Today saw the start of the first and only F1 test of the winter – the three day young drivers’ test at Jerez. Under new rules, this is the only time F1 cars will run before February.
Rather patronisingly described by Toro Rosso as “Kindergarten week” in its press statement this evening the test is a chance for the next generation of F1 stars to showcase their talents.
And with nine empty spaces on the grid for next year, according to yesterday’s FIA entry list, there is a chance for someone to catch the eye, as Kamui Kobayashi did in the final two Grands Prix. Incidentally his name is now being linked to a possible move to Renault with Panasonic sponsorship.
There are some exciting drivers in action this week, for me the most exciting is Jules Bianchi, the 20 year old Frenchman who won this year’s F3 Euroseries. He is managed by Nicolas Todt, who looks after Felipe Massa and he will drive for two days in the Ferrari. He has a fantastic reputation according to insiders I have spoken to. With Ferrari getting itself in a pickle this summer after Massa got injured in Hungary, team boss Stefano Domenicali said that the team would now be putting a young driver programme in place and Bianchi is expected to get that opportunity.
“I am really proud to have made my Formula 1 debut at the wheel of a Ferrari, for the greatest team in the world, ” said Bianchi this evening. “At the start, I was being careful not to make any mistakes, then once I felt confident, I pushed harder. The team spirit here is incredible and I hope I have made a positive impression on them and I want to do even better tomorrow.”
Also testing for Ferrari, squeezed into the final day only are the top three finishers from the Italian F3 series, Daniel Zampieri, Marco Zipoli and the Mexican Pablo Sanchez.
There are some British hopefuls out this week too, Gary Paffett, who has been McLaren test driver and surely deserves a chance from one of the new teams, if they don’t require a sponsored driver. Mike Conway gets an outing with Brawn/Mercedes and Paul di Resta, who beat Sebastian Vettel in F3, was second fastest today for Force India. Oliver Turvey also got a run in the McLaren.
Topping the time sheets today was Andy Soucek, whose drive with Williams was a prize for winning the FIA Formula 2 series, for which Williams builds the chassis.
Marcus Ericsson is another driver many in F1 are keeping an eye on, he is running with Mercedes this week, while Alex Rossi and JR Hildebrand bring an American presence to F1. There is also the Chinese driver Ho Pin Tung in the Renault and a new Aussie, Daniele Ricciardo in the Red Bull.
One driver close to getting a race seat next year with Virgin is Lucas di Grassi. He is having a run with Renault. The only driver out this week whose race seat is confirmed is Williams’ Nico Hulkenberg.
Brendon Hartley and Mirko Bortolotti will be hopeful that their performance for Toro Rosso might open some doors, as Jaime Alguersuari has yet to be confirmed. Hartley went off this morning.
1. Soucek Williams 1m19.158s 87 Laps
2. Di Resta Force India 1m19.369s 46
3. Paffett McLaren 1m19.426s 54
4. Ricciardo Red Bull 1m19.534s 112
5. Bianchi Ferrari 1m19.626s 90
6. Conway Brawn 1m19.920s 58
7. Rossi Sauber 1m20.227s 82
8. Ericsson Brawn 1m20.333s 49
9. Baguette Renault 1m20.511s 105
10. Hildebrand Force India 1m20.537s 49
11. Turvey McLaren 1m20.856s 27
11. Hartley Toro Rosso 1m21.325s 69