In part two of our look at the F1 reserves of 2011 (see part one here) we’re checking out the third men at Ferrari, Mercedes, Sauber and Toro Rosso. Watch out for mentions of Spanish reality TV, sombreros-cuckoo clocks hybrids and blindfolded mountain biking.
Having finally pensioned off Luca Badoer Ferrari have given youth a chance in 2011, promoting 21-year-old Frenchman Jules Bianchi to the role of reserve driver. That said they do still have the vastly experienced Giancarlo Fisichella on their books and have also kept Marc Gene around so as to give Fernando someone to chat about Spanish reality TV to during quiet moments in the garages. Seriously.
Back to Bianchi, he’s likely to be well and truly in the fight for this season’s GP2 title and, given a bit of help from Ferrari, could find himself an F1 drive in 2012. But life is tough for young drivers, as his manager Nicholas Todt pointed out a few months ago. “I’m very worried,” the son of FIA President Jean said in an interview, “because drivers used to work their way up to F1 on merit, even only a few years ago. Due to the worldwide economic crisis and the difficulties that lower-budget teams are consequently facing, even the most worthy young drivers are having to really fight to get onto the grand prix grid.”
It’s funny, because Todt Jr. just happens to count Pastor Maldonado among his other clients. How much sponsorship is Pastor taking to Williams again, Nic?
With the most successful (and now second most experienced) driver in the history of the sport peddling one of their cars Mercedes can be forgiven for not hiring a test driver, especially now the returning Michael Schumacher has found his feet – if not his pace – following a three-year break from F1. Last year they took Nick Heidfeld on board, a shrewd move given Quick Nick’s experience and development skills, and the man from Monchengladbach recently revealed that he’d have returned to the role this season had Renault not come knocking after Robert Kubica’s rally accident. As it is he’s set to race a car that looks set to easily have the legs on the Mercedes – swings and roundabouts, aye?
With no candidate of great experience on the market Merc’s best move might be to take a young driver under their wing. They’ve a number knocking about, including DTM racers Jamie Green and Bruno Spengler, but the man who they actually gave mileage to at last year’s young driver test was GP2 front-runner Sam Bird. He’d be a solid choice, with Mercedes clearly trusting his abilities and not requiring an experienced hand with Michael and Nico in the race seats. The relationship would benefit Sam more than the team, but we’re all for that.
What do you get if you mix Swiss with Mexican? Chocolate flavoured tequila? Sombreros with cuckoo clocks in them? The ultimate whipping boy for Top Gear presenters to rabidly denigrate?
Actually you get Swiss F1 team Sauber, who in addition to their Mexican rookie race driver Sergio Perez and several sponsors from the Central American nation also have Esteban Gutierrez (a Mexican) as their reserve. Esteban won last year’s GP3 championship at a cantor, employing the ingenious technique of qualifying at the front and scampering off to victory whilst his over-eager young rivals crashed in to each other.
So he’s quick, no doubt about that, and in 2011 steps up to GP2 with ART Grand Prix, the series most successful team. Chances are it’ll be a two-year program following which he’ll plan to graduate to F1 with Sauber. By that time there’s a chance that Peter Sauber will have sold his eponymous outfit on to Mexican backers; they’ve made no secret of their long-term aim of a Mexican-owned super-team with Gutierrez and current Perez pairing up. Viva!
Toro Rosso’s third driver situation is perhaps the most interesting thing about the team this season. The man who’s been handed the role, Daniel Ricciardo, is extremely highly-rated by the Red Bull top brass and despite never racing an F1 car seems to have replaced messrs Buemi and Alguersuari as the team’s ‘next big thing’.
This year Ricciardo will contest free practice one at every grand prix, alternately replacing the race drivers, whilst also competing in Formula Renault 3.5 for Czech squad ISR. However the plan, we’re almost entirely certain, is not for Daniel to race there all season – the plan is to boot either Buemi or Alguersuari out at around two-thirds distance and give Ricciardo the vacated seat, allowing him full preparation for a proper crack in 2012. It’s the same method by which Sebastian Vettel got his seat with the team.
Of course he’ll need to impress in practice, but with the lack of pressure he’ll face compared to the race drivers this shouldn’t be too tough for a talented kid like Ricciardo. The only problem would be if both Buemi and Alguersuari had stellar campaigns, something that the apparent pace of the new Toro Rosso may allow. In this case Mark Webber might well receive a shiny new mountain bike from Dr. Helmut Marko with a note attached to it reading ‘ride me blindfolded.’