2021 marks the third full year that Juri Vips will compete as a Red Bull Junior Team driver. The Estonian has risen from F3 to racing guest F2 events since the backing of the energy drinks company and will race his first full Formula 2 season in 2021. But how did Juri Vips, a young driver from Tallinn, make it to F2 as a Red Bull Junior Team driver?
Juri Vips Early Career
As is the case with almost all drivers, Juri Vips began in karting. His earliest racing in competitions around his homeland of Estonia was when Vips was just ten years old. Two years later, he conquered the national “Rotax Junior Championship” allowing entry to the “Max Challenge” the following season. Competing against international peers, Juri showed he was not only better than his compatriots but the world, too, as he took the Junior category win.
A promotion to European KF1 followed, where the best young talent race in karting’s top series. KF1 has seen champions in the European regional class such as Alex Albon, Max Verstappen, and Lewis Hamilton. However, Vips finished his sole 2015 KF1 season down in 12th place.
A move to single-seaters
2016 was the first season when Juri Vips raced car categories. Together with 2017, Vips had a rather busy two seasons in Formula 4. The Estonian contested the German ADAC F4 series and the Italian F4 championship for two consecutive seasons. In that 16/17 off-season, Vips also took part in the Indian MRF Challenge to boot.
Prema were his first team for those European racing adventures. Vips rewarded them with a championship-winning campaign in 2017 in ADAC F4. He edged out his Prema teammate, Marcus Armstrong for the title by just 4.5 points. To date, though, that ADAC Formula 4 crown remains the only single-seater championship Juri Vips has won.
Juri Vips busy in Formula 3
Towards the conclusion of the 2017 year and after his F4 title, Vips enjoyed his first taste of Formula 3. Prema handed Juri an F3 test following the F4 season’s conclusion where he showed enough promise for Motopark to put him in one of their cars. With the F4 season finishing before the European F3, Vips enjoyed a multi-class year. Motopark subbed Vips in at the Hockenheim season finale weekend. Over the three races, Vips claimed a high of two P12’s.
Motopark saw enough in Vips to retain him for their 2018 European F3 championship. A strong season saw Vips take four wins across the thirty races with regular points finishes leading him to fourth place in the championship. His old team, the ever-strong Prema, and his teammate Dan Ticktum were the only competitors to finish higher than him.
Juri Vips joins the Red Bull Junior Team
Red Bull saw enough in 2018 to bring Vips into their stable ahead of the inaugural FIA Formula 3 championship in 2019. Vips moved away from Motopark to join Hitech. With the shorter championship length compared to European F3, the three wins from sixteen rounds showed signs of progress. However, it was to be another P4 in the final standings for Vips who ultimately couldn’t contend with the three Prema drivers.
His 2019 almost ended on a massive high, though, with his visit to the Macau Grand Prix. After his first race there, one year earlier, ended with a significant penalty for overtaking under a red flag, there were no mistakes this time. Vips took pole position for the qualifying race, which then turned into pole for the final race. But a safety car period ruined the race for Juri who lost his lead late on. He heartbreakingly finished less than a second behind the winner but still took an impressive P2.
An unexpected 2020 sidelining
Red Bull have put several drivers in Japanese Super Formula before, and Vips was set to be the latest junior to do so. Juri had raced the final Suzuka race of the 2019 Super Formula season for Team Mugen. With Honda and Red Bull getting ever closer, Vips was set to rejoin the Mugen outfit for the full 2020 championship. However, the COVID-19 pandemic forced Vips to remain in Europe as Japan was off-limits to non-nationals.
Instead, Vips settled for a holding pattern in the pro-am Formula Regional European Championship (FREC). Yet Vips raced just four rounds and somehow found himself, briefly, in Formula 2. Sean Galael had suffered an injury and DAMS needed a replacement driver. Vips answered the call. He scored the only points of his brief F2 foray at the two Mugello races. Yet he managed third place in the sprint race after his P7 feature race finish gave him a front-row start for Sunday. He became the first Estonian to finish on a Formula 2 podium.
The tail end of 2020 saw Vips in no-mans land. His F2 racing had him miss the FREC races before flying to Japan to finally fulfil the Super Formula role. Due to quarantine restrictions, Vips needed to miss further FREC races. Yet, not long after his arrival in Japan, his Super Formula team declared they would not race him. Red Bull had decided that he was needed back in Europe for testing and reserve driver duty! As such, Vips didn’t race again in 2020 but at least has a full-time seat for the restructured Formula 2 in 2021.
Juri Vips GP Grandstand Prediction:
Red Bull have a hit and miss record with their Junior Team. A shotgun approach with drivers can make you look good when a Vettel or Verstappen works out. But the missed shots fade away into forgotten memories. A full F2 season could be the necessary barometer to see if Vips is the latest in Red Bull’s successful “V” drivers. Anonymity is the other option.
While Juri no doubt has talent, there’s not enough shown so far to indicate he possesses the ever-increasing “world-beating” ability Red Bull demands. If Gasly, Albon, and Kvyat didn’t hit the highs that Red Bull need, Vips needs a stellar F2 season to suggest he’s their next Verstappen. If not, he could be in Formula E or WEC before he knows it.