Which Red Bull junior has the best chance of an F1 seat?

Red Bull's junior programme is one of the most prestigious in motor racing, and this year one of its seven members hope to unseat one of AlphaTauris drivers for 2023. But who are the candidates?

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Saturday night in the ‘big apple’, an evening where the beautiful people of the city that never sleeps gather around to see something new, something old and something blue.

At 17:30 local time, the covers fell on what will be the livery for AlphaTauri’s AT04 with two drivers, Yuki Tsunoda and Nyck de Vries, standing by their new-look steed.

For De Vries, the new season marks the end of years of fighting for a Formula 1 dream, which seemed doomed to fail, while for Tsunoda, 2023 will be the most important of his racing career.

Both men are getting worried about their futures because in the feeder series, mainly Formula 2 and Super Formula, a slew of Red Bull-backed drivers are queuing up for an F1 seat.

So who are the seven drivers giving Messrs Tsunoda and De Vries sleepless nights?

Liam Lawson – Super Formula 

Liam Lawson #7 Hitech, during round seven of the FIA Formula 2 Championship at Jeddah Corniche Circuit in Saudi Arabia

New Zealand has a rich history of producing world-class racing drivers, from Denny Hulme, Chris Amon to Brendon Hartley, but now the nation’s attention is on Hastings’ Liam Lawson.

Lawson, a member of the Red Bull junior academy since February 2019, has finished runner-up in DTM, third in F2 and completed FP1s for both Red Bull and AlphaTauri, impressing in both outings.

For 2023 Lawson will combine a season of Super Formula with Team Mugen with a Red Bull test driver contract in his pocket; a good season might land him an F1 drive.

Dennis Hauger – Formula 2

Dennis Hauger #01 Prema Racing, during round seven of the FIA Formula 3 Championship at Sochi Autodrom, in Russia

Norway’s motorsport heritage mainly stems from rallying, but in Dennis Hauger, the country has a talent who may go all the way.

Hauger’s resume is impressive, denying Jack Doohan the 2021 Formula 3 championship and winning two races on his way to 10th in his maiden F2 season.

A second year of F2 with MP Motorsport will determine his destiny, and with the Dutch outfit taking the teams’ championship, a good season is a must for the Norwegian.

Ayumu Iwasa – Formula 2

Ayumu Iwasa #11 Hitech GP, during round seven of the FIA Formula 3 Championship at Sochi Autodrom, in Russia

Arguably one of the breakout stars of last year’s F2 season was Ayumu Iwasa, taking two victories for DAMS, finishing fifth in the standings and picking up rookie of the year honours.

Like Tsunoda, Iwasa is a member of the Honda Formula Dream Project member and has also enjoyed a meteoric rise through the feeder series ranks, becoming French F4 champion in 2020.

For 2023 Iwasa goes into the year as one of the championship favourites, which will add further pressure to perform or face being over for promotion to the big time.

Isack Hadjar – Formula 2

Isack Hadjar, Victor Martins and Ollie Bearman on the podium after the 2022 F3 Austria Feature Race. Credit: FIA F3

It’s an excellent time to be a young French driver; F1 is becoming popular again, and with two French drivers currently on the grid, Isack Hadjar looks to make it three.

Hadjar impressed many in 2022, battling for the F3 title with countryman and Alpine junior Victor Martins, only to lose out after a crash in qualifying at Monza.

Graduating to F2 with Hitech, Hadjar goes into the year hoping to get one up on Martins and his rivals, providing he gets off to a good start.

Zane Maloney – Formula 2

Zane Maloney preparing to test for Carlin.

For years Barbados wasn’t represented at the top level of motorsport, but that’s all changed with Zane Maloney, who has dazzled since arriving in Europe four years ago.

Maloney came into F3 as part of a stacked rookie class, finishing second in the championship, taking three wins and was a mere five points away from denying Martins the title.

His performances attracted the eye of Helmut Marko, who signed Maloney to the Red Bull programme placing him at Carlin for a crack at F2, where he looks to impress.

Jak Crawford – Formula 2

Jak Crawford #52 Hitech Grand Prix, during Round one of the Formula Regional Middle East Championship 2023, from Jan 13-14, 2023 at Dubai Autodrome, UAE. // Dutch Photo Agency / Red Bull Content Pool

F1 has become the flavour of the month in America, and for the first time in eight years, Logan Sargeant will represent the US on the grid. Could Charlotte’s Jak Crawford join him?

Crawford, the youngest of the seven at just 17, comes into his rookie year of F2 hoping the more powerful cars will suit his driving style after two tricky years in F3.

Unlike his Red Bull teammates, Crawford has time to improve, but this won’t stop him from having a crack at the title with Hitech alongside Hadjar.

Enzo Fittipaldi – Formula 2

Enzo Fittipaldi with Helmut Marko.

When Enzo Fittipaldi slammed into Theo Pourchaire’s stranded ART at the start of the Feature race at Jeddah in 2021, few could have predicted whether he would have been fit enough to drive in Bahrain.

However, when Fittipaldi returned to action, he was a completely different driver, enjoying a superb season in F2, finishing on the podium six times and in the points 14 times for Charouz.

Now at Carlin,  Fittipaldi has a realistic chance of making it back-to-back Brazilian F2 champions and following his brother and grandfather into F1.

The front-runners

Ayumu Iwasa #17 Dams, during final round of the FIA Formula 2 Championship at Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi, on November 18 – 20, 2022. | Red Bull Content Pool

All seven drivers are in with a shot, but on paper, it seems to be a battle between Lawson and Iwasa, with Hadjar and Fittipaldi also in close contention.

Lawson should be the favourite due to his prior F1 experience in the young driver FP1s, and with a Super Licence in his pocket, the Kiwi is a plug-in-and-play option.

But previous Red Bull prospects have floundered in Japan, so Lawson will need to adapt quickly or face being passed over for promotion for Iwasa.

Iwasa is very highly rated by many paddock judges, and with his team boss Charles Pic believing his charge can win the championship, 2023 could be the year he makes the grade.

Ultimately, both may find themselves stepping up if De Vries and Tsunoda endure a turbulent year, but realistically only one seat will be available. 

Ed Spencer
FIA accredited journalist
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