Following on from last month’s successful look at the successes and failures of Red Bull’s Junior programme, we now turn our attention to Ferrari’s Driver Academy and look at four success stories.
As Mick Schumacher becomes the latest graduate from Ferrari’s Driver Achereademy to reach Formula One this season with Haas, we take a look at four of the programme’s brightest talents who have broken through into F1.
Since the academy launched in 2010, 22 drivers past and present have been members on the junior pathway of one of F1’s iconic teams, so with Schumacher set to become the fifth full graduate, we take a look at the four drivers whose footsteps he will be following in and their journeys beyond the academy.
Sergio Perez (2010-12)
After finishing runner-up in the 2010 GP2 Series, Perez was signed by Ferrari as part of their driver academy and promoted into F1 at Sauber, where he enjoyed a positive rookie campaign despite a huge crash in Qualifying at Monaco side-lining him for the race and Canada just two weeks later.
2012 however would mark a surprise breakthrough season for Perez in which he picked up three podiums including at a rain-soaked Malaysia where he pushed Fernando Alonso for victory until a minor mistake saw him blow his opportunity.
McLaren however took note and signed Perez to replace Lewis Hamilton in 2013 although things didn’t work out, with Perez moving on to Force India in 2014 where he spent seven seasons at the team despite a change of team name to Racing Point in mid 2018 after being taken over by Lawrence Stroll.
During that period of his F1 career, Perez managed seven podiums including his first-ever F1 victory in Bahrain last season on the outer-circuit track layout, after carving his way through the field following a first lap incident to benefit from mistakes and scraps elsewhere to snatch an unlikely win.
That victory plus strong consistency ultimately sealed his move to Red Bull for 2021, where he will partner Max Verstappen following the team’s decision to demote Alex Albon after a difficult season.
Charles Leclerc (2016-17)
Leclerc has without a doubt been one of Ferrari’s biggest success stories ever because the Monaco youngster enjoyed instant success upon joining the academy, winning the GP3 title in 2016 before following up with the inaugural F2 crown in 2017 in dominant fashion.
Sauber therefore was his next step in 2018 where he impressed in his rookie campaign, managing 30 more points than teammate – Marcus Ericsson to earn himself a promotion to Ferrari for 2019 in a swap with Kimi Raikkonen who returned to his former stomping ground.
The young Monegasque however quickly took to his new Scuderia as he pushed Sebastian Vettel hard in a scrap for fourth on debut in Australia, only to immediately follow his impressive debut up with pole in Bahrain and a controlled drive to third after a engine cylinder failure cost him victory.
Mistakes soon began to slowly creep in from both driver and team with shock early Qualifying exits in Baku and Monaco, although those issues soon settled before returning in the form of teammate collisions in 2019 Brazilian and 2020 Styrian Grands Prix as Leclerc continued to grow in talent.
Leclerc however showed amazing courage during his first season in Ferrari colours to deliver a breakthrough maiden F1 victory in Spa against a backdrop of heavy emotion, having lost his close friend – Anthoine Hubert in a F2 crash just under 24 hours earlier at the same venue.
The Monegasque then just a week later went on to become the first Ferrari driver since Fernando Alonso in 2010 to win the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, having fended off both Mercedes throughout the race in a controlled but confident manner.
Leclerc eventually went on to finish his first season for Ferrari in fourth place and 24 points ahead of Vettel, although 2020 then saw Ferrari struggle as Leclerc somehow dragged his car to eighth overall in the standings and 65 points clear of Vettel, who departed the team for Aston Martin at end of season.
2021 will now see Leclerc be joined at Ferrari by Carlos Sainz as he looks to continue his development and guide Ferrari back to winning ways ahead of a major rules change in 2022.
Jules Bianchi (2009-14)
Bianchi became Ferrari’s first academy signing in late 2009 after an impressive young drivers test, having won F3 Europe that season to go with 2007 French Formula Renault 2.0 and 2008 Masters of F3 titles won during his early single-seater days.
The Frenchman soon proved his credentials with a pair of third-placed finishes in 2010 & 11 GP2 seasons, plus finished 2011 GP2 Asia Series as vice-champion behind compatriot – Romain Grosjean, before finishing runner-up in 2012 Formula Renault 3.5 Series.
2011-12 also saw Bianchi act as reserve driver for Ferrari then Force India before being handed his F1 chance at Marussia, partnering Max Chilton where he often outperformed the Brit during their time together and clinched Marussia their first-ever F1 points at the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix in ninth place.
Bianchi’s life however came to a tragic end in July 2015 after losing a nine month fight for his life, following an incident in which his Marussia hit the rear of a tractor crane and slid underneath during the Typhoon Phanfone affected 2014 Japanese Grand Prix.
We therefore are left to ponder how different F1 could of been if Bianchi was still alive and potentially even partnering Leclerc at Ferrari now, yet Bianchi will always be a special member of Ferrari’s history as their maiden signing for Ferrari Driver Academy which is still going strong to this very day.
Lance Stroll (2010-15)
Stroll joined Ferrari’s Driver Academy in 2010 whilst still in karting but once he graduated to single-seater racing, Stroll proved he was a quality driver with titles in 2014 Italian F4 and 2015 Toyota Series before departing the academy following a fifth placed finish in F3 Europe.
This young Canadian however wasn’t out of the F1 circus for too long as he was snapped up by Williams as their Test Driver for 2016, whilst continuing in F3 Europe where he took the title with Stroll revealing in an exclusive with us last year that he was ‘grateful’ to have ‘great people’ help him to the title.
Stroll consequently earned himself a F1 race seat at Williams from 2017-18, where he endured two tough seasons despite finishing third in 2017 Azerbaijan GP after being pipped to second on the line by initially planned teammate – Valtteri Bottas who joined Mercedes that season after Nico Roberg’s retirement.
2019 saw Stroll move to Racing Point after his father – Lawrence brought the team after entering administration under the Force India name, where he has enjoyed stronger campaigns in the last two seasons plus two third-placed finishes in 2020 alongside his maiden pole position in Turkey.
2021 now sees Stroll race for Aston Martin following the team’s rebrand from Racing Point to the iconic car brand name, with him having a new teammate in ex Ferrari driver – Vettel.