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Formula 1

F2's actual 2024 standout's struggle to get F1's attention

by Valentin Khorounzhiy, Josh Suttill
7 min read

There's set to be a lot of hand-wringing about Kimi Antonelli's rookie Formula 2 season if Mercedes commits to him as its 2025 Formula 1 driver any time soon, and much of it will be misplaced.

Antonelli is yet to score a Formula 2 podium in 10 attempts, but he's more or less in the title race. He's certainly not been slow, and while the performance hasn't looked robust enough yet to sustain a title challenge, that's not really Mercedes' goal anyway. It is not preparing him to be Formula 2 champion - that is not the end-all and be-all here.

But what is also not lost on those with even a passing familiarity with the current state of play in junior single-seaters is that while Antonelli is on the outside looking in when it comes to the F2 title fight, said title fight is being led by Paul Aron, a driver who had been on Mercedes' books until this year.

Paul Aron, Prema, F3

The Gwen Lagrue-led Mercedes programme added Aron to its ranks in 2019, when he was already winning in Formula 4, and backed him through frontrunning albeit not championship-winning seasons in Formula Regional and Formula 3.

Like Antonelli, he is effectively an F2 rookie this season (albeit with two extra prep starts from 2023). That comparison is misleading - Antonelli came out of karting in mid-2021 compared to the start of 2019 for Aron - but on his own Aron is certainly having as good a season as could've been reasonably expected.

He has scored five podiums, and it is far from unthinkable that he could win the title.

F2 2024 after 5 rounds of 14

  1. Paul Aron - 80
  2. Isack Hadjar - 78 (-2)
  3. Zane Maloney - 69 (-11)
  4. Dennis Hauger - 56 (-24)
  5. Gabriele Bortoleto - 50 (-30)
  6. Kimi Antonelli - 48 (-32)

But it's far from guaranteed that even that would open up a route to Formula 1. There are clear scenarios in which Antonelli debuts in F1 in 2025 and Prema F2 team-mate Ollie Bearman does the same, but for the rest of the F2 grid it generally seems to range from "the longest of long shots" to "no chance at all".

Aron and his management - aka his brother, sometime Italian F4 champion and European F3 frontrunner Ralf - are clearly aware of that, as evidenced by them jumping at the chance to have Paul run in the Berlin Formula E double-header as a stand-in driver with Envision Jaguar the week before Monaco.

As the younger Aron put it, that opportunity "didn't come about randomly".

Paul Aron, Envision, Formula E

"It's been something that we've tried to get because we know that this is a really high-level championship and it's definitely of interest to be here some day," he told The Race in Berlin.

"But by the same token, I would also love to have a chance at Formula 1 or any other category. Generally I love motorsport, and I want to become a professional driver."

The Race put it to him that amid the F1 hype around Antonelli and Bearman and the clear talent they possess he was outscoring them both, and he admitted it was a "difficult" statement to react to - a statement of fact but also one where Aron naturally didn't want to come off as arrogant.

"All I can do is do my talking on the track, obviously Ollie and Kimi are very talented, as you said, and they've done great, but I'm competing against them this year and so far I've had a very good beginning of the year."

But just why has it been so good? Aron's career trajectory has certainly been impressive enough to suggest he could be a very credible F2 frontrunner one day - but to be one this early is above expectations.

Paul Aron, Hitech, F2

Is it the reset of a new F2 car? That'll be part of it, certainly, especially against those with prior F2 experience, but what's keeping him ahead of highly-rated fellow rookies right now?

Is he just more at ease with powerful machinery?

"I wouldn't say that. I think it's just - if you look at my career generally, I've always been up there, every championship I've driven since karting I've fought for the title.

"It's true that in single-seaters so far I don't have a 'proper' title - I've won the rookie title in [Italian] Formula 4, but a proper championship I haven't won - but if you look at the results, I've always been in the title fight every year. And the drivers who beat me one year I've beaten the next year. So there hasn't been someone who just consistently beat me.

"And I guess this year the relationship I've built with [current F2 team] Hitech has worked out really well, there's a new car and because the relationship is so good, we've been able to be a step ahead from the others.

Paul Aron, Hitech, F2

"I think, in a way, the higher I've gone, the more the championship has suited me because I'm someone who approaches a championship, a season, races with kind of a structured mindset.

“I don't go out there and just try to do the quickest laptime and that's it. I try to approach it with a structured approach, so I can learn how to be quick and, when I did something well, [understand] how I did it. And sometimes that takes a bit more time than just going out there and pushing flat out.

"But in the long run it's definitely more consistent. And in a championship like Formula 2, where there's a lot more factors you need to manage - pitstops, tyre management is a lot bigger, you have carbon brakes which you need to manage, races are a lot longer, overtaking is a big point because overheating in the tyres is more substantial than in Formula 3 - all these factors just play into my advantage because I probably approach them with a bit more of a structured approach than some of the other drivers, and that pays off."

Paul Aron, Hitech, F2

Reflecting on the Mercedes split, Aron said "we agreed that we keep the details behind closed doors" - but his next few words offer a window into why it may have run its course.

"At the end, with the path that Mercedes is taking, I guess it made sense for them, and also in a way it opened up opportunities for me because probably I wouldn't have the chance to be here doing this race in Formula E if I was still connected with them."

That "path" can be interpreted as referring to Antonelli. And Mercedes has always been very realistic that it can only take a very small number of its proteges to F1.

Antonelli has been winning titles left and right in single-seaters, he has clearly impressed Mercedes hugely in his private F1 testing. It is probably better, thus, for Aron to have flown free than to have remained as Mercedes' 'other' prospect.

But in leading the F2 title race right now, as a rookie, he's probably the face of a class of junior drivers who could obviously and self-evidently do a job in F1 one day but who aren't regarded as "can't-miss" in the same way Bearman is, or Antonelli is, or past Formula 2 supernovas Charles Leclerc, George Russell and Oscar Piastri were.

When The Race asked both Aron and second-in-the-standings Isack Hadjar after the Monaco F2 round whether they felt overlooked in the F1 2025 conversation, the Red Bull-backed Hadjar pointed out F2's "purpose" was determining who deserves to get a look in. "If you do well, you should be promoted," he said.

Isack Hadjar, Campos, F2

But Hadjar's path to that promotion, as a Red Bull protege who clearly has Dr Helmut Marko's interest and attention, is clearer than Aron's.

"I honestly don't know what's happening in the F1 paddock so I don't know how much recognition I'm getting," said Aron. "I have my brother Ralf who is managing me, I'm sure he's doing his best to have some talks around there.

"This year has been the year I've enjoyed racing the most. So I'm just really happy to be at the track, really happy to race. That's how I should move forward.

"In the end thinking about Formula 1 doesn't give me any benefit, it just adds pressure - and previous years I've had goals and expectations, and these have just added this little bit of pressure that every qualifying and race I've had to take a step back.

"This year Hitech has given me a great car, a great environment to make me feel really comfortable. I've just really enjoyed it - that's why these results are coming.

Paul Aron, Hitech, F2

"So like Isack said, all you can do is perform in F2. To be honest, it feels really nice to beat the guys who get recognition in the F1 paddock.

"All we can do in the end is do our talking on track and me, Isack and the guys at the top of the championship have done that, that's all we can keep doing and hopefully that's rewarded because that's what F2 is for."

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