You’ll see them on the pit-wall at the grands prix, at the launch of the new car and occasionally doing a bit of straight-line testing on a damp afternoon at Silverstone. These are Formula One’s test drivers.
The thing is, they don’t really do all that much testing any more. With the testing ban in place they’re now more reserve drivers, offering extra opinions on car set-up, young talents or for marketing opportunities. Some are ex-F1 drivers, some are rookies hoping for their big break. Let’s meet them!
Having lost Pedro de la Rosa to Sauber, McLaren are down to just one tester with Gary Paffett completing an all-British line-up. Quick in the junior formulae, vastly experienced at F1 testing and a champion in Germany’s DTM touring car series in 2005, Paffett is often linked with a race seat – but sadly it’s yet to materialise. He gave the new McLaren its first roll out this year and the team will call upon his advice again, such is their respect for his feedback. He should really be racing in F1 by now, but at nearly 29 the chances seems to have passing by.
Badger Verdict: A talented racer and great development driver unlikely to find himself in a race seat. Shame.
Ferrari have a ludicrous 3 test-drivers on their books, none of whom will take part in any of this winter’s tests. Giancarlo Fisichella is their main reserve and will take over if either of the race-drivers are ruled out. They also have Luca Badoer, one of the best and most respected testers in the business- just don’t expect him to race an F1 car. Finally, Marc Gene, formerly of Minardi and Williams, completes the trio. What if any role he’ll play is unclear. Maybe they’ve just kept him on board so Fernando Alonso has a fellow Spaniard to chat to at Maranello.
Badger Verdict: What they’re all getting paid for we don’t know but then it’s not unlike Ferrari to want far more than they need. Fisi’s an adequate stand-in, Badoer knows his development and Gene… also works as a commentator for Italian TV.
Red Bull and Toro Rosso will share two reserve drivers this season, with Brendon Hartley (below left) and Daniel Ricciardo (right) taking the role alongside a season in the World Series by Renault. Being Red Bull juniors they’re young- both 20 years old and hoping to follow in the footsteps of Sebastien Vettel. Aussie Ricciardo is the 2009 British F3 champion and looks particularly promising. Hartley is oddly feminine looking, but also pretty quick in a racing car.
As Badger revealed a few weeks back Mercedes have signed Nick Heidfeld as their test and reserve driver for 2010. Super-consistent, hugely experienced and smart, Heidfeld is wasted in the role. Yes he’ll come up with some good feedback this year, but he really belongs in a race drive. Probably made the right choice though, what with his only options being Campos and USF1. Should find himself back in F1 next year.
Badger Verdict: He’ll be useful to Merc with his technical feedback and a corporate asset, but ultimately deserves to be back in an F1 seat as soon as possible. Might be hoping Schumacher’s neck isn’t as well healed as first thought.
In recent years Williams has been a great place to be test-driver. Since 2006 Nico Rosberg, Kazuki Nakajima and Nico Hulkenberg have all graduated from the role to a race seat. It’s certainly a job with prospects, and for 2010 they’ve signed Valtteri Bottas. He’s a 20 year old Finn and is competing in the F3 Euroseries this season, where he’ll be aiming to win the title – just as Rosberg and Hulkenberg did, then progress to GP2 and win that – just as Rosberg and Hulkenberg did.. and then get a full-time deal with Williams – just as… well, you know what we’re on about.
Badger Verdict: Could be another good call by the Williams talent scouts but only time will tell if he can follow Rosberg, Nakajima and Hulkenberg in to a race seat with the team.
Keep an eye on Badger because a rundown of the rest of the teams test drivers is coming soon.