A lot of hype, perhaps warranted, has been placed on the shoulders of one Mick Schumacher, but the Ferrari Driver Academy is not just a one-trick pony at this time, and two other stars are shining bright in the FIA Formula 2 Championship in 2020.
Schumacher is currently leading the Formula 2 championship standings after the first nine rounds of the season, but whereas the German has only one win to his name, both Callum Ilott and Robert Shwartzman are multiple race winners and currently sit second and fourth in the standings.
Ferrari have five drivers in Formula 2 in 2020, but whereas Marcus Armstrong and Giuliano Alesi are not in contention for the championship, Ilott, Shwartzman and Schumacher most definitely are. The Checkered Flag has already looked at Schumacher and his chances of reaching Formula 1, but now we look at the past of both Ilott and Shwartzman and shows why Formula 1 should not ignore Ferrari’s ‘other’ young drivers.
Callum Ilott – Great Britain – Uni-Virtuosi
Like Schumacher, Ilott is in his second season in Formula 2, and his three wins and four pole positions sees him sitting second in the championship. To put into prospective, Schumacher has yet to start at the front of the grid in thirty races.
His single-seater career began under the wings of another Formula 1 junior programme back in 2015, when the Red Bull Junior Team oversaw his season with Carlin in the FIA Formula 3 European Championship. It was a tough, winless season for the Briton, with the Red Bull partnership ending after just one season. However, 2016 saw him back in the championship, with two wins coming with Van Amersfoort Racing as he raced to sixth in the standings.
A third season followed, this time with Prema Powerteam and he was one of Schumacher’s team-mates alongside current FIA Formula E race winner Maximilian Gunther and Ilott’s current Formula 2 team-mate Guanyu Zhou. Ilott took the most wins of the quartet but finished fourth in the standings, with Gunther third, Zhou eighth and Schumacher a lowly twelfth!
Ilott made the move into the GP3 Series in 2018 with ART Grand Prix, lining up alongside Anthoine Hubert, Nikita Mazepin and Jake Hughes in an impressive line-up for the French squad. The Briton took two victories on his way to third in the standings, although Hubert’s superb consistency took him to the title ahead of Mazepin despite only winning two races himself.
Moving into Formula 2 was then the obvious choice for Ilott, and he found himself racing with the Sauber Junior Team by Charouz. He was now under the wings of Ferrari, although it was a difficult season for the Briton as he finished eleventh in the standings with just two podium finishes to his name, although he did take a pole position at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza, just a week after the horror crash at Spa-Francorchamps that cost the life of his former team-mate Hubert and caused massive injuries to his then team-mate Juan-Manuel Correa.
Ilott needed to make a step up in performance in 2020, and he has done just that, with three pole positions earned in Qualifying, and three race victories. Racing for Uni-Virtuosi has given him the chance to excel, and he has often dominated his highly regarded Renault Sport Academy-backed team-mate Zhou.
He has been prone to a few mistakes that have cost him dearly, as without them he would be the clear leader in the championship. Should he eliminate those mistakes across the final three rounds and six races of 2020, he will be there or there abouts in the final reckoning.
On a personal level, Ilott is a pleasant person who has always been willing to talk to The Checkered Flag and others, but behind the wheel, he is as determined as he comes, and he has been quietly been doing his job whilst all the talk has been centred around Schumacher.
He tested with Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN last year and is certainly in the talks that surround possible 2021 drives in Formula 1, and he as openly admitted that he does not expect to be back in Formula 2 next season, whether he wins the title or not. Should he make it to Formula 1, it will have been a well-earned promotion.
Robert Shwartzman – Russia – Prema Powerteam
Every now and then comes a talent that is obviously destined to the top, providing luck goes their way, and there is no reason to why twenty-year-old Shwartzman cannot become Russia’s fourth-ever Formula 1 driver after Vitaly Petrov, Daniil Kvyat and Sergey Sirotkin.
Shwartzman’s career began with a handful of races in the Italian Formula 4 Championship back in 2014 with Cram Motorsport, but his move to Mücke Motorsport the following year saw him take the first two victories of his career. He finished the season third in the standings, while he was also fourth in the ADAC Formula 4 championship in Germany despite failing to win a race – his eight podiums that year aided his position in the standings.
With his SMP Racing-backing, Shwartzman made the move to the Formula Renault Eurocup championship in 2016, and it was here where he possibly had the worst season of his career to date. With Josef Kaufmann Racing, he failed to take a victory and finished only once on the podium as he took eighth in the standings, although he did take two wins in the Formula Renault NEC series.
Despite his 2016 results, Shwartzman had done enough to catch the eye of Ferrari, who brought him into their Driver Academy for 2017, and the Russian showed better form as he stayed in Eurocup, taking three wins and eleven podiums on his way to third in the championship with R-ace GP.
Shwartzman joined Prema in the FIA Formula 3 European Championship in 2018 as team-mate to Schumacher and to Zhou, Armstrong and Ralf Aron, and in his rookie campaign he took a creditable third in the championship with two wins to his name. Schumacher, in his second year in the championship, took the title with eight wins, all coming within twelve races of each other.
A move in the FIA Formula 3 Championship followed for Shwartzman, again with Prema, and the Russian did not disappoint as his three wins, two pole positions and ten podiums took him to the championship. This was in a season that included the likes of Armstrong, Jüri Vips, Jehan Daruvala and Christian Lundgaard, amongst others, running towards the front of the field.
Shwartzman made the logical step up to Formula 2 in 2020, and in just his third race with the team – his second feature race – he was standing on the top step of the podium at the Red Bull Ring. He won another feature race at the Hungaroring and then a sprint race at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, but where the Russian is struggling is in Qualifying.
Only once has the Russian started on the front row in Spain, and in four races out of nine he was qualified outside the top ten. He won races from sixth and eleventh on the grid in Austria and Hungary, but he often leaves himself with a lot of work to do just to make it into the points. The fact he sits fourth in the championship is a testament to his race craft.
Should he find his touch in Qualifying, as he did in Spain, then he should be able to regain the ground he lost to both Schumacher and Ilott across the last two rounds, with his visits to Monza and to the Autodromo Internazionale del Mugello seeing him fall from the top of the standings to fourth. Ferrari do have the confidence in him, and he is heading to his homeland for the next race at Sochi Autodrom, and he is most definitely one to watch in the upcoming years.
If not Schumacher, then Who?
It is pretty clear who is favourite for promotion to Formula 1 within the Ferrari Driver Academy, and it will come as a surprise to no one when the Schumacher name returns to the top level of international single seater racing next season.
But why should it be restricted to just him? Ilott and Shwartzman are both exceptional talents and Ferrari have a dilemma on their hands. It’s probably a nice dilemma to have, with three drivers all looking to make that final step into Formula 1, but will there be heartbreak for Ilott and/or Shwartzman?
At this time, the seats available seem to be with the Ferrari-powered teams of Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN and Haas F1 Team, and whilst Schumacher is odds-on to pick up a drive with the former, there are a number of drivers outside of Ilott and Shwartzman in with a shot of racing in either of those teams next season, including the existing driver line-ups of Kimi Räikkönen, Antonio Giovinazzi, Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean.
Also available are the experienced Nico Hülkenberg and Sergio Pérez, and both of those are highly regarded within the Formula 1 paddock and are expected to be on the grid next season. So where does that leave Ferrari? They may have a sway in one of the Alfa Romeo seats but the second will be determined by Alfa, with Räikkönen their first choice, should he decide to remain in the sport.
Ilott says Formula 2 is not in his future plans for 2021, so if he misses out on his Formula 1 chance, will he need to revise his career ambitions? It may well be his one shot at getting into Formula 1.
Should Shwartzman not win the championship, there is a chance he will remain in Formula 2 for a second season, with 2022 his next possible chance of getting into Formula 1.
If I was a team looking to build for the future, I would try and include one of these two youngsters, either in the race seats or as development drivers. They are exceptional talents who deserve a chance of reaching Formula 1. It would be desperately sad if one or even both missed out.