New Faces: Ten Drivers Who Deserve an F1 Break
Three new teams are set to appear on the F1 grid in 2010, and with a number of current Formula One drivers nearing the end of their careers, there are more opportunities for aspiring young superstars to get onto the grid than there have been for a long time.
In addition to this, the rise of several prominent junior formula such as GP2, the Renault World Series and this year's new Formula Two championship means that there are plenty of places where Formula One wannabes can demonstrate their talent and, potentially, catch the eye of a team principal or two.
This article highlights ten of the most deserving drivers who could be poised for a break into Formula One in 2010.
In order to be eligible for the list, drivers must not have raced in F1 before, though they could have tested an F1 car at some stage—therefore Giorgio Pantano, for example, is excluded, though he probably wouldn't have made the top ten anyway.
10. Jonathan Summerton
Best known for his contribution to the efforts of Team USA in the A1 Grand Prix series, Summerton has been a name strongly linked with the new USF1 outfit set to join the Grand Prix grid in 2010.
The reason Summerton stands out against a whole host of American talent is that he has prodigious experience in European-style circuit racing, rather than on the ovals or rather different road courses that are more popular among race series in the USA.
Summerton raced in Formula BMW in the USA and then on the international stage before joining the Formula Three Euro Series in 2006. There he was a race winner, finishing ninth in the championship.
In 2007 and 2008 he was a solid figure in A1GP, eventually capturing the USA's first win in Shanghai. Since then he has returned Stateside, racing in the Atlantic Championship and the Indy Lights series with some success.
Summerton's promise shown on the circuits of the world with F3 and A1GP highlight his talent, and USF1 could do far worse than recruit him for their inaugural campaign next season.
At 21, he still has much to learn, but in an era where F1 drivers are seen as more of a long-term investment than a vehicle for immediate success, that may not be a bad thing.
9. Brendon Hartley
Though he may resemble a member of a 1990s one-hit-wonder pop trio than a racing driver, New Zealander Brendon Hartley has enough about him to have already been promoted to an F1 test seat by Red Bull Racing.
The 19-year-old Kiwi will leave this "reserve driver" role for the German Grand Prix, but with this year's F1 testing ban it is little more than a nominal function anyway.
Hartley races in the Formula Three Euro Series, his second year in the category after competing in eight races last year. He had two top-eight finishes, but was ineligible to score points.
As well as his Euro Series experience, Hartley also finished third in the British Formula Three championship in 2008 and won the Formula Renault Eurocup in 2007. Given his age, these are remarkable achievements.
Hartley's continuing backing by Red Bull gives him a very good chance of rising to the pinnacle of motorsport in the very near future.
8. Bruno Senna
With a name like his and an excellent record in GP2, it is perhaps surprising that Bruno Senna ranks only eighth on this list. But the Brazilian, while undoubtedly talented, has been left with minimal racing opportunities this year and thus may be a little rusty when he returns to racing in 2010.
Senna was all set to replace Rubens Barrichello at Honda for this year's F1 season, until the Japanese manufacturer withdrew and Ross Brawn chose to keep the elder Brazilian at the team this season.
That left Senna without a race seat, and his refusal to return to the GP2 category where he had finished as runner-up in 2008—combined with an inability to negotiate a contract with Mercedes for the DTM championship—left him on the sidelines for most of 2009, though he has appeared in the Le Mans series, including the 24 Heures du Mans in June.
Senna's name, forever entwined with that of his uncle who won three F1 world championships before his premature death in 1994, is a marketing dream, and it is for this reason that he cannot write off his future Formula One chances.
Whether he has the talent to make the most of these opportunities is an open question, and one that will surely be answered in the coming years.
7. Alvaro Parente
Languishing in the lower ranks of this year's GP2 championship with the uncompetitive Ocean Racing Technology team, Alvaro Parente is already an almost-forgotten name in the competitive single-seater world.
But the Portuguese racer, who won the British Formula Three championship in 2005 and the Renault World Series in 2007, is still very much deserving of a chance at the top.
He won in GP2 on his first attempt, at the opening round of last year's championship in Valencia, though he failed to emulate that form over the rest of the season and ended up eighth in the championship.
Parente was also a consistent scorer for Team Portugal in the inaugural A1GP season, scoring two podiums and taking the team to ninth overall.
Though he may be overlooked in favor of younger, more fashionable names, Parente's is a record that deserves a look by F1 team principals up and down the grid.
6. Paul di Resta
The image, to save you wondering, is neither of this talented Scotsman nor of his current DTM car—but the inability of Getty Images to find any pictures of Paul di Resta is no testament to his incredible ability.
Di Resta's inaugural season in the German touring car championship in 2007 would have raised eyebrows worldwide, had his achievement not been overshadowed by a certain other British driver performing almost as well in a Mercedes-backed Formula One car.
In a two-year-old car, di Resta scored two podiums in his first three races and went on to finish fifth in the championship, higher than any other driver in equally antiquated machinery. The following year he won two races to finish second.
Di Resta has long been linked with a move to Formula One, his brilliance not having been ignored by Mercedes motorsport director Norbert Haug. But a similar F1 promise from Mercedes to 2005 DTM champion Gary Paffett never materialized, so an F1 move is not a sure thing yet for this young driver.
The cousin of Indy 500 winner and IRL champion Dario Franchitti, di Resta is not short of family links to motorsport, so his future certainly looks bright.
5. Lucas di Grassi
A Renault prodigy, di Grassi has been making waves ever since he first moved to GP2 in 2006. Though his first year in the category was uninspiring, the following year he experienced something of a revelation and chased Timo Glock hard for the championship, eventually coming home as runner-up.
And though the 2008 GP2 title was fought between Bruno Senna and Giorgio Pantano, di Grassi was undoubtedly the star of the season, managing three wins and third overall despite having missed the first six races of the season. Had he competed for the whole year, it is almost certain that he would have won the championship.
Di Grassi has tested for Renault in the past, making him a potential candidate to replace either Fernando Alonso or Nelson Piquet, both of whom are not yet certain to remain at the French team in 2010.
Certainly di Grassi's talent and potential ensure he's well-placed for a shot at F1.
4. Adam Carroll
Though A1GP is often criticized for a perceived lack of driver ability, certainly in recent years it has provided excellent competition and top-quality racing, and to rise to the very top of this category is a lot harder than it may seem.
With that in mind, Adam Carroll's hard-fought championship victory with Team Ireland last year was thoroughly deserved, an excellent achievement for the Ulsterman whose talent had unfortunately been squandered in recent years.
An excellent showing for Carroll in GP2 in 2005 was "rewarded" with a seat at the uncompetitive Racing Engineering team, with a handful of podiums and eighth overall scant reward for his superb trio of victories, and fifth place, the previous year.
Chronic underfunding has dogged Carroll throughout his career, so it was gratifying to see him given a chance to underline his talent by delivering popular victories for Ireland in A1GP.
Carroll was previously a member of the Honda young driver program, removing himself in 2006 after deciding that there were insufficient F1 opportunities for him.
Now, with new teams looking for talent and single-seater experience, Carroll may be on hand to finally deliver in F1.
3. Robert Wickens
Having impressed for A1 Team Canada and now doing a fine job in Formula Two, Robert Wickens is one of the more promising prospects on the USF1 shortlist for 2010.
Wickens has rarely completed a full season in any one category since winning the Formula BMW USA title in 2006, though he has impressed in all of the series he has raced in since then.
Wins in Champ Car Atlantic, A1GP, the Renault World Series and the Formula Three Euro Series in the last couple of years have shown that he has the talent to deliver, whatever car he is driving.
A dominant weekend in the opening round of this year's Formula Two championship demonstrated his talent, though bad luck has hampered his efforts to match this form in further races.
If USF1 are prepared to recruit a driver from north of the border to spearhead their 2010 efforts, then Robert Wickens is surely one of the best signings they could make.
2. Nico Hulkenberg
Williams tester Nico Hulkenberg has been tipped as a future F1 star ever since he dominated the 2006/7 A1GP campaign with Team Germany, his nine wins in the category a record until Neel Jani—who has had far more than one season to accumulate victories—surpassed it last year.
Hulkenberg now tests for Williams, and could be tipped to replace Nico Rosberg, who has threatened to leave the team at the end of the year if he is not given a winning car.
No such delusions of grandeur appear to have affected Hulkenberg so far, and he will be grateful for the F1 opportunity from Frank Williams and Patrick Head, who have shown themselves as excellent judges of talent in previous years.
An excellent showing in last year's GP2 Asia series, where he finished sixth overall despite contesting only four of the twelve races, combined with last year's F3 Euro Series title to make Hulkenberg an excellent prospect for the future.
This is a name we will almost certainly see in Formula One very soon.
1. Romain Grosjean
Top spot on our list goes to Swiss-born French talent Romain Grosjean, who—as a Frenchman testing for a French F1 team—could well be seen driving a Renault next season.
Grosjean has been among the top runners in GP2 since his entry to the series in 2008; two race wins and fourth overall last year in the main series, followed by four wins and the title in the GP2 Asia category.
This year he leads the GP2 championship as the title race nears half-distance; Flavio Briatore will certainly be happy at the prospect of allowing this superstar in the making to drive one of his cars in 2010.
Of all the young drivers who look set to enter F1 next year, there is little doubt that Grosjean is the most deserving.