For the first time in a decade, the top three in the premier junior formulae to Formula 1 will all make the immediate jump into the top league, with George Russell, Alexander Albon and Lando Norris joining Williams Racing, Scuderia Toro Rosso and McLaren F1 Team respectively.
Back in 2009, it was Nico Hülkenberg, Vitaly Petrov and Lucas di Grassi who all made their way into Formula 1 on the back of finishing one-two-three in the then-GP2 Series, but the height of anticipation of Russell, a Mercedes-Benz protégé, Albon, a former member of the Red Bull and Lotus Junior teams, and McLaren Junior Norris, is special.
Couple that with the full-time arrival of 2016 GP2 Series runner-up Antonio Giovinazzi at Alfa Romeo Racing adds some additional spice into the equation as Formula 1 teams are beginning to give youth their chance, and The Checkered Flag looks at the four rookies set to grace the twenty-one Grand Prix venues in 2019.
George Russell – Great Britain – #63 Williams Racing
Before the latest Scuderia Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc, no driver had won both the GP3 Series and the FIA Formula 2 championship, let alone in consecutive seasons, but Russell added his name to this by adding the 2018 F2 crown to the GP3 title he claimed in 2017.
Driving last year for ART Grand Prix, Russell took four feature race victories and three sprint race wins in an incredibly consistent campaign that ultimately saw him defeat his rivals by sixty-eight points.
Whereas McLaren made the announcement to promote Norris to their F1 team in 2019, Mercedes were unable to do that with Russell, and ultimately it was the Briton himself that made the decision to push for a seat with Williams, and his determination paid off as he was handed the seat.
Pre-season testing has not been plain sailing for Russell due to the late arrival of the FW42, meaning that both he and team-mate Robert Kubica were always playing catch up to the rest of the grid, and it became evidently clear that the car is not amongst the strongest on the grid at this time. However, despite the difficult times that are set to come in 2019, Russell has the speed and determination to succeed in Formula 1. After all, Mercedes-Benz still play a part in his career, and that can only end up being beneficial to the twenty-one-year-old.
Lando Norris – Great Britain – #4 McLaren F1 Team
It has long been viewed that Norris has been Formula 1 bound, ever since his debut in cars back in 2014 in the Ginetta Junior Championship, in which, as a fifteen-year-old, he took four victories and third place in the championship.
Subsequently, he claimed five championships across the next three years, winning the MSA Formula title with Carlin in 2015, the Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup and Northern European Cup and Toyota Racing Series titles in 2016 and finally the FIA European Formula 3 Championship in 2017 before his jump into Formula 2 last year.
Norris had a long time partnership with Carlin that saw them united again in Formula 2, but despite an opening race win in Bahrain, he could not add another victory across the rest of the campaign, meaning he was forced to play second fiddle to his fellow Briton Russell in the championship, with a second place finish in the final race giving him second place in the standings ahead of Albon.
Following Fernando Alonso at McLaren is never going to be straightforward for neither Norris nor new team-mate Carlos Sainz Jr., but talent always shows through and throughout his junior formulae career, he has shown himself to be a superstar in waiting. It is now up to him to show just what he can do behind the wheel, although he will be hopeful that the recent downturn in fortune and competitiveness from his team turns into an upswing.
Alexander Albon – Thailand – #23 Scuderia Toro Rosso
For a long time, it appeared that Anglo-Thai racer Albon was going to miss out on a Formula 1 drive, and indeed his future appeared to be in FIA Formula E in 2019 before Scuderia Toro Rosso came calling to race alongside Daniil Kvyat for the Faenza-based squad.
Albon has always had the talent and was previously a member of the Red Bull Junior Team and the Lotus Junior Team in his early career but has been going it alone in the past few seasons, in which he has been a race winner and championship contender in both the GP3 Series (2016) and FIA Formula 2 championships (2018).
Last year, he pleaded with DAMS to give him the drive despite a lack of backing or funding, which the majority of drivers require to race, but ultimately the gamble by the team paid off, as he took four race victories and was Russell’s final rival for the title, taking the battle to the final round. However, a disappointing finale not only allowed Russell to clinch the championship but also allowed Norris to claim second.
Toro Rosso will be entering their second season with Honda power hoping to better their ninth place in the championship from 2018, and Albon will be hoping that the STR14 is a more competitive and more consistent challenger than the predecessor raced by Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley last year.
Antonio Giovinazzi – Italy – #99 Alfa Romeo Racing
For the first time since Jarno Trulli and Vitantonio Liuzzi in 2011, there will be a full-time Grand Prix driver on the grid representing Italy, although it will not be Giovinazzi’s first races in Formula 1, having made a pair of outings with the Sauber F1 Team as an injury replacement for Pascal Wehrlein back in 2017.
Giovinazzi’s race time since finishing second to Pierre Gasly in the 2016 GP2 Series championship has been severely limited, but he was very impressive in that campaign, winning five times and taking his Prema Racing team-mate and new Red Bull Racing racer Gasly to the limit. He has spent the last couple of seasons on the books at Scuderia Ferrari as reserve and test driver and has been test driver on a number of occasions for the Haas F1 Team in 2017 and Sauber last year.
When Alfa Romeo announced Kimi Räikkönen as their first driver for 2019, it appeared that Giovinazzi would face another year on the sidelines, and if so, a tough choice of what to do with his future, but ultimately, he was given the second seat ahead of Marcus Ericsson, and will make his full-time debut this year.
Alfa Romeo is a team on the up, and a driver with the talent and calibre as Räikkönen as his team-mate can only be to Giovinazzi’s benefit, and there is no reason why the Italian cannot be challenging for regular points finishes and the team for the title as best of the rest amid an expected tight midfield battle.