Alpine Academy’s Ferrari Driver Academy-like Formula 2 battle

In 2020 one of the big stories throughout that year’s FIA Formula 2 season was that of the battle between five drivers in the series who were all, at the time, part of the Ferrari Driver Academy (FDA).

Those drivers were Mick Schumacher, Robert Shwartzman, Callum Ilott, Marcus Armstrong and Guiliano Alesi. The first three of those all at some point during the season managed to stake a claim for a potential promotion into Formula 1 while the latter two showed flashes of competitiveness but struggled to make an impression.

Ultimately in the end the five way battle saw Schumacher claim the title and earn a seat at the Haas F1 Team, Shwartzman star in what was his rookie season, Ilott challenge for the title and bow out of the series, while Armstrong moved over to DAMS for this season, and Alesi departed the FDA to forge his career in Japan.

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During the 2021 Formula 2 season opener in Bahrain, there was a sense of deja-vu of the same sort of battle playing out, as described with the FDA drivers, but this time with those who are part of the Alpine Academy.

There are some differences however with there being only three Alpine backed drivers in Formula 2 this season, those being Oscar Piastri at Prema Racing, Christian Lundgaard at ART Grand Prix and Guanyu Zhou driving for UNI-Virtuosi.

Of the three the most pressure is on Zhou and Lundgaard who are contesting their third and second, respectively, full time Formula 2 campaigns. This pressure in part comes from the director of the Alpine Academy, Mia Sharizman, who stated that they expected Zhou and Lundgaard to be challenging for the championship in 2021.

To add additional pressure onto Zhou it was also mentioned by Sharizman that the Chinese driver has a once in a generation opportunity to become the first Chinese driver to compete full time in Formula 1.

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The above factors makes it feel like Lundgaard, and particularly Zhou, are in a Mick Schumacher type situation of having great expectations placed on them for their 2021 campaigns in Formula 2. It also makes it look like the 2021 campaign is Lundgaard and Zhou’s last chance at claiming a seat in Formula 1.

Piastri meanwhile has started his 2021 campaign resembling something similar to teammate Robert Shwartzman’s 2020 season. That being Piastri is a rookie in Formula 2, having competed in Formula 3 last season, but has made an immediate impression in the former series with the Australian winning the second sprint race in Bahrain. Added to this is that at the time of writing Piastri is fourth in the Drivers’ Championship.

Adding to the intrigue of the three way battle in Formula 2 is the fact that there is the potential of a Formula 1 seat available for 2022 at the current Alpine Formula 1 team. This as current driver Esteban Ocon enters the last of a two year deal with the Enstone based team.

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That is perhaps the ‘easiest’ route into Formula 1 for any of the academy drivers. As the other option would require Alpine making a deal with a competing Formula 1 team to place one of its academy drivers in, which it hasn’t ruled out. Unlike Ferrari, Alpine don’t supply any other teams with engines, nor have any sort of close technical partnership, making it difficult for the French team to replicate what Ferrari have done with the likes of Charles Leclerc, Antonio Giovinazzi and Mick Schumacher.

Despite there only being three Alpine backed drivers on the Formula 2 grid, it doesn’t make the 2021 season’s intra-academy battle any less interesting, with the same potential prize of a Formula 1 drive on offer as was the case for the FDA drivers last season.

At the time of writing, and heading into the Monaco Grand Prix weekend, Zhou heads the Formula 2 standings while Piastri, as mentioned previously, lies fourth and Lundgaard is in seventh. All three have visited the podium at least once already this season which just adds to making this intra-academy battle as exciting and as interesting as that of the FDA battle in 2020.

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