Juri Vips and his chances of competing in Formula 1

The Belgian Grand Prix weekend saw Red Bull backed Juri Vips make his debut in the FIA Formula 2 championship. It was a difficult weekend with the Estonian being hindered after stopping out on track during qualifying which meant he started down the field for the feature race. He was also forced to start the sprint race from the pitlane after issues getting underway for the formation lap. Despite this Vips finished eleventh in both races.

Prior to 2020 Vips had started his single seater career in 2016 where he contested the ADAC Formula 4 Championship and the Italian F4 Championship with Prema. He finished sixth in the former and fifth in the latter. He also contested the MRF Challenge Formula 2000 where he finished sixth.

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He stayed in ADAC Formula 4 for 2017 supplementing his season with races in Italian F4 and in the FIA Formula 3 European Championship. He would go on to win the 2017 ADAC Formula 4 Championship and, although ineligible for points in Italian F4 and the Formula 3 European Championship due to officially being a guest driver, the Estonian claimed five podium finishes in Italian F4 (including one win) and finished a best of twelfth in his three outings in the Formula 3 European Championship.

In 2018 his main focus was the Formula 3 European Championship where he finished fourth claiming four wins and three pole positions. Vips also made his debut at the Macau Grand Prix, finishing nineteenth. It was in this season that Vips also joined the Red Bull Junior Team.

Last season he contested the newly created FIA Formula 3 Championship which was one of the series that replaced the Formula 3 European Championship. He won three races across the 2019 season finishing fourth behind the three dominant Prema Racing drivers. He also contested the Macau Grand Prix again where he finished second and rounded off his 2019 season by contesting the Super Formula season finale at Suzuka.

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Vips ended 2019 very much looking like the next Red Bull junior most likely to be put in a Formula 1 seat. The Estonian went into 2020 with 20 superlicence points with his original plan for the season to compete in the full 2020 Super Formula season. It would have been hoped that Vips would have finished high enough in the championship (at least second) to earn the remaining superlicence points the Estonian needed in order to compete in Formula 1 for 2021.

However due to the pandemic the Estonian’s original plans have fallen a part slightly, like everyone else’s. Vips has therefore been competing in the Formula Regional European Championship. At the time of writing he was fifth out of 12 drivers in the standings with a highest finish of third making him set to earn 7 superlicence points.

As was seen last weekend he has now added some Formula 2 outings to his 2020 season after regular DAMS driver Sean Gelael broke a vertebra during the last lap in the Spanish Grand Prix feature race. Vips is expected to also deputise for Gelael at Monza and Mugello but is unlikely to be able to finish high enough to earn any serious points towards his superlicence.

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The Estonian is also expected to still contest at least five of the races in Super Formula which would still give him an opportunity to fight for the championship after the series introduced dropped scores for this season. This leaves the Estonian little to no room for error in the races he does contest in the series, as mentioned earlier, Vips would need to ultimately finish either second or third in the championship, depending on his Formula Regional standing, to reach the required 40 superlicence points. This isn’t impossible as it is important to remember that Stoffel Vandoorne finished fourth in his sole season in the championship while Pierre Gasly finished second, and could have won the championship, back in 2017.

There is an argument to say that it would have been easier to place Vips in Formula 2 for 2020, like Red Bull and Honda have done with Yuki Tsunoda. In Formula 2 a driver can earn 20 superlicence points by finishing fifth in the championship. This is something the Estonian himself noted but also stated that due to financial constraints it wasn’t possible to do a full season in the series.

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He therefore was set a tall task for 2020 which has become harder due to the global pandemic. There is the added issue that it would appear Tsunoda has now moved ahead of Vips as the first in line if there is a seat available at AlphaTauri after the Japanese driver’s impressive maiden season in Formula 2. It is expected that Tsunoda will drive for AlphaTauri in the post season Abu Dhabi test at the end of the 2020 season.

Whatever Vips’ situation at the end of this season is, here is hoping that Red Bull don’t dump him at the end of it, or in the early part of 2021, like they did with Dan Ticktum and Pato O’Ward during the 2019 season. Vips has shown real talent in his junior career and impressed Mugen in his initial Super Formula outing back in 2019. Although his maiden Grand Prix weekend in Formula 2 didn’t go smoothly he still managed to pick his way through incidents to finish just outside the top ten in both races. Hopefully it will all come together in 2020 for the Estonian, and if not, then in 2021 so that Vips can get his chance in Formula 1.

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