Set up in 2001, the Red Bull Junior Team is a European-based Young Driver programme that searches for the next big talent. Between 2004 and the end of 2006, four of Red Bull’s junior drivers graduated into Formula 1 – Christian Klien, Vitantonio Liuzzi, Scott Speed and Robert Doornbos. Sebastian Vettel graduated to Formula 1 in 2007 and took his – and the Young Driver Programme’s – first win in 2008. The following year would see two more Red Bull backed drivers, Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersauri, reach Formula 1 and this year, former Red Bull driver Karun Chandhok landed a seat with Hispania Racing. The success of their programme was topped off with Sebastian Vettel being crowned 2010 Formula 1 World Champion.
Renault’s Junior Driver Programme has supported drives like Robert Kubica, Heikki Kovalainen, Lucas Di Grassi and Romain Grosjean. Then who can forget the face of Young Driver Development – 2008 World Champion Lewis Hamilton. He was the first driver to prove that being noticed by a team at an early age and being groomed through the lower formulae can produce a highly talented, successful racer and the statistics prove it, as in the last ten years, we have seen 13 drivers, 2 of which became World Champions, with a total of 26 race wins between them.
However, is this the best way to discover a World Champion?
I would personally take the Peter Sauber approach of plucking young drivers from junior formulae and throwing them into the deep end and this has provided us with talent like Kimi Raikkonen, Felipe Massa and fans’ current favourite, Kamui “Banzai!” Kobayashi.