Formula One’s Next Big Stars

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March 12, 2017 10:12 pm

F1 has taken a step into a new direction and some new names will now grace the sport and some new names will take center stage.
And this is evident from the fact that right now F1 is going through a generation change with Max Verstappen, Sainz, Wehrlein all carving out a name for themselves. Ocon has also found a spot for himself with the Force India on merit. Vandoorne will also grace the sport full time and Lance Stroll will pair Massa.

So with new faces that we’ll see, let’s take a look at the names that have the potential of being the next big thing at F1.

MAX VERSTAPPEN

Barely 19, the young Dutch has already carved a name for himself during his one and a half-year-old Formula One career with a win and four podiums to date. Turning the Wheels of an F1 car at the age of 17, it was clear the boy was destined to break records. He dutifully did
so by becoming the youngest ever driver followed by point scorer and the latest being a winner. Verstappen entered the scene with loads of expectation, and the kid with his immense self-belief and maturity raised a lot of eyebrows. Rated by Red Bull as once in a decade kind of talent, the boy wonder lived up to his name with his ballsy overtakes and fierce defending. Who can forget his side by side battle with Felipe Nasr through Blanchimont or wet weather masterclass in Brasil?

As much popular he has been on track, his off track gusto whether it is defending himself against critics or current drivers, Verstappen has clearly shown he’ll back out against no one.

However, his greatest suit is the psychological battle he draws his opponents into, traits which were last seen in the great Late Ayrton Senna as pointed out by Pundits. Dubbed as the next Senna, the youngster is on the rise both on track and off it as the large swarm of Orange-clad fans who flocked to Spa-Francorchamps to witness the Verstappen mania indicates his ever growing popularity.

At the helm of a Red Bull now, the teenager is poised for the next achievement that is being Formula One’s next big star.

STOFFEL VANDOORNE

Jenson Button has bowed out of F1 and in came Vandoorne. And he is a great talent, something he has proved with his point scoring run at Bahrain this year. But how good actually he is?

Vandoorne started his career a little late but from there went on to dominate every category he raced in. Moving to single seaters in 2010 at the F4 Eurocup series, he won in his rookie year taking 6 wins in the process. In 2012, he beat the Red Bull-backed Kvyat to the title in the Eurocup Formula Renault series.

For 2013 he joined McLaren’s Young Driver program who funded his and fellow McLaren Young Driver Magnussen’s season in Formula Renault. The duo finished the season 1-2 with Kevin emerging on top.

Moving straightway to GP2 in 2014, the young Belgian scored 4 wins and 4 poles to finish runner-up and converted it into a championship in 2015 in an utterly dominant fashion. But what separates him from the others is his ability to judge the timings of his attacks and defenses while monitoring his tire degradation that verges on wizardry.

In Bahrain as well without any experience of the car, drafted in with less than a day’s notice and flying in from Japan, he spent the practice sessions getting attuned. And put all the pieces together perfectly at the high-pressure moment of delivery in qualifying. He not only out-qualified ex-world champion Jenson Button on his debut but also pointed out a car trait that trapped it in a certain set-up window. This analysis informed the operation of the car at subsequent races.

Rob Wilson, the renowned driver coach who has worked with many of the greats over the last couple of decades, reckons Vandoorne has the best car control of anyone he has ever seen. This ability to bring a car back from the brink forms the reserves of control behind the confident speed.

This year will definitely tell in how much water Vandoorne really is especially in the troubled McLaren.

PASCAL WEHRLEIN

Pascal has a robust achievement list away from F1 which include numerous records in DTM and a Championship at the age of 20. He had next to no experience of touring cars before being thrust into the DTM, at the age of 18, in 2013. His subsequent foray into Formula One came as a surprise but Mercedes faith was rewarded as the young German is carving the name for himself driving the perennial backmarkers Marussia (now Manor) putting up brilliant drives especially on Sunday and has even emulated the highly talented late Jules Bianchi by claiming the points for the team.

Wehrlein cut his teeth in single seaters – indeed before moving into the DTM, he was able to contest the opening round of the 2013 FIA European Formula Three championship at Monza. He took pole for the opening race, and left the triple-header with one win and three podiums, leaving him second in the championship at that time.

He had raced in European F3 the season before too, winning once and claiming six podiums against a talented field that included Toro Rosso hotshot Carlos Sainz. Before that, Wehrlein had spent two years in the ADAC Formula Masters series – he won once and took
four podiums in his debut season in 2010, before storming to the title one year later with seven poles, eight wins and 13 podiums from the 24 races.

Raking up mileage in F1 cars in 2014 and 15 during testing days both for Force India and Mercedes along with his DTM campaign, Pascal built up the necessary experience for debut with Manor. He increased his reputation by punching above his weight in the Manor and scoring point in Austria. Missing out on Mercedes drive for the want of lack of experience, that is exactly what this young German will be aiming to build with Sauber with an eye set on the Mercedes drive in the coming future.

CARLOS SAINZ, Jr.

Born in Madrid in 1994, Sainz first got behind the wheel at the age of seven when he began to drive at his father’s indoor karting center, though it would be a further three years before he started to compete seriously. Being the son of a Double World Rally Champion, Junior inherited the legacy of racing but instead choose to compete on asphalt tarmac rather than gravel laden-Rally Roads.

But it was not all easy for the Spaniard especially managing expectations that came with the name. However, under the able guidance of his father, he matured brilliantly. Winning his way through in karting, he caught the eye of the man in the helm of affairs of the Red Bull young Driver Programme, a Mr. Helmut Marko who quickly understood the boy’s abilities and took him under his wings.

Progressing in his craft, he took the Formula Renault NEC 2.0 title beating Kvyat in the process and following a few dabbling years in other series dominated the Formula Renault 3.5 in 2014.

Losing the Toro Rosso seat to Verstappen in 2015, he nonetheless got
the drive cue Kvyat’s promotion. However paired with a highly talented and hyped Verstappen, Sainz’s own personality took a hit as he had to work in the shadows of his teammate but rather than letting it get into his head, Sainz completely worked on his own game to do his talking on the track and held his own against the Dutchman impressing his bosses and heaping praises for his consistent performances throughout the year despite taking the lion share of Toro Rosso’s reliability woes.

Driving a 2015 Ferrari engined STR, Sainz continued to impress by punching above the car’s capability both in qualifying and on race day leading the team to confirm his drive with the team in 2017.

With Ricciardo and Verstappen occupying the A-Team seats, a move upwards in the Red Bull ladder looks rather bleak but there are multiple teams ready to give an arm and leg to get the Spaniard to drive for them.

Sainz very much understands this but is keeping his head cool to keep delivering exceptional performances in the mid-field Toro Rosso to further augment his claim for a top drive in the coming years.

ESTEBAN OCON

Currently, the only other French Driver on the grid beside Grosjean, the 20-year-old races for Force India having joined the grid mid-season last year replacing an out of cash Haryanto at Manor. However, his promotion is not down to his Mercedes backing and Renault associations although they played a big part in his race seat. Ocon, as Toto Wolff puts it, deserves to be a part of the grid on pure merit basis something that is evident from the fact that not only Mercedes but also Renault are calling dibs on the Frenchman.

The Reason? Ocon boasts a stellar record in junior single-seaters: he won the 2014 FIA European Formula 3 title beating none other than Max Verstappen, who finished third, in the process and then followed that up with the GP3 title last year.

Starting his Karting Career in France in 2006, Esteban won every major Karting series in his country before moving to international Racing in 2009. Stepping up to Single Seaters in 2012, he finished the Formula Renault 2.0 as runner-up in only his 2nd year at the category and followed it up with a switch to Formula 3 where he took the title and went to GP3 winning again.

Ocon took part in the first free practice session of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on 21 November 2014, driving for Lotus F1. He also took part in post-race testing in Barcelona with Force India. Prior to his claiming the GP3 title, it was announced that he would enter the junior program of the Mercedes F1 team.

Ever since his Debut mid-season, Malaysia was the first time when he out qualified his well-settled teammate Wehrlien indicating his growing untapped potential. And it was this potential that Force India recognised and choose the Frenchman to fill in the void left by the Renault-bound Hulkenberg.

Ocon represents the next generation of F1 drivers and therefore it’s no secret that Mercedes is grooming the two young proteges to join the big league when in few year the current crop of Superstar drivers bow out of the sport.

KEVIN MAGNUSSEN

The son of four-time Le Mans GT class winner, GM factory driver and former Formula One driver Jan Magnussen, Kevin Magnussen is a racer by blood and a list of credentials to back up the claim on track.

The Dane won the Formula Ford series in Denmark before moving up to Formula Renault NEC 2.0 where he finished runner-up and took the rookie of the year title.

 

For 2010 he raced in German Formula 3 series and finished the championship in 3rd place and once again took the Rookie of the year title. This was enough to earn him an invitation to join McLaren’s prestigious young driver program. Magnussen remained in F3 in 2011, albeit moving to the British series where he finished a strong second in the title race after securing seven wins, six pole positions, and eight fastest laps.

His McLaren affiliation soon came to fruition as he had his first experience of the McLaren MP4-27 Formula One car on the track at the Abu Dhabi Young Driver test on 6 November 2012 where he went the quickest of all. The distance he covered in the course of the test was sufficient to earn his FIA Super Licence. Having enjoyed a strong F1 run-out for McLaren at the Abu Dhabi young driver test at the end of 2012, the Dane burst out of the blocks in 2013, using his unerring blend of speed and composure to claim the Formula Renault 3.5 crown with five wins, 13 podiums, and eight pole positions. McLaren were impressed and having also been wowed his performance at Silverstone’s young driver test, they had no hesitation in handing Magnussen a 2014 race seat alongside Jenson Button.

Having been told first of all at the end of 2014 that his McLaren seat was safe for the following year, he had to live with the disappointment of finding out at the last minute that Jenson Button had actually got the nod for 2015. Despite subsequently knuckling down behind the scenes in his reserve driver role throughout last season, things did not move in the direction he had hoped with senior team management.

A note on his birthday from Ron Dennis finally confirmed his contract was not being renewed.

Amidst all the difficulties and having seen his hopes of landing a Haas drive dashed when it opted for Romain Grosjean instead – you could have forgiven Magnussen if he had decided to give up on his F1 dream and go off and do something else instead. Indeed, he did come close to doing so after holding informal talks with Bryan Herta Autosport about racing in IndyCar in 2016.

But the doors opened up for him as Renault once again entered the Sport as a works team by buying the Lotus team and offered the Dane a second life. And he responded by pushing what was essentially last year’s car to point scoring position twice. However, Renault in a bid to get big names continued to ignore its two drivers and even after signing Hulkenberg had little regard for the efforts put in by the Dane and offered only a 1-year deal.

The Dane had enough and terming the deal as unacceptable instead opted for a Multi-year deal with Haas which would provide him the consistency that had been missing so far allowing him to finally showcase his talents.

LANCE STROLL

Son of Millionaire Lawrence Stroll, Lance although comes with hefty financial backing yet he has shown so far that whichever category he has raced in, he did so on merit. Having won major Karting championships all over Canada, he moved up to the competition in Europe where he scored good positions and raced in various categories earning plaudits all over and that was enough to earn him a place in Ferrari’s Driver Academy.

In 2014, he won the Italian F3 Championship and that’s when he raised a lot of eyebrows. For the next year, he raced both New Zealand’s Toyota Racing Series and European F3 emerging as a champion in the former. Come the end of the year he left the Ferrari Academy to Join Williams as a test Driver.

In 2016 he started his Euro F3 season with a victory and dominated the second half to become the Champion with still a few rounds to go and over 100 points clear of the 2nd placed driver.

Next stop was landing the Williams drive and make it to F1 from F3 a la Verstappen and after gaining car experience in the 2014 Williams FW36 in the major circuits all done with an intention to bring him up to speed, his deal was announced. With his Speed and determination, Lance Stroll could go on to emulate Verstappen.

Having crashed his car twice in the winter testing, Stroll was made fun about but the teenager didn’t listen to them and instead continued on with the session raking up the miles. With a multi-year deal, Stroll will be the face of Williams for some year and hence has the opportunity to be one of the Sport’s next star.

 

Muktesh Swamy

A Petrol Head, Traveller, Writer and Philosopher. Who do you wanna meet?

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