The top six drivers ready for F1

GP2 Podium Vandoorne Evans Palmer

As talk about next year's lineups gathers pace, we look at the top feeder-series drivers ready to make the step up to F1.

Although this silly season is quieter than most, that doesn't mean that there aren't a slew of top prospects itching to make the step up to F1. All currently fighting it out in the numerous feeder series, these six young drivers are ready to seize their chance on motorsport's biggest stage.

Honourable Mention – Max Verstappen

Max Verstappen, the 16-year-old Dutchman and son of former F1 driver Jos, has been setting F3 on fire this year, winning seven races (and counting) in his debut season of car racing.

After being signed by the Red Bull Junior Team there'll no doubt be talks of finding a place to slot him into the F1 grid, but it's simply too soon for this highly talented young driver. He doesn't even turn 17 until the end of September, and another year or two in the feeder series to develop his immense natural talent is the right move for him.

Now, to the main men...

6 – Mitch Evans, GP2

The most hipster choice on this list, but a worthy candidate nevertheless. Despite only being 20 years old, New Zealander Mitch Evans has already raced and won all around the world.

A protege of Mark Webber, Evans won the GP3 title in 2012 and has since spent his time racing in the more competitive GP2 championship. Winning his first races in the series this year, the Kiwi has all the upsides which would make him a prudent investment for an F1 team. If a midfield squad put the care and attention into him in the same way that Williams did Valtteri Bottas, they'd have a real star on their hands.

Mitch Evans

5 – Carlos Sainz Jr, Formula Renault 3.5

If things had gone to plan, 19-year-old Spaniard Carlos Sainz Jr would already be in F1. He was supposed to have shown enough in GP3 last year to take a drive at Toro Rosso this season, but while then-team-mate and current Toro Rosso driver Daniil Kvyat took home three wins on his way to winning the series, Sainz Jr limped home winless and in 10th place.

A move to Formula Renault 3.5 has seen Sainz Jr return to form, with the Spaniard holding a commanding 49 point lead in the standings. However, he is doing so against a less talented field than he'd face in GP2 and perhaps GP3.

Sainz Jr has driven both a Red Bull and Toro Rosso at tests and has been one of the few recipients of a second chance in the history of the Red Bull Junior Team, so they must see something in him. However, with Alex Lynn dominating in GP3 and the recent addition of Verstappen to the stable, time is running out for Sainz Jr to show that he can be the whole package.

Of course, any insinuation that Red Bull are only keeping Sainz Jr around because his father - rallying legend and double champion Carlos Sainz - drives for them in prestigious events such as the Dakar Rally would be highly inflammatory...

4 – Stoffel Vandoorne, GP2

22-year-old Belgian Vandoorne is one of McLaren's youth products and missed out on his own shot at F1 when he came second in last year's Formula Renault 3.5 championship to Kevin Magnussen. McLaren are keeping the faith with Vandoorne, however, and with half a season of GP2 under his belt he's quickly become a fixture at the front of the grid.

Showing pace, good race craft, and bravery in wheel-to-wheel combat, it's clear he's ready for F1. Although unlikely to go straight into the McLaren team, it wouldn't be surprising for the outfit to try to place him somewhere on the grid next year in order to keep his development going.

3 – Alex Lynn, GP3

The current series leader in GP3, 20-year-old Lynn is showing the kind of performances that you'd expect to see from a future F1 star.

The young Brit has been a perpetual frontrunner in the series, regularly in the battle for poles, podiums, and wins despite this being his first year in the car. He's only finished outside of the top six twice all season, once because of a gamble on wet tyres and once because of a puncture, and showed shades of Sebastian Vettel as he set the fastest lap from the lead on his penultimate time around at the Red Bull Ring. He also beat a host of talent, including fellow Red Bull drivers Sainz Jr and Antonio Felix da Costa, in the 2013 Macau Grand Prix, the world's most prestigious F3 event.

A common slight against Lynn stepping up to F1 is that he hasn't driven an F1 car before, but until Kvyat was hastily put into the last two Friday practice sessions last year, neither had he. Besides, any doubts about how he handles new machinery should be dispelled by the fact that he scored pole, the fastest lap, and the win in his GP3 debut race.

Alex Lynn

2 - Felipe Nasr, GP2

With Felipe Massa's F1 career entering its final few years, Brazil needs a new driver to get behind. So, who better than a rapid youngster with a near-identical name? Felipe Nasr is already on the books at Williams and his junior career has been impressive; F1 should be the next step.

After winning the British F3 championship (convincingly) in 2011, Nasr stepped up to GP2 for 2012 and improved throughout the year; his first win was surely just around the corner.

But when he returned in 2013 that killer instinct still seemed to be lacking. There were a few near-misses and some unfortunate circumstances, but the Brazilian must shoulder some of the blame, too.

He has made up for that with three wins this year, though as a third-year driver there was no excuse for further failure. He looks set to finish second in the standings to Jolyon Palmer, but with plenty of funding behind him Nasr has an excellent shot at an F1 drive. Talks with Sauber are already reported to be underway.

1- Jolyon Palmer, GP2

The 23-year-old current GP2 championship leader has finally come of age. In a true example of just how good some drivers can become if they're left to develop, Sussex lad Palmer has been absolutely assured behind the wheel this season. Picking up two wins and yet to finish outside the points, Palmer has a 43 point lead from Nasr atop a stacked GP2 field.

Showing both good single lap pace and immense wheel-to-wheel skill, Palmer has proven that he's developed into a brave, fast, and consistent performer worthy of an F1 berth.

The son of former F1 driver Jonathan (who you may have paid an obscene amount of money to attend a driving day with) has already said that he's in negotiations with some teams about stepping up next season. With his speed, skill, and consistency in an era of F1 where being able to fight your rivals on-track and regularly pick up points is at a premium, Palmer is more than ready to succeed at the pinnacle of motorsport.

Jolyon Palmer