Kids in America: Who were the F1 rookies debuting in Austin?

Four drivers are set to make their Formula 1 debuts in Free Practice 1 at the 2022 United States Grand Prix

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With the 2022 Formula 1 season drawing to a close, some teams and drivers are preparing and finalising their plans for 2023 and beyond.

But as the season winds down and the minor placings are being decided, teams are still scrambling to find two young drivers to field in two free practice sessions.

The new rule introduced at the start of the year was designed to help give young drivers a taste of modern-day Formula 1 machinery due to the absence of in-season testing.

Some teams have already used one of their slots earlier in the season, with Mercedes and Williams using Nyck De Vries in France and Spain, respectively, while AlphaTauri gave Liam Lawson a go when he replaced Pierre Gasly in Belgium.

But who are the four debutants who will make their Formula 1 debut in Austin?

Robert Shwartzman – Ferrari

2022 season – Ferrari test driver, replacing Charles Leclerc

2022 Belgian GP – Ferrari development driver Robert Shwartzman | credit: @Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

Although he has spent most of the 2022 season pounding around test tracks or in the back of Ferrari’s garage, Robert Shwartzman has an impressive resume, including the 2019 Formula 3 championship and finishing runner-up in last year’s Formula 2 championship to Oscar Piastri.

Shwartzman’s rapid rise has been curtailed because of a lack of available full-time drives. However, after deciding against another year in Formula 2, Ferrari appointed him as their development driver doing simulator work back at Maranello and the occasional test in Ferrari’s 2021 car.

Before the weekend, Shwartzman spoke of his pleasure of being given a chance to prove himself and also the chance to see how much his simulator work had prepared him for the session.

“Debuting in an official F1 session with Scuderia Ferrari is, first of all, a great honour, and to be the first driver to have this opportunity after so many years makes what I will do on Friday really special,” said Shwartzman.

“I am obviously thrilled, but at the same time, I am also very keen to drive this car for the first time and see how close the work we’ve been doing in the simulator is to reality.”

Alex Palou – McLaren

2022 season – Fifth in IndyCar, replacing Daniel Ricciardo

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Alex Palou after winning at Barber Motorsports Park | Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Arguably the oldest of the quartet, Alex Palou’s journey from Formula 2 substitute to IndyCar champion has been nothing short of remarkable.

The Catalan, who grew up just over half an hour’s drive away from the Circuit De Catalunya, moved to Japan in 2019, finishing third in the Super Formula championship for Team Goh before following them to IndyCar the following year, scoring a podium at Road America.

His talents impressed legendary team boss Chip Ganassi, who signed Palou for the 2021 season. The partnership got a golden start as Palou’s consistency propelled him to his first series title after just withstanding Josef Newgarden and Pato O’Ward’s late advances.

The 2022 IndyCar season saw Chip Ganassi’s cars struggle to match the trio of Penske machines forcing Palou to relinquish his title.

But events off the track cast a shadow on his season after a shock move to Arrow McLaren dragged into the courtsl with the result being that Palou would stay put at Chip Ganassi for 2023l but crucially, he would join the team’s driver development programme alongside O’Ward and Colton Herta.

“I’m so excited to be making my F1 weekend debut,” Palou said. “It’s great to be driving in the United States in front of fans that may have seen me race in IndyCar.

“Having driven the 2021 McLaren MCL35M in a few tests now, I can’t wait to put the MCL36 through its paces.’’

Theo Pourchaire – Alfa Romeo

2022 season – Second in Formula 2, replacing Valtteri Bottas

Theo Pourchaire – Alfa Romeo | Alfa Romeo F1 Team

In what is quickly becoming a golden age for French talent, one man shines brightest amongst the rest, and that is 19-year-old Formula 2 race winner Theo Pourchaire.

The past three years have been a whirlwind for Pourchaire, narrowly missing out on the 2020 Formula 3 championship to Piastri before graduating to Formula 2 the following year and taking an emotional win on the streets of Monaco at the tender age of 18.

The 2022 F2 season had been the year in which many had expected Pourchaire to win the Formula 2 championship. However, luck wasn’t on his side, and despite a couple of wins at the start of the season, Pourchaire couldn’t beat Felipe Drugovich for the title.

With Zhou Guanyu back at Alfa Romeo for a second season, Pourchaire will become the team’s reserve driver in 2023. Still, in the meantime, the Frenchman is looking forward to his first crack at a Grand Prix weekend in an F1 car.

“I am thrilled to be making my Free Practice debut in Austin,” said Pourchaire. “t will be my second time behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car, but in some ways, it will feel like it’s the first time, as this time it will be during an official Grand Prix session.’’

Logan Sargeant – Williams

2022 season – Third in Formula 2, replacing Nicholas Latifi

Logan Sargeant – Williams | Williams F1 Team

An American driver taking part in the American Grand Prix weekend sounds good, doesn’t it? 

For Logan Sargeant, American eyes will be on him when he leaves the garage to begin his morning programme, as this session will effectively be an audition for a full-time drive with Williams in 2023.

Sargeant, who currently lies third in Formula 2,  is in a dogfight with Mick Schumacher for the seat, and with Jost Capito still undecided as to who will drive for him next year a good performance in FP1 might make the decision a little bit easier for Capito.

Despite this pressure and the knowledge that he must finish third in the Formula 2 championship to qualify for a superlicence, Sargeant is looking forward to learning as much as possible about the 2022 cars during the 60-minute session.

“I’m super excited to be given this opportunity to drive my first Free Practice in Austin,” Sargeant stated.

“To be given the chance at the US Grand Prix is something extremely special to me. The goal for me will be to learn as much as possible in the new generation of cars.’’

Ed Spencer
Ed Spencer
FIA accredited journalist
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