Lack of Track Time has hurt many teams, and even drivers in this modern era. We are talking of the lack of in-season testing, which in all likelihood is set to make its comeback next season. It has been close to four seasons since the Badoer controversy. He hasn’t done a major crime off-track or on-track, but the fact that Badoer has been a test driver for Ferrari for many seasons, and yet failed miserably in his limited opportunity that was presented to him, after what happened to Massa at Hungaroring, is a spot of bother. Time has quickly ticked away to where we are at this moment, but the grittiness that the teams have shown towards the driver development is very bemusing. Not all teams are adamant, Force India have consistently put up Friday sessions for driver development over the last few seasons, Paul di Resta, Nico Hulkenberg, and even Jules Bianchi have all enjoyed extra track time from the Anglo Indian Team.
But this season has been a bit different, Isn’t it?
There has been a major lull across Free Practice Sessions, Teams have opted to see through the first hour of Free practice session, and then focus on rest of the time that is available to them in many circuits. But then this session could have used for driver development, right? No, We don’t need extra tires or stuff like that, but even that strategy used by Teams in most Friday sessions where drivers had limited runs in Free Practice sessions could have been given to a driver in need of track time. We are approaching the halfway mark of this season, maybe the time is ripe for the teams to act a bit more towards driver development or do the teams have an excuse?
The Rookies of 2013 season:
Esteban Gutiérrez, Valtteri Bottas, Giedo van der Garde, Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton have tried hard, and fought their teammates and other drivers on the grid. These drivers had their criticisms, while some of them were praised for their efforts as well. Arguably, Jules Bianchi and Bottas have emerged as ‘best of the rest’. Maybe it’s their tracktime experience that have helped them in this stage of their career, with Bottas running in most Friday sessions of last season at the cost of Senna, and Bianchi running in tandem with other Force India drivers at most circuits.
It’s unfortunate, when you look at other rookies, Max Chilton has reportedly been pouring in tons of money for reaching certain targets, he had a busy Winter Testing Programme while running alone in most sessions due to the uncertainty over his teammate, but Bianchi has clearly impressed in the early part of the season.
Esteban Gutiérrez has been in the best team among others, but his teammate has been a kind of driver who knows what it takes to win a race, grab a pole position, or even the championship.
Was Esteban Gutiérrez rushed into his drive with Sauber?
You never know, but Esteban Gutiérrez had his share of track time as well. He first tasted a Formula 1 car way back in December 2009, as a result of winning the Formula BMW Championship. He took part in the Young Driver test in 2010 and 2011, and also made his only run at a Free Practice Session in India in 2012. But then again, Bottas and Bianchi had a consistent set of runs heading into the 2013 season, something that Esteban couldn’t afford, Is it hurting his performance?
Heading into the British Grand Prix, Esteban stated that the external critics aren’t a concern for his motivation, as he is more focused on impressing the team.
“When you're fighting in the top 10, people look at you more and you show more, I'm not here to show the people what I can do, I'm just here to do what I want to achieve. I'm working to my realities at the moment. My job at the moment is to work with the team to try to get to that window of performance. That's my focus and that's what I want to achieve not only to show that I can accomplish the results, but for ourselves." - Esteban Gutiérrez
That Pay Driver with no Mirrors!
Lap 37 at the Canadian Grand Prix saw the collision between Mark Webber and Giedo Van der Garde due to which Webber suffered a damage, which costed him a position or two. The furious Webber then commented about Giedo as a ‘pay driver with no mirrors’.
Giedo later retaliated to Webber’s comments during a chat with Autosport, where he said that the penalty and Webber’s comments are harsh, as he is one of the fairest drivers on the grid.
"It is tough, but I am one of the fairest drivers out there and I don't hit anybody. I will learn from the mistakes but I think the penalties are a bit harsh. I feel a bit sorry for Mark - it was not my intention to hit him.” - Giedo speaking to Autosport!
For someone who has been a part of McLaren’s Young Driver Programme from the 2006 season, and also being the oldest of rookies, it wouldn’t seem a tall ask to be asked to outpace the teammate at all possible scenarios, but the situation would be tough while certainly driving for Caterham, and having Charles Pic as your teammate. Charles Pic is a driver who certainly can push the boundaries, and can also have a feud with any driver on the grid including his own teammate. For Sure, Giedo would have a tough time to outpace his teammate even during the second half of the season. Giedo had his first experience with a Formula 1 car way back in 2007 season, after resolving a contract dispute with Super Aguri. He was scheduled to be announced as a driver for Virgin Racing in 2011, but failed to secure a final contract. He was a test driver for Caterham in 2012, before being promoted to race seat for this season.
Test Drivers for the sake of it?
Although Force India was said to announce their plans for the third driver by the start of the European Grand Prix, things never seem to have progressed at their side. Whatever happened at their end was unfortunate, as they have been one of the few teams on the grid to promote talent at all possible endeavours. Maybe, its their quest to claim the fifth position in the championship that has halted their driver development programme, maybe they felt the necessity to give their race drivers maximum track time for the same reason, that seem to have ended a particular Indian driver’s prospects.
Caterham and Marussia however had no major worries, although they have a tough battle to claim the 10th position in the constructors championship, they had promoted quite a few drivers during the first seven races of the season. While Ma Qing Hua, Heikki Kovalainen and Alexander Rossi drove for Caterham, Rodolfo González drove for Marussia. It has been reported that Caterham has further plans to promote its test drivers over the course of this season.
While the top teams understandably gives its race drivers more track time, where every run seems to be so precious, maybe Williams and Sauber could have afforded to give a chance to the emerging talent. But again, these two teams have their own problems as well, as both of them are disappointed with their performance so far this season, and are trying their maximum to be the best midfield team. Each position in the constructors championship has its own value, and it is hurting their prospects.
Is Red Bull the best talent promoter?
I never imagined, it would come down to this, but seriously, Red Bull are making the best use of their B-Team. From roping in the best young drivers, to arguably the best Technical Director after Adrian Newey, Red Bull seems to have found a way to promote talent. Unfortunate, but True.
We need to wait and see if they are making the best use of the talent available to them.
They have groomed Vettel to an extent at Toro Rosso before promoting him to the main team. But will the replacement for Mark Webber come from the Red Bull stable as well?
It would be too good if this happens, it would set an example for other teams, in terms of driver development. Not everyone requires a B-Team, but maybe a Inter-Team agreement to promote drivers, while the teams with more cash pile can afford to spend on driver development at the midfield/backmarkers?
But wait, Maybe we are exaggerating the Red Bull Brand, but for sure, they have the talent to replace Webber in their own stable. We are talking of the likes of Buemi, Ricciardo, and Jean-Eric Vergne.
Both Ricciardo, and Vergne are talented enough to brag for the second seat at Red Bull, they fight hard and fair. It has been reported that these two drivers have stopped talking to each other owing to the fight on-track. Unfortunate, but when the prize of winning the battle within the team, is an apparent graduation to a team that can fight for championships, these things are inevitable right?
While it was Ricciardo who seem to have a slight edge over Vergne over the course of 2012 season, tides seems to have turned around this season, with Vergne looking as a better prospect at this point of time.
It has to be noted that Ricciardo had a bit more experience over Vergne, maybe due to which a visible edge was noticed over the course of last season.
Does Buemi have a fair chance for the graduation to race seat?
Although Adrian Sutil didn’t seem to had any rustiness right from his first lap in Formula 1, it would be hard on Buemi to be asked to perform from the onset. It would be a different debate as to what sort of driver is Buemi as compared to the likes of Sutil or even Webber/Vettel, but nevertheless 2014 would present a massive challenge to a driver, and a team would be forced to pick a active driver then the driver warming up the bench. It would be really hard, but at this point of time, it seems Ricciardo/Vergne have better prospects then Buemi.
Inevitably it comes down to the argument of the role of third driver within a team, We have seen it in the past, yet the top teams seem to highly vulnerable about the driver development programme. They don’t seem to have a stable backup, whom they can promote on unforeseen circumstances like injuries to main drivers or driver retirements. The rookies are another aspect and are acting as a spot of bother during the race, where they can’t seem to avoid collisions even though it could have been safely negotiated. It always turns out to be a harsh call for some of the rookies when we hear the stories from their side, but with the lack of preparations, they alone can’t be blamed.
Driver development seems to be an important step that Formula 1 teams seems to be forget, maybe it’s down to FIA to sanction the introduction of third car for Free practice sessions. We are not sure if the teams will value the importance of driver development, even after the reintroduction of in-season testing. Teams have turned greedy enough to forget about third drivers, we might still end up seeing main drivers during the in-season testing, but the introduction of a third car might solve the problem. But again, if the escalating costs is an area of concern, maybe it’s time to work on the proposal submitted by the Force India team about the extra tires for Free Practice sessions, teams need to work on this idea for the sake of Formula 1.
It’s something that we have talked about for a long time, but it’s something that’s never addressed by the FIA nor Teams..