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Identifying the Future World Champions on the F1 Grid in 2014

Oliver HardenFeatured ColumnistJanuary 12, 2017

Identifying the Future World Champions on the F1 Grid in 2014

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    Andrew Brownbill/Associated Press

    Despite the arrival of so-called "pay drivers" in recent years, Formula One's talent pool is arguably richer than it has ever been this season.

    The 2014 grid contains five world champions—Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button—who have a grand total of nine titles between them. 

    But there are plenty of drivers who are world champion in all but name.

    Among those are new kids on the block. Some have waited an extended period of time to be handed title-winning machinery, while for others the car might never arrive despite their class.

    Here are the magnificent seven who could reach the very top of F1 in the near future.

Nico Rosberg

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    Clive Mason/Getty Images

    It almost seems cruel to include Nico Rosberg on this list when he has played such an integral role in a fascinating 2014 title battle.

    And with an 11-point lead over Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton at the top of the drivers' standings with eight races remaining, the German is on course to join the elite sooner than any other driver featured here.

    If Rosberg is to win a world championship, however, he will probably have to do it this year.

    Despite taking four victories and six poles in 2014, all in assured fashion, doubts remain over his true standing alongside the leading drivers on the current grid.

    If we are to presume that Ferrari and Red Bull, to name two teams, will close the gap to the dominant Mercedes outfit over the next few years, how would Rosberg measure on a level playing field against the likes of Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel, for example, as well as Hamilton?

    This season might not just be Rosberg's best chance of becoming world champion—it could be his only chance. 

Daniel Ricciardo

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    Lars Baron/Getty Images

    When a driver strolls into Formula One's leading team and makes a mockery of a four-time world champion on a weekly basis, as Daniel Ricciardo has done in 2014, the "future world champion" tag is hard to avoid.

    The Australian's performances alongside Sebastian Vettel have been impressive enough, with Ricciardo recording two grand prix victories while the German has settled for a couple of podium finishes.

    But it is the rate of his development that suggests Ricciardo will go on to win the title in the coming years.

    He has looked at ease from the moment he qualified a surprise second at his home race, and as that confidence has grown Ricciardo has become ever more ruthless, adding more and more weapons to his armoury.

    Those wonderful wins in Canada and Hungary were perfect examples of a driver taking full advantage of opportunities, made all the more impressive when you consider that 2014, due to the dominance of Mercedes, has been a season in which opportunities have been scarce.

    The true test of Ricciardo's credentials will arrive when Vettel finds his feet with the new-spec cars and embarks upon a run of blistering form, but for now the future looks bright for the 25-year-old.

Valtteri Bottas

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    Mark Thompson/Getty Images

    Valtteri Bottas' potential was clear as long ago as the day he was announced as a Williams driver, with team principal Sir Frank Williams telling BBC Sport's Andrew Benson that he was "one of the most talented young racing drivers we have ever come across."

    As a man who has employed the likes of Nelson Piquet, Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna in years gone by, Williams certainly knows a talented racing driver when he sees one.

    Although it took some time for Williams' claim to be justified, Bottas has proved his boss correct this season with three podium finishes.

    The 24-year-old, already the team's lead driver in just his second season, combines consistency with supreme speed, but it his calm persona—most evident when he resisted the charges of Lewis Hamilton in the latter stages of the German Grand Prix—that suggests he could go all the way.

Daniil Kvyat

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    Peter Fox/Getty Images

    When he crossed the line to take ninth place in this season's Australian Grand Prix, Daniil Kvyat, a month shy of his 20th birthday, became the youngest driver to score a point in Formula One history.

    The last driver to break that record? Sebastian Vettel.

    With Red Bull's support, there is every chance that Kvyat could follow in the footsteps of Vettel, graduating from the Toro Rosso team to the main outfit and becoming an instant success.

    The Russian rookie has measured handsomely against current teammate Jean-Eric Vergne, who is now halfway through his third season in F1—a reflection of Kvyat's striking levels of maturity.

    There have, of course, been a few mistakes and instances of poor judgement, although it is worth remembering that Vettel remained error-prone until the day he secured his first world title in 2010.

    If Kvyat if this impressive in year one, just imagine how great he will be in two or three years' time.

Nico Hulkenberg

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    Eugene Hoshiko/Associated Press

    There is little doubt that Nico Hulkenberg possesses the talent required to become a world champion.

    The German's knack of consistently outperforming his Williams, Sauber and Force India cars in each of his four seasons of Formula One justify that claim.

    But whether he will ever find himself in a car that matches his abilities, though, is another matter entirely.

    Hulkenberg will later this month celebrate his 27th birthday, worrying in an era when first-time world champions are becoming ever younger (the record for the youngest ever title winner has been broken by three drivers in the last decade).

    If, despite maintaining his stunning form, Hulkenberg is not snapped up by a leading team within the next two or three years, it will be safe to assume that the ship has sailed.

    And what a shame it would be for both the driver and F1 itself.

Kevin Magnussen

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    Mark Thompson/Getty Images

    Kevin Magnussen's comfortable podium finish in his debut race in Australia suggested that he is destined for great things.

    And although he has failed to maintain that season-opening momentum—finishing ahead of world champion teammate Jenson Button on only one occasion in the following 10 grands prix—Magnussen, at just 21 years old, should have plenty of time to rediscover it and stamp his authority.

    The direction of Magnussen's career over the next couple of seasons will be crucial to his future championship prospects, with the Dane still not certain to remain with McLaren beyond the current campaign.

    If he does receive the vote of confidence that is a contract renewal, however, Magnussen will grow significantly as a Formula One driver and race wins will soon be on the horizon.  

Jules Bianchi

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    Mark Thompson/Getty Images

    Could Jules Bianchi be Ferrari's next world champion?

    Fernando Alonso might have something to say about that, but it is a possibility if—as now widely expected—Bianchi, a Ferrari junior driver, races for the Prancing Horse from 2016.

    The Frenchman, due to his performances at Marussia since 2013, has proved to be far too talented for a minnow team.

    It is, however, unclear just how successfully Bianchi would adapt both on-track and psychologically to the very different challenges of representing for a leading, iconic outfit.

    That is, of course, if Ferrari have rediscovered their stride by then.

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