The best funded and most prominent young driver programme in F1 is the Red Bull Junior programme, which brings drivers through from the junior categories to F1 with Toro Rosso. If they shine there they may get a chance in the Red Bull team, if a space arises.
This is the pathway which has so far produced Sebastian Vettel and now Daniel Ricciardo.
In Singapore Franz Tost, the team principal of Toro Rosso, spelled out what exactly he and Helmut Marko, the mentor of the Young Driver Programme are looking for and it’s quite interesting so merits some attention.
Here is what Tost said in the FIA press conference on Friday,
“Generally speaking he has to be skilled; he has to have talent.
“For example, currently the Red Bull drivers, all the drivers from the Red Bull driver pool, have won a championship when they were racing in a lower class. Vettel, for example, in BMW junior. Daniel Ricciardo as well as [Daniil] Kvyat and [Carlos] Sainz won in the Renault 2.0 litre championship. Jean-Eric Vergne won the English championship as far as I know, with the highest number of victories. That means this is a good basis where they showed their talent. This is the first point.
“The second point: they must be patient.
“That means if a driver is coming to Toro Rosso he has to live Formula One 365 days a year. There should be nothing around that disturbs him and he has to be 100% concentrated on this job.
“The next important point is discipline. Discipline does not only mean he arrives in time for the meetings, discipline means also that he, for example, in qualifying does not overdrive the car; that he respects the schedule for his physical training; that he respects all the important facts of nutrition and that he respects what the engineers tell him.
“The next important point is innovation. He should think first how he can beat, at first his team-mate and for second all the other competitors. That he must think in advance; that he must be well prepared.
“All these factors together decide together whether a driver becomes successful and wins races and championships or not, and we are looking for this.”
This is all highly relevant at the moment because there is a vacancy at Toro Rosso for next year, replacing Ricciardo. Who is on the short list?
Antonio Felix da Costa (above right) was the favourite in the days after Ricciardo’s promotion was announced but paddock voices seem to have cooled on him in recent weeks, although he has picked up his results in World Series 3.5.
There is a big push for Carlo Sainz Jr, 19 (above left), to get the seat; his rally champion father knows which buttons to press to get things to happen and Toro Rossa has Spanish oil company Cepsa as a sponsor but he doesn’t look ready. Da Costa is the most prepared; Red Bull like to take drivers out of World Series and he is competing there at the moment, but he is being outperformed by McLaren proteges Stoffel Vandorme and Kevin Magnussen.
It is interesting that Tost mentioned the Russian driver Kvyat, as he is one who seems to be highly rated within the driver fraternity itself. He’s emerged as the leading force in GP3 as the season has gone on. But he too is not ready for F1.
It will be interesting to see what Tost, Marko and the rest decide to do, but at least we now have a clearer picture of the criterion by which they judge.