Formula 1 - The Pinnacle of Motorsport?
We often say F1 is the home of the world's best drivers. To a certain extent that is true. No other drivers from other series come to mind when you are asked to the compare with the greats like Michael Schumacher, Ayrton Senna, Juan Manuel Fangio, Alain Prost, Niki Lauda and many more.
Sure, there are other talented guys in motorsports such as Sebastien Loeb and Valentino Rossi, but there are few who can quite compare to F1’s elites. The issue nowadays is that F1 is not just for the elite. Look down to the rear end of the grid and midfield. For every Charles Leclerc there’s a Marcus Ericsson who has more financial clout than talent.
To add fuel to the fire, Formula E is claiming it will be the leading, if not only, top-level motorsport in the next 30 years. So we ask, is Formula 1 already losing talented drivers to Formula E or are the petrol series still in a class of their own?
Let’s start with the F1 drivers who aren’t quite cutting the mustard on the track.
The Swede who debuted for Caterham in 2014 has often been considered a weak link on the F1 grid. Despite a strong showing in the middle part of 2015, Ericsson has now had two pointless seasons and in both of which his teammates have graced the top 10 on at least one occasion. While granted the Saubers he has had have being largely uncompetitive, the fact he was retained for 2017 over Felipe Nasr, the man whose two points in Brazil saved the teams very existence, is poignant.
Furthermore Ericsson’s financial backing and close relationship to the owners has landed him in a fourth season with Sauber (now Alfa Romeo Sauber). If Marcus is ever to prove his worth in F1, he will have to match or topple highly-tipped rookie and reigning F2 champion Leclerc otherwise surely it's curtains for him.
So who should take his place? Who better than compatriot Felix Rosenqvist?
The fellow Swede is not only the FE championship leader at the time of writing (the day after the Marrakesh ePrix), but has won two of the three races this season so far.
The former Formula 3 European Champion, double Macau Grand Prix winner and three-time Indy Lights winner never made it to F1 although it’s hard to see why. Aggressive in his moves yet good at conserving his tyres and energy, vital for today’s F1 regulations, I believe Felix has all the material to be a top-tier F1 driver, who in a top-tier seat could well take podiums and wins at this elite level. For all these reasons I believe that he not only merits a place in F1, but arguably the title of the best Swedish tarmac racer since the late Ronnie Peterson.
The second driver who we believe is a questionable inclusion on the F1 grid is Kevin Magnussen. The Dane started out as a bright prospect with a debut podium (the first man to do so since Lewis Hamilton). Unfortunately for K-Mag his career hasn’t gone the same way as the reigning champ. Dumped by McLaren for Fernando Alonso in 2015 despite a relatively strong season, Magnussen’s stock was high.
As a result we all believed Renault pulled off a big coup employing him for 2016. which it arguably was as he scored seven of the eight points for the team including a stunning seventh place finish in Russia. So much so Haas decided he was the man to partner Romain Grosjean and replace Esteban Gutierrez who had suffered a zero-point season.
Despite this he has endured a shaky 2017 season. It was such a bad season in fact that K-Mag’s stock in F1 has plummeted to the point he is known as the crash merchant his team mate Grosjean once was. The fact his season is best known for a quote and for making enemies on track means his 2018 inclusion at such a strong level will surely raise some eyebrows.
The second Formula E driver who we believe deserves a shot at F1 is Jose Maria Lopez. While sure at 34 his days of F1 are realistically over, he certainly has and had the talent to succeed at that level. His records speak for itself; Renault development driver up until 2006, GP2 race winner in the inaugural season for DAMS. Lopez was then due to debut in F1 in 2010 for the ill-fated USF1 project, but his dream got crushed when the team collapsed.
In 2013 he joined Citroen for the WTCC, winning three successive titles between 2014-2016. This shows his talent, consistency and pace, which in his prime would have made a strong F1 driver. Perhaps worst of all, he had 8 million in sponsorship deals, enough to get a strong F1 seat even today. So if anyone from Williams is reading there’s still a vacant seat open to test our theory out.
The final driver who arguably doesn’t have what it takes to be on the F1 grid is Lance Stroll. Son of a billionaire it’s easy to see quite how Lance has risen so quickly up the junior formulae and into the top-tier of single seaters.
Now personally I like Stroll and feel harsh putting him in this list. A fantastic podium in Baku, almost beating the veteran Massa in his rookie season, and an incredible front row-start in the monsoon at Monza show that Stroll has the potential to mound into a very capable F1 driver.
Despite this though he has still left a large section of fans unconvinced, especially when compared to Max Verstappen at the same age. The young Canadian has had a limited career up until this point, however he was the 2016 Formula 3 European Champion as well as a member of the illustrious Ferrari Driver Academy from 2010-2015. Despite a seemingly impressive resume it’s his fast-tracked nature due to his father's finances that have caused controversy.
Even for all his achievements though he is far from the finished article and a year or two more in GP2 or other feeder series would not go amiss.
The final Formula E driver who we feel deserves a shot in F1 is a tad different as he has already competed in F1: Sebastian Buemi. The Swiss superstar is the only guy who has competed in all of the three Formula E title battles thus far.
Furthermore Buemi was far from a bad F1 driver, overhauling both his teammates throughout his career. Many feel Buemi was unfairly dropped by Red Bull, and had Mark Webber retired in 2011 he would have been a Red Bull driver, if not winner and champion by now.
Red Bull even saw something in Buemi, running him as a test driver for many years after his departure in 2012. To add to his CV , he has won over a third of the FE races since debuting in the inaugural race in 2014, won the WEC title the same year with Toyota, and also scored a runner-up spot at Le Mans.
Even recently he was the guy who was favourite to replace Daniil Kvyat upon his dismissal this year before ultimately being second choice to Kiwi Brendon Hartley (who interestingly has gotten a drive for 2018 so who knows).
Despite only choosing three drivers on this list, Formula E has had a number of other top drivers and ex-F1 superstars, including Nick Heidfeld, Kamui Kobayashi, Antonio Felix da Costa, Lucas di Grassi and Jean-Eric Vergne to name a few.
While sure none of these can match the Hamiltons and Vettels that F1 has, the top of Formula E are certainly a match if not a beat of F1s back markers. The fact that we are only just in season 4 and are already at a level to be beating F1 shows how far the sport has come so quickly, especially given the season 1 lineup had few names to write home about.
It is easy to see how if this rate of growth continues maybe Formula E can at least be a match for F1 in the next 20 years. Time will tell although I sure look forward to spectating the battles ahead.
by Matthew Gannon