The 2019 Formula 1 season is barely a month away from kickstarting a new year of competition, excitement and drama.
While the grid has been decided and the teams and drivers are in place, the new machines are being rolled out as we speak in a hectic week of car launches.
Among the usual crop of world champions, race winners, record breakers and hopefuls, are a group of three rookies looking, aiming to be the next superstar in F1.
All three are renowned for unique, god-given talents as they’ve made their way through the junior categories.
Each of them has endured their own personal journey. For two of them, its been relatively plain-sailing but, for one, it’s looked at various points an almost impossible dream.
Here’s Read Motorsport’s guide to the life and careers of this year’s rookie sensations about to join the fast lane and live a lifelong ambition.
The first of the three rookies we shall analyse is Williams’ latest recruit: George Russell. At eight years old, Russell made his first step into competitive racing when he began karting. Immediately, his talent was there for all to see as he finished a creditable sixth in his inaugural WTP Cadet Kartmasters season. The results only got better, in 2008 he won the Cadet championship and this propelled him to further success a year later as Russell won the British Comer Cadet Open Championship, MSA Formula Kart Stars British Cadet Championship and Kartmasters Comer Cadet Grand Prix.
Continuing his climb up the karting ranks, Russell took a hat-trick of titles in the British Karting Championship in 2010, which earned a promotion to the top KF3 class the following year. In his final triumph in karts, the Briton clinched the CIK-FIA KF3 European Karting Championship in 2012 and won the KF3 Winter Cup the same season. From then onwards, it was the jump into single-seaters. In his first year out of karting, Russell – in his maiden season – was victorious in the BRDC Formula 4 Championship. The success would lead to him being awarded the prestigious McLaren BRDC Autosport prize later that same year.
A jump to FIA European Formula 3 in 2015 saw him finish sixth overall and the second-highest rookie in his first campaign, improving to third in the drivers’ standings in his second season. 2017 would prove to be a huge year in Russell’s career. Under the watchful eye of the Mercedes Formula 1 team, he was chosen as its latest signing to the young driver programme. He justified Mercedes’ faith by storming to the GP3 title in his rookie year with ART. In part with Mercedes’ connections, Russell got his first taste of driving an F1 car in an official session as he got behind the wheel of Force India’s VJM10 in Brazil.
Last year, he stayed put with ART but progressed to Formula 2, with the target of impressing enough to earn a chance in F1. Russell did more than impress: he wowed. Despite a slow start, he became more accustom to the intense environment in F2 and before long was the man to beat. Although he had tough competition, Russell was never fazed and took the title at the final round in Abu Dhabi. An impressive junior CV. But, now the real challenge awaits. Russell begins to F1 career with Williams in 2019, looking to help revive a broken team. Just to test him further, he’ll be partnered alongside the returning Robert Kubica, but, given how he’s tackled every obstacle during his racing tenure, you may bet on Russell defying the odds once more.
The second of the three rookies is tipped by some to be the next Lewis Hamilton. Lando Norris enjoyed success right from the moment he stepped into a kart. He began at the age of seven racing in Comer Cadet and didn’t hang about. Despite his inexperience, he claimed pole position in his first national event. The gradual rise through the karting championships brought undenied success. Norris finished third in the Super One category in 2010, two years later he was crowned Formula Kart Stars champion and was runner-up in the MSA Super One British Championship.
2013 proved a big year as Norris competed in premier WSK Euro Series and won three titles. He became the CIK-FIA European KFJ champion, WSK Euro Series KFJ champion and CIK-FIA KFJ Super Cup champion in one calendar year. In his final year in karts, the Briton dabbled with racing in the Ginetta Junior Championship. He would end up third in the final standings in CIK-FIA European KF, becoming the youngest race winner at just 14. The next step was single-seaters and a drive in the MSA Formula Championship with Carlin Racing.
Eight victories and 15 podiums propelled him to championship glory. He would trump this success with three titles in 2016. Norris blitzed the competition to win the Eurocup Formula 2.0, Formula Renault 2.0 NEC and Toyota Racing series championships. The same year he collected the British Racing Driver of The Year award and won the McLaren Autosport BRDC Young Driver, capping off an unbelievable season. The following year he joined the competitive FIA European Formula 3 series, re-joining Carlin. His inaugural campaign yielded nine race wins on his way to a title triumph, and 2017 also brought him his first brush with Formula 1.
McLaren signed Norris to its junior driver programme in light of his astounding success. At the F1 in-season test in Hungary, Norris was handed an outing and set the second-fastest time of the day. His performance would lead to a promotion to the team’s test and reserve driver in 2018. Maintaining his successful relationship with the Carling outfit, Norris graduated to Formula 2 last year and went on to finish runner-up in the standings. A run for McLaren in practice for the Belgian Grand Prix fuelled rumours of a potential step up to F1; those rumours rang true with McLaren’s announcement that Norris would be driving for them in 2019. If the hype is real, Lando Norris could find himself as Briton’s next F1 world champion.
The final rookie on this year’s grid will be British-born Thai racing driver Alexander Albon. Out of the three, Albon has endured the most difficult journey to stardom. He began racing karts competitively at the age of eight, immediately winning races in his local championship. In 2006, he began competing in the Cadet class and participated in the Super One National Honda Cadet Championship – winning the latter. For three years, Albon would race in the KF3 class. During this period, he would endure a staggering run of success. He sealed the Kartmasters British Grand Prix, Formula Kart Stars Championship, KF Winter Series, Super One National KF3 Championship, CIK-FIA World Cup and CIK-FIA European Championship.
In the midst of his run of triumphs, Red Bull had begun to pursue an interest in Albon and quickly snapped him up onto its programme in 2010. However, a dreadful first year in single-seaters would see Albon suffer his first real setback as Red Bull dropped him from the junior scheme. However, the Thai racer didn’t let this deter him from chasing his dream and his results gradually improved, finishing third overall in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0. A brief switch to FIA European Formula 3 in 2015 continued his resurgence, with two pole positions and five podiums on his way to seventh in the standings.
A further graduation followed a year later to GP3 and – after failing to win a race since stepping out of a kart – Albon took four victories as he registered a runners-up spot in the series. Formula 2 quickly followed suit in 2017 but it proved a difficult rookie campaign, just sneaking into the top 10 in the drivers’ championship. A lack of funding for the 2018 season looked as though it would end Albon’s racing career, however, DAMS threw him a lifeline and handed him a drive at no cost. Albon proved the team was right to have faith in him as he fought for the title, eventually finishing third with four wins.
With no opportunities seemingly available in Formula 1, Albon struck a deal with Nissan e.dams to drive in Formula E. However, an unexpected twist was just around the corner when his old employers, Red Bull, were keen to give him a second chance and promote him to a seat at Toro Rosso. Released from his contract with Nissan, Albon’s arrival to F1 wasn’t exactly conventional but is long overdue after years of struggle and uncertainty. He is highly-rated by the likes of Charles Leclerc and Pierre Gasly, both of whom raced against Albon in karting. Popular amongst his peers, Albon could prove the surprise package in 2019.