Why Red Bull has the best F1 driver academy

To secure the longevity of a team’s success in Formula 1, they must look elsewhere than just the performance of their car or the drivers currently on their roster. F1 Feeder Series explores why the Red Bull Junior programme, current and alumni, dominate the grid from Formula 1 and throughout the feeder series.

By George Brabner

The 2022 F1 grid sees seven of ten teams with an established junior academy – a total of nine having some affiliation to a junior programme. Right now though there’s one junior academy that stands out as a cut above the rest: the Red Bull Junior Team (RBJT). This has not always been the case, but Red Bull has picked up where the Ferrari Driver Academy (FDA) left off as a superpower in the junior racing world.

Growing up fast

Entry-level ages for junior academy drivers have been known to be as low as 11 years of age – such is the case of Mercedes Junior driver Luna Fluxa – but the RBJT driver programme have themselves a comparably mature group of drivers. Seven of the thirteen drivers currently on the RBJT roster drive in series as advanced as Formula 3 or higher, making the team’s general presence in junior formulae sit higher than most other F1 junior academies. Many of the prospects closest to Formula 1 lie in Red Bull’s hands, bringing superior on-track ability with them that only improves with time.

RBJT currently have four drivers competing in Formula 2 alone – Liam Lawson, Jehan Daruvala, Ayumu Iwasa and Dennis Hauger – one more than the Ferrari Driver Academy currently competing in all categories above F4 this year!

Red Bull Junior drivers Liam Lawson and Jehan Daruvala | Credit: Red Bull Content Pool

As the emerging pattern shows, Red Bull Racing has a pool of drivers far enough up the feeder series ladder to begin making comments about F1 seats heading their way as soon as opportunities present themselves. With further depth in talent at Formula 3 and Super Formula, Red Bull Racing or Alpha Tauri could be a destination for any of 8 drivers as soon as 2024, as per hints from the head of Red Bull’s driver development programme, Helmut Marko.

Treading a fine line

Being a measured yet fiery character both on and off track counts for a lot when you’re looking to make an impact on any junior category. Carrying yourself along the fine line of being aggressive yet perceptive is a skill not every driver can master, but this is something that’s become synonymous with the Red Bull Juniors. The likes of Liam Lawson and Dennis Hauger in Formula 2 or Isack Hadjar in Formula 3 show they encompass these racing values on a regular basis, thus giving them a significant edge over candidates from other junior teams that are perhaps more relaxed, muted and subdued.

Isack Hadjar, currently second in F3 driver standings, one point off the lead | Credit: Red Bull Content Pool

The theme of measured aggression has riddled the Red Bull Junior Team since its inception, producing two F1 World Champions in Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen, with further F1 race-winners as Pierre Gasly , Daniel Ricciardo and Carlos Sainz Jr all being graduates of the programme. No matter your opinions on their driving at points in their careers, everyone has seen how these five have immense prowess running wheel-to-wheel – something that’s clearly enhanced and built upon during a driver’s time as part of the Red Bull Junior Team.

The edge that this predominantly on-track gives comes to a spectator as more of a gut feeling; you can always count on these drivers to perform, make moves as soon as they get a sniff of a gap and deliver when they really need to. The lack of reservations in the moment is something that doesn’t come without its negatives, but when used correctly, only strengthens a driver.

Consistent top-flight performers

The Red Bull Junior Team is one of the few Formula 1 driver academies where there is little room for anyone who doesn’t have the potential to progress to the pinnacle of motorsport, whether that be in single-seaters or sports cars.

Looking up and down the Red Bull Junior Team and Red Bull affiliate roster, there really isn’t one driver that we can say has any other reason to be there but ability, with virtually all of them competing at the top end of their respective ventures so far this year.

Take Japanese pairing Souta Arao and Yuto Nomura for example; winners of the Suzuka Racing School Scholarship last year just like Ayumu Iwasa in 2019, the pairing step into single-seaters for the first time in French F4. Where you may expect them to perhaps struggle as they adapt, instead, they’ve already both won races, Arao sitting P2 in the championship standings.

Souta Arao during round two of the Championnat de France FFSA F4 2022 in Pau | Credit: Red Bull Content Pool

Arvid Lindblad meanwhile, Red Bull Junior Team’s sole karter, is due to enter Italian F4 with Van Amersfoort Racing as soon as he turns 15 in August. After a test at Vallelunga where he topped the timing board and put 176 laps under his belt, it’s clear he’s another hotshot on the up.

So, when you try and round out the performances of the Red Bull Junior Team so far in 2022, their roster is competitive anywhere from Karting to Formula 2. Even if they’re not yet putting in results constantly in the points, history says that’ll change. Not a luxury every junior team can stake a claim to.

Changing of the guard

Red Bull hasn’t always been able to say they have the junior programme with the most current competitive drivers. However, they’ve turned that around in the last 2 years, as they emerge stronger than rivalling F1 driver academies in 2022.

Looking to 2020 and 2021, for example, the Ferrari Driver Academy had more junior drivers with Formula 1 potential than they did seats but that momentum quickly fizzled out. Callum llott made his move into IndyCar on a so-called “gap year” from the FDA, whilst Armstrong and Enzo Fittipaldi left the academy completely for 2022, as Robert Shwartzman has so far failed to tackle a season of racing since F2 in 2021. That’s left the notoriously strong FDA without a driver in Formula 2, despite having huge successes with Bearman and Leclerc in F3 whilst Dino Beganovic takes on FRECA in impressive fashion.

Comparing the Red Bull Junior Team to the Alpine Academy, Red Bull comes in with a clear advantage, as they still emerge as the ones with more drivers higher up the feeder series ladder. Talents such as Jack Doohan, Victor Martins and Caio Collet are not drivers to be discounted – Martins in fact currently leads the Formula 3 standings over Isack Hadjar – but Red Bull has such strength in numbers, as multiple drivers in their Junior Team constantly seem to be in the talks for a future in Formula 1.

Red Bull clearly depth in numbers and high quality depth at that. It appears all the other F1 junior academies have a lot of catching up to do.

Header photo credit: Red Bull Content Pool

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