Formula 1 is the sport many aspiring racing drivers aim for. It’s where the best of the best fight it out for the ultimate prize in motorsport. The ladder to Formula 1 is a long and complex one though, with Formula 2 being the prime choice for the final step into the sport.
Not all Formula 1 drivers come from Formula 2 because there are other avenues drivers can take into the sport. However, it’s becoming more and more common for Formula 1 drivers to graduate from Formula 2 because it’s one of the most similar motorsports to F1 in terms of speed and racing style.
Drivers can enter F1 from a range of different motorsport branches. Many drivers on the current F1 grid didn’t take part in F2, and many of them have graduated from other series, such as Formula Renault 3.5. In the article below, we’ll discuss the various ways drivers can make it to F1.
Not all F1 drivers come from F2, but many do. Formula 2 is the final step on the junior ladder before reaching Formula 1 for many, and a few lucky drivers will graduate from F2 into Formula 1. The youngsters in Formula 2 are between 18 and 25 years old, and many on the current F1 grid came from F2.
Lando Norris, Charles Lerclerc, Mick Schumacher, George Russell, Alex Albon, Pierre Gasly, and Lewis Hamilton are some drivers from recent years that made the jump from F2 to F1. Gasly and Hamilton won the GP2 Series, which was the predecessor of Formula 2. GP2 did not have the rights to be named Formula 2 until 2017.
Formula 2 is the best road to take into Formula 1 for several reasons, but it’s mainly because the Formula 2 championship acts as a support series for Formula 1. This means the drivers race on many of the same circuits as the Formula 1 drivers, on the same weekends. This gives them an opportunity to shine in front of Formula 1 teams.
However, it’s not the only way to get into Formula 1. There have been many other drivers who have forged their own path into the sport without ever competing in Formula 2. As motorsport grows and develops, there are more and more ways to make it into Formula 1 outside of the traditional junior formulas.
Drivers don’t need to race in F2 to become an F1 driver. While F2 is considered the final step before reaching F1, it’s not a requirement to race in it. But if they don’t race in F2, drivers still need to gain experience in other ways before they can be considered for a Formula 1 seat.
Formula 1 drivers need to meet minimum requirements that have been set out by the FIA. This includes having enough Super Licence (the license uses the British spelling) points to their name and they must have experience driving in a Formula 1 car before the start of the season. This is usually achieved by undergoing testing sessions with a respective team.
Teams need to comply with these rules when they choose their drivers, and not all Formula 2 drivers will have met these requirements and be ready to race in Formula 1. There are other series that allow drivers to gain experience and Super Licence points, which also opens the door for them to earn a spot in F1.
Formula 2 is a great series though, and there is a huge amount of competition for the drivers. With equal cars across the grid, it’s usually the most talented drivers that come out on top and win the championships, which is why it’s a great place for Formula 1 teams to scout for talented drivers.
Drivers need to have a set number of points to their name to qualify for a Super Licence. A Super Licence is essentially a driver’s license to drive a Formula car. Without it, it’s impossible for a driver to make their way into the sport. You need to be 18 to get a Super Licence.
This rule was introduced when Max Verstappen was brought into the sport at just 17 years of age. Many believed that he was far too young to be in Formula 1 and needed more time on the junior ladder to mature and gain experience. This 18+ rule, along with various other requirements, ensures drivers have enough open wheel racing experience to join F1 safely.
Super Licence points are awarded based on finishing positions in the championship. Drivers need at least 40 points on their Super Licence before they’re allowed to race in Formula 1. Each series gives drivers a different number of points, based on the reputation the series has.
For example, since Formula 2 is the final step before Formula 1, winning the championship gives the driver 40 Super Licence points, giving them the option to head straight into Formula 1. The same goes for winning the IndyCar title since it is also a top tier single seater series.
It might sound obvious, but the one thing that is crucially important for Formula 1 teams is talent. This is one of the reasons the Super Licence points system has been introduced. It essentially prevents drivers from entering Formula 1 if they are not good enough.
Drivers who make it to Formula 2 are usually incredibly talented. While the Formula 2 system still thrives on pay drivers and requires the drivers to pay for their own seats to race in the championships, teams won’t take inexperienced drivers on.
Every driver on the Formula 2 grid is good enough to be there, but they might not be good enough for Formula 1. There have been several instances where we have seen an F2 driver win titles but not get an F1 seat over the past couple of seasons because there is already a lot of talent within F1, and teams don’t have any obligation to sign new drivers from junior series.
The budget to race in any form of motorsport is extreme. In Formula 2, the budget is around $3 million per season. If you take into consideration that it takes a driver at least one season to get used to the car and the competition, you can expect them to spend double that amount during their time in Formula 2.
Many drivers that take the leap from Formula 2 to Formula 1 will end up on teams that start towards the back of the grid. These are the teams that often take on paid drivers, which means the driver they choose will need to be able to bring a significant amount of money to the team with them.
If a driver has won the Formula 2 championship but does not have the finances to fund their Formula 1 seat, they’re likely to move over to another branch of motorsport, such as IndyCar or Formula E, where they might be more successful in their sponsorship search.
However, many of the most talented drivers do have backing from Formula 1 teams. For example, Charles Leclerc was backed by the Ferrari Driver Academy, which helped him to land his seat at Alfa Romeo Sauber (essentially a Ferrari junior team, now just Alfa Romeo) when he won the Formula 2 championship.
Driver experience is one of the most important factors teams look for. They’re not entirely worried about the experience the driver has all the way down into karting, as that was the start of the driver’s career.
Formula 1 teams are more focused on the driver’s experience in cars. It’s important for the driver to have experience in a format that is like Formula 1, which is why it’s sometimes difficult for drivers to make the jump from IndyCar to the pinnacle of motorsport. Open wheel racing is the best experience a driver can get if they want to get into F1.
For the same reason, Formula 2 is the preferred scouting grounds for Formula 1 teams. The series follows F1 closely, racing on many of the same circuits, dealing with the same media, and racing similar cars to what they can expect to race in Formula 1.
Formula 2 is the best place for a young driver to gain experience, but that doesn’t mean that Formula 1 teams will overlook drivers from Formula E or IndyCar. These two series are still open wheel racing cars, which handle much the same way as Formula 1 cars do.
F1 drivers that didn’t come from Formula 2 include:
- Valtteri Bottas – GP3 Series
- Max Verstappen – European F3
- Daniel Ricciardo – Formula Renault 3.5 Series
- Carlos Sainz – Formula Renault 3.5 Series
- Fernando Alonso – International Formula 3000
- Esteban Ocon – GP3 Series and DTM
- Sebastian Vettel – Formula Renault 3.5 Series
- Lance Stroll – European F3
- Kimi Räikkönen – Formula Renault UK and Formula Renault 2000 Eurocup
- Kevin Magnussen – Formula Renault 3.5 Series
There are several drivers that didn’t graduate from the F2 series. This is because in the past there were other series that were on a similar level to F2, but they operated separately from F2. One of the most popular series was the Formula Renault 3.5 series. Featuring massive 3.5-liter V8 engines, this series had cars that were almost as great as the F1 cars of their time.
Other drivers graduated straight from Formula Renault or from Formula 3. While skipping many steps on the ladder is an incredible feat, the Super Licence rules that are now in place make it difficult to do so with the number of points drivers must accumulate to earn one.
While it’s extremely rare, there may be occasions when Formula 1 drivers have to go back to Formula 2. This has only happened to Romain Grosjean so far, but it could easily happen again in the future. Ultimately, Grosjean came back to Formula 1 as a much more complete driver the second time around.
Grosjean made his F1 debut in 2009 with Renault. However, after a disappointing stint, he returned for Formula 2, known as the GP2 series at the time. Grosjean was much more competitive in F2, and he won the championship in 2011. He returned to the sport and was much more successful the second time round, finishing on the podium three times and amassing 96 points.
F2 teams are not linked to F1 teams. F2 teams are their own businesses with their own sponsors and drivers, and they are not officially linked to F1 teams. However, there are some Formula 2 teams that tend to take on the academy drivers of some Formula 1 teams in a sort of partnership.
For example, the ART F2 team is the go-to team for Ferrari junior drivers, and the Carlin team is the go-to team for Red Bull junior drivers. In the end, all teams are free to choose their own drivers, and they are not required to choose one that a Formula 1 team backs. If the driver can pay for their seat and is talented enough to be on the grid, teams can choose whoever they want.
Most of the major F1 teams have their own young driver academies. From Red Bull to Ferrari and Mercedes, you can often spot these talented young drivers that have been chosen by big F1 teams through their branding. These drivers become a part of the team, but it doesn’t mean their career is carved out for them. Oftentimes, these drivers still need to find some funding.
However, they will be given contacts for teams and sponsors in different series, which is why we often see these links between Formula 1 teams and Formula 2 teams. The driver academy might pay for part of the driver’s funding, but not all of it.
These links are more like a partnership between Formula 1 and Formula 2 teams. Formula 1 teams can identify talented drivers and bring them to the Formula 2 teams. Their driver gains experience, and the Formula 2 team gets guaranteed income for the season ahead.
Formula 2 is not the only way to get into Formula 1. Although it’s one of the best ways to go up the junior motorsports ladder and gain enough experience to attract attention from Formula 1 teams, not every driver is privileged enough to get the opportunity to race in Formula 2.
To reach F1, a driver needs to have enough Super Licence points and experience in a recent F1 car. They also need the talent and the budget to make it onto a F1 team. There are a few other ways that drivers can do this, but it’s much more difficult than the conventional F2 route. Without the Formula Renault 3.5 Series, drivers don’t have many other options that have opened up for them.
Japanese Super Formula is very similar to F1. In fact, the cars look very much the same as the previous generation of F1 cars. They’re very similar in performance levels too, just slightly faster than a F2 car. That means this series can provide a driver with enough experience for them to take a step up into F1.
However, the level of competition is something of a concern in this series, as it’s not as popular among drivers. Drivers need to live in Japan to race there, which is not ideal when you consider that most drivers aiming for Formula 1 live in Europe.
The series has hosted some previous Formula 1 drivers, including Stoffel Vandoorne, Kazuki Nakajima, and Kamui Kobayashi. However, there have not been any more notable names, or any drivers from the current grid in Super Formula.
IndyCar is very similar to Formula 1, and it’s extremely popular in the United States. All across the globe, IndyCar is followed closely by motorsport enthusiasts, and it plays host to one of the biggest motorsport events in the world, the Indy 500.
IndyCar is one of the best series in the world and it’s entirely possible for an IndyCar driver to make their way into Formula 1. Winning the IndyCar title awards the driver with 40 Super Licence points, which is enough to go straight into Formula 1.
Many Formula 2 drivers head over to IndyCar if there’s no space for them in Formula 1. The series is a great alternative to gain some extra experience and showcase your talents in a more competitive series with more experienced drivers.
Formula E is another series where winning drivers can head directly into Formula 1. Many Formula 2 drivers have gone to Formula E, including Formula 2 and Formula E champion Nyck de Vries, who is patiently waiting for his turn in Formula 1.
Winning the Formula E championship gives the driver 40 Super Licence points, which will allow them to go straight into Formula 1 if they are able to find a seat for themselves. Finding an open seat in Formula 1 is never easy, especially when many teams are looking for young Formula 2 drivers.
Not all drivers in Formula 1 come from Formula 2. F2 is the main step a young driver can take to reach the pinnacle of motorsport, but it’s not the only path to F1. Other motorsport series like Formula E and IndyCar can provide drivers with enough experience and Super Licence points to enter F1.