5 feeder series stars overlooked by F1 academies

To get into the top flight of motorsport nowadays, being in an academy is a must. The last two non-academy drivers to get into Formula 1 were Nikita Mazepin and Nicholas Latifi, and both of those signings were clearly influenced by some sort of large financial backing.

By Tom Evans

With so few places available on the F1 grid, it’s quite common that a great driver will be left out or disregarded in favour of others. Here’s a list of the very best drivers from 2022 whose performances would merit an academy place.

Felipe Drugovich

Drugovich may be the best-known driver on this list, but that’s for good reason. Having started his car racing career in ADAC F4 in 2016, he managed to land a third-place championship position in his second year, and he ended up topping current Mercedes F1 junior Frederik Vesti in the standings.

Drugovich’s impressive results continued as he won both the Euroformula Open and the MRF Challenge Formula 2000 titles in 2018, beating drivers like current IndyCar driver Rinus VeeKay. The 2019 season was less fruitful for Drugovich, who finished 16th in FIA F3, albeit not with the most competitive team in Carlin. The only real highlight was beating current Williams Driver Academy member Logan Sargeant in the standings.

Despite only having one year of F3 experience, Drugovich moved up to F2 the following year with MP Motorsport. This was much more successful than his previous F3 campaign, with three wins in his first year. A second year in the category was imminent, and by switching to a top team like UNI-Virtuosi, Drugovich was expected to mount a title challenge, but this came to nothing. Though his teammate, Guanyu Zhou, finished third overall, Drugovich struggled to perform and ended the year with no wins to his name.

Returning to MP this year, Drugovich has bagged some incredibly impressive results. Over the 20 races so far, he has managed seven podiums, including four wins, and is currently sitting at the top of the standings.

Franco Colapinto

Argentinian driver Colapinto absolutely dominated the 2019 Spanish F4 Championship in his first full year in single-seaters, taking 11 wins from 21 races and ending the year as champion. He continued this form in 2020, when he finished third in the Toyota Racing Series over the winter and in the Formula Renault Eurocup championship during the main racing season.

Alongside this single-seater success, he started to pick up the bug for GT and endurance racing. In 2021, he competed in the 24 Hours of Spa and in both the Asian Le Mans and European Le Mans Series, taking third and fourth in the championships respectively and scoring an overall win in ELMS’ Le Castellet round. He was pretty busy that year as he also competed in the Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine (FRECA), finishing sixth in the standings with two wins and two further podiums.

This year, he is doing FIA F3 and is sat ninth in the standings as the highest-placed Van Amersfoort Racing driver with a pole position in his very first race weekend and a win in the Sprint Race at Imola. Though Colapinto said at the most recent F3 round that he’d not heard from any F1 academies, surely some will be thinking about picking him up.

A young man (Franco Colapinto) wearing a pink, white, black and blue helmet and a white racing suit stands in the cockpit of his blue and orange racing car and points his two index fingers towards the air. The blue, gold and yellow car of Gabriel Bortoleto is alongside Colapinto's.
Before stepping up to FIA F3, Franco Colapinto dovetailed a FRECA campaign with endurance racing in 2021 | Credit: FRECA

Gabriele Minì

A driver’s first year in cars is usually a chance for them to find their feet in single-seater machinery. But not for Minì, who won the Italian F4 Championship in his first year, beating out the likes of Francesco Pizzi and Dino Beganovic. The following year in FRECA, Minì finished a very respectable second in the rookie championship, just behind Red Bull junior Isack Hadjar.

At the start of 2022, Minì joined forces with Hitech to compete in the Formula Regional Asian Championship. Despite missing three races over the course of the season, he still managed to finish fourth overall, beating the likes of Beganovic, Jak Crawford, and Paul Aron, all of whom are currently associated with an F1 academy.

Minì stayed in FRECA for another season, looking to improve upon the previous year’s solid results. And up until now, he has definitely achieved that. Eight podiums in 14 races prove that Minì has the speed to get some seriously impressive results.

A young man with black hair (Gabriele Minì) in a white, red and black racing suit looks at the camera and does a thumbs-up gesture with his right hand. Several race cars are parked behind him.
Gabriele Minì has taken two wins in FRECA this year, including one at home in Imola | Credit: FRECA

Alex Dunne

After multiple championship wins in karting, Dunne moved up to cars in 2021. He started by doing nine races of Spanish F4 and casually took pole position in his first-ever car race. He also did nine races of ADAC F4 that year, taking two podiums, two poles, and three fastest laps – a solid performance in the first car races of his career.

To say 2022 has gone well for him so far would be an understatement. Starting off in F4 UAE with Hitech, Dunne finished as the second-highest non-Prema driver, taking two wins and two further podiums over 20 races to finish sixth overall. He continued his venture with Hitech into British F4 and took two wins and a second place from three races in his first weekend. This run of form has continued, and he currently sits atop the standings by 66 points heading into Round 8 this weekend at Thruxton.

But he hasn’t just done British F4 this year; he’s been doing Italian F4 as well with US Racing. That hasn’t gone too badly either with five podiums from 12 races so far putting him third overall. 

A young man with ginger hair in a white, red and black racing suit holds a sign in his right hand with the Omologato logo and the text "pole position" above the image of an Omologato watch. Dunne is holding the watch in a black case in his left hand.
Alex Dunne took seven poles from eight in the first four British F4 rounds | Credit: British F4 Championship

Nikola Tsolov

Born in Bulgaria in 2006, Tsolov is the youngest entrant on our list, but he is included for good reason. His karting career is filled with impressive results, including a win in the Mini category of the WSK Open Cup  in 2019 and a runner-up finish in the WSK Final Cup in 2021.

Spanish F4 is one of the most competitive F4 championships, but that hasn’t stopped Tsolov from absolutely dominating the first four rounds, taking nine wins, 10 poles and 11 fastest laps – truly remarkable achievements from a truly remarkable driver.

Whilst Tsolov is part of the Alpine Affiliates programme and is managed by Formula One driver Fernando Alonso, he hasn’t yet found his way into a full-fledged F1 academy. However, if these results continue, it’s only a matter of time before he does.

A boy (Nikola Tsolov) wearing a white Hankook winner's cap and a blue, black and white racing suit stands on the podium at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo in Cheste, Spain, while draped in a Bulgarian flag and lifts two winner's trophies above his head, one in each hand. Beside him is another racing driver, Tymoteusz Kucharczyk.
Nikola Tsolov swept the third round of the championship at Circuit Ricardo Tormo | Credit: Spanish F4

Header photo credit: Formula Motorsport Ltd

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