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Why the third driver role at Force India is the right move for Jules Bianchi
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Posted By: James Allen  |  27 Jan 2012   |  4:46 pm GMT  |  36 comments

Today the Sahara Force India team confirmed the story which we first ran during the Brazil GP weekend: that Jules Bianchi will become its third driver.

The 22 year old Frenchman will have the opportunity to drive on at least nine Grand Prix weekends in the Friday morning practice session.

He will join a small but growing number of young drivers getting some regular track time on Fridays, including Williams’ Valtteri Bottas and Lotus’ Jerome D’Ambrosio. Caterham are likely to have someone in that role and Marussia has also made use of the Friday morning opportunity too.

It’s the right move for Bianchi, as there were no opportunities with the current testing restrictions to get seat time at Ferrari, where the Frenchman, a protege of Nicolas Todt, has been reserve driver. With two disappointing campaigns behind him in GP2, and no F1 race seat arising from that, Todt needed to keep his boy’s career moving forward and this answers that need.

Force India have made excellent use of the Friday slot in the last two years, blooding Paul di Resta in 2010 ahead of a race debut in 2011 and assessing Nico Hulkenberg last season, which led to a race seat this year. They have a proven track record at it.

These two stories prove the value of the Friday driver opportunity. After all, going further back, both Robert Kubica and Sebastian Vettel started their F1 careers as Friday drivers.

On the face of it there’s no reason for Force India’s race driver line up to change again for a few years with two hungry, capable drivers. But both could be candidates for a Mercedes seat if Michael Schumacher retires at the end of 2012 and Force India can measure Bianchi against the race drivers, giving them an option. It also makes him more attractive to other F1 teams if they find themselves looking for a “ready to go” driver, as happens sometimes.

“I’m obviously excited to join Sahara Force India and the chance to get track time during race weekends is an important step for me,” said Bianchi. “Being regularly in a current car is the best way to learn quickly and I hope it will put me in a strong position to one day move into a race seat. The next few months will be really exciting as I get to know the team, see how they work, and prepare for my time in the car. I would like to thank everyone for believing in me and especially Sahara Force India for giving me this great opportunity.”

Importantly, Bianchi will remain part of the Ferrari Driver Academy programme, along with Sauber’s Sergio Perez. Meanwhile Ferrari is leaning more heavily on Davide Rigon as a result of Bianchi’s move to Force India.

Davide Rigon (Ferrari)


A message posted on the official Ferrari website today says, “Jules will still be part of the Ferrari Driver Academy, along with Sergio Perez, Raffaele Marciello, Brandon Maisano and Lance Stroll and this latest appointment is a great opportunity to gain more Formula 1 experience and everyone at Scuderia Ferrari wishes him all the best.

“As for Davide Rigon, he has recently extended his relationship with the Scuderia: the driver from Venice will be on call for the team for all racing and promotional activities also for the 2012 and 2013 seasons.”

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36 Comments
  1. franed says:

    Whether Force India is the right move for anyone will depend upon the team’s continued existence.
    The team runs at a large loss and JY has multi billion dollar debts outside of F1.

    His airline passengers almost have to bring their own can of fuel, as his planes have been refused credit several times.

    Sahara is in an unknown position having apparently injected some money ($100m rumoured) in return for extra shares being issued, this obviously reduces VJ’s financial stake in the team, but will not be enough to pay off debts and run the 2012 season, without some extra source of income.
    Best of luck.

  2. goferet says:

    Hmm… Am not sure about this current influx of French drivers into the sport for I feel they are taking away a seat from a more deserving driver.

    I say this because French drivers are an engima, it’s the one country that can produce one superstar in the various categories of motorsport for instance Alain Prost in F1, Sebastian Loeb in WRC and Cyril Despres in the Dakar rally.

    And the strange thing is, the French have that 1 special driver in a million and the rest tend to be journey men for come on, how can Prost be the only French champ in over 60 years of F1 history – Insane!

    So what am trying to say is, if Force India & Ferrari are looking for a future champ, they should look no further than the British Isles.

    1. Martin says:

      Statistically you could say that British drivers are your best bet as they have won more world titles. However, 10 of the 14 came before I was born in 1977. In the post-Cosworth DFV era where there is less of an influence over team, sponsorship dollars have taken priority over patriotism when picking drivers. Both Button and Hamilton benefitted from their nationality – Hamilton would not have had the chance to meet Ron Dennis at the Autosport awards if he was Danish for example.

      Still as far a French drivers go, Francois Cervert was highly regarded as the expected replacement for Jackie Stewart, Didier Pironi was well placed to win 1982 championship – he was 9 points ahead when he broke his legs and finished only five points behind Rosberg while missing the last five races.

      As far as other French drivers in other categories, Sebastien Ogier was good enough for Loeb to engineer his depature to Ford. Didier Auriol won the WRC in 1994. Stephane Peterhansel has won the Dakar 10 ten times between cars and bikes.

      If you consider that at the moment there are three brits in F1. On talent, Hamilton is grouped with Alonso and Vettel. Button usually a bit behind Hamilton in qualifying pace (I for one don’t think Hamilton is a fast a Vettel over one lap across a season). Di Resta was genearlly a bit slower than Sutil in the second half of 2011. If this is the talent pool that the UK can provide now, why limit yourself to one country?

      It might be better to ask questions about the managers of other drivers, if you think that there are better third driver choices for FI than Bianchi.

    2. Craig D says:

      I hope you’re not a politician or lawyer because the way you formulate arguments for an INDIVIDUAL’S ability is astoundingly bent! It’s their talent that matters not where they were born! I’m not suggesting Bianchi will be any good – I’ve no knowledge on the guy – but seriously…

      In fact if he’s from a country with a minority of success in the sport’s history, one could argue the fact he’s made it this far suggests he may have more going for him than those from a country that has a more developed/easier structure to make it into the sport, like Britain.

    3. Roger says:

      “With two disappointing campaigns behind him in GP2, and no F1 race seat arising from that, Todt needed to keep his boy’s career moving forward and this answers that need”

      Says it all really. In pretty evenly matched cars, he demonstrated that he is a very average driver. Not exactly what F1 needs, but let’s use our power to get him in an F1 car, on Nationalist grounds…

      The Dakar is a joke, did you see the utterly despicable behaviour of both French “winners” .. it is not an International Motorsports Competition, it is just an exhibition of ugly French Nationalism.

    4. jeffrey says:

      Why would a french driver be more of an enigma than any other young driver?? Germany did not have a formula 1 world champion for 44 years, now he (schumi) is the most successful driver in f1, with now a handful of german drivers in F1, and a new star in Seb Vettel… There are a lot of factors playing a role, like the strength of local racing series, sponsorship opportunities, economy. Nationality is not the most important thing for multinational companies like RedBull investing in the careers of young drivers either.

    5. Brent McMaster says:

      The British Isles don’t fair very well when looking at the number of their drivers that have raced F1 vs the number of championships they have won. The stats say your better off looking in New Zealand or Argentina.

  3. Rob Newman says:

    I am not sure why Ferrari selected him in the first place. He is not the next Schumacher or Vettel. Not sure what he is going to achieve in F1.

    RIP Roberto Mieres!

  4. [MISTER] says:

    I am so glad to see these midfield teams giving these young and talented drivers a chance behind the wheel. I wish more teams..all the teams would do that.
    There should be a rule enforcing all the teams to give their 3rd driver track time.
    Good luck to Bianchi.

    1. thomas says:

      “giving these young and talented drivers a chance”

      As if there is no money involved!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    2. Werewolf says:

      I quite agree and was going to post the same, until I read yours!

      It can’t be difficult ro bring in a rule requiring all teams (or at least the top 8) to give third drivers, say, 50% of the season’s Fridays. Ultimately, everybody would benefit.

      1. fduct says:

        Why punish the top teams for being successful. They invest in up and coming drivers already, at least Ferrari and Red Bull and should have friday for race set up just like the other teams. Nobody is forcing Force India and Lotus to do this, they have their reasons like money and know how transfer from Merc, Ferrari, McLaren.

  5. Fnordsrus says:

    Wouldn’t it be good if all the teams could run their reserve drivers for the half of the Friday session. Perhaps it should be made a rule.

  6. USARalph says:

    This is all well and good, but the real story is will Force India actually be on the grid this season? Given the financial problems of Mallya’s empire, and the fact that no one really knows where Sahara’s money is coming from, I wouldn’t get comfortable if I was any of their drivers.

  7. Nil says:

    With Bianchi being a part of FIF1 and the FDA, what are the restrictions on knowledge transfer between Ferrari and FI?

    1. Ian Hamilton says:

      I’d guess there would be no transfer of info from force india to ferrari or vice-versa, as force india currently have technical partnership with McLaren & Mercedes engine

  8. Sebee says:

    I almost feel like they should have a third session on Fridays just for third drivers.
    There is certainly time in the daily schedule. Teams could even run two cars if they have two reserves.

    How much could it cost? Everything is already there. Also – it wouldn’t compromise ability of regular drivers to get most seat time to prep for the weekend.

    1. Martin says:

      Nice idea.

      The main cost would be engines and gearboxes. Otherwise at well known tracks such as Barcelona, or anywhere where it isn’t going to rain, the teams would want to save wear on the equipment, so a separate pile of engines and gearboxes would be required.

      The teams might want to be allowed to bring an extra chassis so that the issue of a third driver writing off a tub are removed.

      By running a separate session before P1, the third drivers would provided a track cleaning service too.

      Cheers,

      Martin

    2. Simon Donald says:

      Didn’t this happen a few years ago?

  9. VanDhloms says:

    This is brilliant, I think the FIA should consider making it compulsory for teams to run X number of practice sessions with reserve drivers. That will result in great talent being exposed early enough and there’ll be wide choice for the teams to choose from, importantly it will keep regular drivers on their toes to perform less they’re out performed by a reserve driver.

  10. Tornillo Amarillo says:

    A question James, could Bianchi learnt about Mercedes engine and KERS in his new team and give information to Ferrari being part of the Ferrari Driver Academy?

    How the rules prevent that?

    After all in Force India are the same engine and KERS used by McLaren, his archrival, so temptation is there…

    1. James Allen says:

      Possibly, but as the engines are development frozen, it’s not such a big drama. The KERS info could be useful though.

    2. Martin says:

      The same thing would be to employ Sutil as a driver. I don’t think there are any rules against information that is in a person’s head. There is the term “gardening leave” that you sometimes come across when a designer moves from one team to another. Basically the designer is prevented from going to work for say six months so that current information isn’t transferred. Document transfers, as occurred in 2007 are not allowed.

      Cheers,

      Martin

    3. Gillo says:

      What about the other way around?

  11. Paul says:

    Were his last two seasons in GP2 really disappointing? I suppose the argument is that you would have expected him to win the title; even though he didn’t you cannot deny that he showed strong pace. His 2011 season was compromised by a few brain fade races at the start of the year but he was very consistent for the rest of the season.

    I suppose a Sauber seat might beckon next year, then we’ll see what he can really do.

    Is there any truth James in the rumour than he’s doing FR 3.5 this year?

    1. Jon W says:

      Isn’t the more pertinent question in all this, given his “two disappointing campaigns behind him in GP2″, why is he still part of the Ferarri Driver Academy. With all the talent out there, is Bianchi really deserving?

      I suspect that had he been part of the Red Bull family, he’d have been sent packing by now, much the same way as Brendon Hartley was.

      1. James Allen says:

        Interesting observation

      2. Jon W says:

        Then again, Charles Pic has a race seat so what do I know! His record is much worse than that of Bianchi, having never won a championship in cars and only having 10 race wins in the last 6 years. At least Bianchi had a good F2 Euroseries in 2008 before winning the same series in ’09.

      3. Jon W says:

        Just to follow this up after the Jerez test, the question of Bianchi’s talent has to come up again doesn’t it? I know it sounds like I’m on a mission to discredit him (which of course isn’t true), but to go off after two laps on cold tyres doesn’t seem to suggest he’s passed too many classes in the Ferrari Driver Academy. How much real test experience in F1 does he have James?

  12. Bullish says:

    James,
    On the subject of giving young drivers opportunity, why is there no second tier races/class that precedes each F1 race?

  13. Adrian Newey Jnr says:

    James – in the past we have seen a pattern at FI that a driver does a year as reserve driver, then gets a promotion to main driver. Could this be a strategy for Bianchi to become a main driver for FI next year? He could replace Di Resti if he heads to Mercedes.

    1. James Allen says:

      If he impresses them maybe, as I say it gives FI an option

  14. Chris says:

    James, not to up-to speed (no pun intended) on the younger drivers in the feeder series, if you were a team boss and decided to run a third driver in practice sessions, who would you choose?

    1. James Allen says:

      Jamie Calado, maybe not right away but soon. He looks really promising

  15. sidhartha says:

    Vj aallya dosnt only own kingfisher airline, but is also the chairman of UB groups and whyte and mckay, which are.both making profits upto 3ice their value per year. Kingfisher airlines are facing a tough time, but thats a temporary issue. SAHARA, is a really big company in India, and they also sponser Indian national cricket.and hockey team, and are really a big enough group to buyout mallyas share if they needed to, but VJ isn’t wanting to Selp it. So there isnt any problem of money with.the.team.

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