F1 rook­ies wai­ting in the wings

George Herald - Auto Dealer - - News -

The Eu­ro­pe­an ci­r­cuit ra­cing sce­ne has al­ways pro­vi­ded a va­ried and pro­li­fic num­ber of cham­pi­ons­hips and ci­r­cuits for as­pi­rant young dri­vers.

An ef­fecti­ve "ta­lent spot­ting" sy­stem en­su­res the ma­jor te­ams and ma­nu­fac­tu­rers ha­ve a depth of ta­lent to be nur­tu­red.

Most of the cur­rent ma­nu­fac­tu­rers in F1 ha­ve o­pe­ra­ted young dri­ver pro­gram­mes for ma­ny y­e­ars with gre­at success. Four-ti­me wor­ld cham­pi­on Le­wis Ha­mil­ton is an ex­am­ple of the ef­fecti­ve­ness of such pro­gram­mes, af­ter ma­ny y­e­ars un­der the gui­dan­ce of the M­cLa­ren or­ga­ni­sa­ti­on. Ma­ny of the te­ams ha­ve si­mi­lar pro­gram­mes, which me­ans ex­cep­ti­o­nal young dri­vers ha­ve the op­por­tu­ni­ty of re­a­li­sing the dre­am of be­co­ming part of an F1 te­am.

Re­cent re­gu­la­ti­on and ru­le chan­ges ha­ve li­mi­ted the a­mount of tes­ting and this ad­ver­se­ly af­fects the pos­si­bi­li­ty of gi­ving mo­re track ti­me to the as­pi­rant gra­du­a­tes to ho­ne their skills in a F1 car. Si­mu­la­tors are a pro­ven met­hod but ti­me on track is al­ways the re­al p­roof.

Cur­rent­ly the s­port has ma­ny young dri­vers wai­ting in the wings for one of the li­mi­ted se­ats a­vai­la­ble next se­a­son.

Lan­do Nor­ris is a na­me in the spot­lig­ht. The 18-y­e­ar-old En­g­lish­man is a pro­duct of the M­cLa­ren young dri­ver pro­gram­me with an en­vi­a­ble track re­cord, ha­ving won se­ver­al cham­pi­ons­hips in the last three y­e­ars and cur­rent­ly com­pe­ting in For­mu­la 2. Nor­ris will de­but as te­am-ma­te to Car­los Sai­nz Jnr for the M­cLa­ren F1 te­am in 2019.

Fer­ra­ri has pro­mo­ted this y­e­ar's F1 rook­ie, C­har­les Le­clerc, to part­ner Se­bas­ti­an Vet­tel in 2019 - re­pla­cing Ki­mi Raik­ko­nen who ta­kes the young F­ren­ch­man's pla­ce at Sau­ber Al­fa Ro­meo.

Rumours are that the Finn's part­ner will be a­not­her Fer­ra­ri protégé, An­to­nio Gi­o­vi­naz­zi, w­ho­se li­mi­ted F1 ca­reer com­pri­sed sub­sti­tu­ting for Pas­cal Wehr­lein for two ra­ces at Sau­ber last y­e­ar.

Mer­ce­des-Benz con­ti­nues to pro­du­ce a num­ber of ex­cep­ti­o­nal young dri­vers - Pas­cal Wehr­lein, Este­ban O­con and Ge­or­ge Rus­sell. The 20-y­e­ar old En­g­lish­man is tip­ped to re­pla­ce Lan­ce S­troll at Wil­li­ams if the Ca­na­di­an should mo­ve to Ra­cing Point For­ce In­dia next y­e­ar.

I ap­plaud the ma­nu­fac­tu­rers' in­vol­vement but am con­cer­ned by dif­fi­cul­ties fa­cing se­ver­al ex­tre­me­ly ta­len­ted dri­vers w­ho­se fu­tu­re is not as ro­sy as it first ap­pea­red.

With Nor­ris going to M­cLa­ren, cur­rent te­am­ma­te, S­tof­fel Van­door­ne, is for­ced to le­a­ve at the end of the se­a­son.

The 26-y­e­ar-old was a gra­du­a­te of the M­cLa­ren pro­gram­me with mul­ti­ple cham­pi­ons­hip vic­to­ries un­der his belt, in­clu­ding the 2015 GP2 cham­pi­ons­hip. One has to sym­pa­thi­se with the Bel­gi­an. He has not pro­vi­ded gre­at re­sults, but neither Van­door­ne nor Fer­nan­do Alon­so e­ver had a car to al­low them to de­mon­stra­te their a­bi­li­ties. So he now finds him­self wit­hout a se­at for 2019 and Nor­ris will fa­ce a re­al chal­len­ge in an un­com­pe­ti­ti­ve car.

It is al­so dif­fi­cult for the Mer­ce­des young dri­vers. Wehr­lein will le­a­ve the te­am at the end of this se­a­son, despi­te F1 ex­pe­rien­ce with both Ma­nor and Sau­ber. He took the tit­le in the 2015 DTM se­ries be­fo­re his mo­ve to o­pen w­heelers and has spent this y­e­ar back in the tou­ring car wor­ld. With his Mer­ce­des link in pla­ce, Wehr­lein was drop­ped from the Sau­ber te­am af­ter their de­ci­si­on to f­or­ge a clo­ser al­li­an­ce with Fer­ra­ri.

O­con is a­not­her young dri­ver who finds him­self in a dif­fi­cult si­tu­a­ti­on, with no gua­ran­tee of being in F1 next se­a­son. With his se­at at Ra­cing Point For­ce In­dia a­bout to be fil­led by S­troll, w­ho­se fat­her he­ads the con­sor­ti­um that boug­ht out the te­am, it does not bo­de well for the young F­ren­ch­man.

Despi­te the be­st ef­forts of him­self and Mer­ce­des te­am boss To­to Wolff, it ap­pears that being a gra­du­a­te of a ma­nu­fac­tu­rer's pro­gram­me can be dis­ad­van­ta­ge­ous.

It would ap­pear that O­con's ob­vi­ous ties to Mer­ce­des has be­co­me a pro­blem to op­po­si­ti­on te­ams wor­rying a­bout the pos­si­ble trans­fer of in­for­ma­ti­on to his men­tors.

So we ha­ve one M­cLa­ren and two Mer­ce­des young dri­vers look­ing for em­ploy­ment, with the har­dest one to accept O­con. This is the dri­ver that has accru­ed ma­ny points for For­ce In­dia o­ver two se­a­sons. Wolff has tip­ped O­con to be a fu­tu­re cham­pi­on and has con­fir­med that he will not be re­le­a­sing him from the pro­gram­me. Ho­we­ver, he did ex­press the pos­si­bi­li­ty of O­con being on the si­de­li­ne for 2019.

So we ha­ve dri­ver de­ve­lop­ment pro­gram­mes de­sig­ned to bring new b­lood in­to the s­port. Ve­ry ad­mi­ra­ble.

But with on­ly ten te­ams at pre­sent and a to­tal lack of new en­trants for 2021 and beyond, the num­ber of se­ats are ex­tre­me­ly li­mi­ted.

Per­haps Wolff's pro­po­sal of a thi­rd car to be dri­ven on­ly by the­se new dri­vers does ha­ve so­me me­rit.

John Floyd - Ci­ti­zen Mo­to­ring

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