Daniel Ricciardo, the Red Bull reserve driver, set the fastest time on the first day of the Young Guns test at Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi.
It has to be observed that the comparison of times with last weekend is slightly misleading as the track has ramped up significantly since qualifying with all the rubber that has gone down. Nevertheless it is impressive speed from the former British F3 champion, who finished runner up in the Formula Renault 3.5 series this year.
Ricciardo was also very fast in last season’s young guns test. You get the sense that Red Bull consider him to be the next big thing. I asked around in the paddock last weekend about his prospects and it seems that there is a plan afoot for him to run a Red Bull backed entry in GP2 next season. But at the same time, this two day test in Abu Dhabi will serve as a reminder to his bosses that he has the potential to move straight to F1 next season.
The Red Bull owned Toro Rosso team has already confirmed that Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari will drive for them next season, but there has been some pressure on Buemi in the second half of the season after being outperformed by Alguersuari. A strong run by Ricciardo this week will heighten that pressure.
Also likely to be staking his claim for a 2011 race seat is Paul di Resta, the Force India reserve driver, who hopes to replace Tonio Liuzzi.
Red Bull also backs Frenchman Jean Eric Vergne, who is running this week for Toro Rosso and who is also considered to be a hot prospect.
Ferrari are running Jules Bianchi, who is managed by Nicolas Todt, Felipe Massa’s manager. Bianchi has the car to himself for these two days, not sharing it with any of the other drivers in Ferrari’s Young Driver programme. Ferrari announced that Bianchi was the “test driver” last week, rather than the reserve driver, which is the role Giancarlo Fisichella has carried out. There seems to be some vagueness about where on stops and the other starts and what Fisichella’s future role might be. Bianchi will be at all the European F1 rounds next year as he continues his quest to win the GP2 series with Todt’s ART outfit. After that he will be looking for a way into an F1 seat.
Pastor Maldonado had a run in the HRT, covering 108 laps, the most of any driver today. This is an interesting link up giving him a lot of extra time in an F1 car ahead of his likely F1 debut next season with Williams. HRT boss Colin Kolles is close to Williams boss Adam Parr, who yesterday let Nico Hulkenberg go, paving the way for Maldonado, who is also due to test for Williams this week, to take the seat. Today he did a 1m43.750s, which compares well with Bruno Senna’s qualifying time on Saturday of 1m 45.085s, even allowing for track improvement.
It’s interesting to look at this next generation having their chance to run in F1 cars. With Sebastian Vettel becoming the youngest ever F1 champion at 23, it shows that the age barrier is coming down all the time. In the last five years that record has been broken three times, first by Fernando Alonso then by Lewis Hamilton. We must be getting close to the limit of how young you can be to win the title, but Vettel is proof that young driver programmes get results. Running this week are some other youngsters who are keen to prove that further.
1. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1m39.616s
2. Oliver Turvey McLaren 1m40.725s
3. Antonio Felix da Costa Force India 1m41.381s
4. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1m41.432s
5. Dean Stoneman Williams 1m41.522s
6. Mikhail Aleshin Renault 1m42.073s
7. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m42.489s
8. Paul di Resta Force India 1m42.736s
9. Sam Bird Mercedes 1m42.985s
10. Jerome D’Ambrosio Virgin 1m43.518s
11. Pastor Maldonado HRT 1m43.750s
12. Jules Bianchi Ferrari 1m43.894s
13. Rodolfo Gonzalez Lotus 1m44.924s
14. Rio Haryanto Virgin 1m49.439s