With the confirmation today about the long-term future of the Sauber Formula 1 team being secured came the news that seventeen-year-old Russian driver Sergey Sirotkin had signed with the team with a view to racing for them in 2014. But question marks hang over whether he’ll be ready for F1 at such a young age – if he was to make his debut next year, he’ll be the first ever 18 year old the race in the sport, eclipsing Jaime Alguersuari (19 years and 125 days old) as the youngest driver in Formula 1 history.
A development deal for Sirotkin could mean some seat time this year in a free practice session, in which case he would also smash Sebastian Vettel’s record of being the youngest driver to drive at a Grand Prix meeting (Vettel was 19 years and 54 days old when he ran in the Turkish Free Practice session in 2006). Sirotkin only turns 18 at the end of August! So what’s the young Russian’s career been like up to now?
Sirotkin made his single seater debut late in the 2010 season of Formula Abarth, scoring points in 5 of the 6 races he competed in driving for Jenzer Motorsport. In 2011, he ran a dual campaign in both the European & Italian series of Formula Abarth, winning the first whilst finishing P2 in the second. He switched to Euronova Racing by Fortec midway through the year in both series, and won five times in European series & twice in the Italian series, only losing out to Swiss driver & current GP3 series driver Patric Niederhauser at the final race of the year.
2012 was a very busy year for the Russian driver, racing in FOUR different series. He competed in the Auto GP series primarily, finishing third in the championship for Euronova Racing behind Champion Adrian Quaife-Hobbs and Danish driver Pal Varhaug – not bad for a 15 year old, especially with the power the Auto GP cars chuck out. He handled the power very well for someone so young, and won twice throughout the season. He also raced in the Italian Formula 3 European & Italian series’, winning a couple more times. He also did a one-off in the Formula Renault 3.5 series in his home race in Russia for the BVM Target team.
He remains a Formula Renault 3.5 driver this year, switching to the ISR team, and he grabbed his maiden points and podium finishes in the second event of the year in Aragon. He currently sits 8th in the championship, ahead of his teammate Christopher Zanella. But he’s showing off his talents well against highly-rated opposition such as Kevin Magnussen, Stoffel Vandoorne & Antonio Felix da Costa.
But is he ready for Formula 1? Being only seventeen years old would tend to imply not. Another year or so in the junior formulae would help him to gain the experience needed. However on the flip-side, he started in single seaters younger than most, and has more experience already than Kimi Raikkonen had when he made his F1 debut in 2001.
I do rate Sergey Sirotkin highly, and I am over the moon the long-term future of Sauber is secure. I just have reservations about him getting too much, too soon. A year as third & reserve driver in 2014 might be the way Sauber would prefer to go but I fear the pressures from the Russian backers might, like they did for Esteban Gutierrez & his Mexican backers, be too much to resist putting him in the driving seat.