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Up-and-coming F1 drivers look to the future - but is there space for them?

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Up-and-coming F1 drivers look to the future - but is there space for them?
Jul 14, 2016, 5:13 PM

Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen may have set the pace over the course of this week’s two-day Formula 1 test at Silverstone, but the majority o...

Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen may have set the pace over the course of this week’s two-day Formula 1 test at Silverstone, but the majority of the running was completed by drivers several years their junior.

On day one, when Alonso set the quickest time in the morning before the weather closed in at the Northampton track, the average age of the drivers was just 21. A day later, when Raikkonen finished fastest, that figure rose ever so slightly to 22.

Fernando Alonso

Three drivers made their debut F1 appearances at the test: Santino Ferrucci for Haas F1, Nikita Mazepin at Force India and Sergio Sette Camara with Toro Rosso.

Raikkonen’s new deal at Ferrari seems to have calmed the F1 driver market somewhat, but there are potentially several seats up for grabs in 2017, which could be filled with up-and-coming drivers.

The reigning GP2 champion, and F1 point-scorer thanks to his tenth place in the Bahrain Grand Prix; Stoffel Vandoorne is determined to make it into F1 next season. The 24-year-old Belgian driver is a McLaren junior and he made a strong impression on his substitute appearance in place of the injured Alonso earlier this year. While a place at the British team remains his main aim, he feels “other options” are on the table.

Stoffel Vandoorne

"The main goal is to be in Formula 1 next year,” he said. “That hasn't changed. Obviously, I am contracted to McLaren and I really want to be with this team next year, I've spent a lot of time here with the engineers and I feel like we've really been through the perfect preparation.

"There's really not much more I can do, I just need to get the drive. I would love to race for this team, but I've always said - if for some reasons, which I don't know, it doesn't become possible, then I'm positive that there are other options available."

The main barrier to Vandoorne’s McLaren ambitions is Jenson Button. The 2009 world champion is out of contract at the end of the season and although he has repeatedly been linked with a drive at Williams there has been no official confirmation of his plans and he could still stay at the Woking-based team for an eighth season.

XPB.cc Esteban Ocon

Esteban Ocon finished second on both days of the test for Mercedes. The 19-year-old is a junior driver for the German manufacturer and is on loan to Renault as a reserve driver for this season.

Ocon, the 2015 GP3 champion, is currently racing in the DTM for Mercedes and speculation has been building that he will race for Renault next year. But although the Frenchman says he is “ready to race” in F1, he stressed that he was focused on his reserve driver duties for the time being.

He said: “My target is to be in F1 next year, and I’m working as much as I can and getting ready for next year. It’s still early to speak about that, I still have FP1 outings [for Renault] to do. I have to focus there on not on next year.”

"I’m ready to race. I’ve been around F1 a long time, so I’m ready to race whenever there is an opportunity.”

XPB.cc Pierre Gasly

Red Bull junior Pierre Gasly tested for the team at Silverstone and tried out the halo cockpit protection device on day one.

With Daniil Kvyat’s place at Toro Rosso looking perilous following his demotion from the senior Red Bull team, Gasly may well be given a drive at Toro Rosso in 2017. But although the 20-year-old won the GP2 feature race at Silverstone last weekend, that was his first victory since 2013 and Red Bull may yet decide to keep Kvyat on for another year to give Gasly more experience in the lower categories.

Speaking to F1i, Gasly said: “The last few days have been amazing for me. Lots of emotions, it’s not every day you get the chance to drive a Red Bull Formula One car. Honestly I’m really thankful to them for the opportunity and hopefully I’ll be back in the car soon.

 Jordan King

“I just try to do my best all the time. As long as I know I’m doing my best and I can’t do better then I’m happy and I don’t really focus on what the others think I do. I just try to do my best and hopefully it’s good enough.”

At Manor, there has been much speculation about Rio Haryanto’s position in the team, and its junior driver Jordan King feels he is “perfectly ready” to race in F1.

King, who has won the last two GP2 sprint races, said: "I feel I’m perfectly ready to step into an F1 car. The first time I got in the car in Abu Dhabi was the shock of ‘I’ve actually driven an F1 car’, so at Barcelona it was a bit more chilled out.

"I actually knew what I was doing and it wasn’t ‘stars in your eyes’ so much. So I could focus more on doing the job."

What do you make of the current crop of F1 junior drivers? Could you see them stepping up to race seats in the future? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JAonF1 Facebook page for more discussion.
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