He might have completed hundreds of pre-season laps of the Jerez circuit during his career, but Felipe Massa’s early morning first drive out of the garage at the wheel of Williams’s FW36 was nevertheless special, marking the start of the former Ferrari driver’s adventure with a new team after eight seasons at Maranello.
If he was nervous it didn’t show as the vastly experienced Brazilian gradually built up pace through the morning. Fourth fastest at the lunch break, he rose to second by the close of play, looking as comfortable in blue as he ever did in red.
While Massa has been around the block enough times to dismiss any first lap nerves in a new car, for others making their way out on track this morning it was a different story. A few moments after Massa left the Williams pit, Robin Frijns guided his Caterham out on track. It was the Dutchman’s first F1 outing since impressive runs for Sauber and Red Bull Racing at the 2012 Young Drivers’ Test earned him a test role with the Swiss team.
His tenure at Sauber was short, however and the time since has been spent attempting to remain in the F1 spotlight. Caterham offered a lifeline with a reserve driver role and this morning’s run, albeit far from smooth, delighted the 2012 Formula Renault 3.5 champion.
“Even though we had limited running today it’s still good to be back in an F1 car, especially with a team where I already feel like part of the family,” he said. “Since we made the announcement last week everyone’s been really good with me, integrating me into the whole setup at the factory and here in Spain much more than I’ve been with my previous teams, so it’s a good feeling.
Frijns of course lost out on a race seat at Leafield to Marcus Ericsson, and the Swede was equally enthusiastic about his first outing. “It was a great feeling to drive my first lap as a Caterham F1 driver,” he grinned. “Its great to finally be able to achieve it but this doesn’t stop here. I need to keep pushing because when you get to where I am now, you need to push even harder to make sure you stay for many years. If I don’t push, I will be out of here as quick as I came into Formula One. It’s a great moment for me but I need to work day and night to develop as a driver.”
Ericsson is confident too that 2014 will be kind to F1’s new recruits. “I think 2014 is a good year to be a rookie because everyone, even the most experienced guys, will need to start from scratch,” he said.
McLaren rookie Kevin Magnussen demonstrated that this afternoon. The Dane topped the timesheet after completing his first 52 laps as an F1 race driver. It wasn’t as comfortable as it looked for the newcomer, however.
“I had butterflies in my stomach last night and I struggled to sleep,” he admitted. “I’m a rookie, I’m excited! Its a massive opportunity for me and today was big for me, its my first test as a race driver. I’m happy with today, I’ve learned a lot.
“I wouldn’t say it’s an advantage to be a rookie,” he added. “But it’s not as big a disadvantage as it would’ve been in other years, and that’s good. I think it’s the right season to come in as a rookie because the car is so different, but I still have a lot to learn.”
Ericsson agrees: “This is a perfect opportunity for us rookies and a very interesting time in Formula One because of the regulation changes; the whole paddock has a big challenge a team, both teams and drivers.”
“It’s difficult to say what a good rookie year would be for me, as we don’t really know where the car is yet. Obviously, we are hoping that the team can move up the grid and fight with bigger teams, but before we know where the car is, it’s difficult to set any goals. I have the perfect team-mate – a guy with as much experience as Kamui will be a great help and a perfect benchmark for me. I will try and learn as much as I can from him, compete and try to beat him. And for that I need to keep pushing and improving.”
Daniel Juncadella, Force India’s new reserve driver, also sees his role as an opportunity to grow as a driver: “It’s a brilliant chance for me. Of course I hope to be a race driver one day, but right now, my reserve driver role allows me to be part of an F1 team, see how they work and learn from this experience. I will also have many opportunities to drive the car on Friday sessions as well as on the simulator, which is just what I need.”
Ericsson, Magnussen, Kvyat, Frijns, Juncadella… Only five of the many young drivers out there fighting for one same dream: a career in Formula One and to continue coming back testing in Jerez just as Massa today, preparing for yet another season at top level.
Posted by Tabatha Valls Halling in Jerez