In recent years, the Ferrari Driver Academy have brought a number of highly impressive and very talented young drivers through their scheme, and in Raffaele ‘Lello’ Marciello, they have another possibly one destined for the top.
Following in the wake of Jules Bianchi, Marciello will step up to a reserve driver role in Formula 1 in 2015 with the Sauber F1 Team, as well as making a concerted effort to win the 2015 GP2 Series crown with Trident Racing.
Since making his single seater racing debut back in the 2010 Formula Abarth series in his Italian homeland, Marciello has been making waves with his performances, and has been a winner wherever he races.
As a fifteen-year-old, he was handed the opportunity to be a part of the Ferrari Driver Academy (FDA), joining the team at the same time as Mirko Bortolotti and Daniel Zampieri. Whilst he remains in the academy, the other two have fallen by the wayside.
His debut year in Formula Abarth saw him win two races for JD Motorsport, including his debut race at Misano, and finished third in the championship behind Brandon Maisano and Patric Niederhauser.
He continued racing in Italy in 2011, moving to the Prema Powerteam outfit in the Italian Formula Three Championship, winning twice for the team, once at Misano and again at Adria on his way to finishing third in the championship once more.
He continued his collaboration with Prema Powerteam in 2012, moving up again into the FIA European Formula 3 Championship alongside Spaniard Daniel Juncadella, American driver Michael Lewis and German Sven Muller.
“He moved from Formula Abarth to F3 Italia without any problem and he deserved to be promoted to the F3 Euro Series,” said Prema Powerteam Team Boss Angelo Rosin at the announcement of his promotion.
“I think that his great speed skills will enable him to take on his main rivals from the very beginning.”
Rosin’s premonition indeed was correct, and Marciello continued his winning ways into European F3, winning on seven occasions, including an incredible five race sequence – the two races at both the French circuit of Pau and Brands Hatch in Great Britain, and then the opener at the Red Bull Ring in Austria. He finished a close second in the championship to Juncadella, who in 2014 was a reserve driver himself in Formula 1 for the Sahara Force India team.
He retained his seat in the series for 2013, and Rosin insisted they did everything in their power to keep the talented Italian for another season, this time alongside Briton Alex Lynn, Austrian Lucas Auer and American Eddie Cheever III.
“We could not net such a talent go, so we did everything in our power to keep him,” said Rosin to Autosport ahead of the 2013 season. “Relying on Raffaele was the logical choice and together with the Ferrari Driver Academy we agreed to continue fielding him. Our goal is to retain our number one [in the Teams’ championship].”
Indeed, it was a good decision to remain in the series for another year, with Marciello going one better than his 2012 campaign by winning the title from Felix Rosenqvist and taking thirteen victories along the way. After the conclusion of the season, he tested in both Formula Renault 3.5 series and GP2 Series machinery, before being placed in a Racing Engineering seat in GP2 by the FDA.
“Raffaele had a great 2013, winning a very important and competitive series,” said the Head of the FDA Luca Baldisserri to Autosport.
“2014 will be a crucial year for him, as he will compete in a series that is on the threshold of Formula 1 – GP2.”
Speaking on the announcement of his GP2 deal, Racing Engineering chief Alfonso de Orleans-Borbon was happy to see the Italian part of his team alongside series veteran Stefano Coletti.
“I am proud of the choice to race with Raffaele this year and confident that his past experience and support of the Ferrari Driver Academy will be a benefit for Racing Engineering in our targets for the season,” said de Orleans-Borbon. “This confidence is also a result of the efforts and great amount of work that this team has been producing during these last years.
“With this, we are very happy to have among our ranks the current European F3 champion for the 2014 season, something that will motivate us even more to equal, if not improve, the results in GP2 that Racing Engineering had last season.”
Marciello’s season started off relatively badly. Although his qualifying efforts were generally pretty good, his early race starts left much to be desired, but his season came alive in Austria with his first points and first podium finishes. He continued his good form into Silverstone qualifying, taking an impressive pole position, and was looking good in the Feature race before an unfortunate mechanical failure sidelined him.
He took a fantastic and thrilling maiden GP2 Series victory during the Spa-Francorchamps Feature race, beating long-time leader and McLaren F1 Junior driver Stoffel Vandoorne in a straight fight.
“It was a really hard race, and I’m really happy to win,” said Marciello after his Spa victory. “After the pit stop I had more grip, I was faster through Eau Rouge, and that helped a lot.”
He finished on the podium once more in Russia, and ultimately ended the year eighth in the championship standings with 74 points. He switches to Trident Racing for the 2015 season, and will be looking to take the experience from his rookie season and make a concerted effort to take the championship.
“By reaching this agreement I can say I fulfilled one of the dreams I have been chasing for a long time,” said Trident Racing’s Team Principal Maurizio Salvadori about Marciello’s signing.
“At the same time, I understand that the expectations on ‘Lello’ for 2015 are very high, but I am sure that we are in condition to deliver a winning car.
“We, as Trident, will do our utmost in order to provide our contribution to his career, as he has the chance to finally bring the Italian banner back to Formula 1.”
Formula 1. Any young driver’s ultimate goal, and for Marciello, it could mean an Italian driver in an Italian car, with Ferrari a distinct possibility for the future. He tested for the Scuderia in the post-season test in Abu Dhabi last November, completing 91 untroubled laps in the F14-T.
“It was quite a fun day, I enjoyed driving a Formula 1 car a lot,” said Marciello after the test. “I did a lot of kilometres, so I’m really happy with this, because when you are in the car you want to do a lot. I did everything – like qualifying and long runs – so I’m really happy.
“It was really emotional in the morning, for an Italian to drive for Ferrari is a dream. So I’m really happy.”
To follow up his maiden F1 test, Marciello has been confirmed to be the reserve driver at the Sauber F1 Team in 2015, backing up regular race drivers Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr, replacing Giedo van der Garde in the role.
“He proved his great talent in junior formulas, and his season in the European Formula 3 Championship with 13 wins and the title victory was particularly impressive,” said Sauber Team boss Monisha Kaltenborn.
“We will give Raffaele the opportunity to become familiar with Formula 1, which also includes him taking part in some free practice sessions on Fridays.”
A busy 2015 season beckons for Raffaele Marciello, but from his career records so far, it would not be a surprise if by the end of the season, he is at least in contention for both the GP2 championship and a full-time drive in Formula 1 for the 2016 season.
He has proved himself time and time again, and works hard to improve his race craft. His 2014 GP2 season proves this, with his results improving as he came to grips with the GP2 machinery. The leap from Formula 3 to GP2 is quite a big one, drivers usually go via the GP3 Series, and so it might not have been a surprise for him to initially struggle.
2015 could be a make-or-break year for Marciello. And I just don’t see him breaking. Could we see an Italian in a Ferrari again? Not since the 1992 Formula 1 season have we seen an Italian full-time in a Ferrari F1 seat, and even then Ivan Capelli didn’t last the season in the dreadful F92A. (Yes I know Nicola Larini, Luca Badoer and Giancarlo Fisichella have had brief shots racing in a Ferrari in F1 replacing unwell or fired drivers since then, but they were never full time).
A Ferrari drive might not happen for his rookie season, but one day…
It would not be a surprise to many.