Ferrari must think about what they want to do with their driver academy


28 November at 09:04
Last update 28 November at 09:35

The Ferrari Junior Academy had access to the top drivers in the junior classes in recent years, but with the departure of Mick Schumacher, very few drivers ended up breaking through. What went wrong at the Italian academy?

F1 training programs

Almost every Formula 1 team has its own training program. Even Williams, the team dangling at the bottom of the constructors' championship, will pass on their own junior Logan Sargeant in 2023. Red Bull is an example for many, with a huge junior program, their own B-team, and a team at the top. The ideal motorsport ladder for young talent is still proving hard to replicate.

Mercedes managed to prepare George Russell in a similar way and Ferrari also managed to train Charles Leclerc through an intermediate year at Alfa Romeo. It is the exceptional talents that break through, but where Red Bull has room for a lot of talents, Ferrari increasingly struggles with not having control over their B teams.

Haas and Alfa Romeo count as B-teams of Ferrari, but both teams are really only customers of Ferrari. Deals like Haas' with Mick Schumacher and Alfa Romeo's with Antonio Giovinazzi provide a discount on a Ferrari engine, but that is not sacrosanct for the customer teams. In the end, after all, they have to perform, so there is no angelic patience like AlphaTauri.

Giovinazzi, for instance, was already pushed aside as a Ferrari talent for Guanyu Zhou. The Chinese driver brought in more money and the Italian had proved unable to take the team by the hand already. Therefore, Valtteri Bottas was brought in as the front-runner. At Haas, we now see the same thing, where Schumacher is pushed aside for veteran Nico Hulkenberg.

The golden Ferrari lights

In 2020, the top four in the Formula 2 championship consisted of three Ferrari talents. Mick Schumacher was given a chance at Haas as champion, but Callum Ilott was left to his own devices. The number four of that championship, Robert Shwartzman, was also not offered a permanent F1 seat despite several tests for Ferrari. It is a big contrast to that year's number three, Yuki Tsunoda, who has since enjoyed all the confidence at AlphaTauri and has been allowed to stay even after crashes.

Thus, a strong batch of talent has been lost at Ferrari. The so-called B-teams are there, but more and more the focus at those teams, too, is on quality and experience. The points have to be brought in in the middle ground and a rookie is not going to provide that. So Ferrari will have to look for a closer partnership if it wants to be able to train talents for longer.

Schumacher, Ilott, Shwartzman, and Giovinazzi all achieved top results in the step-up classes and were given limited or no chance in F1. Schumacher seems headed to Mercedes, Ilott to America, and Shwartzman and Giovinazzi's future is still unknown.

For the talents coming up, this does not mean much good. Oliver Bearman finished third in Formula 3 in his rookie season and, as in F3, will also race for Prema's team in 2023, but in Formula 2. At just 17, the Briton is considered a great talent, but with seats occupied at Alfa Romeo (which will soon turn into Audi) and Haas, the question is where Ferrari sees his future.

The same can be wondered about Arthur Leclerc. The younger brother of Charles was disappointed in his second F3 season, finishing sixth in the championship, and at 22 years old, time is running out. He will drive for DAMS' F2 team in 2023 and will also hope that a door will open somewhere.

Training for competition

A training programme for F1 teams is a nice idea and real top talents will always get the chance. The question is whether a top team will actually be able to mentor a talent with slightly less talent, without having its own B-team. You cannot blame a small team like Haas for not being patient with Schumacher, but for a training programme, it is disastrous.

Ferrari will eventually lose Alfa Romeo as a customer to Audi, and with Haas, that leaves only one team left. The American team has shown its own will and so Ferrari needs to think about what it wants with its training programme. If you have no place for talents in F1, you either have to give them a place at Ferrari itself (certainly not advisable) or loan them out or let them leave for other teams. In the latter case, however, you are then training for the competition and indeed that does not seem to be the purpose of having its own training programme.