Feature: Young drivers to watch in 2015

Feature: Young drivers to watch in 2015

4 April 2015 – With the dawn of spring comes the start of several junior formula series, where a litany of young drivers hope to overcome their contemporaries and catch the eye of Formula 1 teams. The Formula 3 campaign begins next week, GP2 and Formula Renault 3.5 commence before the month is out while GP3 gets going alongside May's Spanish Grand Prix. Here, GPUpdate.net profiles 10 of the most promising young drivers to watch.

Pierre Gasly
Nationality: French
Date of Birth: February 7 1996 (19)
2014: 2nd in Formula Renault 3.5 Series, 29th in GP2 Series (6 races)
2015 programme: GP2 Series with DAMS


Gasly stepped up to the Formula Renault 3.5 Series in 2014 on the back of winning Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 and emerged as a frontrunner from the outset. Gasly took eight podium places, but no victories, as he finished second to Carlos Sainz Jr. He participated in a few GP2 events for Caterham Racing but has now switched to French super-team DAMS, and has been among the leading group in testing. As a Red Bull protégé, he has high expectations on his shoulders and will test for Toro Rosso next month.

Alex Lynn
Nationality: British
Date of Birth: September 17 1993 (21)
2014: GP3 Series Champion
2015 programme: GP2 Series with DAMS, Williams Development Driver


After a couple of years as an F3 frontrunner, Lynn moved to GP3 with Red Bull backing last year and succeeded Daniil Kvyat as series champion. After testing for the Lotus Formula 1 team, Lynn opted to take up a development role within Williams, where he has been working during his free time. He now graduates to GP2 alongside Gasly at DAMS, with 2015 marking a big step up in machinery for the Briton. The dynamic between Gasly and Lynn will be one to watch as the campaign progresses.

Stoffel Vandoorne
Nationality: Belgian
Date of Birth: March 26 1992 (23)
2014: 2nd in GP2 Series
2015 programme: GP2 Series with ART Grand Prix, McLaren Test Driver


Having finished runner-up to Kevin Magnussen in FR3.5, Vandoorne graduated to GP2 last year and was the most impressive rookie since Nico Hülkenberg in 2009. He won on his debut – no mean feat in the era where experience is king – and recovered from a brief malaise to end the year with four straight poles and three further victories. Vandoorne has stayed with ART for 2015 and will naturally be targeting the title. He is also a McLaren protégé and has tested Formula 1 machinery, but the stumbling block for Vandoorne is that there's a logjam of talent at the squad.

Raffaele Marciello
Nationality: Italian
Date of Birth: December 17 1994 (20)
2014: 8th in GP2 Series
2015 programme: GP2 Series with Trident, Sauber Reserve Driver


Ferrari Academy member Marciello was lightning quick in GP2 last year, but often beset by misfortune – sometimes of his own making. He was rewarded with victory in Belgium and placed eighth in the standings; Ferrari will be expecting more in 2015, but with Trident – traditionally a mid-grid outfit – a title tilt would be unlikely. Jules Bianchi's terrible accident has left Marciello as Ferrari's best placed youngster and he also occupies a reserve role with Sauber, where he will conduct further practice runs after his outing in Malaysia.

Antonio Fuoco
Nationality: Italian
Date of Birth: May 20 1996 (18)
2014: 5th in European Formula 3
2015 programme: GP3 Series with Carlin


Fuoco, also part of the Ferrari driver pool, claimed the FR2.0 Alps title in 2013 and moved up to European F3 last year. Despite racing for the Prema Powerteam, he was overshadowed by fellow rookie and eventual champion Esteban Ocon, as well as Dutch youngster Max Verstappen. Fifth in the standings was still a respectable effort, but having made the switch to GP3, where he will race for champion team Carlin, Fuoco is out to prove his worth on the Formula 1 scene this year.

Esteban Ocon
Nationality: French
Date of Birth: September 17 1996 (18)
2014: European Formula 3 Champion, 23rd in Formula Renault 3.5 (3 races)
2015 programme: GP3 Series with ART Grand Prix


Ocon and Verstappen fought for the F3 title in 2014 and the Frenchman ultimately prevailed, taking nine wins and a further 12 podiums from the 33 races. He was rewarded with a practice run for Lotus in Abu Dhabi – as well as a Ferrari outing at Fiorano – and tested for DAMS in GP2, but was unable to reach a deal to race for the squad. Instead, he makes the transition into GP3 with ART. Ocon should undoubtedly be in a higher formula, but GP3 is where he is and there's a title to be won.

Nyck de Vries
Nationality: Dutch
Date of Birth: February 6 1995 (20)
2014: Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 Champion, Formula Renault 2.0 Champion
2015 programme: Formula Renault 3.5 with DAMS


De Vries has been part of McLaren's young driver scheme since the start of 2010, when the team spotted the karting sensation and signed him up. His transition to single-seater racing wasn't as serene as first hoped and, while he swept to FR2.0 championship crowns (both Eurocup and Alps) last year, it was at the third time of asking. He now graduates to FR3.5 with DAMS – which took Magnussen and Sainz Jr. to the last two titles – so he will be expected to fight at the front of the field.

Oliver Rowland
Nationality: British
Date of Birth: August 10 1992 (22)
2014: 4th in Formula Renault 3.5
2015 programme: Formula Renault 3.5 with Fortec Motorsports


Rowland has spent his entire career as a frontrunner in various Renault categories and last year transferred that pace into the FR3.5 series with Fortec Motorsports. He claimed two race victories, but out of the lead group, alongside Sainz Jr., Gasly and Roberto Merhi, he was often the driver with the least luck, and ultimately placed fourth in the standings. If Rowland can stay out of trouble and maintain his progress this season then there's no reason why he cannot fight for the title.

Charles Leclerc
Nationality: Monegasque
Date of Birth: October 16 1997 (17)
2014: 2nd in Formula Renault 2.0 Alps
2015 programme: European Formula 3 with Van Amersfoort Racing


Part of Nicolas Todt's All-Road Management company, Leclerc makes the step up to European F3 with Van Amersfoort Racing – the team which took Verstappen to third in 2014. The karting ace was rapid from his first season of car racing in FR2.0 Alps last year, as he finished second only to the more experienced de Vries in the standings. He now graduates to F3 to line-up against a talented crop of youngsters – if he can stand out amongst this crowd then he'll be well primed for 2016.

Lance Stroll
Nationality: Canadian
Date of Birth: October 29 1998 (16)
2014: Italian Formula 4 Champion
2015 programme: European Formula 3 with Prema Powerteam


Canadian driver Stroll, another member of Ferrari's Driver Academy, has already displayed talent which, allied to his healthy backing, should enable him to go far. Stroll surged to the Italian F4 championship in 2014 and has begun 2015 in imperious fashion by comfortably winning the New Zealand-based Toyota Racing Series. Now he graduates to European F3 with Prema Powerteam. If he can rack up podiums, and perhaps wins, he will give Ferrari plenty to think about for the future.

Outside the drivers we've identified to star there are various talents who could yet fight for wins and titles.

Watch out for...
In GP2, Arthur Pic was quietly impressive in 2014 and has remained with Campos for a second tilt at the championship, while Alexander Rossi has finally been given his break with top team Racing Engineering – a competitive season would surely open up a shot at Haas next year. Marco Sørensen was eye-catching for backmarkers MP Motorsport, so with Carlin this year he should make progress, while Sergey Sirotkin has made the switch from FR3.5. Look out too for the feisty Mitch Evans, who has remained with Russian Time.

Marvin Kirchhöfer should provide Fuoco and Ocon with a threat in GP3 as last year's third-placed man stays with ART – alongside an F3 campaign – while Emil Bernstorff has switched to Arden. Rookies Ralph Boschung – who topped Estoril testing – and Seb Morris should also display some pace.

GP3 runner-up Dean Stoneman, who survived a frightening testing crash at Jerez, is likely to provide DAMS team-mate de Vries with a stern challenge in FR3.5 while Lotus' Matthieu Vaxivière was sporadically rapid in 2014. The experienced Tom Dillmann and Manor Marussia driver Merhi should also be title favourites.

Over in F3, the evergreen Felix Rosenqvist – last year's Macau victor – is a contender, while youngster George Russell may also spring a surprise. Also keep an eye on Italian karting king Alessio Lorandi, aged only 16, who has jumped straight from karts to an F3 ride with Van Amersfoort Racing.

Written by: Phillip Horton

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