddock as we fast approach the summer break and it might be an unpopular and controversial decision for Finn fans, but I would love to see Leclerc step up to Ferrari. This young talent would not only be challenging his potential teammate Vettel for the win, but also the two Mercedes and Red Bull Racing drivers. How exciting would that be for 2019? To sound like Eddie Jordan in his British GP feature, in my opinion, absolutely!
His name was floating around the F1 paddock long before joining the elite racing grid and his boss describes him as someone who’s driven 100 Grand Prix. Pierre Gasly was crowned the youngest and final GP2 Champion before its official name change in 2017 and he’s been showing some of F1’s top dogs some new tricks. Not only has the Frenchman featured in Q3 during qualifying in his first full season in F1, but he also crossed the line in fourth place at the second race of 2018 in only his seventh Grand Prix start with a textbook performance. If that isn’t enough to make F1 stand to attention, Gasly tops his two fellow F2 rookies in the driver’s standing and has an impressive 17 points leads over his F1 novice teammate and 24 Hours of Le Mans Champion, Brendon Hartley. At 22 years old Gasly is certainly proving the theory that those that love their jobs do them the best.
Sergey Sirotkin is only the third Russian driver to compete in F1 and was considered to be the surprise pick of the season for Williams. He’s the rookie having the toughest start to the season and the pressure is well and truly on him to score his first point. Especially since it’s the first time in nine years that a team has no Grand Prix winner in its driver line-up. With only two DNFs compared to Gasly’s three, Sirotkin’s best race finish so far has been in Austria where despite being two laps down he came home in 13th place. With a difficult season for the Grove based team, it’s easy to forget how talented the Russian is. But did you know he finished as the highest-place rookie in his maiden F2 campaign (2015) racking up a race victory and five podium places?