Some of the most talented drivers below Formula 1 get an opportunity at this week’s young driver test at Silverstone, despite a rule break making it legal for current race drivers to get a day’s mileage.
The recent Pirelli tyre debacle prompted the FIA to permit teams to run their race drivers for a maximum of one day at the test, so long as they are working on tyre development only.
Despite both that and the financial difficulties encountered by many of the teams on the F1 grid, a number of highly-rated drivers are getting an opportunity – many experiencing their first F1 mileage. Here’s the lowdown on each of the ‘young drivers’ involved.
Antonio Felix da Costa
Felix da Costa gets his second testing chance with the Red Bull team, but this one is restricted just to Wednesday and Thursday morning thanks to a combination of the rule break for race drivers and the scheduling of a Formula Renault 3.5 round this weekend. After his incredible form in late 2012 he began the FR3.5 season as the title favourite, but he only sits third in the current standings with one win to his name.
Nonetheless, he is banging on the door of a Toro Rosso seat and the test provides a good opportunity to show what he can do, particularly with the team evaluating Daniel Ricciardo on Wednesday afternoon. Mark Webber does Thursday afternoon and Sebastian Vettel Friday afternoon.
Sainz will make his F1 testing bow with Toro Rosso on Thursday morning before driving the Red Bull on Friday morning. The son of the world rally champion, Sainz has shown promise on Red Bull’s junior programme, fourth in Formula BMW in 2010 in his rookie car season, then runner-up to Robin Frijns in the Formula Renault Eurocup.
He was wildly inconsistent during a year of F3 last season, with dominant wins in the wet mixed with some frequent collisions. Still only 18, his form in GP3 this year has been similarly erratic, but again showed well when he finished sixth on his Formula Renault 3.5 debut in Monaco. He is backed not only by Red Bull, but also by Toro Rosso sponsor Cepsa.
After making his Ferrari debut at Magny-Cours last year, the 26-year-old gets to do two and a half days this week, making way only for race driver Felipe Massa on Friday morning. After winning Superleague Formula titles in 2008 and 2010, he entered GP2 in 2011 only to sustain an injury in the first weekend that kept him out for the rest of the year.
He’s since focussed on GT racing with Ferrari, currently leading the Blancpain Endurance Series standings. While giving regular simulator driver Rigon time for car development makes sense, it’s a crying shame Ferrari didn’t give their European F3 star Raffaele Marciello a go as well.
Magnussen makes his second testing appearance for McLaren on Wednesday, after impressing the team on his debut in Abu Dhabi last November. The 20-year-old Dane has been a star in Formula Renault 3.5 so far this year, currently sitting just three points off the lead with two race victories to his name.
He has followed in the footsteps of his father Jan by driving for the Woking squad, and like Jan he’s had a successful career in the junior categories. After winning the Formula Ford title in Denmark in 2008, he finished runner-up in the Formula Renault NEC, third in German F3 and then second in British F3 before stepping up to FR3.5 last year.
Taking over from Magnussen for Thursday is 26-year-old Turvey, who last raced a single-seater in a one-off GP2 appearance in 2011 but has since become a valuable member of McLaren’s team of development drivers. This year he’s also started racing prototype sportscars, and was one of the quickest drivers in the LMP2 category at Le Mans on his debut.
After winning the McLaren Autosport BRDC Award in 2006, he rose up the ranks as the first driver supported by the Racing Steps Foundation. He was runner-up in British F3 in 2008, fourth in Formula Renault 3.5 in 2009 and then sixth in his rookie season of GP2 in 2010 before funding ran dry. He’d make a great F1 driver if he ever got the chance, but his chances are very slim.
Now 32, Paffett is understandably lambasted every time the young driver test comes along, but he’s been unfortunate to never get an F1 race chance. After winning the title in German F3 (which then became the Euro Series) in 2002, he switched to the DTM with Mercedes after an F3000 ride collapsed. Champion there in 2005, he has been with McLaren ever since.
He was overlooked for a race seat when Lewis Hamilton came along, and might have driven for Prodrive had they got on the grid in 2008. Still eligible for these tests having yet to do a Grand Prix, McLaren would be foolish not to use his experience alongside their younger talent.
Rivalling Paffett in pushing the boundaries of a ‘young driver’, 31-year-old Prost was a bit average in his single-seater career. Third in Spanish F3 in 2007, the following year he won the title in the not-particularly-competitive Euroseries 3000. Sensibly, he switched to sportscars and has found his niche with the Rebellion LMP1 team, partnering Neel Jani and Nick Heidfeld.
Without the testing experience of Paffett, it is for another reason that Lotus will run him on Wednesday. He is of course the son of Alain Prost, and as he’s managed by the Gravity firm of Genii and Eric Boullier, the test provides the chance for them to get his famous name out there. That’s a bit of a shame when there are some talented young names on Gravity’s books.
Valsecchi made his debut with Lotus at last year’s young driver test in Abu Dhabi after winning the GP2 title, and impressed with his speed (but then he would – he always goes well at Middle Eastern circuits) and bagged a reserve deal for 2013. Unfortunately for the 26-year-old, other than a morning filling in for an ill Kimi Raikkonen in pre-season, Thursday might be the only running he gets this year, as Raikkonen will steal his place for Friday if he can be bothered to turn up.
A GP2 title is usually the mark of a special driver, but it did take Valsecchi five years to do it, and even then he was pretty unconvincing, winning only once outside of Bahrain. Even though he could afford all that time in GP2, he hasn’t yet been able to secure an F1 race seat.
Formula Renault 3.5 champion at the first attempt last year, Frijns was made to make do with a reserve role with Sauber rather than a race seat. The 21-year-old will do the first day and a half of the test, and although that’s the only F1 action he’s likely to get this year, he should be grateful for it given Sauber’s financial situation and his lack of sponsorship. Nico Hulkenberg takes over for tyre work on the Thursday afternoon.
Frijns agreed a GP2 ride with new team Hilmer for round two, but since a win and a second at Barcelona, he’s managed to score points in just one race out of six. Without more repeats of those Barcelona results, it’s hard to see that his F1 chance will come next year.
Sato has reportedly paid a quarter of a million euros for the chance to make his F1 debut with Sauber on Friday, helping to relieve the Swiss team’s financial difficulties. The 23-year-old’s career is overseen by 1990s F1 pay driver Taki Inoue, but he does come with some recent on-track form as well as a big wallet.
He’s tied for the lead of the Auto GP standings after three early wins. Those results have been something of a surprise, as four years of F3 in Japan and Europe didn’t bring anything outstanding. He had a reverse-grid win in a thinly-supported Euro Series in 2011, and then four wins after a step back to German F3.
Calado gets his first proper F1 test thanks to Force India, long overdue after his impressive rookie season in GP2 last year. The chance has come after joining Nicolas Todt’s management stable, with Todt having placed Jules Bianchi at Force India as reserve last year. The 24-year-old has already quietly conducted at least a couple of straightline tests for the team, and is being evaluated for the vacant reserve role in the squad, which could provide him with some Friday practice running later in the year.
His second GP2 season hasn’t quite gone to plan, sitting only fifth in the points, but he reminded us of his ability with two fine drives to second place at the Nurburgring. Shares the car this week with race drivers Paul Di Resta and Adrian Sutil.
Juncadella won last year’s European F3 title, and is now racing in the DTM for Mercedes-Benz, who backed him in F3. He scored a maiden podium in the highly-competitive tin-top series at the Norisring last weekend. He was the other casualty, along with Sam Bird, of Mercedes being banned from this test.
A chance with Williams was always on the cards though, after his personal backer Astana – the capital of Kazakhstan – signed a deal with the team. Then there’s the links to Mercedes through Toto Wolff. The 22-year-old Spaniard will open the test for Williams on Wednesday, but it won’t be his first time in an F1 car, as he tested a 2009 Ferrari late last year as a prize for his FIA F3 success.
Wolff is another to arrive at Williams from Mercedes’ DTM team, but while Juncadella’s managed a podium in just his fifth race, Wolff achieved just two seventh places in seven years before quitting at the end of last year. Her marriage to team shareholder Toto Wolff and high profile as a female racing driver have helped secure her a development role.
After a filming day run last year and some straightline aero tests this year, Friday will be her first proper test. Pastor Maldonado is on tyre duty on Thursday.
Cecotto is a controversial choice for the young driver test after a string of highly-criticised incidents in GP2 this year. The reality is that this test could well be part of his contract with Arden for 2013, since drivers for the Christian Horner-owned squad tend to get access to facilities at Milton Keynes and a test with the satellite Toro Rosso team could be an extension of that.
Cecotto did last year’s young driver test with Toro Rosso, and 2011’s with Force India. While he can occasionally show great speed – like getting on pole in Monaco – the other side to him is likely to make F1 teams think twice before accepting any Venezuelan dollars he can bring to the table in exchange for a race seat. He gets a full day of running on Wednesday.
Kvyat makes his F1 debut with Toro Rosso on Friday afternoon, once Sainz, Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne have succeeded Cecotto behind the wheel. The 19-year-old Russian is another from Red Bull’s young driver programme, and is team-mate to Sainz in GP3 this season, sitting eighth in the standings with two more points than the Spaniard.
He is also contesting a European F3 campaign, where he’s claimed five podium finishes and three pole positions from four weekends. He was runner-up to Stoffel Vandoorne in last year’s Formula Renault Eurocup, after finishing third behind Frijns and Sainz the year before.
Rossi is taking part in his fourth young driver test and his third consecutive with Caterham (the first was with BMW Sauber in 2009). He has already driven this year’s car in free practice at the Canadian Grand Prix, and will get another go on Wednesday.
He started the year without a race seat for the season ahead, but was given a ride with Caterham’s GP2 seat from the second round. He promptly scored a podium in Bahrain but has since slipped to 13th in the standings. He previously spent two years in Formula Renault 3.5, finishing third in 2011 before a difficult season second with the new Arden Caterham team.
Stevens is a recent recruit to Caterham’s young driver academy, and gets a quick first taste of F1 machinery on Thursday. He currently sits fourth in the Formula Renault 3.5 standings behind superstars Vandoorne, Magnussen and Felix da Costa. He has been at the sharp end in every series he’s contested, even though he only has four race wins to his name from four and a half seasons.
He was signed up by Honda’s F1 team in 2008 after a strong karting career, later going on to finish fourth in Formula Renault UK in 2010, fourth in the Eurocup in 2011 and 12th in his rookie FR3.5 campaign last year. Race drivers Giedo van der Garde and Charles Pic share the Caterham on the final day.
Ellinas is the latest driver to get an F1 test with Marussia as a prize for finishing as the top driver in the GP3 squad. After an impressive rookie season last year, the Cypriot is now leading this year’s championship after following up a victory in the season opener with an unbroken run of points finishes.
He’s had his test reduced to just Wednesday morning after Marussia realised it would be sensible to take advantage of the rule change and give their rookie race drivers some mileage, but credit should go to them for sticking with their commitment of a test for an underfunded driver. They’ve already given him a straightline aero test too.
At the other end of the scale we have Gonzalez. He’s already taken in the young driver tests with Caterham in 2010 and 2011 and with Force India last year. Then, after a GP2 record of three points finishes in 64 races over three seasons, he signed to be Marussia’s reserve driver for this year, and has already taken in Friday practice runs in Bahrain, Barcelona and the Nurburgring.
He might have the backing of PDVSA, but this Venzuelan has none of the talent that Maldonado has. As a disclaimer, he has tended to look a bit better in his F1 tests than in GP2, but that’s not the point. He will do the whole of Thursday and then Friday morning. Max Chilton does Wednesday afternoon, Jules Bianchi Friday afternoon.