The Red Bull Junior Programme has always adopted a very unique approach to its young drivers. Nowadays, championship victories in the realms of junior racing and a mature attitude do not always warrant a drive at the racing pinnacle.
2015’s grid will surely boast the lowest average driver age in history when the sport makes its way to Melbourne in March? Red Bull’s development scheme, designed to manufacturer the next Sebastian Vettel, will be largely responsible for this change. Daniil Kvyat will still be 20-years-old when he makes his Red Bull début alongside Daniel Ricciardo while his replacement Max Verstappen will be the youngest driver in history aged just 17.
As for the likely filler of the second Toro Rosso seat? Well, that will only drop the age lower. After all, Jean-Eric Vergne, now in his third year, is hanging on by a thread and does not appear to be the team’s preferred choice in any scenario. I doubt he is even their Plan B anymore. Dominance over Kvyat was the unspoken brief, one the Frenchman is yet to achieve.
Perhaps the favourite for the Toro Rosso chance is Carlos Sainz Jr., the current Formula Renault 3.5 championship leader. The current programme’s longest serving driver could compete alongside Verstappen –the very same driver who blindsided him mere months ago – especially if he becomes the first Red Bull youngster to win Renault’s flagship series at its conclusion in two weeks time. Pierre Gasly is an outsider at 18 years old but without a win in the same championship, the step up may be difficult to justify at this stage.
The last driver remaining (official) list of drivers looking to replace Vergne is a young Briton, potentially the first of his nationality to graduate from the lower echelons of junior racing under the team’s guidance. Although only 21, Alex Lynn is the oldest of the current incumbent and the most experienced in single-seater competition.
Lynn has an impressive list of achievements to his credit, despite his tender age. Indeed his dominant Macau win last year, certainly helped him secure the Red Bull contract at a time of great upheaval towards the end of last year; only Sainz Jr. survived the last cull of drivers in the team’s junior system.
So why would a Macau winner, GP3 champion elect and 2013 FIA European Formula 3 title contender struggle to garner the same attention as his rivals?
This is a question I am often asked by followers of junior racing who crave another British driver at the pinnacle, the first since Max Chilton in 2013. So here goes my attempt…
Unlike Kvyat, who graduated from GP3 to F1 earlier this year, Lynn is not dominating proceedings. He has led the championship, granted but three wins thus far is not on par with the Russian’s display at the then-named MW Arden. Remember, winning a title is not enough in twenty-first century Formula 1, timing can help too.
In Lynn’s case, one Max Verstappen has climbed through the ranks at blistering speed after an impressive showing in FIA European F3 championship – his first season outside karting. Verstappen, son of ex-F1 racer Jos, will become the youngest driver in history when he makes his race debut in Australia next year. Timing has been everything for the Dutchman who has capitalised on Red Bull’s lowering impressions of Vergne, a stellar season and a vacant Toro Rosso seat.
Lynn is also lacking the F1 experience of his peers and a partnership alongside Verstappen may be taking Red Bull’s characteristic risk-taking to an unnecessary level. He is yet to test any Formula 1 challenger in a public forum and the bosses at Red Bull continue their relative silence about his future.
While he is known for his Vettel-like tendencies – for example, pushing his car to the limits in the latter stages to secure a fastest lap – his performances are not always remembered at a time of great change in junior formulae. Formula 1’s top feeder series are fighting it out to graduate the next crop of talent at the pinnacle.
In the last year, Lynn’s profile has capitulated from driver struggling for funding to a member of a prestigious development scheme. Well PR trained, he would be a likeable figure in the paddock and reliable at the wheel. In a few years, the chips may fall in his favour as the game of Formula 1 plays its next hand.
However, for now, the young British racer remains an outsider and somewhat of a risky choice for a potential Toro Rosso seat.
I wonder if Helmut Marko agrees?
Photo: Sam Bloxham/GP3 Series Media Service.