F1 Driver Development Programmes: Ferrari Driver Academy

Written by: Daniel Yi, Edited by: Morgan Holiday

The oldest and most successful team in Formula 1, Scuderia Ferrari, has come a long way with a rich history and heritage of drivers and championship wins. This team has seen numerous legendary drivers like Fangio, Lauda, Prost, Schumacher, Alonso, Vettel, and many more race for them throughout the years. Today, we look at the history and the talents who have come through and been a part of the Ferrari Driver Academy. 

The idea for the Ferrari Driver Academy was inspired by the signing of Felipe Massa. Back in 2000, the young and upcoming Massa bulldozed his way through Formula Renault 2000 Eurocup and Formula Renault 2000 Italy, winning both championships. This attracted the attention of several F1 teams, with Scuderia Ferrari amongst them. The Prancing Horse signed Massa secretly on a long-term eight-year deal, but did not immediately give him a race seat just yet. Instead, they loaned Massa out to the Ferrari-powered Sauber for 2002 and 2004-05, and got him to be their test driver in 2003, all while being under contract with Ferrari. From this, Ferrari was inspired to set up the Ferrari Driver Academy (FDA) in 2009. 

Former Drivers

The FDA has seen many talents come through its ranks. Here are some who have made it to F1.

Jules Bianchi (2009-14)

F1: Ferrari test/reserve (2010-11), Force India test/reserve (2012), Marussia (2013-14)

The late Jules Bianchi became the first member of the FDA after its establishment in 2009. Bianchi started karting at a young age and made his single-seater debut in 2007, where he impressed early on. Ferrari saw enough and signed him to the academy in 2009. Ferrari named him as their F1 test driver for 2011. For 2012, Ferrari loaned him out to Force India to be their F1 test driver. Bianchi then earned his first F1 drive with Marussia in 2013-14, performing admirably in a backmarker team and was poised to join Ferrari in 2015. What should have gone on to be a promising and successful career ended in tragedy with the passing of Bianchi in 2015, nine months after his horrific accident in the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix. Today, the legacy of Jules Bianchi still lives on and the lessons learnt from his accident have saved other drivers from tragedy.

Sergio Pérez (2010-12)

F1: Sauber (2011-12), McLaren (2013), Force India/Racing Point (2014-20), Red Bull (2021-present)

Sergio Pérez was signed to the academy in October 2010. After finishing second in the 2010 GP2 series, Sauber then signed Pérez to race for them in 2011-12, where he performed well, picking up 3 podiums. At the end of 2012, McLaren signed Pérez to replace the outbound Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari released him from the academy. However, Pérez had unsatisfactory performances in 2013, leading him to be replaced by Kevin Magnussen and he moved to Force India in 2014. With Force India facing financial troubles in 2018, Pérez and others forced the team into administration, thereby saving the team from winding up and collapsing. Force India was then rebranded into Racing Point from 2018-20 after Lawrence Stroll’s purchase. Pérez maintained his solid performances and finally achieved his elusive race victory in the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix. Despite his performances, he was unfairly ousted not retained by the team for the 2021 season and Red Bull decided to sign him. It seems to be the best decision for him, where he has gone on to achieve another win and two podiums so far.

Lance Stroll (2010-15)

F1: Williams test (2016), Williams (2017-18), Racing Point/Aston Martin (2019-present)

Previously, Stroll was deemed to be unworthy of a race seat because many thought that his father splurged out cash and bought his way to F1. But let’s not forget that Stroll was actually talented and won championships in his karting days, leading the FDA to sign him. Stroll left the FDA in 2015 to become a test driver for Williams in 2016. He then raced for Williams from 2017-18, becoming the youngest rookie to achieve a podium during the 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix. In 2019, under much controversy, Stroll moved to Racing Point, which was owned by his father. He remained at the team for 2020, picking up two podiums along the way, and was retained for the 2021 season after Racing Point rebranded to Aston Martin.

Raffaele Marciello (2010-15)

F1: Sauber test/reserve (2015)

Marciello first joined the FDA in 2010 and went on to have a stellar junior career, having several top three finishes in various series and winning the F3 European Championship. After a two-year stint in GP2, Sauber signed Marciello as their test driver in 2015. However, he was dropped for 2016 and subsequently left the FDA due to personal reasons. He spent another year in GP2 before making the move to GT racing in 2017 and competed in various GT racing series where he remains until this day.

Antonio Fuoco (2013-18)

F1: Ferrari test/simulator (2019-present)

Fuoco joined the FDA in 2013 and immediately showed potential, winning the Formula Renault 2.0 Alps series and the Florida Winter Series by the FDA. After competing in F2 from 2017-18 as well as a test/reserve stint in Formula E, Fuoco did not continue with the FDA. Instead he was promoted to a testing/simulator role with Ferrari in 2019 where he remains to this day.

Guanyu Zhou (2014-18)

F1: Renault/Alpine test/reserve (2020-present)

Zhou joined the FDA in 2014. After a runner-up finish in Italian F4 in 2015, he moved to F3 for 3 years. Despite having some consistent improvements, he had no outstanding seasons in the 3 years. He left the FDA in 2018 and was signed to the Renault Sport Academy in 2019 where he started competing in F2. Zhou is currently competing in F2 as of now and is concurrently serving as Alpine’s test/reserve driver since 2020.

Charles Leclerc (2016-17)

F1: Haas, Sauber, Ferrari development driver (2017), Sauber (2018), Ferrari (2019-present)

Arguably the most successful out of the FDA graduates and the first FDA member to graduate to Ferrari, Charles Leclerc is a household name for every F1 fan. Leclerc joined the FDA in 2016 and instantly made waves as he won the GP3 series. He moved on to F2 in 2017 and served as a development driver for Haas, Sauber and Ferrari, appearing in several tests. Leclerc won F2 and earned a race seat with Sauber in 2018, impressing in his rookie season. After Ferrari signed him in 2019, he followed it up with excellent performances, qualifying on pole seven times, winning two races and earning ten podiums en route to fourth place in the championship. He remains with Ferrari today, still demonstrating his world-class ability. 

Honourable Mentions

Felipe Massa

Although Felipe Massa was not a member of the FDA, the idea for the FDA was based on him and therefore should be an honorary mention. Massa was a promising young driver who had proved himself and even raced alongside Michael Schumacher in 2006. Massa came close to glory in 2008, losing the driver’s title by a single point. 

Giuliano Alesi (2016-20)

The son of former Ferrari driver Jean Alesi, Giuliano Alesi was part of the programme from 2016-20, where he competed in GP3 and F2. In 2021, Alesi left the FDA and focused his career racing in Japan’s Super Formula and Super Formula Lights Series.

Gianluca Petecof (2017-20)

Gianluca Petecof joined the academy in December 2017 and competed in ADAC and Italian F4, as well as winning the Formula Regional European Championship in 2020. However, due to financial and sponsorship constraints, was unable to continue to F3 and left the FDA in 2021. He last raced in F2 where he had to withdraw halfway through the season due to limited finances.

Enzo Fittipaldi (2017-20)

The younger grandson of racing legend Emerson Fittipaldi, Enzo Fittipaldi joined the FDA in 2017. Fittipaldi had some good results, finishing third and first in ADAC and Italian F4 respectively in 2018, and finishing second in the Formula Regional European Championship in 2019. Fittipaldi left the FDA in 2021 and has since made a few appearances in Indy Pro 2000 and F2, replacing David Beckmann at Charouz.

Sebastian Montoya (2018)

Sebastian Montoya is the son of former F1 driver Juan Pablo Montoya. Montoya joined the FDA in 2018 while competing in karting, but left after one year in the programme. He now races in ADAC and Italian F4 with Prema.

Current Drivers

Marcus Armstrong (2017-present)

Armstrong was invited to the FDA in 2017. He started competing in Italian and ADAC F4, achieving first and second place respectively in the series. In 2018, he moved to F3 European Championship and came in 5th place, while coming in third for the Toyota Racing series. In 2019, Armstrong improved, coming in second in F3 and Toyota Racing series, after which he moved to F2 in 2020 where he remains to this day. Armstrong has shown promise in his junior career so far, but unless he improves his standings in F2, it will be a little hard to justify an F1 seat for him for the time being.

Callum Ilott (2017-present)

Callum Ilott first joined the Red Bull Junior Team in 2015 for a year before FDA signed him in 2017. Ilott worked his way up, finishing fourth in the 2017 Formula 3 European Championship and third in the 2018 GP3 series. Ilott then moved to F2 for 2019-20 and also served as the test driver for Haas and Alfa Romeo. Ilott capped off an impressive 2020 by finishing second in F2, just behind fellow FDA member Mick Schumacher. But he was unfortunately robbed of an opportunity for a well-deserved F1 seat due to Haas opting to sign the undeserving Nikita Mazepin instead. Due to financial constraints, Ilott did not continue in F2, instead going on to GT racing and endurance challenges as well as serving as the Ferrari’s test driver and Alfa Romeo’s reserve driver. Currently, he is racing in Indycar and will be competing full time in the series for 2022.

Robert Shwartzman (2017-present)

Robert Shwartzman joined the FDA in 2017, alongside Marcus Armstrong and Callum Ilott. Shwartzman came in third for Formula Renault Eurocup in 2017 and F3 European Championship in 2018. He then had a breakout year, winning the Toyota Racing Series in 2018 as well as F3 in 2019. This led to a move to F2 for 2020 where he impressed, taking on a fourth place finish and currently sits third in the F2 standings this season. He also served as Ferrari’s test driver in 2020. While Shwartzman has had a promising junior career so far, it will probably need a herculean effort to bring out more extraordinary performances to justify why he should belong in F1. Shwartzman is not short of talent, but there are limited seats available in F1. 

Mick Schumacher (2019-present)

The son of the legendary Michael Schumacher, Mick Schumacher has been touted as a worthy heir to his father’s legacy, and rightfully so. Schumacher joined the FDA in 2019, after winning the F3 European Championship. Schumacher competed in F2 from 2019-20, winning the F2 title in his second year. This earned him a well-deserved drive with Haas in F1. Although the results don’t show his skill on the track due to the atrocious car developed by Haas this season. Mick Schumacher is definitely a rising talent and will look to earn the Ferrari seat in the next few years.

Arthur Leclerc (2020-present)

Always best known for being the little brother of Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc, Arthur Leclerc is a talented youngster making a name for himself in the junior categories. After solid performances in karting, Leclerc became a development driver for Venturi in Formula E from 2017-19. Concurrently, he started racing in French F4 in 2018 and ADAC F4 in 2019, finishing fifth and third in the respective series. This led the FDA to sign Leclerc for 2020 and onwards. Venturi promoted him to a test/reserve role in 2019-20 as well. Since joining the FDA, Leclerc competed in Formula Regional European Championship with Prema for 2020, finishing second in the series, just behind teammate and former academy member Gianluca Petecof. Prema retained his services for 2021 in F3 and Leclerc finished 10th in the standings with two wins and a podium. While still a bit early to be in contention for an F1 seat, the future definitely looks bright for Arthur Leclerc. Who knows, we may get to see the Leclerc brothers racing together in F1.

Dino Beganovic (2020-present)

Dino Beganovic is a Swedish-Bosnian driver who was signed to the FDA in 2020 after successful stints in karting. The 17 year old driver competed in Italian F4 with some appearances in ADAC F4. He had a successful campaign, finishing third in Italian F4. As of now, Beganovic currently competes in Formula Regional European Championship and is 14th in the standings with a podium so far. Beganovic is not in contention for an F1 seat for the time being and definitely needs some more time to develop and grow. If he can replicate his Italian F4 form, then he will definitely be one to look out for. 

James Wharton (2021-present)

Back in 2020, the FDA organised a Scouting World Finals to uncover the next young talent. The winner of the finals was James Wharton, a then 14 year old from Australia. After winning several Karting championships, Wharton came out on top of the Finals hosted at the Maranello, which earned him a place in the FDA. The young driver is currently still racing in karts, but also preparing for his single-seater debut as the FDA have plans to enter him in F4 next year. 

Maya Weug (2021-present)

Maya Weug is a trailblazer. She is the first and currently the only female driver who has made it into the famed FDA so far. Weug is 16 years old and holds Belgian, Spanish and Dutch nationalities. Previously, she competed in karts and won the WSK Final Cup in 2016, beating fellow academy member Dino Beganovic. In 2020, the FIA Women in Motorsport Commission organized a “Girls on Track – Rising Stars” programme, with the aim of promoting and supporting promising young female racing talents in motorsport. Weug was one of the twenty nominees for the programme and eventually went on to win the programme. This earned her a spot in the FDA. Currently, Weug is competing in Italian and ADAC F4 with Iron Lynx as part of their Iron Dames programme and FDA membership. She currently sits 33rd in the championship. Weug is certainly an example and opening the path to more women in motorsport.

Ferrari certainly have found themselves quite a few talented youngsters. While their projected long term lineup for the future has been rumoured to be Charles Leclerc and Mick Schumacher, Ferrari’s youngsters aren’t in a bad place to be so far. (Unlike Alpine’s Academy Drivers) Ferrari currently is still able to put the young drivers in their customer teams like Alfa Romeo or Haas for the time being. For 2022, the lineup for Haas and Ferrari have been confirmed and only one available seat is left at Alfa Romeo. This would definitely hinder the chances of the older academy members such as Armstrong, Ilott, and Shwartzman. In the future, Alfa Romeo have also made clear their intent of not having their driver choices being dictated by Ferrari, so the available seats for FDA members will become lower. Hopefully these talented young drivers will have the opportunity to showcase their talents on the big stage.

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