F2 driver development programs are crucial in nurturing drivers who’ve proved their mettle in other series on their way to F1.

With recent success stories like Kimi Antonelli - who bypassed Formula 3 to compete in Formula 2  is now touted as a contender for Hamilton's now-vacant seat - and Ollie Bearman, now the youngest driver to score points in his F1 debut, we figured it’s a good time to explore the role of Formula 2 driver development programs in more detail.

What is F2?

Formula 2 is the second-highest formula racing tier, with only F1 ahead of it. As mentioned in our F2 regulations post, the rules and vehicles of F2 are designed to facilitate driver development, and allow them to refine and perfect their technique.

Formula 2 races often take place during F1 weekends, giving fans something else to watch, and showcasing drivers to potential teams and sponsors. In the vast majority of cases, F1 teams recruit promising talent from F2, although there are some instances where drivers bypass the class. For example:

  • Max Verstappen moved from F3 to F1, becoming the youngest driver to start an F1 race at 17 years 166 days old, as well as a suite of other youngest records: youngest to score points win a race, score a podium, lead a lap, and more
  • Valtteri Bottas also moved directly from F3 to F1

How Does F2 Develop Drivers for F1?

With the pipeline from F2 to F1 firmly established, perhaps you’re wondering exactly how the series nurtures and encourages drivers. Here are a handful of ways this is achieved:

Development Programs

Some F1 teams offer driver development programs within F2, supporting the most promising drivers on their journey through the sport. These programs are designed to develop all the skills required to be an F1 driver: the obvious ones including driving competency and racing style, alongside other skills like media training, physical training, and others.

Successful development programs include:

  • The Red Bull Junior Team: Sebastian Vettel, Pierre Gasly, Daniel Ricciardo, and Alex Albon are amongst the drivers who have entered F1 via the Red Bull Driver Development Program
  • The McLaren Driver Development Program: Lewis Hamilton, Kevin Magnussen, and Lando Norris have entered F1 via this program
  • The Ferrari Driver Academy: credited as being instrumental in Ollie Bearman’s quick progress through to F2 and being named reserve driver for 2 F1 teams at just 18 years old

Exposure to Teams and Sponsors

F1 teams have their eyes on the F2 series, watching for potential talent they can tap into. And by offering F2 events alongside F1 events, organisers give direct exposure to sponsors, teams, and fans alike. 

For a driver aspiring to race in F1, sponsorship is often an integral part of their journey, with the costs involved in training and making the transition are far too high for the majority of families to cover.

Experience at Race Weekends

As mentioned above, F2 races often coincide with F1 events. Not only does this grant drivers exposure, it also gives them direct experience of the logistics, routines, and pressures of the events they aspire towards. This speaks again to the fact that there are many competencies required to succeed in F2 beyond driving, and direct experience at F1 events gives an unparalleled opportunity to refine and develop these.

F1 regulations state that all teams are required to run a young driver (one who has 2 or fewer Grands Prix starts) in two FP1 sessions per season, guaranteeing this upcoming talent ample opportunity to race.

The Technical Aspect

F1 cars represent the pinnacle of engineering prowess, and mastery of these vehicles requires the highest levels of expertise. Each series below F1 gives drivers the opportunity to drive progressively more complex vehicles, each more closely approximating the technical demands they’ll be required to meet to race in the top series.

F2 offers the highest level of technical intensity below F1, with powerful engines and technically complex vehicles that give drivers the best chance to acclimate.

High Level Competition

Racing alongside other drivers budding for the top racing tier provides candidates with the most crucial piece of experience: competition against closely matched drivers with the same goals. As well as the technical elements required for success, the psychological traits and perseverance required to make it in F1 are given a chance to shine through.

Any other questions?

For fans of F1, watching F2 drivers race and refine their skills is just another aspect to our enjoyment of the sport. While the most famous names in the sport are rarely dislodged, the constantly shifting pool of new drivers offers freshness and excitement in the starting grid.