Sidepodcast // All for F1 and F1 for all

Finding the next British F1 star // The search is on for a new generation of drivers

Published by Anna Duxbury

The search is on for a new generation of drivers

When it comes to motorsport the Brits have a history to be proud of. From Mike Hawthorn to Lewis Hamilton this small island has always played an integral part in the Formula 1 story. With ten different British driver world champions and a total of 33 constructor championships going to British teams we have always outperformed in the motorsport arena. So it seems difficult to believe, with so much motorsport coursing in our blood, that there are only two British drivers competing in F1 in 2017.

As recently as 2013 there were four seats taken up by Brits, so where have the new generation of F1 drivers gone? At 26 and languishing at the back of the grid Jolyon Palmer hardly seems to be the new hope ready to take over Hamilton's mantle. There's a strong motorsport base in Britain but it has been a few years since a rising star has emerged from it. So who might be the next British F1 driver? There's a few likely contenders but do they have what it takes to break into the notoriously difficult top echelon of motorsport?

Footsteps to follow

If we look at the career paths of the last five drivers to enter F1, it becomes obvious that it is pretty requisite to win one of F3, GP3 or F2. Esteban Ocon went one better and captured both F3 and GP3 titles and Pascal Wehrlein took the slightly different route of becoming DTM champion, but that's the usual passage to success. In fact eight out of the 12 F2 champions have gone on to compete in F1 as well as four of the seven GP3 champions.

In F3 Callum Ilott and Lando Norris are still very much part of the leading pack

All this is good news for Oliver Rowland, currently second in the F2 rankings, although it would take a minor miracle for him to make up the points difference to the imperious championship leader Charles Leclerc. It's still all to play for in GP3 with both George Russell and Jack Aitken proving their potential, despite the latter suffering from bad luck in the opening round. In F3 Callum Ilott and Lando Norris are still very much part of the leading pack and even if it turns out that 2017 isn't their year they both have the time to capitalise on their talent and come back stronger next season.

F1 teams already have their eyes on some of the young Brits, with Rowland signed as a development driver in 2017 for Renault, and Aitken remains on the team's young driver programme for a second year. Russell is the new Mercedes protégé and seems set to follow in the footsteps of Wehrlein and Ocon. 2016 McLaren Autosport BRDC Award winner Norris also managed to capture the interest of an F1 team with a place on the McLaren young driver programme.

Making the world go round

It's an undeniable fact that, aside from talent, another way of attracting the attention of a team is by bringing plenty of funding. Both Jolyon Palmer and Lance Stroll benefitted from the money they could offer their respective teams and of the young generation of Brits both F2 competitor Jordan King and F3 racer Harrison Newey bring the kind of backing that can attract a cash-strapped outfit. Having a supermarket chief executive or F1's foremost technical director as a father is always going to be advantageous in such an expensive career.

However sometimes drivers can do everything right but things just don't go their way. When Alex Lynn became GP3 champion and a Red Bull young driver in 2014, and subsequently the Williams development driver, it seemed highly likely that he would make it into F1 within a few years. But a couple of underwhelming seasons in F2 and the meteoric rise of Stroll has meant that Lynn has moved into endurance racing. However optimistic the future of a driver looks it only takes a bright young thing leapfrogging their way up the single seater ladder, or a lack of movement in the driver market to bring a career to a premature end. Only a very small handful of seats come up for grabs every year and being the up and coming star at the right second can be anything but simple.

To conclude, it's almost impossible to predict which young Brit will manage to get themselves into an F1 seat next. There's plenty of young drivers out there making their mark in lower categories- and getting earmarked by the top teams. But who will win the race to the top? I wouldn't like to guess.