The trio of Oscar Piastri (21), Nyck de Vries (28) and Logan Sargeant (22) all have their unique stories of making it into the pinnacle of motorsport. But, for all of them one major step was racing in F1’s undercard: Formula Two.
This series races on the same tracks and on the same weekends as its bigger brother. However, unlike Formula 1, the cars are more evenly matched and the rules are tweaked to promote more competitive racing and rewarding those drivers who are consistent throughout the season.
It has gained more and more followers over the years because of sharp overtakes and constant drama, but it has also been a breeding ground for some of F1’s best drivers to show their skills before making the step up.
With this in mind, Flashscore sat down with The F2 Show podcast host Fraser Ford to discuss F1’s newest recruits as well as the new F2 season, which will kick off in Bahrain this weekend.
Oscar Piastri - The ‘Next Lewis Hamilton’
No one in the F1 paddock caused more of a stir last season than Piastri. His decision to sign for McLaren over Alpine - a team that had supported him through the junior ranks all the way up to being named as reserve driver in 2022 - caused controversy after the French outfit announced the Australian driver before a deal had been agreed - something that Piastri described as “a bizarre and frankly upsetting episode”.
A talent right through the junior ranks, Piastri has been making waves across motorsport and Ford feels that this will continue in F1.
“We’re talking about a guy that has had one of the best junior careers we have ever seen, it’s probably the best since Lewis Hamilton, so there is a lot of pedigree there,” Ford explained.
“He won back-to-back-to-back championships from Renault EuroCup in 2019, Formula 3 as a rookie, which doesn’t happen very often.
“George Russell was the last person to do that and you’re talking about someone, again, who is a top-class driver.
“Then stepping into Formula 2, he won it at the first try. He has extreme talent and I don’t think anyone doubts that he will do the job (in F1).”
Big praise indeed to compare the rookie with seven-time world champion Hamilton, but in terms of junior careers, it is just those two that have similar records.
In testing, which ran a week before the opening race of the season on the same circuit in Bahrain, Piastri and Norris were both left frustrated across the three days on track. McLaren put in just 311 laps in the six sessions, the lowest of any team, and they picked up plenty of reliability issues along the way.
Ford expects Piastri to push Norris - now in his fifth season with the Woking-based outfit - as the season gets into its stride with points finishes a possibility - if the car itself can remain competitive in the ever-tight midfield scrap. But, the pressure will be on.
“It’s always difficult for any rookie stepping into Formula One, let alone a rookie that is stepping into a team like McLaren, who will be wanting points and podiums regularly.
“And he’s up against Lando Norris, who is maybe a teammate killer in a way. He ruined Daniel Ricciardo’s career, really, who is a proven race winner, but I think it will be difficult for Oscar and I say he will be under the most pressure on him as a rookie since Lewis Hamilton did.
“If you think about the guys that have come into the sport like Charles Leclerc or George Russell, they came in an Alfa Romeo and a Williams that were backmarkers. Even when Norris stepped up into the McLaren, they weren’t challenging for points and podiums.
“Oscar is stepping into a team where they are, that is their ambition. A rookie has not stepped into a team as competitive as McLaren for a long time - and with the controversy from last summer - it’s very high pressure and the most on a driver since Hamilton in 2007.
“I think he will do a good job and by the midpoint of the season he will be there or thereabouts.”
Nyck de Vries - The Unrookie
Out of the three drivers handed a race seat this year, only De Vries has raced an F1 car before. That came at Monza in 2022 when he stepped in at Williams for the unwell Alex Albon, who was suffering from appendicitis, and performed magnificently, finishing ninth - picking up two world championship points along the way.
However, Ford believes that this incredible debut result does not show the full potential of the Dutchman, who will be racing for Alpha Tauri in 2023 alongside Yuki Tsunoda (22).
Ford continued: “As good as that was when he stepped into that Williams in Monza, the car suited that track and a lot of drivers at that level could step into it and be competitive that weekend. I don’t think that was a true reflection of him and I don’t think he will be competing for points every single weekend and I think that is also dependent on the car.
“That’s not to say that he isn’t a good driver, he is. He won F2 in 2019, he was the most competitive driver the year before in 2018 outside of the drivers that went up to Formula One (Russell, Leclerc and Albon).
“He was unlucky that he came through at the same time as those guys, generational talents, and any other normal season he probably would have won the title and taken the step up."
De Vries, rather than resting on his laurels, went and diversified his portfolio away from the circus that comes with F1.
“He went away and won Formula E, which is a very different thing to F1 or F2. The cars are very similar and it is very competitive, it’s much more a driver’s Formula rather than depending on the car."
Given he is 28 and unlike other rookies who are coming into the sport, he has experience on his side and that should translate into a racecraft that has been honed and well-rounded.
“His wheel-to-wheel combat will be good, I think he is a good qualifier as well. It will be a difficult season in an Alpha Tauri that is not the most competitive car but I rate him highly. He is a very good driver and he will do a good job up against Yuki Tsunoda.”
With just 20 seats in the sport, competition for places is always fierce and if De Vries does not perform as expected, the Red Bull ownership group will not be slow in making a quick decision.
“There are drivers waiting in the wings,” Ford warns. “There are six drivers in Formula 2, who are all Red Bull junior drivers and there is also Liam Lawson, who has gone over to Super Formula from F2. All in all, that is seven drivers, excluding Daniel Ricciardo, that all want De Vries’ seat.
“If he doesn’t perform this season, he will be out the door. We know that Helmut Marko (Red Bull’s Development Programme manager) doesn’t mess around with drivers and as he is 28, if there is someone that is doing well in Formula 2 or Lawson is doing well in Super Formula then Marko will want to put them in the seat to see if they are the next Max Verstappen. There is pressure in a different sense for De Vries.”
Logan Sargeant - The American Dream
With three US races on the calendar this year - Austin, Miami and Las Vegas - having an American is a distinct advantage given the rise in popularity of the sport, so it felt a no-brainer for one of the teams to go and grab an American driver - to ride the wave.
That man is Sargeant, who joins Albon at Williams after Nicholas Latifi (27) was relieved of his duties in the winter. A talented driver certainly, but he has had to work hard for his opportunity in F1 even during his final race in the junior category last year.
Ford explained: “He needed a top-five finish in F2 last season to get enough points to be in Formula One. It was a really high-pressure situation in the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi where he needed to finish in the points to be in F1.
“He has shown he can deal with those situations and that will be really handy for him.
“Sargeant has real pedigree. He has also battled financially to get to the point where he is competing for a Formula 1 seat and momentum is so important in junior racing.
“His rival Piastri had that momentum, Sergeant had it, had to take a step back because he didn’t have the money to step up, did another season in Formula 3, moved into a team that had never won a race and then won them a race, which is impressive in itself.
“He finished fourth in F2 last year and on paper you look at it and think there are places more worthy of stepping into F1 but he is still a quick driver and those guys who finished in front of him were experienced, so to finish fourth as a rookie is a good job. I’m excited to see him step up.”
Out of the three new drivers on the grid, it is Piastri who Ford believes will have the biggest impact.
“Out of the three, you can’t look past him,” Ford said. “He has a driver coach in Mark Webber that is so valuable, and I think he is the one to watch out for.
“By the midpoint of the season, I think he will be competing with Norris. If he can do that, it will show just how good Piastri is.”
Not only is Formula 1 back this weekend in Bahrain, but so is the new F2 season. Consisting of 14 rounds and with a cast of drivers looking to push forward in their careers.
Ford, a close watcher of the competition and an expert on all things F2, he is excited to see what the new season will bring.
“It’s such an interesting series. All the cars are very similar and there are opportunities for anyone to win the title. It’s so competitive and there are a few names that stand out to me.
“Theo Pourchaire (19) is back again. I was surprised to see him return for a third season, given that he finished second in the standings last year. I thought it would be more beneficial for him to go and work with Alfa Romeo and integrate himself within the team with a view to getting a seat in 2024.
“He will be strong and a title contender, but the name everyone is talking about on social media and on the podcast is Jack Doohan (20). He is an Alpine junior and he seems to be the favourite for the title this year.
“Consistency is everything in Formula 2 and if he can get some more consistent performances and results throughout the season, I think he will be up there alongside Pourchaire.”
Both Formula 1 and Formula 2 are shaping up for another intriguing season and with the new faces on the grid, there shouldn’t be too many dull moments.
You can hear more from Fraser Ford on The F2 Show, which is available on every major podcast app.