LAT

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.

Graham Rahal’s “Weighty Issue”

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owens
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MONTEREY, California – Graham Rahal admits that he can’t wait until the day he doesn’t have to worry about his weight. Being a 6-foot-2, big-boned individual can have its advantages, but not when it comes to fitting into an IndyCar.

That is why the son of 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner and three-time CART IndyCar champion Bobby Rahal has begun a body shaping therapy known as “Sculpting” that uses laser to trim away body fat.

“Honestly, it is no secret, I’m not shy about this, that I’ve struggled with my weight,” the 201-pound Rahal told a group of reporters during INDYCAR’s Open Test at Laguna Seca on Thursday. “I can guarantee you that from a strength perspective and a stamina perspective, there’s very few guys out here that can keep up with me. I’m just not a super skinny build. It’s never been my thing.

“I’ve tried. We’ve kind of looked around, there was some mutual interest from them to look into trying this, see if it works. I’ll be honest. I was always very skeptical of the stuff. Where I’m at, I’ve done one treatment. I can’t even tell you today if it’s something that really works or not.”

That led Rahal to try out the sculpting process that was invented by a doctor who found it with swelling in kid’s cheeks. The “Sculpture” process uses a laser that kills the fatty cells.

“I’ve done one treatment,” Rahal said. “It takes a long time, I think. It’s going to take multiple I think to get there.”

Watch Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey on NBC at 3 p.m.

A race driver needs to be thin, yet very strong to have the physical strength and stamina to compete at a high level in the race car. When it comes to the NTT IndyCar Series, it’s even more important because of the size of the cars and tight cockpit.

Additionally, the extra weight can impact the performance of the race car. The lighter the driver, the less weight inside of the car and that can determine. In INDYCAR, drivers are weighed and for the lighter weight drivers, lead weight is added to the car to meet a requirement.

But in Rahal’s case, the lead weight ballast has to be reduced and that sometimes throws off the center of gravity in the car.

“The facts are it’s not going to work if you don’t work out, too, and eat well,” Rahal said. “It doesn’t do anything. But earlier this year, man, I had given up drinking completely for three, four months. I was working out every day, twice a day on most occasions. I went to a nutritionist, doing everything. I literally was not losing an ounce. It was the most frustrating period of time for me.

“I am the biggest guy here. Is it ever going to be equal for me? No matter what these guys talk about with driver ballast, it’s a whole different thing, where my center of gravity is, so on…”

That is what led the 30-year-old driver from Ohio to study the “Sculpting” procedure. He realizes he is never going to have the metabolism of some of the thinner drivers, but he needs to maintain a weight that minimizes his disadvantage.

“It is a challenge,” he admitted. “Ricky Taylor and Helio Castroneves (on Penske Team Acura in IMSA) weigh 60 pounds less than me or something. There is no ballast there. That’s a big swing, a lot of weight to be carrying around.

“We have to try anything we can. If you’re going to be serious, try to find the performance advantage and the edge, you’ve got to look outside of the box.

It is something new for me. But the fight I guess against being an ultra-skinny guy…

“I fly home with most of these guys after races, I see most of these guys a lot of times, they’re sitting there eating In-N-Out Burger, whatever else. Literally I cannot do it. If I do it, it immediately reflects for me. These guys you see them the next weekend, they’re like this big.

“It’s like, (bleep), it’s not my build.”

Because of Rahal’s height and size, he chose to step away from the endurance races for Team Penske in IMSA at the end of last season. He was replaced at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring by fellow IndyCar driver Alexander Rossi.

Rahal complained that the steering wheel actually hit his legs inside of the Acura, making it difficult for him to drive on the challenging road courses. Since that time, Acura Team Penske has moved the steering column up by a few inches and it no longer impacts a driver the size of Rahal.

For the IMSA season-ending Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on October 12, Rahal will be back in the Team Penske Acura.

“Back in the (Team Penske) shop three weeks ago, I could actually turn the steering wheel, which I was shocked about,” Rahal said. “My head touched the roof, whatever, I’m used to that. Physically being able to steer, which I now should be able to do better.

“So I’m excited about it. It’s another great opportunity obviously with Penske. But more importantly for me is Acura, Honda. It’s a great thing to be back in.

“But that wasn’t a weight thing. It’s purely size. They just don’t build cars for guys my size. I used to talk to J.W. (Justin Wilson) about that. It’s the facts of life. Even the GT cars. You would think a GT car would be big. I don’t know if I’ve ever been in a GT car, I was comfortable in either. They’re built for small guys. That’s the way it goes.”

Rahal is taller than his father, Bobby, who is also his IndyCar team owner along with David Letterman and Michael Lanigan.

“I blame my dad,” Rahal said. “I do. You can tell him I said that. I told him, ‘It’s a genetic thing. I got good genes in some ways.’

“I told my wife this the other day, I’m very excited for someday when my career ends just to have a ‘Dad Bod,’ be able to let go for a minute, see how things turn out, because this is getting a little bit exhausting.

“We’re going to stay committed through the winter. I try my hardest every year, but I never tried harder this year to be thin. I weigh about the same as last year, but it took so much effort to get there, I just have to think outside the box.”