As Jolyon Palmer, Rio Haryanto and Pascal Wehrlein gear up for their Formula 1 debuts this weekend, Valentin Khorounzhiy delves into the record books to assess how each will fare in 2016.
Before Romain Grosjean traded Enstone for Kannapolis and before Manor changed its entire line-up, there had seemed to be a real possibility that F1 would have no rookie class of 2016 to speak of.
But while three drivers will get to make up F1's new blood for this year after all, they are all rather unusual cases. One hasn't raced in a competitive open-wheel championship since 2013, one hasn't raced at all last year and one enters F1 despite being below the newly-set Superlicense threshold.
Off-track, all three certainly bring something to the sport. Haryanto has a fiercely loyal Indonesian fanbase, Palmer is brilliantly outspoken and, despite his outwardly shy demeanour, so is Wehrlein – something that became abundantly clear during last year's “push him out” scandal in the DTM.
But what do the trio bring to the cockpit – and how do their records stack up to those who arrived before?
Trawling the data
Taking the rookie drivers of the three past seasons in Formula 1 and comparing their pre-F1 CVs to those of the new trio yields two major findings – the first one being that Wehrlein, Palmer and Haryanto are all below average in terms of win and podium rates for F1 debutants, and the second one being that none of them are even close to being the worst.
For Palmer and Haryanto, it also shows that, despite their four-year GP2 stints, they are not the drivers who took the longest to make it to F1 – both have less starts in car racing than Alexander Rossi, Roberto Merhi or Giedo van der Garde.
But this data is, of course, very unrepresentative because it equates wins and podiums in regional entry-level F4 and FBMW categories to wins and podiums in GP2 or even Formula 3.
To correct for that – as much as one can without introducing a complex and very subjective system of weighted data – it makes sense to leave in only the biggest (and, crucially, international) junior single-seater categories on the road to F1.
That leaves four obvious series – GP2, FR3.5, GP3 and F3 – and a lesser-known championship that merits inclusion – Renault's two-litre Eurocup series, which enjoyed a reputation for being almost “too competitive” a few years ago.
|Driver||F1 debut||Races||Wins||Podium||Win %||Podium %||Major junior titles|
|Bottas||68||11||31||16.2||45.6||EC ('08) GP3 ('11)|
|Bianchi||101||15||37||14.9||36.6||Euro F3 ('09)|
|van der Garde||180||11||37||6.1||20.6||FR3.5 ('08)|
|Merhi||122||17||45||13.9||36.9||Euro F3 ('11)|
In terms of experience, Wehrlein has the fewest high-profile junior single-seater starts in the database – fewer even than Max Verstappen. That, of course, is because instead of a planned second F3 season in 2013, the German was drafted into DTM aged 18 when Ralf Schumacher decided to call it quits.
That, obviously, is not a decision Mercedes should have any regrets over, but it does somewhat skew his results as he did not get to add what would surely have been a decent number of F3 race wins to his CV as a sophomore driver.
Then again, Wehrlein's win rate is not that far below average - and his podium rate is well, well above, so good was his rookie F3 campaign.
Palmer, in the database, just about hits the mean in terms of race starts, while Haryanto is about 50 percent over – but that's not entirely representative as the Indonesian actually began his single-seater career a bit later and just took a quicker route to major championships than Palmer.
And both are plenty experienced, given that Haryanto is joint-second for the amount of starts and the average is severely affected by Giedo van der Garde and his 179 races.
Again, both Palmer and Haryanto are below the mean in wins and podiums and while the Briton has a markedly better rate than Haryanto, the Indonesian himself edges the likes of Marcus Ericsson, Max Chilton and Will Stevens on victory rates.
by David Gruz
Although a solid amount of established F1 drivers, such as Sebastian Vettel, Valtteri Bottas and Daniel Ricciardo opted against it, GP2 is now back to being the most relevant F1 feeder series.
It's arguably as competitive as ever at this moment, and it has produced seven F1 drivers since 2014, with that number set to be increased by two after Melbourne.
However, GP2's also a series that rewards experience, so much so that the amount of years spent in the category can be an accurate predictor of future F1 success. And that might not bode so well for Palmer and Haryanto, both of who needed four GP2 campaigns to get to F1.
But let's take a look at just how they stacked up compared to other grand prix drivers during their respective four years in GP2:
|Driver||Races||Wins||Podiums||DNFs||Win %||Podium %||DNF %||Quali avg||Race avg|
Now, it's pretty evident that the best stats on the table don't actually belong to a grand prix driver, but it would be amiss not to include Stoffel Vandoorne - a dominant, spectacular racer who really should be in Formula 1 by this point.
Nobody even comes close to Vandoorne's numbers but, of the F1 crop, it's arguably Felipe Nasr who stands out alongside with the late Jules Bianchi.
2014 champ Palmer doesn't look too shabby, having the most victories of those who made it to F1. His average race and qualifying positions aren't that strong, especially when compared to 2014 rival Nasr, but a lot of that is due to an unusually weak rookie season.
In the database, Palmer has the second-most podiums and his 2014 campaign was built on consistently maximising his chances. Going by that, he should have little trouble to adapting to F1, especially given that he's had a full year of preparation as Lotus' third driver.
Manor's new driver Haryanto, meanwhile, is behind Palmer's numbers in almost every category over what were similar-length stints. Most of the first-ever Indonesian F1 driver's GP2 career was low-key - before his breakthrough 2015 campaign, he had finished no higher than 14th in the three preceding years.
In all fairness, he was really unlucky with his team picks - he spent his sophomore year with the Barwa Addax team, which quit after the season, and then signed with the financially-stricken Caterham squad, which struggled massively.
But even in his good year with Campos, he'd only stand on a feature race podium once, which reflected his struggles with qualifying - in the database, he has the worst qualifying average by a rather hefty margin.
However, he did establish himself as something of a sprint race specialist and was second-best to Vandoorne in those races in 2015.
Haryanto's true abilities are still somewhat of a mystery - he was a stellar GP3 driver, but it took him quite a while to reach those levels in GP2.
But what his GP2 stint shows, however, is that he is a rather safe pair of hands - his share of DNFs is much better than anyone else's in the data, aside from the eternal outlier that is Vandoorne.
Haryanto vs Rossi
In 2014 in Caterham's GP2 squad, Haryanto was joined by Rossi, the very driver he beat to the second seat with Manor this year.
And while the American was conventionally regarded as the quicker of the two, it's fair to say Haryanto challenged that convention in the first five races of that campaign – before a takeover in the Caterham F1 squad led to Rossi splitting with the team and its GP2 branch.
|0.618s||Qualifying (avg. gap over 100s)||0.674s|
It would be fair to point out, of course, that the five rounds in question didn't exactly go great for either – not after both Rossi and Haryanto looked extremely quick in pre-season testing.
Both suffered with mechanical issues and the team didn't seem to be on top of the tyre degradation. Issues week-in week-out meant that a pairing which looked capable of challenging for the teams' championship was well off-target five rounds in – Haryanto was 11th with 26 points, while Rossi 16th with 10 points.
The 16-point discrepancy between the two might not be entirely reflective, as Rossi had some appalling luck. But it certainly shows Haryanto was a match, besting his teammate in three practice and qualifying runs and going toe-to-toe in races.
In fact, the comparison of their qualifying average could be much harsher on Rossi if the dual-group Monaco run wasn't excluded from the data. After all, Haryanto topped his respective group on that day, while Rossi was 1.3 off the leader in his group, that leader being, incidentally, Palmer.
Rossi joined Campos for round six and scored two points by going from 25th to seventh in the sprint race, which marked the end of his GP2 season. Haryanto, meanwhile, soldiered on with Caterham and only added two points in the six rounds after Rossi's exit. And both, subsequently, had a much better time in 2015.
When the lights go out in the 2016 Australian Grand Prix, Pascal Wehrlein will join an exclusive list of drivers who have had starts in modern-era DTM before their grand prix debuts.
It's a short list, with just four names on it, but it does include a DTM champion and a DTM runner-up. So how does Wehrlein stack up in their company?
|Driver||Years||Races||Wins||Podiums||DNFs||Quali avg||Race avg|
As it turns out, pretty well.
In terms of race and qualifying averages, the German is second only to fellow Mercedes protege Paul di Resta, who was an absolute demon during his pre-F1 DTM days and had more F3 experience.
He's also ahead of Christijan Albers, who likewise had more experience in F3 before his DTM debut and had two great years in the series in 2003 and 2004.
That's impressive enough already – but take into account that the di Resta and Albers stints were in a Mercedes team that more often than not won the constructors title.
Wehrlein's three years, meanwhile, not only featured a new manufacturer in BMW, but saw Mercedes reliably finish last in the constructors behind BMW and Audi.
And it is worth noting that results for both Albers and di Resta took a nosedive when they returned to DTM after their F1 stints, perhaps serving as an indicator that the series got tougher as the years went on.
Wehrlein was 18 when he got the news of his DTM drive less than two months before the opener, but he learned through that season, was very good in one of Mercedes' worst years in the series in 2014 and wrote his name in the history books in 2015.
DTM prowess doesn't always translate to F1 success, but, at the very least, Wehrlein's record shows exactly why Mercedes was so keen on getting him to F1.