From Sergio Perez to Charles Leclerc, many current stars in Formula 1 have passed through Ferrari’s fully-fledged young driver’s programme through the years, known as the Ferrari Driver Academy.
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“I love to think Ferrari can make drivers as well as cars”, were the words once said by Enzo Ferrari that would go on to inspire the foundation of the Ferrari Driver Academy in 2009.
Throughout his life as the head of Scuderia Ferrari, Enzo was known for doing things differently. As well as unique innovation when it came to designing and engineering various racing cars, Scuderia Ferrari also took on relatively young and unknown drivers through the years. Drivers such as Niki Lauda and Gilles Villeneuve, would go on to bring success for both driver and team.
Brazilian driver Felipe Massa was the first to be properly taken on by the Scuderia in 2002, spending time testing for the team as well as competing with Sauber throughout the early 2000’s. By 2006, Massa was ready for the call up, partnering Michael Schumacher for that season. It would be the start of an eight-season run for Massa with the team, where eleven victories would be accomplished before his departure at the end of 2013. Massa just nearly missed out on the Driver’s Championship in 2008, in a tense finale in Sao Paulo which saw season-long rival pip the Brazilian on the final corner of the race.
Massa’s success with the team was enough to convince Ferrari the potential of a young driver academy. The Ferrari Driver Academy (FDA) would be formed in 2009, with Frenchman Jules Bianchi being the academy’s first student. Much like Massa, Bianchi was getting ready for a future in red. However, it was a future that would sadly never be accomplished after an accident at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix where Bianchi was competing for Marussia. An accident that would very sadly take away the promise of an amazing talent and a special person.
Through The Years
A number of other drivers have also passed through the doors of the academy alongside Bianchi en route to a future in Formula 1. Sergio Perez, who is getting ready for the new season with Red Bull, joined the academy in 2010, before joining Sauber for his debut season in F1 in 2011. Lance Stroll also became a member the same year, moving up the ranks of single-seater racing in Europe before moving to Williams to secure an F1 drive in 2017.
Other drivers that have benefited from being FDA members include Antonio Fuoco and Guanyu Zhou, both drivers that have found success in F1 feeder series GP2 and F2, while Raffaele Marciello and Brandon Maisano have also worked alongside the FDA throughout the early 2010’s.
In the academy’s 12 years of existence, the FDA has worked with drivers on not only extracting the most of their unique talent on the racetrack, but to learn the ins and outs of motor racing, indulge in the passionate history of Scuderia Ferrari as well as how to deal with any legal matters that may arise from such a top level of motorsport. To date, four drivers from the FDA have made it into Formula 1.
In 2016, Bianchi’s close friend and godson Charles Leclerc joined the FDA. This allowed the team to obtain drives in practice sessions with Haas and Sauber in F1, as well as backing the youngster in his campaigns in GP3 and F2, taking the title in both series. Leclerc was promoted to Sauber in F1 in 2019 before a move to Ferrari the following year, where his pure speed and outright talent saw him secure two iconic victories in Spa and Monza that year.
FDA Esports Team
Not only does the FIA provide help and advice to youngsters in the real world, but also helps drivers to work up the ranks and ensure success in the ever-growing world of professional sim racing. Ferrari established the FDA Esports in 2019 on the back of the growing use of the official Formula 1 video game as a template for professional sim Grands Prix and World Championships.
The team would prove successful right from the start, with member David Tonizza securing the world title in the first F1 Esports World Championship, taking three victories en route to securing the title. Drivers Amos Laurito and Gianfranco Giglioli would also compete in a season that would see Ferrari finish third in the Constructors Championship.
Future Of The Academy
2021 will see another familiar name move up to the world of Formula 1 full time thanks to the help of the FDA. Mick Schumacher, son of Michael, prepares to make his F1 debut with Haas this coming season. As an FDA member, Mick Schumacher took the top honours in the 2020 F2 championship as well as securing practice sessions in F1 throughout the year with Alfa Romeo.
Current drivers in the FDA include Marcus Armstrong and Robert Shwartzman, two drivers who will compete for glory in the coming season’s FIA F2 championship. Callum Ilott will also stay on as a member of the FDA for 2021, taking up a role as test and development driver with Scuderia Ferrari off the back of his stellar campaign in F2 in 2020. Arthur Leclerc, younger brother of Charles, has also joined the academy for 2021. Looking to replicate the success his brother found as a FDA member, Leclerc is now focussed on producing a good first season in the FIA F3 Championship.
At the start of the year, the FDA signed its first female student into the academy. With the help of the FIA Girls on Track initiative, 16-year-old Maya Weug became the first female member of the academy. Weug, a very talented and bright individual who hopes to accomplish the success of the drivers before her in the FDA. Ferrari recognises the importance of helping female talent compete and move up into the higher ranks of single-seater racing.
Written by Cóilín Higgins.