By Jonathan Jones, a political researcher and F1 fan who writes about US politics for the New Statesman.
Max Verstappen has been setting the Formula One world alight since entering the sport at the tender age of 17 last year. Earlier this season, Mercedes’ protégé Esteban Ocon became only the tenth driver in history to start a Grand Prix before his 20th birthday.
No one will be able to beat Verstappen’s record as F1’s youngest driver: the FIA has changed the rules so that only those aged 18 or over will be able to obtain the necessary ‘Super Licence’. But there are a number of teenagers who are impressing in junior formulas and could well find their way onto the grid in the coming years.
The Canadian youngster has just dominated the European Formula 3 championship in only his third year out of go-karts, to add it to the Italian Formula 4 and Toyota Racing Series titles he secured in the previous two years. Stroll became eligible for a Super Licence when he turned 18 over the weekend, and looks almost certain to enter F1 next year with Williams. Lance’s father Lawrence is a fashion billionaire, meaning the teenager brings the combination of talent and money Williams need.
The 19-year-old Monegasque driver was signed to Ferrari’s ‘Driver Academy’ in March, and has participated in three Grand Prix practice sessions for the Haas F1 team so far this season. He’s leading the GP3 championship with just two races to go, and had been tipped to race for Haas in F1 next year, but team principal Gunther Steiner has ruled that out, calling Leclerc ‘too inexperienced’. Few doubt that he’ll get the chance soon, though.
Swiss driver Louis Delétraz entered single-seater racing back in 2012, aged 15. He won the Formula Renault 2.0’s Northern Europe championship at his third attempt last year, before graduating to the Formula V8 3.5 series this season. He took the championship lead last weekend, with one race left to go. Earlier this year, Renault added the 19-year-old to its stable of young drivers, which could pave the way to an F1 drive in the not-too-distant future.
Competing against Lance Stroll in F3 this year has been one of Britain’s most promising young drivers: Callum Ilott. 17-year-old Ilott had been part of the Red Bull Junior Team that has given us Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, but was dropped after failing to meet their high expectations in his first season in F3 last year. But this year he upped his game, winning two races on his way to sixth in the championship. It’s not Verstappen-level stuff yet, but Ilott’s certainly caught a few eyes – and has his own fixed on getting into F1.
One rung further down the ladder we find another British teenager who’s impressing many in the F1 paddock. He took over from Lance Stroll as Toyota Racing Series champion in 2015, before adding two Formula Renault 2.0 titles to his collection this year: the Northern-European championship and the Eurocup. He also found the time to compete in four British F3 races, winning four of them, and got his first taste of European F3 last month. He’ll have another chance to demonstrate his talent at F3’s Macau Grand Prix later this month, where he’ll be up against, among others, Callum Ilott.
After successfully bringing Max Verstappen into F1, Red Bull have found another young Dutch talent to nurture: they added 15-year-old Richard Verschoor to their Junior Team in May. And so far, their faith in Verschoor looks well-placed. He’s dominated not one but two F4 championships this year, winning 11 of the 20 races in the Northern Europe series and 17 out of 20 in the Spanish series. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him in F3 next year, or in a Toro Rosso F1 car before long.
Could the son of the seven-time World Champion emulate his father’s success? Of course, that’s a huge ask, but there are signs that Mick Schumacher has inherited at least a portion of Michael’s talent. Age 17, Mick finished second in both the German and Italian F4 championships this year, winning ten races across the two series. He’s planning to compete in European F3 next season, probably with the Prema team that has produced the last five champions, including Lance Stroll. Mick was a guest of two of his dad’s old teams – Ferrari and Mercedes – at the German Grand Prix in July. Who knows? The Schumacher name might return to Formula One soon.