Formula One 2011 – an assessment of the bottom teams after three races

So we have now seen the first three races of the new Formula One season. Sure, it’s still really not much, and many things can and will change in the next races when F1 comes back to Europe. Still, there is enough material for a first analysis of the teams and drivers.

Starting from the back of the standings, the first team is HRT. The only positive thing that can be said about them is they are steadily improving. From a non-qualification, through a double retirement, to a double finish is a feat in a way. Seeing them not too far from Virgin is a surprise, too, but doesn’t tell as much about HRT as about Virgin. No surprise as to the drivers, Liuzzi is much faster than Karthikeyan. It remains to be seen if the Spanish team can bring improvements to Turkey, as will all other teams, and how long sponsors will be willing to pay to make up the rear of the field, a few laps down.

Virgin, then, is seeing HRT just behind them. As Team Lotus on the other hand has increased their advance, we can say that the Russian-backed team has not been advancing as they should have and wanted to. With someone as used to success as Richard Branson, it is doubtful this situation will be tolerated for long. Nick Wirth will have to abandon his CFD-only approach or take it to another team. Young Belgian Jerôme d’Ambrosio has been holding his head up against Glock, even beating him in the Chinese qualifying as well as the race. It will not be enough to secure a spot on the grid for many years, but it is a good start.

It comes as a bit of a surprise to see Williams as the next team on the way up the standings. Double retirements in the first two races of the year has not help their classification, and it seems the reliability is a major issue with the team that recently went through an IPO. As a result of poor performance, the share has already lost a third of its value. There seems to be more value in the long-term performance of F1 veteran Rubens Barrichello, who is clear ahead of the second GP2 winner in a row. Maldonado will have to step up his game if the Petro-Bolivars are to keep flowing, instead of going to help the careers of young Venezualian drivers in North American racing. Losing out to Team Lotus simply won’t do.

Speaking of Team Lotus, the Malasian team has made true on their ambition to catch up with the back of the mid-field. After some tyre warming difficulties in Australia, their performance in the last 2 races has meant that established teams can not any more expect to make mistakes and still be ahead of them. While some would have expected them to be more competitive now that they race with Red Bull parts and a Renault engine, they are still only 18 months old, as Tony Fernandes keeps repeating on Twitter. Meanwhile, Kovalainen clearly has the lead over Trulli, who makes it appear like he is slowly letting F1 his career come to an end. Maybe this lack of future ambition will make it easier for him to give over his car to Karun Chandhok for the Indian Grand Prix.

After the first race, Toro Rosso looked like they would be able to take the fight to the likes of Mercedes, perhaps even Renault and Ferrari. This hope has been crushed by disastrous performances in Malaysia and China. The pressure put on the drivers seems to only make them nervous, crashing into each other and hoping the team mate trips, instead of getting them to help each other keep their seats until the end of the season. This bad atmosphere seems to hold on the entire team, with badly set-up cars and lost wheel nuts. Buemi currently has a slight advantage over Alguersuari, but it could change within one race.

Force India is the home of the rookie I have the most hope for, as elaborated upon in a previous post. And up to now, Paul Di Resta has delivered. With a 3:0 in qualifying battles and even a top 10 qualifying in China, the Scot is shaking Sutil out of the complacency that was enough to beat Liuzzi last year. And the rookie has confirmed his performance in the race by making points on two occasions, finishing 11th the third time. While the car Force India has given his drivers seems no more (but also no less) than adequate, the German has to show an improvement soon, as Vijay Mallya is not known for his patience and Nico Hülkenberg is waiting in the wings for a chance racing again.

That’s it for the second half of the standings, next post will detail performances and driver comparisons for the (current) top 6 teams. As always, comments are very welcome.

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Where are the Italian Formula One hopefuls?

In the history of Formula One, few nations have been as influential as the Italians. Imola, Monza, Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Minardi, Maserati (but also Life, Forti), Ascari, Farina, Alboreto, Patrese, de Angelis, Bandini, even Fisichella and Trulli, all these are names that have put their mark in the history of the sport.

While Imola has been removed from the calendar in F1’s worldwide expansion scheme, Monza still holds the Italian colours high for circuits. Ferrari is still there, and still at the top, while Toro Rosso has replaced Minardi. But where are the drivers? In all of Formula One history, Italy has had the second or third most drivers in the sports (depending if one considers the USA with a lot of drivers who only took part in the Indy 500, which was part of the F1 calendar back in the 1950’s).

The two Italian drivers currently present on the grid are certainly not the future of Italian Formula One. Trulli is past his prime and has a horde of Team Lotus Juniors (Chandhok, Razia, Valsecchi, Teixeira) knocking at Fernandes’ door to take over his cockpit. He has been consistently outperformed by his team mate last year and the chances of that changing this season are small, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he announced his retirement for the end of the season.

Liuzzi is not any more the up and coming young driver he once was. At nearly 30 years, his main accomplishment since the 2004 Formula 3000 championship is that he was booted out of two teams to make place for other drivers. Given HRT’s track record, he will be lucky to drive all races this season, and I don’t see him finding a seat in a top or even middle-tier team any more.

So the hopes of Italy to again have a winning driver in Formula One, and perhaps find similar success as in the beginnings of F1, when 3 or more Italian drivers were able to win, rely on finding worthy drivers coming up the ranks. Unfortunately, a quick survey of the main feeder series doesn’t show many Italians.

Sure, many promising drivers have Italian-sounding names, but they all drive for other countries. Jules Bianchi is French (and his grand-father and grand-uncle Mauro and Lucien were racing as Belgians), Daniel Ricciardo is Australian, Alexander Rossi from the USA, and Coletti and Richelmi are Monegasque. The same holds true for two of this years F1 rookies, di Resta (UK) and d’Ambrosio (Belgium). If it sounds like Italian exports do quite well in motorsports, this is nothing new. Fangio’s parents were Italians, as was Emerson Fittipaldi’s grandfather, and of course Mario Andretti was born in Italy.

The ‘real’ Italian newcomers, though, are few and far between.  In GP2, there are only two drivers under an Italian licence. One is Juliàn Leal, of whom I am not sure why he doesn’t race under the flag of his home country Columbia. He has not impressed in his two years of WSR3.5, or in his recent GP2 Asia participation. I don’t know if he will ever make it into F1, but certainly not anytime soon.

Davide Valsecchi has an interesting background in that he made it into GP2 despite winning only one race in his 5 years of lower series up to that point. He has taken a few wins in his 3 years of GP2, in particular 3 on his way to a dominating performance in the 2009-10 GP2 Asia championship. Still, he is now in his 4th GP2 year, and it doesn’t seem like his Team AirAsia can give him a top car. It will be tough for him to find a place in F1, his only chance might be in replacing an ill Lotus driver this year and showing a remarkable performance in the style of Kamui Kobayashi.

The situation is even worse in WSR3.5, where no Italian driver is currently announced. While this could be changed, as Italian team Target Racing has not yet nominated their drivers but has been running Daniel Zampieri at test sessions. The driver has not impressed either in the tests or in his rookie season last year.

In Formula 2, we see only Austrian-Italian Mirko Bortolotti, who is best known for being dropped by both the Red Bull Junior Team and the Ferrari Driver Academy. He rejoins Formula 2 after a disastrous year in GP3. He needs to win this championship if he wants to even have a chance at a GP2 drive next year.

Even GP3 has only 2 Italians entered in the 2011 season. Vittorio Ghirelli was last of the regular drivers in the series last year. This might be justified by the fact that going straight from karting into GP3 is too big a step, and we will have to see how he does this year. Andrea Caldarelli is new in the series, stepping up after finishing 3rd in the Italian F3 championship.

So there won’t be any new Italian F1 driver under normal circumstances in at least the next 3 to 5 years. What has Italy done wrong? Well certainly the promotion of young talents from a young age seems to be lacking. Ferrari can not be made the culprit there, they gave Italian drivers their chance in their Academy, but they did not take it, so the Scuderia went looking all the way to Canada to find a worthy 12-year old.

Italian Formula 3 has lost out to the British and the Euro series and don’t seem to attract as many international young talents as they did in the past. The competition in the series is not high enough for even the champions to hold their ground on the international level.

I believe it is the role of Ferrari to take Italian drivers the last step to the top categories, but there is a need for more work by the Italian federation on the lower levels. They have been content with the situation, blinded by the successes of the Italian Auto Sport Commission, and not seeing that only 4 GP wins for Italian drivers in the 2000’s are not enough to generate the necessary enthusiasm among the youth.

If nothing is done, Italy can only hope one of those few talents comes unexpectedly and causes a boom similar to what Schumacher did for Germany in the 1990’s, making it the nation with most drivers on the grid in 2011 and paving the way for future champions.

What do you think, did I miss a young Italian talent ready to explode on the international motorsports scene? Or did I misjudge one of the drivers mentioned? Or do you just disagree with my views on the reasons and possible solutions? Let me know in the comments!

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Formula One and the 107% rule

The 107% rule has been reinstated for the 2011 Formula One season. For those who don’t know, this rule excludes all cars from racing that could not reach a fast enough time in qualifying. The limit is defined by adding 7 percent to the time of the fastest car in the first part of qualifying, hence 107% rule. Taking the fastest time in the first part of quali insures all cars and drivers have the same conditions, or at least the chance to have those. In fact the top time is normally done by one of the leading cars who are not in that phase on the fastest tyres yet.  This leads to cars being qualified although they have set a time slower than 107% of the pole position time.

In exceptional circumstances, the rule can be relaxed to let drivers take part in the race, although they have not lapped fast enough in qualifying. These circumstances include climatic changes, for example if a driver sets a time during rain, but is subsequently unable to improve it in dry conditions because his car breaks down. Other exceptions are at the discretion of the race stewards, but the driver should have demonstrated his ability to reach the time limit, for instance by beating it in free practice.

The rule made two victims in the first race of the year already. It wasn’t a big surprise to anyone, except maybe the team’s sponsors, that the HRT drivers were not able to lap fast enough to enter the race. There is simply no way a new car can make the grid without having done a single lap in testing and only very few laps in practice. In fact, the same fate would have met the team in 2010, had the 107% rule already been in force then.

Vitantonio Liuzzi joined quite of few of his countrymen on the list of drivers evicted from the race because they were too slow. This is due partly to the Italian team Forti, who was one of the reasons the rule was instated in the first place. It had 4 double non-qualifications out of 10 races it participated in before folding. One of its drivers was Luca Badoer, who has the dubious honour of being one of only two drivers to fail to qualify with two different teams. Of course Badoer’s career was spent mostly with teams that fill up the end of the grid (or a good team with a bad car). The second team with which he failed to qualify is Minardi, now racing as Scuderia Toro Rosso. This is the team which accounts for a third of the drivers failing to reach the 107%.

At least the HRT drivers can comfort themselves by the names of a few other victims of the 107% rule. Names such as Fernando Alonso, who went on to become double World Champion with Renault, or Damon Hill, whose World Championship was already 3 years past at the time, are not those we expect to find in such a list.

Of course, the full 3 seconds that Karthikeyan was off the mark have not been reached under normal circumstances since the MasterCard Lola debacle. That team took part in only one qualifying (interestingly also in Melbourne), failed to qualify and folded before the next race.

While I doubt HRT will fold before the Grand Prix of Malaysia, failing to qualify for one or two more races will certainly disappoint the few sponsors the team has. And with its home Grand Prix approaching, Tata Group will surely reassess its engagement before risking the national shame of seeing the sole Indian driver fail to qualify for the Indian Grand Prix.

What do you think, is the 107% rule legitimate? And will HRT continue to fail qualifying? Let me know in the comments.

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The Formula One Rookie Class of 2011

In different Formula One seasons, the new drivers, aka rookies, have historically performed with very diverging amounts of success. From the mass of hopefuly who disappeared from F1 after one season (or less) to the two rookies who made it to runner-up, there is a wide array of possible outcomes.

I am pretty sure we won’t see the feats of Jacques Villeneuve and Lewis Hamilton repeated this year. They both ended their first Formula One seasons as second in the World Championship and interestingly both went on the win it in the next year. Of course they both entered Formula One with the best team on the grid at that time.

The other end of the array, saying goodbye to the top level after one season or less, is a definite threat over the head of at least one of the new drivers. Jerôme d’Ambrosio took the seat of one who endured exactly that fate, Lucas Di Grassi. Having the experienced Timo Glock as a team mate doesn’t favour a young gun who needs to show his skills. Being in a team whose main aim in the season is to not finish last as they did in the previous season does not help, either. The young Belgian will not have many opportunities to show other, more established and performing teams, that he has the speed to secure a permanent place on the grid. If he can qualify and race at the same level as Glock, or slightly below, he might keep his drive for another year, provided Virgin doesn’t fold and D’Ambrosio’s sponsor money keeps flowing. His first qualifying a second behind Glock (Di Grassi had 8 tenths on his first outing), but just 4 tenths below the 107% limit, means that he needs to keep watching his back for some money-laden driver wanting to replace him. At least he brought his Virgin to the flag with no accident or otherwise standing out negatively.

The case of Sergio Pérez is an interesting one. His racing history is good, without being outstanding, with a championship in the National Class of British F3 and a second place in last year’s GP2 championship, his second year in the series. His talent is supplemented by the Telmex sponsorship to give him the Sauber seat next to Kamui Kobayashi. He has proven in the first race that he can drive fast and securely, as he would have scored points without the technical blunder that had his team disqualified. If he can keep that level of performance up, he will have a long a successful career in Formula One. He could even be a race winner one day, perhaps for Ferrari, as he is part of their Driver Academy. I don’t think he will be Mexico’s first World Champion, though. If he goes to Ferrari, he will probably be Felipe Massa’s replacement as number 2 driver.

Williams’ Pastor Maldonado is another driver who combines an average track record in feeder series with a full purse. The Venezualan oil money helps overlook the fact that he won the GP2 championship in his 4th year only, in contrast to his predecessor both as GP2 Champion as well as Williams drivver, Nico Hülkenberg. He outqualified Barrichello thanks to the F1 veteran’s rookie-esque mistake, and was near him in the first part of qualifying. Still, his future is linked to how long the Venezualan government has money to spend in motorsports. And since the top teams have their  own sponsors and are not as dependent on the drivers bringing cash, his chances of finding a top seat are minimal.

Paul Di Resta is the rookie with most potential in the view of most Formula One experts. His lack of sponsors forced him to leave the normal path to F1 through GP2 or World Series by Renault. The Scot took a detour through DTM for Mercedes, who had noticed his win of the F3 Euroseries over team mate Sebastian Vettel. When he took the title there after some very successful years, the German manufacturer decided to help him fulfill his dream of the pinnacle of motorsports and installed him on a seat at their engine customer Force India. Having spent a year as third driver for the team, running many Friday practices, surely helps him re-adapt to single seater racing. His team mate Adrian Sutil is an experienced driver, who will hopefully aid improving the car, but not such an imposing one that Di Resta would struggle to even remotely keep up with him. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised to see Di Resta regularly beating Sutil as of the middle of the season, as he already showed good pace in the first race, taking a point after the Saubers’ disqualification. If he can do that and confirm his performance next season, he is sure to be considered when places are available at the Mercedes works team or at customer McLaren in the next years. And that might well be a step towards joining Stewart and Clark in the book of Scottish Formula One legends.

These are the four rookies who have started the 2011 Formula One season. Others might follow during the course of the season. I’m thinking in particular of Daniel Ricciardo, who breathes down the necks of the Toro Rosso drivers. The other rookies who now serve as test or reserve drivers may only get a chance if a regular driver misses a race due to illness or accident, and even then, there are a few experienced drivers waiting on the sideline for just such an opportunity.

What do you think about the rookies’s chances for a great and/or long career? Let me know in the comments.

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Formula One 2011 – More Last Chances

In my last post, I wrote about how Nick Heidfeld was given one last chance to win a race and thus not keep the records for most podiums, points and so forth without a win. After the first Grand Prix of the year, we can say that he will have to improve a lot if he doesn’t want his chance to be cut abruptly short. Finishing last of the established teams when your  much less experienced team mate is on the podium is a no-go.

Heidfeld isn’t the only one who is having a last chance in the 2011 season, in fact the situation arises in nearly all teams. I’m not even going to go further into the HRT drivers, who will be happy if they just get to drive in a race, or Belgian Jerôme D’Ambrosio, whose first chance might well be the last if he can’t beat Glock and someone with more cash arrives next season. If Virgin makes it into next season, that is, barely qualifying in the 107% won’t keep the bosses happy for long.

Both Lotus drivers seem to be quite secure in their drives, but Trulli might go into retirement voluntarily soon. With a few hungry young drivers from GP2 waiting, reserve driver Karun Chandhok needs to show more than a spin in the second curve to have a chance to inherit the drive next season.

The situation at Toro Rosso is very clear. Both drivers are under direct threat to be replaced, even in the middle of the season. Ricciardo feels he is ready for Formula One, and Helmut Marko looks like he holds the same view. So unless both drivers can show tremendous results, such as a podium or top 5 position, it will be a question of who gets replaced. In Australia, Buemi made a first step, but it is far from enough to keep him secure for the season.

Sauber have two young drivers who should not be under pressure yet. Still, if Esteban Gutiérrez manages a top 3 finish in the GP2 championship, Telmex boss and sponsor Slim will want to place him on the grid.

At Force India, Paul Di Resta has a rookie bonus, in addition to Mercedes support. So Sutil has to step up his game and keep his team mate in check. Something he managed against highly-rated but non-delivering Liuzzi. In 2009, though, Fisichella clearly had the better of him. If the Scot can beat the German, we could see the Hulk replace him sooner than Sutil expects.

The situation at Renault was already described, and after Sunday’s performance, Petrov would need to do several really stupid things to not keep his drive for another season.

Williams is going into the season with a rookie and an experienced driver again. While Maldonado has the sponsorship to stay in Formula One for some years, it is only a question of time until a younger driver can outpace Barrichello and better help the team develop the car. I don’t think it will be the case this year, though, so look out for Rubens on the 2012 grid.

His fellow Brazilian and Ferrari number 2 successor Felipe Massa is in a much less comfortable situation. He needs to be right behind Alonso and bring big points home to Maranello. Let’s not forget that the Italians have a Driver Academy with such drivers as GP2 favourite Jules Bianchi and Sauber driver Sergio Pérez. And Massa knows better than most that Ferrari has a history of placing drivers at Sauber to learn the trade before coming to the top team.

Rosberg should not have to fear for his Mercedes GP drive. He is young, he is German and the son of a World Champion, and he has beaten his 7-times World Champion team mate in 2010. Schumacher is a completely different story. His worth in advertising is not negligible, which is why his bosses still keep him on the grid. But at some point, if he keeps on losing to Rosberg, his image will be damaged and his worth lessened. At that moment, a new, young, likable driver such as Hulkenberg could well bring more positive publicity.

Interestingly, the team with the least danger of someone losing his seat is the one where two former World Champions are opposed. Both are performing within or above expectations and both have different driving styles, complementing one another.

The last team to be mentioned, and first in last year’s championship, also has a clear situation. Sebastian Vettel, as reigning champion, has extended his contract a short time ago. His team mate, though, continues (voluntarily or not) to get one-year contracts. Should he be able to again compete for the championship up to the last race, or couple of races, bringing Red Bull many points for their challenge at keeping the team’s championship, he will doubtlessly be given one more year. Unless one of the Toro Rosso youngsters manages to persuade Helmut Marko that he can do at least an equal job.

What do you think, are some of those last chances far-fetched? Did I forget one? And what is your opinion on who will make the best of his chance? Let me know in the comments.

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Last Chance for Quick Nick Heidfeld

Nick Heidfeld earned his nickname through his efforts in International F3000 mainly. He won the championship in his second year, scoring nearly double the points of his runner-up, something that is unique in the history of F3000 and its successor GP2. His total point tally was not equaled or surpassed until the series had two additional races. Even in the previous year, when Heidfeld was a series rookie, he would probably have taken the series from Juan Pablo Montoya, but for a grid penalty from pole to the back in the last race, due to non-compliant fuel.

The F3000 championship earned also earned him a Formula One drive, unfortunately it was with the then already doomed Prost Grand Prix team. Heidfeld outperformed his experienced team mate Jean Alesi, but achieved no points, as back then they were only awarded for places 6 and above.

This is the basic story of Heidfeld in his whole Formula One career. He more often than not outpaced his team mate, but was never able to make a grand impression. This is particularly visible by his records in F1. He has most points, most podium finishes and most second places of all F1 drivers who never won a race.

Another constant in Heidfeld’s career is the risk of an end due to loss of a racing drive. At several points, Nick looked like he would be spending the year racing in other categories, or sitting at home in front of the television. This was the case just before he found a 2004 drive with the Jordan team, in 2005 when he won his Williams seat through superior testing performance and most of all when BMW announced their retirement after the 2009 season. But even then, Heidfeld came back to the grid with former employer Sauber, by way of third driver duties at Mercedes GP and development driver for Pirelli.

After his third spell with the Swiss team, Heidfeld seemed to be on the way out of F1 for good, and many were expecting him to join Ralf Schumacher and David Coulthard in DTM. But once again, fortune was with Quick Nick as he could profit from the bad luck of his former team mate Kubica. Thus Heidfeld finds himself driving a competitive car again.

The Renault R31, with its innovative exhaust system, could be one of the surprises of the 2011 F1 season. While it is probably not up to competing with Red Bull and Ferrari for the championship, it could very well be able to win a race or two. And Nick Heidfeld is the driver to do it, particularly if the circumstances of a race are out of the ordinary. He has proven in the past that he can read a race perfectly and bring his car further to the front as its performance warrants. And that would be a unique occasion to trade his current records for one held by Mark Webber,  most races before the first win.

It will be interesting to see what happens when (if) Robert Kubica comes back during the season, but in any case Nick will be hard-pressed to hold on to his drive for next season. And the other top teams have either a long-term commitment to their current drivers (Vettel, Alonso) or a choice of up and coming young drivers (Ricciardo, Vergne, Bianchi). In my opinion, this is the last chance Nick Heidfeld has of winning a race or more, even perhaps of being a championship contender. Enough good results could still open him a door to a continuation of a career that deserves to go on.

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Formula One Feeder Series – Where did he come from?

This is the third and last post in my feeder series special. After looking at the current series and what became of the junior series champs in the past, I now explore the way the last and greatest F1 champions took to get to the top.

Obviously, it doesn’t make much sense to look into the past of the 1950’s champions. Most of those started their careers before there Formula One existed and were already at the top by 1950. Also, the drivers of the 1960’s and 1970’s did not go through feeder series as we know them today. Their careers often went through hill-climb races, motorcycle and/or endurance racing.

In the 1980’s the most successful drivers such as Prost and Senna went through F3 (they were French respectively British F3 champions), but generally skipped F2.

In the 1990’s, after the retirement (Prost, Mansell, Piquet) or death (Senna) of the former champions, the time of Michael Schumacher came. While the story of his first racing chance is well-known, it is also interesting to examine what he had been doing before that. While Schumi took a championship in  German F3, as well as a win at the prestigious Macau GP, he never competed in the then last step to F1, International Formula 3000. Instead, his main occupation after F3 was the World Sportscar Championship, a tin-top series in which he competed for the Sauber Mercedes team. The reasoning for that  move was that exposure to press conferences, driving long-distance races and mastering powerful cars would further his career more. Mastermind Willi Weber was to be proven right. Of course his embellishment of the truth helped.

His main rival of the late 1990’s, Mika Häkkinen, also never raced in International F3000, making the jump from his British F3 championship directly to F1. That step was not very popular at the time, as most of the next British F3 drivers after that took the route through F3000. We will never know if it is the right way, but fact is Mika is the last British F3 champion to also become F1 World Champion.

In the mid-2000, the rise to power of a young Spaniard finally brought a World Champion who had at least raced in International F3000. Alonso was not terribly successful there, though, and only the last two races of the season, resulting in a second place and a win, allowed him to take fourth overall in the championship. It is to be noted that that year’s F3000 champion Bruno Junqueira never even had the chance to race in F1, and neither did the runner-up Nicolas Minassian.

The following World Champion is famous for having only 23 car races to his name before entering F1. Of course he had won 13 of these, including a clean sweep of the 1999 Formula Ford 2000 UK championship (4 races for 4 pole positions and 4 wins). To this day, Kimi Räikkönen is recognized as one of the greatest pure talents ever to drive Formula One.

As stated in another post, Lewis Hamilton is the exception, the one final step winner who also made it to F1, following the master plan carefully laid out by his father Anthony.

His current team mate at McLaren and successor as World Champion, Jenson Button, followed the same way as many great drivers of the past, stepping from British F3 directly to F1. He never won the F3 championship, though, finishing third and taking the rookie championship in 1999. Had he not won his shoot-out for the 2000 Williams drive, he would probably have stayed in F3, won the championship and then gone to F1.

Finally, the youngest F1 World Champion, Sebastian Vettel, also never raced on the final step to F1. After having lost out to Paul Di Resta in F3 Euro Series, he was due to race his first entire season in WSR 3.5, and with some probabilty win the championship, when he was called mid-season to replace Robert Kubica at Sauber, and later Scott Speed at Toro Rosso.

So what is the lesson to be taken out of that analysis? If a driver is really good and has the potential to become a Formula One World Champion, teams tend to notice him earlier than the last step to the top, and give him a drive at the top without having to go through all levels.

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