After 80 years in the motor sport business and statistically the most successful team in Formula One history, it is no surprise that Ferrari are experts in spotting talent for the future.
The signing of a young Gilles Villeneuve towards the end of the 1977 season showed Ferrari’s prowess for spotting raw talent. Villeneuve had only driven in 3 Grand Prix for McLaren before Ferrari noticed his potential and immediately put him in their car for the last 2 rounds of the 1977 season. He was to stay in this seat until his untimely death at the Belgian Grand Prix of 1982.
Although each team experiments with young and upcoming drivers, Ferrari are the first to offer this scheme along with a spectrum of coaching to aid their selected drivers in preparation for reaching the pinnacle of their sport.
F1 testing rules allow them to give youngsters a run in a two year old F1 car, so for this year the F60 2009 car is being used.
The Ferrari Drivers Academy (FDA) was started in 2009 as an initiative to promote young drivers, with the aim of eventually reaching Formula 1. It was also partly motovated by experience; when Felipe Massa was injured in August 2009 and Michael Schumacher was unable to stand in, the Scuderia realised it needed to have young talent on standby.
Focusing on both driver and personal development, the FDA prepares the academy for every aspect of the sport; from physical preparation to media coverage and racing techniques. The idea initially began after Felipe Massa was loaned to Sauber for 3 years in order to gain race experience before taking a Ferrari race seat in 2006.
After winning the 2009 F3 Euroseries by a comfortable margin, Jules Bianchi became the first official member of the FDA. The Frenchman has impressed in all of his outings in the Ferrari and hopes to be a key figure in Ferrari’s future.
The FDA received further interest when they added a relatively unknown young Italian, Mirko Bortolotti to their ranks. Bortolotti had won the Italian F3 Championship in 2008 and was thrown in at the deep end by testing Ferrari’s 2008 F1 chassis at the teams privately owned Fiorano test circuit. It therefore came as a huge surprise to Ferrari and the F1 fraternity to see Bortolotti break the lap record around the 1.9 mile circuit. Having beaten the times of long-time test driver Luca Badoer, not to mention Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen.
Following this, there has been more drivers added to the system. These additions range from karting to current Formula One drivers, like Sergio Perez.
The 21 year old Sauber driver was added to Ferrari’s prestigious FDA programme in late 2009 after an impressive first season in the GP2 Series, in which he scored a pair of podiums around the streets of Valencia. He didn’t have a chance to drive a Ferrari F1 car at the outset, because he was signed by Sauber soon after joining the FDA programme.
Although it is not Ferrari’s way to give a race seat to a rookie, the FDA is a stepping stone into F1 with another team and from there, perhaps, back to Ferrari again once they have experience.
With many talented youths given the opportunity to drive F1 machinery, the FDA is now well established and ready to produce the next generation of F1 drivers