Wednesday, 2 December 2009

They are the young ones

This week in Jerez, all 9 F1 teams are out testing potential up and coming talent in the FIA’s official Young Driver Days. To someone who solely focuses on F1, you won’t have heard of pretty much most if not all of them. But if you’re someone like me, who happens to have a broad spread of knowledge and following when it comes to motorsport, you will have. Below is a list of all the drivers participating, and alongside them in brackets is the series they come from:

Brawn/Mercedes: Mike Conway (IndyCar), Marcus Ericsson (F3)
Red Bull: Daniel Ricciardo (F3)
McLaren: Gary Paffett (DTM), Oliver Turvey (WSR/GP2)
Ferrari: Jules Bianchi (F3), Daniel Zampieri (F3), Marco Zipoli (F3), Pablo Sanchez Lopez (F3)
Renault: Bertrand Baguette (WSR), Ho Pin Tung (Superleague), Lucas di Grassi (GP2)
BMW: Alexander Rossi (Formula Master), Estiban Gutierrez (F3)
Williams: Andy Soucek (F2), Nico Hulkenberg (GP2/F1)
Force India Paul di Resta (DTM), JR Hildebrand (Indy Lights)
Toro Rosso: Brendon Hartley (WSR/F3), Mirko Bortolotti (F3)

Not all of them will test on the same day as each other. Driver rotation throughout the 3 days ensure everyone gets a fair turn behind the wheel of their respective machinery. Apart from the BMW guys, the 3 Italian F3 drivers for Ferrari, Ericsson and Hildebrand, I’ve heard of all of these guys in some shape or form.

I think testing session like this are a very good idea. In fact, I’m in favour of bringing in some form of in-season testing again, if only to give drivers who are stepping in to take over from existing ones a chance to get used to the car before the next race weekend. We saw this season that drivers like Badoer and Grosjean suffered badly. Sure, Luca got a run in the F60 at Fiorano before his debut in Valencia, but it was a promotional run on demonstration tyres. He had no opportunity whatsoever to get used to the car in a qualifying or race simulation and spent most of the two race weekends he participated in suffering as a result, both from criticism and in pace.

Of course, the reason why the FIA banned in-season testing was to reduce costs. They want to get the spending levels back to those of the early 90s. But think about it – back then teams were still able to go testing, even the smaller ones. Well OK, maybe not all the smaller teams but the majority of the grid were still able to run at Silverstone or Monza in the days and weeks leading up to the respective race weekends. Why not allow testing for replacement drivers so that they get a chance to get to know the machine they’re about to wrestle around whichever circuit the F1 circus stops at next. But to make sure there’s no testing or development of any new parts, have an FIA steward present in the garage at all times. That way it ensures any updates only get tested in practice, like they have had to have been this year.

It should be a good thing that Formula 1 teams need to encourage young, up and coming talent into the sport, and the FIA should wholeheartedly embrace that. These Young Driver days are just the start, and while they do still want to reduce costs, this would surely be an initiative well worth investing in. Heck, if they managed to find any gems, I’m sure their potential success would help bring in the returns the FIA would want.

Also, who out of that lot up there seems to be in the best shape to secure an F1 drive in the future? Well, Bianchi for one has got to be up there. Yes, his times haven’t been fantastic but Ferrari have signed him up for the long term, which means they must have some faith and insight into the F3 Euro Series champion’s ability. If they can develop and nurture it appropriately, I think it’ll pay dividends for them. Also, I reckon a couple others are F2 Champion Andy Soucek and Paul di Resta for Force India. Soucek’s abilities shone through yesterday when he finished the first day on top of the time sheets. Personally, I think Williams should secure him as their 3rd and test driver for 2010 and then try and groom him as a replacement for Barrichello as and when he decides to end his racing career. di Resta has also looked impressive, as he put himself in the top 3 both yesterday and today. The man has talent, no doubt about it. Just whether any F1 teams pick up on it also remains to be seen. As with Soucek, he deserves a 3rd and test driver role with Force India.

These teams have to try and make more of an effort to help develop and nurture this young talents so that they become the stars of the future. All they need is for the FIA to see this too and allow them to run in test sessions away from the race weekends so that when a scenario like Massa’s in Hungary or Glock’s in Japan occurs, they don’t take forever to get up to speed and can instantly run at the pace the usual driver was at. If not on par, then around that level. This not only benefits them, but also the team and everyone else on the grid, as these replacement drivers don’t pose so much of a threat as they would when driving without having gotten familiar with their machine.

Will anything like this happen? Who knows. With a new FIA president in place, let’s sure hope so.