With hundreds of drivers competing in feeder series all over the world, your chances of getting to Formula 1 are slim. If you manage to join the academy of a Formula 1 team though, they increase tenfold. That is, if you perform. In this series we take a look at how the members of F1 academies have performed in 2021. Today: the Alpine Academy.
By Perceval Wolff
Five promising Alpine Academy members participated in F2 and FIA F3 this year. Some disappointed, while others have surely impressed F1 team bosses. In 2022, the only rookie on the F1 grid will come from the Alpine Academy.
Oscar Piastri (Formula 2)
After back-to-back titles in Formula Renault (2019) and FIA F3 (2020), Piastri must have felt quite some pressure on his young shoulders entering Formula 2, especially after joining the reigning champions Prema. But the Australian proved to be a man on a mission. The protégé of Mark Webber had a solid first half of the season with five podiums and one win. But in the second half of the season he looked almost unbeatable.
Besides clinching five consecutive pole positions, Piastri scored four consecutive Feature Race wins, beating the record of Charles Leclerc in 2017. In his rookie year he dominated his well-rated teammate Robert Shwartzman by more than sixty points. Piastri has been rewarded by Alpine with some tests at the end of the season in the Alpine A521 of Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon.
As an F2 champion, Oscar Piastri is not allowed to do another season in F2. In the meantime, Alpine has no place for him in F1, as Alonso (2022) and Ocon (2024) signed new deals this year. As the result, the Australian driver has to do with a Reserve and Test Driver role. He is expected to take part in several FP1’s. He will be patiently waiting, hoping to find an F1 seat for 2023.
Guanyu Zhou (F3 Asia, Formula 2)
After two years in the series, 2021 should have been Zhou’s title winning year in Formula 2. The Chinese driver started the year in Asian F3 to gather FIA Super Licence points against several F2, F3, FRECA and F4 drivers. Zhou made it a hard fought win, beating Pierre-Louis Chovet to the title in the last round.
He then had a reasonably strong campaign in F2, but ultimately couldn’t win the championship, finishing third in the championship. In the process he scored two Feature Race wins and had one pole position.
Zhou will fulfil his dream to become the first Chinese F1 driver in 2022, signing a contract with Alfa Romeo Racing to replace Antonio Giovinazzi. He will drive alongside multiple Grand Prix winner Valtteri Bottas. The 22-year-old has already done the Rookie Test with Alfa Romeo to settle in with his new team. Zhou now faces the greatest challenge of his career: making enough of an impression to be able to stay in F1 long term.
Christian Lundgaard (Formula 2, IndyCar)
There were a lot of expectations around the young Dane at the start of the 2021 season. After finishing 7th in F2 (and third best rookie), Lundgaard was supposed to fight for the title with ART GP. But it did not go as planned. He finished only 12th with three podiums, failed to win and was dominated by his rookie teammate Théo Pourchaire. However, the 20-year-old Danish driver found his second wind with a one-off in IndyCar. He qualified an impressive 4th. Despite being sick the night before the race, he managed to finish 12th in his maiden race.
While Lundgaard has signed a multi-year deal with Rahal Letterman Racing in IndyCar, he still has one eye on Formula 1 and might stay in the Alpine Academy. For the moment the Dane is the youngest driver in the championship next season.
F1 Feeder Series had the chance to ask Lundgaard some questions after he bagged his IndyCar-contract.
Victor Martins (Formula 3)
After taking the Formula Renault title in dominant style last year, Victor Martins had a deserved promotion to the FIA F3 Championship. And while he signed with MP Motorsport who finished 6th in the championship the year before, the Frenchman had big ambitions. He scored six podiums of which one win, but a run of five scoreless races in the middle of the season prevented him from claiming a top three position in the Drivers Championship. Martins still finished 5th and clinched the Rookie of the Year title.
It seems that Martins will do another season of Formula 3, as he participated in the FIA F3 post-season test with ART GP, the team with which he won the Formula Renault title back in 2020. He could be the only member of the top eight in the final driver standings to return next year.
Caio Collet (Formula 3)
It has been kind of a strange year for Caio Collet. The young Brazilian driver had a solid rookie season in F3: 9th in the standings, 2nd best Rookie, two podiums, and an impressive run of six consecutive top fives at the end of the season. However, he has been overshadowed by his teammate and fellow Academy member Martins, who was also a rookie.
Like Martins, Caio Collet is most likely to return to the series next year. At the post-season test, he was with MP Motorsport again and is rumoured to stay with them for next year. His objective will surely be to grab his first wins in F3 and fight for the title.
With Guanyu Zhou gone and Christian Lundgaard possibly leaving, things are set to change next year at the Alpine Academy. It is rumoured Red Bull affiliated driver Jack Doohan could join Alpine, while the French squad is also evaluating the possibility of recruiting a driver from FRECA.
Header photo credit: Formula Motorsport Ltd