Brazilian sensation Gabriel Bortoleto is turning heads with his performances right now in Formula 3, and top F1 teams are circling to land his signature.
Multiple pathways to the pinnacle of motor racing exist for the 18-year-old, and Bortoleto is poised for an exciting future with plenty of options to choose from.
A nation inspired by the legendary Emerson Fittipaldi and Ayrton Senna, Brazil’s recent absence from the Formula 1 grid has been a glaring one.
2022 was an encouraging year for Brazilians in motorsport as Felipe Drugovich dominated on his way to the Formula 2 title, and 2023 promises to launch the career of another Brazilian star as Bortoleto continues to pull up trees in Formula 3.
You only have to see the love with which the Interlagos crowd treats adopted home hero Lewis Hamilton to see that Brazil is a country crying out for an F1 star to call their own.
Many Brazilian drivers have tried to establish themselves as F1 mainstays in the past decade, but the likes of Lucas Di Grassi, Felipe Nasr and Nelson Piquet Jr have all come and gone without finding consistent success at the pinnacle of open-wheel racing.
That could all be about to change though.
Bolt from the blue
12 months ago, Gabriel Bortoleto was practically an unknown in the motorsport world, even among avid followers of the junior series ladder.
The 18-year-old competed in the Formula Regional European Championship, more commonly referred to as FRECA, finishing sixth in the standings last season ahead of his step up to F3 with Trident.
A respectable season, no doubt, but the likes of Paul Aron, Gabriele Mini and 2022 FRECA champion Dino Beganovic all entered their rookie F3 seasons this year with greater hype.
However, after two rounds and four races, Bortoleto is already turning heads with the Brazilian teenager holding a 20-point lead at the top of the F3 standings.
The Sao Paolo-born driver qualified on the front row in both Bahrain and Melbourne, kickstarting his rookie F3 season with back-to-back feature race victories in an unprecedented start to the campaign.
His results are no flash in the pan, either. With such a long break until the third round of the F3 season in Imola, the grid travelled to Barcelona for some mid-season testing in April with four sessions spread across four days.
Bortoleto was the fastest driver in three of those sessions.
And yet, he remains without a spot in an F1 driver academy. That is unlikely to be the case for long, though.
Bortoleto’s dominance in Bahrain and Melbourne indicates that a sustained title challenge is pending in 2023, and it would be a surprise not to see the 18-year-old on the F2 grid next season.
The differing paths taken by the likes of Nyck de Vries, Oscar Piastri and Logan Sargeant indicate why picking the right driver academy can make or break your F1 career, so when the offers come calling, it is crucial that Bortoleto picks wisely.
With a speedy graduation to F2 expected for Bortoleto, 2026 will be the deadline year for his entry into F1 after three seasons in the second tier of motorsport.
With F1 driver academies becoming more saturated year after year, these are the most likely paths for Brazil’s next great racing hope to take.
Of the nine junior driver programmes in F1, four would be unlikely destinations for Bortoleto.
Mercedes are pinning their long-term hopes on George Russell becoming a team leader, while Italian prodigy Kimi Antonelli is considered one of the hottest prospects of the last few decades. Furthermore, with Lewis Hamilton planning on sticking around a bit longer and Frederik Vesti also an option, there is little room at the inn at Brackley.
The Sauber junior program would also be a risk for Bortoleto, given the agreed takeover from Audi in 2026. The German manufacturer has already been linked with Mick Schumacher and Carlos Sainz, while Valtteri Bottas, Zhou Guanyu and Theo Pourchaire would all be options given their current ties with the team.
Alpine’s track record with junior drivers, most notably Oscar Piastri, will be offputting to any potential recruits. Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon are believed to be the long-term leaders of the team, and in Jack Doohan, Victor Martins and Gabriele Mini, they are already stacked for talent.
Whilst they are F1’s most prestigious name, Ferrari would pose a difficult avenue for Bortoleto. Callum Ilott and Robert Schwartzman both failed to make the step to F1 after finishing P2 in the F2 standings, and Oliver Bearman and Dino Beganovic would be fierce rivals on the road to F1.
Haas are also an unrealistic option for the teenager, given their lack of presence in the driver academy sphere and the recent change in attitude towards hiring young drivers.
Of all the potential driver academy destinations, Aston Martin are the only one with which Bortoleto currently has a link.
The Brazilian joined forces with Fernando Alonso’s ‘A14’ management company and could be singled out by the Spaniard as a potential predecessor should he continue his rapid rate of development.
Bortoleto would join compatriot and reigning F2 champion, Felipe Drugovich as the only current member of the newly formed Aston Martin driver academy.
While Williams may not be the most competitive team on the grid in 2023, the Grove-based team are trending upward following the arrival of key Mercedes staffer James Vowles as technical director.
Furthermore, Williams have launched the careers of six of the current 20 F1 drivers, while the likes of Senna, Nelson Piquet and Felipe Massa have all called the team home during their illustrious careers.
Logan Sargeant’s path into F1 should be enough to convince Bortoleto that Williams could be the driver academy for him, and with a modest current crop of junior drivers, the Brazilian would be the jewel in the crown for this historic team.
With Red Bull livery cars littering the F2 and F3 grids, the Milton Keynes-based team are the most attractive proposition for any young driver looking to launch their F1 career.
Thanks to the long-term efforts of Helmut Marko, Red Bull have been one of the most consistent promoters of talent into the top tier of motorsport since they joined the grid back in 2006.
And with four seats available to their drivers, no driver academy offers a better chance of making the step up than Red Bull.
The drawback for Bortoleto would be the sheer volume of talent currently on the team's books.
Max Verstappen and Yuki Tsunoda are both expected to stay with the setup long-term, but Ayumu Iwasa, Liam Lawson, Dennis Hauger and Zane Maloney are all potential candidates for future AlphaTauri vacancies.
McLaren are arguably the wildcard option for Bortoleto, should the interest be there on Zak Brown’s side.
The team have an immensely talented driver pairing for the long-term in Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri, but the former could be whisked away from McLaren should their performance not improve in the coming years.
Despite Norris' precarious position, American prospect Ugo Ugochukwu is currently the only member of the McLaren Young Driver Programme.
While IndyCar duo Pato O’Ward and Alex Palou would both be considered should Norris decide to jump ship, the McLaren junior team would offer a clear route into F1 for the Brazilian.
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