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The battle of the Red Bull juniors

Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo were formed under the program. With a dynamic young line-up to its credit, the battle is now on to secure the next Toro Rosso seat.
Tuesday, July 1, 2014

July 1st, 2014 (F1plus/Katie Grimmet).- The Austrian Grand Prix was, in many ways, a complete success, the decision to sign Daniel Ricciardo at Red Bull was inspired and his replacement Daniil Kyvat is making a name for himself at sister team, Toro Rosso. The four-time world champions may be adrift of Mercedes in the constructors’ battle but the Red Bull Junior Team suggests their impressive run of form could continue.

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Every year, the fight for a seat at Toro Rosso appears closer and more intense. Despite Helmet Marko’s cut-throat attitude, a spot in the Red Bull development programme is one of the most hotly-contested in single seater racing. Nowadays, just three drivers hold the title of ‘Red Bull junior’ – Alex Lynn and Pierre Gasly joined long time member Carlos Sainz Jr at the start of 2014.

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This change occurred after Antonio Felix da Costa, once a favourite for Ricciardo’s seat at development team Toro Rosso, was unable to capture the 2013 Formula Renault 3.5 title, gifting eventual winner Kevin Magnussen with a direct path to McLaren F1.

Instead Daniil Kyvat, who enjoyed a quiet yet successful year in feeder series GP3, became the first confirmed rookie for the 2014 Formula 1 season.

Why do the potential futures of the three Red Bull juniors matter? They are not in Formula 1 but within the next couple of years, one could be. Kvyat needs a strong teammate and many rumours are swirling regarding Jean-Eric Vergne’s position at the Italian based outfit.

So who are these Red Bull juniors and what threat do they pose to the Frenchman’s career?

Let us start with Alex Lynn, perhaps the lesser known Red Bull protégé. He is their latest signing and their first British driver since, a now largely absent, Lewis Williamson in 2012.

Currently contesting the GP3 championship, the twenty-year-old leads the way for Carlin, a long time affiliate of Red Bull. Still yet to impose the dominance of his predecessor Kvyat, Lynn has fourteen races remaining to clinch the title.

Lynn does have some Vettel-like tendencies – for example, he pushes his car to its limits in the latter stages to secure a fastest lap, even when a win is almost guaranteed.

Sounds familiar? He was arguably the surprise addition to the Red Bull Junior Team having never driven a Formula 1 challenger.

After securing 3rd place in last year’s European F3 battle and an historic win at Macau, he is certainly a reliable and dependable choice. In recent months, his career has catapulted from driver struggling with funding to member of one of the most prestigious development schemes in the world. Well PR trained, he would be a likeable figure in the paddock.

The GP3 racer does however rely on a strong qualifying and one does question how memorable his performances really are. They are impressive yes, but yet to draw the same attention of his peers. His unwavering nerve at the helm of a racing car is commendable but the young British driver remains an outsider and somewhat of a risky choice for a potential Toro Rosso seat.

His peers and, in many ways, rivals Gasly and Sainz Jr are possibly the best known stars of this new Red Bull era.

World Series by Renault 2014 at Circuit Spa Francorchamps. Podium of race1: Carlos Sainz jr and Pierre Gasly (Photo Agency / LAT Photo)

The former is just eighteen and one of the youngest to join the programme since its inception. With a 2013 Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup championship behind him and with a new PR attitude, Gasly is beginning to tick all the boxes for Helmet Marko: a raw talent with nothing but love for his craft.

Arguably one of the most reliable drivers in Formula Renault 3.5 this year, he has so far secured four podiums in a mid-field standard car. The Frenchman’s consistency is his greatest strength, his age and lack of Formula 1 super-license, his weaknesses.

Gasly cannot get much further without a super-license; he must show that he meets F1’s tough standards to even be considered for a seat.

At eighteen, he has just acquired a road license so is still a few more F1 laps off obtaining his desired pass to the racing pinnacle. The future star’s age is also a factor; Kyvat has done enough to secure at least one more year at the Italian-based, Red Bull affiliated outfit but is still only twenty.

Marko is brave and has made some risky choices over the years but putting all resources into the youngster’s future would not be advised at this stage. As with many his age, he needs more time.

This leaves Carlos Sainz Jr who is, on paper, the favourite for bigger and better things. Still nineteen, it is easy to forget his age when he appears under the spotlight of an unforgiving media glare. I have spent the last two years working in Formula Renault 3.5, watching as the stars of tomorrow begin their quest for greatness. Sainz Jr was there in 2013 but in the shadow of Felix da Costa.

In the Portuguese driver’s absence, the Spaniard has been making a name for himself in a way only Kevin Magnussen managed before him. Now leading the championship, the only man who can realistically catch him now is Gasly. If this does not raise a smile on the face of Marko and co, then little else will.

He is not the rawest of talents, has made his fair share of mistakes and has required development to reach this point but a great young talent has emerged. He lacks the natural speed of Lynn or Gasly but is an altogether more accomplished all-round driver. The Spaniard will need to keep his cool if Formula 1 is to greet him anytime soon.

When mentioning Toro Rosso, one must not forget an ever-present Antonio Felix da Costa who, despite a tough 2013, remains the team’s test and reserve driver. An inconsistent season in DTM is not helping his cause but his relative experience over his above-mentioned rivals could be a contributing factor, especially with a young Kyvat looking to stay at Toro Rosso.

The team are perhaps victims of their own success; Sebastian Vettel performed so well in 2008, securing their first only win in Monza, he has set the bar very high for any of his successors. Since then, Red Bull has been the cut-throat business we now know it to be – only Sebastien Buemi and Jean-Eric Vergne have made it to a third consecutive season.

Of course, we are yet to hear whether the introverted Frenchman is to vacate his seat in the coming months but his position there is by no means guaranteed. With the Austrian Grand Prix already listed as a fan favourite, Red Bull’s future looks bright with a talented young line-up to match.

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