F1 Stars of Tomorrow. Part 2: Vandoorne, Mazepin and Ocon

By Chris Turner (CatmanF1)

Written in association with Missed Apex Podcast. Listen in the player below the article

In this feature we continue to carve through the careers of the young hopefuls eager to join one of the most elite clubs in the world. To date only 754 drivers have competed in a Grand Prix, that's only 199 more than the number of people that have been into space (555). 

Stoffel Vandoorne

Stoffel will be the most well known driver in the testing line up as he replaced Fernando Alonso in the Bahrain Grand Prix this year. On his debut he stunned the paddock by qualifying ahead of world champion team mate Jenson Button and astonishingly he went on to score McLaren's first points of the season with a fantastic run to tenth place.

He has shown impressive form throughout his career in junior formulae, finishing runner up to Kevin Magnussen in Formula Renault 3.5 in 2013 with four victories.

As a rookie in GP2 in 2014 with the ART team he once again showed his potential by winning the first feature race of the season in Bahrain. He stood on the top step three more times that year and finished a very close second in the championship behind Jolyon Palmer, who was vastly more experienced being in his fourth season of GP2.

In 2015 he continued in GP2 and dominated the series recording 7 victories, 9 podiums, 4 pole positions and nearly scoring double the number of points of nearest rival Alex Rossi (who has since gone on to race with Manor in F1 and win the Indy 500).

After narrowly missing out on the race seat at McLaren for this year, he has had to move to Japan to race in the Super Formula series, where he will compete against ex-F1 drivers Kamui Kobayashi, Narain Karthikeyan, Kazuki Nakajima and multiple Le Mans winner and Caterham F1 driver Andre Lotterer.

Likely to graduate to F1?

He joined McLaren's young driver program in 2013 and has since been their development and reserve driver. After his impressive showing in Bahrain he has shown he is more than ready for Formula One.

He is hotly rumoured to replace Button to partner Alonso in 2017, but the decision has yet to be made by McLaren's top brass. With such a big regulation change, the experience that Button brings may swing the decision in his favour for one more year.

If McLaren do not use Vandoorne then he has options, as other teams have apparently expressed an interest in his services. He has to hope that McLaren don't leave their decision until the eve of the new season as they have done in previous years. Such a delay left Kevin Magnussen out in the cold in 2015.

Nikita Mazepin

The 17-year-old Russian was relatively unknown to most F1 pundits until he was announced as the surprise new singing for Force India test driver for the mid-season test this year. That is because his career so far has not really stood out from the crowd. To date in his senior racing career in MRF Formula 2000, the Toyota Racing series, Formula Renault 2.0 and Formula 3 he has scored no victories and only two podium finishes.

His karting career was only a little more successful, finishing second on the road in the 2013 World Junior Championship final before being given a ten second penalty for a track limits infringement (which it could be argued is perfect preparation for a career in F1). He followed up with the runner-up trophy for the 2014 CIK-FIA World karting championship.

Mazepin provides an alternative for those who complain that racing drivers are sterile, boring PR machines. He was recently given a race ban in F3 for physically assaulting rival Callum Ilott after an on track altercation.

Likely to graduate to F1?

Mazepin was taken on by Force India earlier this year to stimulate development of the grass roots sport in Russia, building on momentum created by Vitaly Petrov and Daniil Kvyat.

He has a lot still to learn and needs to demonstrate he can convert his promise shown from karting to performance in car racing. 

If he can start delivering results then maybe he has a chance, but the competition at this level is fierce and he may not survive the heat, despite his illustrious backers.

 Esteban Ocon

The Frenchman made his single seater debut in 2012 in the Formula Renault 2.0 Alps championship with Korainen and spent the season adapting his driving style from karting to single seater racing. It took a switch to the ART junior team in 2013 to take his first win and become a regular podium contender.

His real breakthrough came in 2014 as he moved across to the FIA Formula 3 championship. As a rookie he really impressed onlookers as he dominated the series, taking nine race wins on the way to winning the championship with one race still to go. This feat is made even more impressive as he faced stiff competition from Red Bull superstar Max Verstappen.

2015 was also a stellar year for Ocon. Competing in the GP3 for ART Grand Prix he took victory in the opening race in Spain. Despite not taking another victory all season he was incredibly consistent, finishing on the podium for 11 races in a row. He beat Luca Ghiotto to the title by 8 points.

2016 has not been so kind to Ocon. He switched to the DTM championship under the stewardship of the Mercedes team, taking the place of the F1 bound Pascal Wehrlein. So far he has only finished as high as ninth place in the highly competitive championship that, like F1, requires the right machinery to compete at the front.

Likely to graduate to F1?

Despite his contract for the Mercedes driver development program, there are growing rumours that Ocon will take the second seat at Renault from Jolyon Palmer next year, who has been outpaced by Kevin Magnussen for most of this season.

Ocon already has a range of experience in Formula One cars, testing for Force India and Lotus in 2014, then again for Mercedes at the Silverstone tests last week. He has also driven twice for Renault in practice sessions his year and is due to do so again at Hungary this weekend, replacing Palmer in FP1.

Join us on Saturday when we dissect the prospects of the final four drivers, just like an unfortunate amphibian that finds it's way onto the work bench of a prepubescent school child.