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 Mercedes Junior Team.
By Vicki Merrick
While not as broad as the Red Bull driver academy, the junior team of eight-time F1 constructor champions Mercedes is strong and ranges from karting up to Formula 1. Mercedes expanded its junior team this year with talented drivers like Denmark’s Frederik Vesti and Chinese go-karter Yuanpu Cui. Here we look at the 2021 campaigns of all drivers.
George Russell (F1)
Yes, George Russell is officially still a part of the Mercedes Junior Team. Going into his third season with Williams in F1, Russell had a tough run of races to begin with. He did not finish in the second race of the season at Imola after a collision with Valtteri Bottas. Another DNF came in Baku with a gearbox issue. A third followed at the Styrian GP where his Williams had reliability issues after Russell started tenth. At the next round at the Austrian Grand Prix, Russell reached Q3 for the first time in a Williams. After missing out on a points finish several times Russell came from 17th on the grid at the Hungarian GP to finish a career-best eighth.
Russell’s highlight of the year came at the rain-affected Belgian Grand Prix. He surprised everyone by qualifying second behind Max Verstappen, the first front-row start for Williams since the 2017 Italian Grand Prix. As the race was delayed and eventually finished with only two laps completed behind the safety car, Russell claimed his first F1 podium. He had a disappointing race in the Netherlands but scored two more points finishes in Italy and Russia. Despite finishing the season with two DNFs in Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, he scored 16 points and finished 15th in the World Driver Championship in a fantastic final season with Williams Racing.
In September, Russell was announced as a Mercedes driver for the 2022 season alongside Lewis Hamilton.
Frederik Vesti (Formula 3)
Last season saw Frederik Vesti finish fourth in the F3 driver standings with Prema. He signed for ART Grand Prix and the Mercedes Junior Team in January. After a third place in Barcelona, Vesti had a run of difficult races after doing so well in the championship last year. His break came at the Red Bull Ring, where the Dane scored a second place and narrowly beat championship leader Dennis Hauger for the win in Race 3. Vesti’s next podium of the season came at Zandvoort in Race 2 where he finished third. Vesti finished second in the final race of the season at Sochi, taking enough points to repeat his previous year’s championship finish of fourth place.
Vesti ran in the F2 test in Abu Dhabi for ART Grand Prix, and this might well be where he lands in 2022.
Paul Aron (FRECA)
After moving away from Prema in 2020 to compete with ART Grand Prix in the Formula Regional Eurocup, Paul Aron moved back to Prema in 2021 for the Formula Regional European Championship. In the opening round of the season at Imola, he scored his first podium with a second place. The Estonian continued his strong start to the season with third-place finishes at the following two rounds, However, no additional podiums came until round seven, when he took third in the first race at the Red Bull Ring. His best round came at Mugello, where he claimed his first pole position and his first two race victories. With another podium at Monza, Aron rounded out the championship with 197 points and finished third overall.
Aron tested for Prema in the F3 post season test at Valencia, so he might be making the jump into F3 next year.
Andrea Kimi Antonelli (Italian F4, karting)
While continuing in karting, Antonelli also drove nine races for Prema in the Italian F4 championship. Within those nine races, he claimed three podiums. At Monza, he secured second and third place in one day, followed by another third the next day to round out the season. Antonelli finished tenth overall with 54 points.
The 15-year-old also competed in three different karting series: the WSK Euro Series – OK where he finished 7th, the WSK Euro Series – K2 where (46th), and the WSK Super Master Series – OK where he was runner up. In the WSK Champions Cup – OK he also finished second for KR Motorsport.
Antonelli will return to Italian F4 in 2022 with Prema.
Alex Powell (Karting)
14-year-old Jamaican driver Alex Powell had two major highlights of the year: he finished second in the WSK Euro Series – OK Junior and third in the WSK Super Master Series – OK Junior. He also competed in two other karting cups in 2021, claiming 14th in the WSK champions Cup and seventh spot in the WSK Open Cup.
Nearing the end of 2021 Powell made his debut in OK Senior, and he’s expected to continue that into 2022.
Yuanpu Cui (Karting)
The youngest driver in the Mercedes junior team, Yuanpu Cui competed in three different karting championships in 2021. Within the WSK Super Master Series, he finished 26th in the championship. Also competing in the WSK Euro Series and WSK Open Cup, the Chinese driver finished 43rd and 42nd respectively.
In 2022 Cui is stepping up to OK Senior.
Header photo credit: Mercedes/Steve Etherington