The question as to who are the best drivers currently not racing in Formula One is not an easy one to answer. Several variables and factors come into the equation. What series are they currently racing in? Are the circuits and cars comparable? Are they racing towards the tail end of their careers or just starting out on a journey that could lead them to F1 in the future?
I’m going to base my judgments on whom I think these drivers are based on their ability to mix it with the current crop. Therefore I’m ruling out drivers from America’s IRL series, many of whom are veterans of the sport and predominantly race on oval circuits. Likewise ChampCar, a series that is littered with names of past F1 failures such as Enrique Bernoldi and Antonio Pizzonia.
I am including in the list drivers who have experienced the thrill of driving a Formula 1 car, albeit not yet in race conditions.
There are already several names being linked to seats in F1 for next season. Sergey Sirotkin is a serious contender for the Sauber and not just because of the funding his father Oleg would bring with him from Russia’s National Institute of Aviation Technologies.
Sirotkin won the Italian based Formula Abarth championship in 2011 before moving to Auto GP with Euronova where he qualified on the front row on his debut and won the third round at Valencia. He now drives in the World Series by Renault.
Surely one of the most versatile drivers around, Andre Lotterer is ranked ninth overall in Autosport’s World Driver Rankings list having blossomed in the World Endurance Championships, Formula Nippon, 24 Hours of Le Mans and Spa 24 hours.
Since 2003, the German has never been lower than fifth in the Formula Nippon standings and won the event in 2011 along with his first of two 24 Hours of Le Mans victories. He currently leads the 2013 standings with two wins and a second place and is second in the World Endurance Championships with one victory coming at Spa.
And I'm sure many will be surprised when I say the great Tom Kristensen is also missing after his incredible ninth 24 Hours of Le Mans victory. This is purely because of his age and the fact that since 2009 he has mainly focused on endurance racing.
The son of legendary Formula One driver Alain, Nicolas Prost boasts an extremely impressive CV and could be the next son of a world champion to join the Formula One ranks.
Prost won the 2008 Euroseries for Bull Racing and won the Andros Trophy for Team Pilot in successive seasons in 2009/10 and 2010/11. He joined the Enstone stable for Lotus in 2010 when he tested at Magny-Cours and also drove in last year’s Abu Dhabi test and this year’s Silverstone test.
An adaptable and accomplished driver, Prost finished fourth in the 2012 24 Hours of Le Mans.
An experienced and genuinely fast driver, Heikki Kovalainen is a proven race winner with McLaren although he was outshone by teammate Lewis Hamilton at the time.
Having left McLaren for Team Lotus, now Caterham and performed admirably in one of the least competitive cars of the field. It is an unfortunate consequence of Formula One that some of the smaller teams are forced to prioritise finance over talent and the unfortunate Kovalainen was dropped for the 2013 season.
He was recently recalled for the Belgian Grand Prix and Italian Grand Prix practice sessions and told Sky Sports that he thinks there is a good chance of getting his drive back for 2014.
Anybody who wins the GP2 series simply has to be a serious contender for being one of the best drivers out there.
The list of winners from 2005 include Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton, Timo Glock, Nico Hulkenberg, Pastor Maldonado and Romain Grosjean. Valsecchi joined that accomplished list of names when he won the title last year. Not bad company eh?
The Italian was second quickest in the Abu Dhabi test of last season and also filled in for an unwell Kimi Raikkonen in Barcelona and was eighth quickest overall out of 33 drivers in last month’s Silverstone test.
Red Bull Racing rate the young Portuguese driver very highly indeed as he joined Red Bull’s junior programme half way through last season.
Da Costa finished third in the 2012 GP3 Series which he combined with driving in Formula Renault 3.5 for Arden Caterham where he outscored everyone in the second half of the season on his way to fourth in the drivers' standings.
He is currently fifth in the standings with a win and two second places and told Sky Sports that he hopes a strong finish to the season may net him his dream F1 drive.
I don't hide it - my goal is to be in Formula 1 next season, but this will only happen if I do a good job in World Series. So the goal at the moment is to focus on World Series. We need to raise our game there - things are ok but not magical - so we need to win a few races and maybe we will see if this step happens or not.
Since his life-threatening accident whilst driving a Skoda on the first stage of the Ronde di Andora Rally, Robert Kubica has been F1’s forgotten man. He suffered a partial amputation of his forearm, compound fractures to his right elbow, shoulder and leg, as well as significant loss of blood.
Before his accident, Kubica was being touted as a future world champion and but for that misfortune we may not have seen Kimi Raikkonen in the Lotus team.
Despite the severity of his injuries, Kubica’s recovery has been rapid and he returned to rallying at the Ronde Gomitolo Di Lana late last year, winning the event by over a minute.
He is currently driving for Citroen in the European and World Rally-2 Championships and guess what? He’s leading with three wins out of five rallies entered.
Will we see him behind the wheel of an F1 car again? I certainly hope so.