A year ago I wrote an article introducing eight young, up-and-coming stars of motorsport who we should all keep an eye on. A little view into the junior ranks to let you know which names you need to remember. We started the list with Oscar Piastri, who went on to win Formula 2 and is now Alpine’s reserve driver for 2022, so I got one thing right at least. So, with the 2022 single-seater season just around the corner, it’s time to take another look at who to watch this year.
Eight future F1 champions to watch in 2022
2021: F3 Champion
2022: Racing in F2
Last year I highlighted Jonny Edgar, Ayumu Iwasa, Arthur Leclerc and Gianluca Petecof as the drivers to watch in F3. So of course it wasn’t any of them who truly shone. Instead, the championship was dominated by a Norwegian racing driver called Dennis.
Dennis Hauger is a name which probably could have made the 2021 list. He was the 2019 Italian F4 champion and German F4 runner-up. But his 2020 season was disappointing. In his first year in F3 he scored points twice and rarely bothered the top 15 places.
But in 2021 something slipped into place. In a championship that rewards both success and consistency Hauger won the championship by nearly 30 points, clinching his title with two races to spare (one of those was subsequently cancelled). This season he steps up to F2 and will hope to follow in Piastri’s footsteps as a back-to-back champion. The fact that he stays with the Prema team that nursed him to his F3 title can only be a good thing for the Norwegian .
2021: F3 runner-up
2022: Racing in F2
By the end of the 2021 F3 season, only one driver could actually keep Hauger from taking the title, and even that was a long shot. Jack Doohan seemed to come from nowhere to be the main pretender to Hauger’s pre-destined throne. His start to the season was acceptable, but nothing to pull in the headlines. That is until a wet third race at Paul Ricard allowed the Aussie to shine.
Having started fifth Doohan worked his way through the field before hunting down Hauger to take his first F3 victory. This propelled him into third place in the championship and the son of Mick was suddenly a title contender. Whereas the rest of the field struggled to match Hauger, Doohan picked up regular wins (with the odd poor finish thrown in) to finish so far ahead of the field, but behind Hauger, that he might as well have been in his own championship.
Doohan has a history of finishing second, having secured the spot in F3 Asian series twice, but it is his remarkable improvement season-on-season coupled with an impressive set of guest appearances in F2 to end the season that will give his fans hope. In 2020 Doohan finished his first F3 season with zero points. For 2022 he joins Virtuosi Racing in F2, the team which has finished second in the teams championship three years in a row, and which nurtured Guanyo Zhou and Callum Ilott. Doohan will be hoping to finally push for one better.
2021: Fifth in F2
2022: Racing in F2
Our only repeat name on this list. When we last met Theo Pourchaire he had only just missed out on the 2020 F3 title to Oscar Piastri in an incredible finish to the season. As it would turn out the biggest thorn in Pourchaire’s side in 2021 would be... Oscar Piastri.
Taken in isolation Theo Pourchaire’s 2021 season was excellent. A rookie stepping up into F2 and finishing fifth with two wins and a near title challenge. His problem is that Piastri stepped up and won the championship. But we shouldn’t look down on Pourchaire for not having the stellar 2021 that Piastri did. There were plenty of big names that fell by the wayside while the Frenchman ticked off point after point.
For his second season in F2 Pourchaire must be targeting the title, and really should be looking to do it with a reasonably dominant performance. Other than Piastri, no other rookie showed anything like Pourchaire’s ability and the rest of the experienced F2 field now looks rather poor. A second settled season with ART – the team he also raced with in F3 – should mean the perfect platform.
2021: Ninth in F3
2022: Racing in F3
It’s been a little while since Brazil really had a top-level racing driver to pin its hopes on. Felipe Massa’s title challenge in 2008 was really the last time anyone from South America was in with a chance of F1 glory. Caio Collett could be the one to keep an eye on.
Collett came into his first season in F3 with a reasonable record. He was the 2018 French F4 champion and was the runner up in Formula Renault Eurocup in 2020. But his rookie F3 season was an eye-catching one. F3 is normally a two-season programme. You get your eye in in the first one and then challenge in the second. Both Dennis Hauger and Jack Doohan struggled in season one of their challenges. Jonny Edgar, who we added to this list last year, finished 18th in his first season in F3 last year. Caio Collet was ninth. He scored points in 12 races and added a pair of podiums to his resume.
For 2022 he sticks with MP Motorsport for a second season and must be aiming to win the title. Most of his fellow 2021 rookies will need to make a big step up to be in the same position.
2021: Fifth in F3
2022: Racing in F3
Most that is, except for Victor Martins. His team-mate in 2021. Martins beat Collet to the 2020 Formula Renault Eurocup title and then, in the same team as the Brazillian, picked up three times as many podiums and 50 per cent more points in F3.
There were times when Martins looked like he might have been a rookie season title challenger, for example during a charge through the field in a wet third race at Paul Ricard. His big moment came at Zandvoort when he fought from fifth on the grid in race two to take his first F3 win. If it hadn’t been for a run of five races in a row without scoring a point Martins would have been in contention to challenge at least Doohan.
For 2022 he has resisted the urge to step up, going for a second season in F3, but switching to ART, the team that cradled George Russell and Nyck de Vries to F2 titles. His target has to be the championship. The only thing not on Martins' side compared to his rivals is age. At 20 years old he might not be old in real terms, but many of his rivals are doing it in their teens. Martins turns 21 before round four and has at least two more years before he would reach F1.
2021: GB3 champion
2022: Racing in F3
Last year was a stellar season for young Brit Zak O’sullivan. In his second season racing single-seaters having graduated from Ginetta Juniors in 2020, he clinched the first ever GB3 title by a frankly bonkers 154 points (yes, one hundred and fifty four). He won seven races to his nearest rival’s four and finished the year by being handed the prestigious Aston Martin BRDC Autosport Award. A victory that will see the man from Cheltenham test an Aston Martin F1 car at some point in the future.
A member of the Williams young driver academy, O’Sullivan’s rise so far has been impressive. In 2020 he was beaten to the then British F4 championship by just four points despite winning eight races to champion Luke Browning’s seven. While Browning went on to race in German F4 and is returning to race in GB3 for 2022, O’Sullivan has secured a seat in F3 with Carlin, the team that has nurtured his open-wheel career so far.
While you probably won’t see Zak O’Sullivan on the podium much in his rookie F3 season, it’s still worth remembering the name as, if he can continue his incredible rise so far, it won’t be long before Williams are wondering what to do with him.
2021: ADAC and Italian F4 Champion
2022: Racing in F3
Like many, Oliver Bearman dovetailed two separate F4 programmes in 2021, taking on the German ADAC and the Italian championships in the same season. He won both. Six wins and five more titles in Germany were enough for a crown. But in Italy he dominated. Bearman took 11 wins from 21 races and only finished off the podium five times. Like O’Sullivan, he won that title by over 100 points.
Bearman is now a member of the Ferrari driver academy so, like pretty much all Ferrari graduates, he will be racing with Prema in 2022. A first season in F3 beckons with the title-winning team from 2021 and, at the age of 16, Bearman will be halfway through his first F3 season before he can legally drive on the road in the UK.
He and O’Sullivan faced off for the Autosport BRDC award late last year, with O’Sullivan impressing the judges more. Both were just 16 at the time. If they get through the usual tricky first F3 season well, there’s a bright future for the British youngsters.
2021: Third in IndyCar
2022: Racing in IndyCar
Here’s a bit of a cheat, but we want to highlight the talents of O’Ward before he becomes really mainstream. We’re like the hipster motorsport fans. In the US O’Ward is mainstream. He won the 2017 Pro Mazda championship and 2018 Indy Lights championship, completing the IndyCar ladder in three years total. He stepped up into IndyCar and impressed in his first season with Carlin before Red Bull stuck its fizzy nose in and sent things slightly off track.
Signed to the Red Bull junior programme O’Ward went off to do F2 – finishing his only two races – and Super Formula, where he raced three times including a best finish of sixth. With no chance of stepping up to F1 due to a lack of Super License points his Red Bull adventure finished at the end of 2019.
The boost that Pato’s career needed came in the form of McLaren’s renewed interest in IndyCar. O’Ward was signed for 2020 alongside Oliver Askew and scored a number of podiums to finish fourth. He was retained to partner Felix Rosenqvist in 2021 and would claim his first two wins and mount an almost title challenge in only his second full season. The pathway from IndyCar to F1 has seemingly been closed for years, but McLaren seems keen to move O’Ward across the pond if it can. He drove in the F1 post-season young driver test at Abu Dhabi last year and has been the driver Zak Brown has taken for several demo runs in old F1 machinery at various events. Should Daniel Ricciardo have another up and down season the young Mexican could well be in with a shot.
What happened to the drivers on the 2021 list?
Who knows what 2022 will hold – hopefully it holds more than my predictions last year. But given the normal struggles that rookies can find I wouldn’t count any of those drivers out in 2022. Robert Schwartzman struggled in ’21 and needs to step back up if Ferrari is to keep its interest in the Russian. Dan Ticktum’s F1 dreams are most likely over after the, at times volatile, Brit departed F2 for Formula E.
But Jonny Edgar remains in F3 for a second season, hoping to build on a 2021 season that showed mixtures of promise and struggles. He could be a challenger for Victor Martins if all goes well. The same can be said for Arthur Leclerc. The younger brother of Charles struggled for any consistency in 2021 but won two races in his rookie season and has followed it up with a title in the Formula Regional Asia Championship over the winter. Ayumi Iwasa also took his first F3 win during his rookie season, but like Martins is already 20, so F1 hopes will need to speed up (please forgive the pun).
The final member of our 2021 list, Gianluca Petecof, had a very weird 2021. We expected him to step up to F3, but instead, he vaulted from Formula Regional to F2 with Campos. There he managed six races before he ran out of cash, returning to Formula Regional where he struggled to return to the form that won him the title in 2020. For 2022 he has returned to his homeland of Brazil and will become Rubens Barrichello’s team-mate in Stock Car Brasil. For now, at least, his F1 dreams seem to be over.
Images courtesy of Motorsport Images
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