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F1:Top 5 Red Bull Driver Academy Graduates

(Left-right) Max Verstappen, Daniel Ricciardo and Pierre Gasly have all come through the RB Academy.
(Left-right) Max Verstappen, Daniel Ricciardo and Pierre Gasly have all come through the RB Academy.
George Howson

When Red Bull bought the struggling Jaguar team ahead of the 2005 Formula 1 season, many fans couldn't process the idea of a drinks company running a F1 team. However, since then Red Bull - and their junior team, Toro Rosso - have become a crucial part of the grid, making up 20% of the available seats. Their driver academy is the envy of the paddock, with six drivers (over a quarter) on the grid today that came through the Red Bull Driver Search, as it's officially known. There's also plenty of talent coming through the pipeline too, with the likes of Dan Ticktum tipped for an F1 seat in the near future. With that being said, here's the five best drivers to have come through the Red Bull Junior programme.

#5 - Pierre Gasly

Pierre Gasly is the most recent driver to have been promoted from Toro Rosso to Red Bull.
Pierre Gasly is the most recent driver to have been promoted from Toro Rosso to Red Bull.

Pierre Gasly may only have one full season of Formula 1 racing under his belt, but the young Frenchman has already thrilled us with some standout performances. Gasly joined Toro Rosso mid-way through 2017, as replacement for Carlos Sainz, after the latter joined Renault. The STR12 wasn't the best car, and Gasly had to wait until 2018 for his first points finish, but it was well worth the wait. A stunning drive to fourth place in Bahrain remains his best finish in F1 to date and was the first of a series of impressive results last season.

Pierre comfortably beat the far more experienced and WEC-winning Brendon Hartley throughout the season, showing that he's one of Grand Prix's biggest prospects for the future. A move to Red Bull to replace Daniel Ricciardo for 2019 hasn't paid off yet, but there's 19 races remaining this season, so he's got plenty of time to impress. Although, if he doesn't perform soon, Gasly could suffer a similar fate to Daniil Kvyat.

#4 - Carlos Sainz Jr.

Carlos Sainz now drives for McLaren but he was a part of the Red Bull driver programme.
Carlos Sainz now drives for McLaren but he was a part of the Red Bull driver programme.

Caros Sainz is one of the drivers that has come through the Red Bull driver programme that is perhaps a victims of the system's success. Sainz was always on the motorsporting radar due to his world champion rallying father and he became part of the programme in 2010 at 16. He quickly climbed the junior formula ladder, which culminated in him winning the Formula Renault 3.5 series in 2014, ahead of the aforementioned Gasly.

The Spaniard's F1 debut came the following year for Toro Rosso, where he'd score regular points with the junior team in 2015 through to 2017. Sainz went on loan to Renault for the end of 2017 and into 2018, because there wasn't any room for Chili at Red Bull. Although Carlos hasn't stood on the podium, he has come close, most notably his 4th place at the 2017 Singapore GP.

Now driving for McLaren, he hopes to follow in his idol, Fernando Alonso's footsteps, by winning races for the Woking team. Like Gasly, Sainz is still young, only 24-years-old, but he's established himself as one of the hottest prospects in the sport and one of the best Spanish F1 drivers ever.

#3 - Daniel Ricciardo

All of Daniel Ricciardo's seven F1 wins have come with Red Bull.
All of Daniel Ricciardo's seven F1 wins have come with Red Bull.

The man with the evergreen smile in Formula 1 drives for Renault these days, but was a part of the Red Bull organization between 2008 and '18. Like Sainz, Ricciardo's time in Renault 3.5 got him a F1 drive, for the HRT team part-way through 2011. He impressed for the struggling Spanish outfit, and earned a drive alongside Jean-Eric Vergne at Toro Rosso the following year. It was a tight affair between the Honey Badger and the Frenchman, and a close competition for who would replace Mark Webber at Red Bull for 2014.

Christian Horner and Helmut Marko opted for the Aussie, a decision that was definitely the correct one in hindsight. Ricciardo was the surprise of 2014, taking to the V6-turbo cars like a duck to water and winning three races during the season, the only driver other than the Mercedes men.

Red Bull haven't had the car to challenge for the title since 2013, but Ricciardo has often been the man to capitalise when the Silver Arrows have slipped up. In total, he's won seven races, and there's expectations that Daniel will be able to return to the podium for Renault sooner rather than later.

#2 - Max Verstappen

Max Verstappen is Red Bull's best shot at more F1 titles.
Max Verstappen is Red Bull's best shot at more F1 titles.

When you push Daniel Ricciardo out of your team, you know you're a real talent. Max Verstappen became the youngest Formula 1 driver ever when he made his debut for Toro Rosso in 2015. That record will stand forever, as he was only 17 at the time, unless the rule on super-licences change, of course.

Verstappen's youth was the subject of much criticism before he joined F1, but once the critics saw his speed, they were quickly silenced. After being promoted to the senior team in 2016, he won on debut for Red Bull Racing. That victory saw him become the youngest man to stand on the podium, lead a lap and take a win. Since then, he's gained a reputation for being one of the most aggressive overtakers and defenders of his position in Grand Prix racing, he's a feared competitor.

If the Red Bull-Honda package is good enough to win races in 2019, he'll do so, the Dutchman is a supreme talent and a champion in waiting.

But Verstappen is far from the first young hot shot to come through the Red Bull programme and break numerous records along the way...

#1 - Sebastian Vettel

Sebastian Vettel won 4 driver's titles in a row at Red Bull, their only championships to date.
Sebastian Vettel won 4 driver's titles in a row at Red Bull, their only championships to date.

Despite his recent struggles, this couldn't be anybody else. Sebastian Vettel had been a part of the Red Bull Junior Team since he was in karting at the age of 13. The young German got his first F1 start in 2007, standing in for the injured Robert Kubica at the USGP, becoming what was then the youngest points scorer ever.

Vettel remained in the sport for the remainder of '07, but with Toro Rosso. Despite an embarrassing clash with Mark Webber in Japan, Vettel became a full-time Toro Rosso driver in 2008. At STR, he won in dominant fashion at Monza, before the senior team managed to stand on the top step. Vettel won RBR's first race at China the following year, missing out on the title that year to Jenson Button's all-conquering Brawn.

Vettel's best years so far were between 2010 and 2013, breaking far too many records to list in this article along the way. The most important stat, though, is that he became a four-time champion before the age that Alain Prost won his first F1 race. Vettel's move to Ferrari hasn't paid off yet, but he has been Lewis Hamilton's closest challenger more often than not, but has to regain his mojo if he's to win his fifth title and emulate his idol Michael Schumacher.

Who do you think is the best driver to have come through the Red Bull system? Is it Sebastian Vettel or someone else? Let us know in the comments below!

Edited by Mustafa Ismail

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