Red Bull’s five F2 drivers targeting promotion to an F1 seat in 2023

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Of all the various academies and junior driver programmes operated by Formula 1 teams, only one has successfully produced multiple world champions: Red Bull’s.

In Sebastian Vettel and, now Max Verstappen, the Red Bull Junior Team has yielded the youngest and fourth-youngest world champions in history respectively. While exciting young drivers have emerged from the Mercedes, Ferrari, McLaren and Alpine (formerly Renault) stables – many of whom are capable of winning grands prix and potentially world titles in the future – it’s Red Bull who have the most reason to feel satisfied with their junior programme’s production so far.

But not that long ago the pickings looked slim for one of the sport’s more successful driver development programmes.

It was all change at Red Bull’s junior F1 squad Toro Rosso (now AlphaTauri) late in 2017. Within short order Carlos Sainz Jnr had been shipped off to Renault while Daniil Kvyat was also being shown the door.

Red Bull’s brightest junior talent at the time – reigning GP2 champion Pierre Gasly duly got the call-up to Toro Rosso. But that still left them with one vacancy.

Brendon Hartley, Toro Rosso, Yas Marina, 2018
Like Albon, Hartley was dropped by Red Bull, then rehired
Gasly was the only Red Bull junior at the time realistically ready to make the step up to the top level: GP3 driver Niko Kari was already heading for the exit, while Richard Verschoor and Neil Verhagen were still only in Formula Renault 2.0. Sean Gelael – not an official Red Bull junior – had run practice sessions with Toro Rosso during the season but did not have the requisite superlicence points.

Red Bull instead turned to former driver Brendon Hartley. He had been supported by Red Bull throughout his rise through the junior ranks, until he departed the programme back in 2010.

Then, when another former Red Bull driver, Alexander Albon, had an impressive season in Formula 2 in 2018 fighting against Mercedes’ George Russell and McLaren’s Lando Norris, they again opted to reunite with a former driver by hiring Albon for 2019 in place of Hartley. And with Gasly moving to the main team to fill Daniel Ricciardo’s now-vacant seat, they recalled Kvyat to join alongside Albon, rather than thrust another rookie into the spotlight.

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What had once been an ordered progression of young talent into F1, if perhaps sometimes hasty, became more haphazard in those years immediately after Verstappen’s rapid ascent to F1. But in recent years Red Bull’s young driver programme has regained some of its former shape. And in 2022 their junior line-up looks like its strongest for years.

Lawson started his first F2 season with a win
Red Bull will be represented by no fewer than five different drivers in this season’s Formula 2 championship – almost a quarter of the field.

Perhaps most notable of the five is Formula 3 champion, 18-year-old Dennis Hauger (top), who joins fellow Red Bull junior Jehan Daruvala at Prema for the upcoming season. With Prema having produced the series champion for the last two seasons, there’s a high level of expectation for both to perform – for very different reasons. Hauger is looking to emulate Oscar Piastri by ‘doing the double’ and taking the two most important junior titles back-to-back. Daruvala, at the age of 23, is likely aware that he has limited time remaining to make his case for a future F1 drive.

Liam Lawson will move to Carlin for his second F2 season, while his Red Bull-backed team mate from last year, Juri Vips, stays at Hitech. Finally, Ayumu Iwasa jumps into the category with DAMS after a single year of Formula 3, where he claimed one victory on his way to 12th in the championship. For Red Bull, it’s an embarrassment of riches to have such a volume of young talent knocking on the door of Formula 1.

At such a tender age still, Hauger knows he has time on his side. Although he will still want to make as big an impact as possible in his first season in Formula 2. He impressed Prema during the three day post-season test in Abu Dhabi back in December, with the team describing his “consistent and impressive progress” on his way to setting the tenth overall fastest time of the test and covering 136 laps.

Juri Vips, Red Bull, Yas Marina, 2021
Vips tested for Red Bull at the end of last year
But of all the F2 drivers heading towards the new season, none will be doing so with as much confidence as Daruvala, who signalled his intent by being the fastest of all 22 drivers during the Yas Marina test. After a breakthrough victory in the final race of 2020 he could not quite seem to get fully comfortable with Carlin in 2021, but ended his season on a high again with a win in the first sprint race in Abu Dhabi. Returning to Prema, who he last raced with in Formula 3, Daruvala knows there will be no excuses to fall back on if he does not become a serious contender this season.

Of the two other Red Bull juniors who contested last year’s F2 season, Lawson and Vips, 2021 was a year of mixed emotions. Lawson complimented his F2 duties by racing in the DTM championship, where he was denied the title in a controversial conclusion to the season, and won the first race of the F2 season in Bahrain. But that was as good as it got for the Kiwi who scored regular points finishes but only appeared on the podium one more time all season. In his first full F2 campaign, Vips took two commanding wins in Azerbaijan and enjoyed more trips to the podium than Lawson, but four retirements over the final nine races took the momentum out of his season.

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Finally, Iwasa joins Hauger by progressing into Formula 2 after a single season of F3. The 20-year-old beat the likes of Isack Hadjar – yet another Red Bull driver – to the French F4 title in 2020 before stepping up to F3 with Hitech last year. It was a reasonable if unspectacular campaign, highlighted by Iwasa inheriting a race win in Hungary after Lorenzo Colombo was given a five second penalty for falling too far behind the Safety Car.

Tsunoda needs a better second season in F1
As if that wasn’t enough, Red Bull has one more driver who could eventually return to either of its F1 teams: Albon, who is a Williams driver this year.

The major advantage that Red Bull hold over their rivals lies in the fact they own a second team beyond their senior outfit of Red Bull Racing. AlphaTauri’s raison d’être is unique in that it exists purely to cultivate the most promising of the energy drinks conglomerate’s racing prodigies and prepare them for promotion into Red Bull Racing, where they will be expected to fight for victories and even championships.

That golden opportunity at AlphaTauri is the ultimate carrot-on-a-stick to motivate drivers on the Red Bull programme. If you show enough promise, there will likely be an opportunity waiting for you. After all, Red Bull have shown time and again they have no qualms about letting drivers go from their secondary squad when they feel they have run their course. Just ask Kvyat, Hartley or even double Formula E champion Jean-Eric Vergne.

Sergio Perez, Red Bull, Yas Marina, 2021
Perez’s future beyond this season is also unclear
That reality puts an intense spotlight on Yuki Tsunoda, who showed flashes of promise in an otherwise challenging debut season in Formula 1. While rookies can be expected to make mistakes, Tsunoda’s plight was not helped by established team mate Gasly having his most impressive campaign to date, taking AlphaTauri to sixth in the constructors’ championship virtually single-handedly. Should Tsunoda not turn in more consistent performances in his second season, then his seat could very much be in play for 2023.

That is the benefit of the Red Bull programme which Piastri is not offered at Alpine, whose two racing seats for 2022 and beyond appear to be very much secure with their current owners. While Guanyu Zhou has been given a chance at Alfa Romeo instead of the Alpine team itself, the route into F1 is clear if you’re fortunate enough to have the right to wear the well recognised double-bull logo on your racing suit.

With Gasly and even Sergio Perez’s futures within the Red Bull family under no guarantee depending on how the upcoming season plays out for the pair of them, there could even be more than one vacancy for Red Bull to fill on the F1 grid for 2023.

Destiny appears to be within reach of one of Red Bull’s juniors for this upcoming season. The question is, which, if any, of the five will be able to reach out and grasp it.

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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22 comments on “Red Bull’s five F2 drivers targeting promotion to an F1 seat in 2023”

  1. Jüri Vips drives second season at Hitech, is not “moving to Hitech”

  2. Iwasa is nowhere near ready. He barely beat 16 year old Jak Crawford at the accomplished Hitech squad and finished outside the top 10. Tsunoda at least finished propelled an unfancied Jenzer squad to 9th in his only F3 season.

    Also, Tsunoda was in the reliable and improving Carlin team in F2 which allowed him to remain competitive throughout the year. A DAMS seat in this day and age in F2 is not even close to the prestige it held in the 2011-17 era of GP2. This obsession with fast-tracking Japanese youngsters has to stop.

    1. Agree. Iwasa should be given the opportunity to be competing for the F3 title rather than languishing at the back of the F2 grid.

  3. Great article!

    I feel this is how it will play out:
    Daruvala has not shown as much improvement in his 2nd season. Iwasa is too young. 2 out of Hauger / Vips / Lawson could make the move I feel. They have shown enough promise to deserve at least a season or two at Alpha Tauri.

    Regarding where they go, Gasly I feel will become another Sainz and leave the Red Bull family, wither Aston Martin / Mclaren, he should be able to get a choice. Tsunoda’s future will depend on how many Red Bull want to promote. If they decide only one of the 5 needs to come, Tsunoda might stay. Else, he goes.

    Checo will get a 3rd season, with Max being a vehement supporter of him in the main team.

    1. @sumedh, I hope Gasly finally gets a repromotion, but your feeling about Checo getting a 3rd season could also happen or even Tsunoda getting promoted if he positively surprises by improving considerably.
      Like you, I’m more confident about the Vips-Lawson-Hauger trio than Daruvala, or at least Vips & Lawson.
      Mclaren for Gasly, I don’t really see happening, but AM, yes if Seb quits.

    2. I think Gasly has more chance of a re-promotion to the senior Red Bull squad than Tsunoda ever getting promoted, and the chances of that are slim!
      Vips doesn’t do it for me I’m afraid. Look at his single seater career and you’ll see he’s only amassed 13 wins in 6 years (including years where he raced in more than one championship). FE or a simulator driver yes, but not F1.
      Although, Daruvala has only 16 wins in 7 years across all competitions too, so he’s not really setting the world alight. Hauger has to be the most promising of the 5 in F2 this season, and I think Lawson has the most to prove.

    3. Interesting thoughts from you, sumedh, and @jerejj/@eurobrun. My take:

      I am struggling to remember who Iwasa is, even though I watched the whole season. My old brain or a telling sign?

      Vips seemed to be pretty good in 2020 but has not shined since then. Same situation for Daruvala. Lawson rarely shines. Hauger is clinical, consistent, and smart – playing the long game but with enough talent to usually keep him at the front: an exciting prospect and currently the only driver – out of the ones you mentioned – who merits a seat at Alpha Tauri.

      Gasly is just getting better and better. But somehow it doesn’t look like Red Bull will give him another go. So, yes, probably greener pastures elsewhere which may end up disappointing – like Ricciardo’s team selections (no-one has a crystal ball).

      I think Tsunoda is just going to get better and better. Yes, it was a hard year for him in 2021. But he’s started to warm up. I can see him having a mega second half of the year (in relation to the new car performance) in 2022 and possibly promotion to Red Bull in 2023.

      Checo will be dropped by Red Bull after 2022. It makes not difference what Max says – and he knows it. Checo is zero competition for Max and that’s how the #1 drivers like it. He’s a safe pair of hands but he’s shown what he can do and it’s not consistent nor exciting enough for Marko. But he’ll find a good place in a lower-standing squad. He’s a Bottas: close but no cigar.

      Albon will be out of F1 again after 2022.

      Of course, these are all just my predictions. Who really knows. I’ve got my fingers crossed for Théo Pourchaire having a mega 2022 in F2 and making the jump in 2023. Great fun to watch. I’m hopeful he will keep improving and learn to be a little less impulsive and learn the long game.

      Thanks for all your thoughts. It was fun to think about this.

      1. I doubt Red Bull will drop Checo. While they do tend to drop drivers quickly if they don’t perform, they have shown a lot of loyalty to their chosen ones.

        No one blamed Seb for the 2010 Turkey incident. No one blamed Max for Baku 2018.

        While Seb was at Red Bull, Webber was kept on as a teammate in spite of Buemi being in the wings (who has won WEC and Formula E post F1). Ricciardo got the promotion only when Webber retired. Red Bull even seriously thought of Kimi for 2014, if you remember, at Seb’s insistence.

        As long as Max is at Red Bull and he is their chosen one, I don’t see his opinion about teammate being discounted.

  4. For each one, a 2023 F1 promotion mainly depends on both Tsunoda’s & Gasly’s situations.
    I was initially surprised Daruvala got to stay in F2 for a 3rd campaign, but I guess RB wanted to give him one more chance.
    Mentioning Albon was redundant since he’s fully contracted rather than on loan after all, so effectively out of the equation.
    He’s definitely further away than Sainz was when at Renault merely on loan.

  5. Of all those listed the one who I feel is closest to getting a seat at Alpha Tauri should one open up is Hauger on the assumption he takes the F2 title this season. He was mighty in F3 last year and has a plum seat for 2021, so he should be able to challenge.

    The only other driver I will mention is Jehan Daruvala. He is a driver who confuses me no end – he’s clearly quick but he does go missing a lot of the time. Some weekends you have to remind yourself he is on the grid. I think him getting the second Prema seat is Dr Marko’s way of saying “no more excuses, it’s now or never”. So if he doesn’t win I’d expect him to get dropped from the programme.

  6. Assuming Alonso and Ocon stay on at Alpine for 2023, and Tsunoda fails to impress in his second year, I wonder what the chance is of Webber using his Red Bull ties to negotiate a deal for Piastri at Alpha Tauri for 2023 ?

    Stranger things have happened.

    1. Not impossible but think it is more likely Webber tells Piastri to stay away from Red Bull rather then that he tries to get him into Red Bull/Alpha Tauri.

  7. We can safely rule out Daruvala from this list. I’m sorry but he has not shown anything to suggest he’ll merit a promotion. Soundly beaten by Tsunoda in his first year, he needed to compete for the title in his second – he did not. There’s nothing that stands out about him, even before in F3 when racing with Prema he was not their leading driver, and it was the case again both seasons in F2 with Carlin. It would take a massive improvement and a dominant season from him to put him in contention.

    Vips and Lawson are the likely two who would get promoted, even then I think while they both showed flashes, ultimately their seasons were disappointing. Lawson was consistent but after that first win he never looked like challenging the front, Vips was closer to challenging at the front but couldn’t push himself into the championship picture regardless of those retirements. Both need to win the championship in their second season.

    From what I watched of Iwasa in F3 he’s good on race day but his qualifying lets him down, so he needs to improve there. I expect he may struggle in F2 until he gets on top of that.

    Hauger could really be the one to jump to the front of the queue by simply challenging consistently at the front in his maiden F2 season – in much the same way Tsunoda did. If he does that I can see him being first in line.

    Ultimately though I think it all depends on whether Gasly leaves Alpha Tauri at the end of the season, and whether Tsunoda performs more consistently, and puts in performances more like Bahrain and Abu Dhabi.

  8. I still feel Verstappen has done more harm to the RB Junior Program than good. And that’s most certainly not Verstappen’s fault, I think the finger has to be pointed at Helmut Marko. RB were in the difficult driver position they were in a couple of years ago bc Marko was throwing out drivers left, right, and centre because they weren’t the next Max Verstappen. Just because they aren’t ready for F1 at 18 or 19 doesn’t mean they’re a bad driver. Give them a bit of time. Be less ruthless RB!

    1. I think that is now the case as they give drivers atleast a season. Tsunoda has to prove himself or he get replaced (Himself thought he would be sacked this year)
      Max Verstappen never joined the RB junior programs as he just jumped from F3 to F1 after signing a deal with Red Bull in the last part of the races (I think i saw the Red Bull colour on his car the last 6 rounds)

      But they have to show that they can atleast driver something. (For example: Max in Torro Rosso, Charles in Alfa and Ferrari, Lando in McLaren and George in Williams)

      Gasly really screwed himself when he was crashing in the tests when he was driving for Red Bull, after that he never had the self confidence in the races that even i thought what he was doing in Red Bull.

  9. I can see two open seats at AT next year. I think Gasly will get a(nother) chance in a top team and Tsunoda will have to have a much better season to hold on to his seat.

  10. Perez is already signed for 2023, I’d encourage the author to dig more into this. Not saying more

  11. I must have missed the news…is Jack Doohan not a red bull driver now?

    1. He wasn’t part of the line-up they announced earlier this year so it seems they have parted ways.

      1. Thanks Keith.

        On second thoughts, I remember the way Doohan ignored team orders in Sochi and refused to let his RedBull academy team mate past

        the last thing Red Bull need is another Australian who is faster than a chosen team mate :-)

  12. I would put money down that Tsunoda won’t last the whole season. He isn’t good enough. I’d rather Kvyat be in that race seat

  13. Jack Doohan > Juri Vips, Liam Lawson

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