Imagine you won British F4 in your rookie season, came first in Formula Renault, won the F3 championship in your first year, and are currently leading the Formula 2 championship… but you don’t have any F1 prospects. This is the case for Australian driver Oscar Piastri. The current Alpine Academy driver and future reserve has a junior career as impressive as the likes of George Russell and Charles Leclerc, so why is he not being fought over by multiple F1 teams?
The current state of Piastri’s F1 chances has a lot to do with the climate in feeder series and F1. Recently, driver academies have been on the rise, and while they are beneficial to young drivers trying to make their way through the feeder series into F1, they can also cause problems.
Joining a driver academy nowadays means you aren’t only swearing loyalty to an F1 team but also an engine manufacturer. Look at the example of Alex Albon. He recently signed on for the 2022 season and beyond with Williams, a Mercedes engine team, yet he is part of the Red Bull academy. It took a long time to get his contract agreed on by not only Red Bull and Williams but also Mercedes. His previous involvement with RB almost prevented the deal from going through because Mercedes didn’t want Red Bull (Honda) to receive information about their power unit.
Luckily, Albon could secure a deal, but drivers coming into the sport for the first time may not have the same luck. Drivers like Callum Ilott and Robert Shwartzman realistically only have two team options to break into F1 because of their Ferrari backing. Since Ferrari doesn’t sign young drivers into the top team immediately, their only hopes are Haas and Alfa Romeo, the latter of which no longer has a designated Ferrari Academy seat.
Drivers in academies like Alpine or Williams have even fewer options to break onto the grid, considering they can only go to one team with only two seats. Let’s once again take a look at Piastri. He is in the Alpine academy, and since the team doesn’t supply engines to anyone else on the grid, there is only one team he can sign with. There are two other drivers in the academy who are also in F2 who he would have to beat out to get a contract. However, current Alpine drivers Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso are both on multi-year deals, so there is no spot for him anyway unless either of them suddenly decides to retire.
Piastri’s fellow Alpine academy member Guanyu Zhou has just been announced as the second Alfa Romeo driver, alongside current Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas. However, this deal would have nothing to do with his connections to his driver academy but rather his personal sponsors, highlighting another flaw in the feeder system.
Academies also have overcrowding problems. Take a look at the Red Bull junior academy. They currently have 3 drivers in Formula 2 and Formula 3. Realistically they have 3 seats for 2023, but 6 drivers that could be eligible, not to mention their current F1 drivers. There is no way that all these drivers will make it into F1 with RedBull. Ferrari has similar issues; they have current F1 driver Mick Schumacher, IndyCar’s Callum Ilott, and a further 2 drivers in Formula 2.
Driver Academies can be great for young drivers. They not only help them get into good teams, but help train them to be the best drivers they can be through sim work, FP1 sessions, F1 tests, and training camps. The benefits of academies were essential to the careers of George Russell, Lando Norris, Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen, and countless other drivers, however, in their current state, it is possible that with every team having their own academy, they are actually preventing talent from making its way onto the F1 grid.
The format of the F2 season also doesn’t help someone like Piastri’s chances to break into F1. With the current calendar set up, there are extremely long breaks between rounds like the 10-week break between the Sochi and Jeddah rounds. This not only takes the momentum out of the championship, thus causing the drivers to make more mistakes, but also gives teams time to forget about the great talent out there since they aren’t seeing them every weekend.
While the finale of the F2 championship being at the same track and time as the F1 world championship makes for a great finale to the season, it also could be detrimental to a junior driver’s career. Once a driver wins the F2 championship they can’t participate again. This wasn’t a problem for the likes of Russell and Leclerc, but for someone like Piastri, it makes his 2022 plans murky.
If Piastri wins the F2 championship he doesn’t have a lot of options next year, and while he has voiced that he wouldn’t mind taking a year off, in that year it is possible people may forget his stellar 2020 and 2021 seasons that show he is deserving of an F1 seat.
If the finale of the season was earlier in the year, like during silly season, the F1 seats wouldn’t all be taken up. It is difficult for teams and drivers alike to make a decision on the next year if the young drivers haven’t been able to fully showcase their talents before contracts start getting signed.
Piastri is a true talent. The Aussie driver joined Leclerc, Albon, and Russell in taking 3 consecutive pole positions, has won 3 races and achieved a further 4 podiums. That combined with the rest of his junior career is proof enough he is deserving of an F1 drive, but with the current state of the sport, it is possible he may never have a chance.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kristina developed her love of motorsport through years watching Top Gear with her dad every night. She specializes in Formula One and it’s feeder series F2, F3, and F4. Her favorite teams are Williams & McLaren and supports Prema & ART Grand Prix in feeder series. Outside of motorsport Kristina spends her time supporting the Washington Football Team and studying film. You can find her on Twitter as @agrestaP1.
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