The Red Bull junior drivers treadmill has produced some excellent talent over the years, with Sebastian Vettel being the star pupil of Dr Helmut Marko.
After Vettel came Daniel Ricciardo, then Max Verstappen was the shining new, with Pierre Gasly, Yuki Tsuonda (both AlphaTauri) and Alex Albon (on loan to Williams) the latest graduates currently in F1.
However, the well that Red Bull can draw from to find the next in line has started to dry up a bit, with the team opting for an underdog at the end of 2020 by signing Sergio Perez in place of under-par Albon.
The senior team won’t re-promote Gasly after his poor half-season in 2019, and who consequently finds himself in something of a wait, waiting for the cards to fall somewhere near Faenza’s exit door.
There are also doubts over Tsuonda and his consistency, although he has improved in 2022 from a peak debut campaign last year.
But after Tsunonda, there is no single candidate to be the next Red Bull junior F1 driver – just a group of very good drivers fighting for that chance.
That position was filled by Estonian Juri Vips – who took over Perez’s car during the first tests in Spain – but his comments on an online stream put the idea to rest.
Therefore, there is an opening to be the next Red Bull junior to move up to F1 – but who are the main contenders for it from F2 and F3?
The next Red Bull junior in line
The main competitor who has slipped into the shoes of Vips is current F2 and test and reserve driver Liam Lawson.
Hailing from New Zealand, Lawson has taken an unconventional route up the rankings, including a stint in F2 and the DTM in 2021 – where he finished a controversial second in the standings.
Leading the championship with 19 points in the final race, his rival Kevin van der Linde seemed to forget that race cars have brakes at Turn 1, driving into Lawson’s machine, which suffered significant damage.
He was trailed by only three points as Lucas Auer benefited from some orders from the Mercedes team to snatch the title at the last.
After that disappointment, Lawson moved from Hitech to Carlin in F2 and enjoyed a more consistent second season, with Sprint Race wins in Saudi Arabia and France to go along with a handful of other podium finishes.
However, the 20-year-old is only eighth in the standings after the Hungarian weekend in what is not the strongest field F2 has produced compared to recent years.
What is certain is that Lawson will be the next Red Bull junior to drive an F1 car.
AlphaTauri boss Franz Tost has confirmed he will be in the AT03 during first practice at the Belgian Grand Prix – filling one of the slots the team has to give up to a rookie driver.
© Getty Images/Red Bull Contentpool
The Indian, the Norwegian and the Japanese in the running
In the current F2 standings, the highest-ranked Red Bull junior is Jehan Daruvala, a 23-year-old born in Mumbai.
He is fifth after a consistent, if not spectacular campaign so far – with five second places and a third to boot.
Although he paved the way for Red Bull juniors outside F1, Daruvala’s name is unlikely to be added to the cast along with Vettel, Verstappen and Ricciardo.
He is now in his third year of F2, a category where those destined for F1 spend a maximum of two seasons – but in the case of George Russell, Lando Norris and Charles Leclerc, only one was needed.
Despite private trials for McLaren, a career in tin-tops and sports cars seems to be the path he will take once his F2 journey is over.
Dennis Hauger (pictured below) is the reigning FIA F3 champion – winning a title is always a tick in Dr Marko’s book.
Still just 19, Oslo-born Hauger has been something of a second-season pundit during his time on the F1 support bill.
A debut F3 campaign in 2020 with the underachieving Hitech team secured just one podium, before moving to junior powerhouse Prema for 21.
The title was delivered with four victories, its installation in F2 also bringing some victories, but many inconsistencies. He has only scored points once (fourth in the Austrian Feature Race) since taking the Feature victory in Azerbaijan.
The latest Japanese export to Europe in motorsport is Ayumo Iwasa – who has a great reputation to follow since Tsuonda was the latest.
Iwasa moved to F2 after joining the Red Bull books in 2021 and a strong season in F3, still with Hitech.
The 2020 French F4 champion has scored four F2 podiums this year, including a maiden victory in the France Feature Race and a pole position in Hungary.
Iwasa is fast, but apparently a little too rough around the edges to be considered for a Red Bull-backed F1 driver at the moment. Another season in F2 in 2023 would prove beneficial.
© Getty Images/Red Bull Contentpool
The Red Bull F1 left field junior option
For all the popularity of F1 in the United States right now, the one thing it doesn’t have is an American driver.
Not since Alexandre Rossi in a terribly slow mansion in 2015 has an American raced in F1, with Scott Speed in 2006 the last time one embarked on a full campaign – to begin with anyway.
Having an American driver would do wonders for the championship, but it has to be the right one in the right car.
No matter how good a Logan Sergeant driver is, American fans won’t like to see their driver fight for a weird point if he gets the Williams wheel – or if Colton Herta ever makes it to F1, in a midfielder, Sharp McLaren.
Red Bull can offer their American-backed driver a very competitive seat – should they decide to do without Perez, or even Verstappen (as unlikely as that may be).
Jak Crawford hails from NASCAR country in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the 17-year-old gained support from Red Bull at the start of 2020.
Switching from Hitech to Prema again for his second season in F3, Crawford picked up a first victory at the Red Bull Ring (of all places) earlier this year.
Of all the Red Bull juniors on the verge of F1, Crawford is certainly the most interesting and left-leaning candidate, mainly because of his nationality and the exposure awards he could present to Red Bull if he turns up. went to F1.
It won’t be for a while yet, with a year or two of F2 needed as only Danill Kvyat made the direct leap from what was then GP3 to F1 in 2013/14, with Red Bull, of course…
© Van Amersfoort Racing
Dr Marko’s favorite for an F1 ride
And then we have Isack Hadjar – a 17-year-old French driver who, according to Marko, is already destined for F1.
Still in his first year of Red Bull support, Hadjar currently tops the F3 standings with three wins, including on his series debut at the Bahrain Sprint. He is 24 points ahead of Crawford in the standings – the American is fourth.
Given his form, the promotion of Hadjar in F2 for 2023 is almost assured for the Hitech driver.
Marko also raised the possibility that if Hadjar does well in F2 next season, his promotion to F1 could come as soon as 2024, with the AlphaTauri team.
If that were to happen, Gasly would have finally found the way out or Marko would have decided that three years was enough for Tsuonda and he wasn’t good enough, which means it’s time to try the next pilot. .