F1’s future stars? Meet the junior drivers from this week’s Hungary test

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Formula 1’s summer break may now be in full swing, but the paddock did not make its usual sharp getaway from Budapest last Sunday following the conclusion of the Hungarian Grand Prix.

The second in-season test of the season meant the teams had to stay on until Wednesday evening, fielding a mixture of regular racers and young up-and-comers across the two days of running at the Hungaroring.

While the Robert Kubica hype train was impossible to miss, there were a number of other names that you would be well-advised to take note of during their rise towards F1.

Here’s a look at all of the youngsters that featured in the Hungary test.

LANDO NORRIS – MCLAREN

Remember. This. Name.

Norris (pictured above) has long been talked about in British racing circles as the next Lewis Hamilton. While it may be something of a cliche, it’s a fair assessment. He is the brightest British talent to have emerged in a very long time.

Norris stepped up to FIA Formula 3 for 2017 after winning two European Formula Renault titles last year (a staggering feat) and secured himself a place on McLaren’s prestigious junior program, with his first F1 test coming about after winning the McLaren Autosport British Racing Drivers’ Club award last December.

Thrown in at the deep end with a 2017-spec F1 car and a field to compare himself with, Norris stunned the paddock by finishing second-fastest overall with a trouble-free day.

A move up to Formula 2 looks likely for 2018, but it surely won’t be long until Norris is in F1 as one of its brightest young talents. He’s the real deal.

CHARLES LECLERC – FERRARI

You would be forgiven for thinking his full name was actually “1. Charles Leclerc” if you’ve been following the Monegasque’s efforts the past two years, such has been his dominance.

The 2016 GP3 champion moved up to Formula 2 for 2017, and has been on another level to the rest of the field. Six straight poles (it would be seven but for an exclusion for track limits) and five wins have put him 50 points clear at the top of the standings, making the title his for the taking.

Leclerc impressed during his first official Ferrari test on Tuesday, again finishing P1, and will be in contention for a seat with Sauber next year thanks to its technical deal with the Italian manufacturer.

Leclerc looks to be Ferrari’s next great star. Don’t be surprised if he is the eventual successor to Kimi Raikkonen.

2017 In-Season Testing Hungary, Day 1 – Steve Etherington/Mercedes AMG Motorsport

GEORGE RUSSELL – MERCEDES

Norris may be touted as Britain’s next big racing star, but George Russell is hot on his heels. The 19-year-old was the first winner of the British Formula 4 series in 2014 before spending two years in European F3, impressing the field.

Russell moved into GP3 for 2017 after linking up with Mercedes, and has been the stand-out driver in the field, taking two poles and two wins to lead the championship with half the season complete.

Russell is highly-rated by Mercedes, and will be angling to follow in the footsteps of Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon to make his way up to F1 soon.

Hungaroring, Budapest, Hungary. Tuesday 01 August 2017. Santino Ferrucci , Haas F1, talking to the press. World Copyright: Zak Mauger/LAT Images

SANTINO FERRUCCI – HAAS

Santino Ferrucci is currently flying the flag for the United States on the ladder towards F1, taking over the mantle from Alexander Rossi following his move over to IndyCar in 2016.

The native of Woodbury, Connecticut spent half a season in US F2000 before moving over to Europe for 2015, racing in various Formula 3 championships. Ferrucci linked up with Haas in a development role ahead of its debut season in F1, enjoying his first test last summer at Silverstone alongside a GP3 campaign.

Ferrucci enjoyed a second solid test with Haas earlier this week, having announced earlier in the month his move up to F2 for the rest of the season with Trident, finishing a solid ninth on debut.

Time will tell what the future holds for Ferrucci, but he is very well-placed: an F2 drive and links to an F1 seat is what juniors crave.

Lucas Auer (AUT) Sahara Force India F1 VJM10 Test Driver. Formula One Testing. Wednesday 2nd August 2017. Budapest, Hungary. James Moy Photography/Force India

LUCAS AUER – FORCE INDIA

Lucas Auer is a relatively new driver on the F1 radar, but his displays in DTM with Mercedes have not gone unnoticed. Linked with Force India thanks to a common sponsor in BWT and Mercedes support, Auer was given the chance to taste an F1 car for the first time earlier this week in Hungary.

The nephew of F1 legend Gerhard Berger, Auer has said he is open to securing an F1 drive in the future, although much would depend on his performances in DTM and other stars aligning.

Cometh the Auer, cometh the man? Let’s see what the future brings.

Nikita Mazepin (RUS) Sahara Force India F1 VJM10 Development Driver. Formula One Testing. Wednesday 2nd August 2017. Budapest, Hungary. James Moy Photography/Force India

NIKITA MAZEPIN – FORCE INDIA

Mazepin, 18, linked up with Force India at the start of last year in a development role, balancing his commitments with a Formula 3 campaign.

The Russian is still racing in F3, albeit with limited success, having recorded just two top-five finishes in almost two years in the series. His most notable moment has instead been a ban for a physical altercation with another driver last year.

Red Bull Content Pool/Getty Images

PIERRE GASLY – RED BULL

Perhaps the best-known junior driver on this list, Pierre Gasly arguably should already be in F1 given his charge to the GP2 title last year.

With Toro Rosso opting to retain the struggling Daniil Kvyat, Gasly was posted to Japan to race in the Super Formula series this year, as well as working with Red Bull in its simulator and even making a one-off Formula E appearance last month with Renault e.dams.

Gasly has done everything in his power to train and gain an F1 seat. Now he is playing the waiting game. When Red Bull either cashes in on Carlos Sainz Jr. or finally lets Kvyat go, it will be Gasly who steps up.

Hungaroring, Budapest, Hungary. Wednesday 02 August 2017. Luca Ghiotto, Williams Martini Racing. World Copyright: Zak Mauger/LAT Images

LUCA GHIOTTO – WILLIAMS

Luca Ghiotto got his first chance to impress behind the wheel of an F1 car earlier this week with Williams, having emerged as an unlikely contender for the GP3 title back in 2015.

The Italian narrowly lost out to Mercedes junior and current Force India driver Ocon before moving up to GP2, and is now racing in F2, where he sits fifth in the drivers’ championship.

Ghiotto has won races at every single level he has competed at, and certainly in the gaggle of junior drivers pushing to make it up to F1 in the near future. His mammoth log of 161 laps on Wednesday for Williams was massively impressive – it all depends on the right break coming next.

Nobuharu Matsushita (JAP) Sauber F1 Team. Hungaroring Circuit.

NOBUHARU MATSUSHITA – SAUBER

Honda-backed youngster Nobuharu Matsushita’s first F1 test was perhaps surprising given it came less than a week after Sauber announced it had canceled its planned engine deal with the Japanese manufacturer.

Nevertheless, the test went ahead as planned, with the F2 racer propping up the timesheets for the backmarker squad, but a run of 121 laps gave Matsushita a chance to get to grips with F1 machinery.

The ties with McLaren through Honda may put Matsushita in contention for an F1 seat someday, but it would depend on a second customer deal being found – i.e. what was scrapped with Sauber.

A rumored deal with Toro Rosso could yet open up a chance for Matsushita to make the step up, although he would need to temper his on-track antics, seen at their worst in Baku’s GP2 race last year when he earned himself a race ban.

2017 FIA Formula 2 Round 7. Hungaroring, Budapest, Hungary. Saturday 29 July 2017.Nicholas Latifi (CAN, DAMS). Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.

NICHOLAS LATIFI – RENAULT

Nicholas Latifi has been working with Renault for a little over a year now, with his first F1 test in a current car coming back in May during a Pirelli tire test.

Latifi was able to complete himself against the rest of the field during this week’s running in Hungary, and while Kubica may have stolen the show, the Canadian was still able to complete some decent running in the R.S.17 car.

The problem for Latifi is the competition he faces for a possible F1 seat in the future. Even if Renault looks in-house for 2017, Kubica, Oliver Rowland and Sergey Sirotkin all seem to be better options. Alas, Latifi can continue to try and impress in F2, as he has done for much of this year to sit fourth in the championship.

Red Bull Content Pool/Getty Images

SEAN GELAEL – TORO ROSSO

Sean Gelael has been following Rio Haryanto’s lead as Indonesia’s next possible F1 racer, coming with significant backing from the nation’s brand of KFC, Jagonya Ayam.

Gelael has raced all over the place in recent years with limited success bar two surprise podium finishes (one in GP2, one in the FIA World Endurance Championship), but was nevertheless able to broker F1 tests with Toro Rosso this year.

Haryanto may have been a pay driver, but his CV could at least justify his presence in some way. It’s difficult to do that with Gelael.

Gustav Malja (SWE) Sauber F1 Team. Hungaroring Circuit.

GUSTAV MALJA – SAUBER

Gustav Malja’s first F1 test came earlier this week after a few years bumbling about the junior circuit, not doing all that much spectacular.

Malja has been racing in GP2/F2 full-time since 2016, claiming three podium finishes in that period, but again, it’s hardly form that makes a strong case for an F1 seat in the future.

Still, over 100 laps behind the wheel of a 2017-spec F1 car is good experience for the young Swede.

Kyle Busch interests McLaren for Indy 500, but team is leaning toward experience

McLaren Indy Kyle Busch
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
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With Arrow McLaren SP heavily weighing a fourth car for the Indy 500 next year, Kyle Busch is a candidate but not at the top of the IndyCar team’s list.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown addressed the possibility Wednesday morning during a video news conference with Gavin Ward, the team’s newly named racing director.

“I have not personally spoken with Kyle Busch, but you can read into that that someone else in our organization has,” Brown said. “We want to make sure if we run a fourth car, we’re in the mindset that we want someone that is experienced around the 500. It’s such an important race, and from a going for the championship point of view, we’ve got three drivers that we want to have finish as strong as possible, so if we ran a fourth car, we’d want to be additive, not only for the fourth car itself, but to the three cars and so bringing in someone who’s not done it before potentially doesn’t add that value from an experience point of view.”

Busch will race the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing next season in NASCAR under a new deal that will allow the two-time Cup Series champion to make his Indy 500 debut. Busch, who had a previous deal to run the Indy 500 nixed by Joe Gibbs Racing, openly courted Chevy IndyCar teams to contact him during his introductory news conference with RCR last month.

After Team Penske (which has given no indications of a fourth car at Indy alongside champion Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), McLaren is the second-best Chevy organization, and it’s fielded an extra Indy 500 car the past two years for Juan Pablo Montoya. The Associated Press reported last month that McLaren was in “serious conversation” about running Busch at Indy with Menards sponsorship.

But with its restructured management, the team is in the midst of significant expansion for 2023. AMSP is adding a third full-time car for 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi to team with Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist, and a massive new shop also is being built in the Indianapolis area.

“(It’s) not because of him but purely because of experience,” Brown said of Busch. “He’s an awesome talent and would be huge, huge news for the speedway. But yeah, I think everyone is under consideration if we decide to do it, but experience is right at the top of the list as far as what’s going to be the most important to us.”

And it seems likely there will be a veteran joining Rossi, O’Ward and Rosenqvist at the Brickyard.

“A fourth car at the 500 is very much under consideration,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t even want to get ahead of ourselves, but we wouldn’t be ruling out a fourth car in the future on a full-time basis. That definitely wouldn’t be for ’23. But as we expand the team and get into larger facilities and things of that nature, it’s something that Gavin and I have spoken about.

“I think we would be in a position to run a fourth car at the 500 this upcoming year. If we do decide to do that, we’ll make that decision soon for maximum preparation, and I would say we’re open minded to a fourth car in ’24 and beyond and probably will make that decision middle of next year in time to be prepared if we did decide to do that.”

Brown also addressed the future of Alex Palou, who will be racing for Chip Ganassi Racing next season after also signing a deal with McLaren. Though Brown declined to get into specifics about whether Palou had signed a new deal, he confirmed Palou will continue to test “our Formula One car from time to time.

“Everyone has reached an amicable solution,” Brown said. “We’ve now had Alex in our Formula One car as we have Pato. That will continue in the future, which we’re quite excited about. At this point we’re laser-focused on 2023 and glad to have the noise behind us and now just want to put our head down and get on with the job with the three drivers we have.”