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The significance of the Young Guns test
Posted By: James Allen  |  15 Nov 2011   |  11:43 am GMT  |  52 comments

Today and for the next three days the F1 teams will test at Abu Dhabi in what has become the traditional “Young Guns” test.

The idea behind it originally was to evaluate young up and coming drivers, who haven’t taken part in Grands Prix, giving them a chance to drive a real F1 car, rather than a simulator.

But as ever in F1 some teams have taken it differently. McLaren for example are using the three days to do some serious evaluation work on 2012 technology with 30 year old Gary Paffett leading the way, although Day 1 they ran Oliver Turvey as well.

Paffett has been a McLaren test driver for many years, never raced, and has few opportunities these days to drive an actual car. His work will give McLaren very good data from three days of testing new parts and Pirelli 2012 tyre prototypes.

"You don't look a day over 29, Gary.."

Other teams are giving drivers in their talent pool a chance. Red Bull Racing, for example, have used dan Ricciardo at this test for the last two years and are giving Jean Eric Vergne a go this week. He has plenty of backing from Dr Marko, who runs Red Bull’s driver programme and will be using this opportunity to try to show Marko and his backers that he has what it takes to be given an F1 chance next year.

Ricciardo is next in line to get a promotion to a race seat at Toro Rosso, but you never know what Marko is thinking. He might jump him with Vergne, so this week Ricciardo will be watching nervously.

Vergne: Chance of a lifetime

Meanwhile at Ferrari this is a very important week for test driver Jules Bianchi on a number of fronts. He has had a less than stellar two seasons in F1 and hasn’t looked like he’s ready to move into F1. At the last Young Guns test he wasn’t given the chance to show his outright speed – unlike Ricciardo who made his name on his lap times. I’m told by French colleagues that this week he will be able to do some new tyre low fuel runs.

But before then he has to do some serious work to help Ferrari get its 2012 concept right. Ferrari boss Stefano Domenicali spelled out at the weekend that with the ban on blown diffusers next season and the move back to conventional exhausts and rear end aerodynamics, the front wing becomes ever more crucial to the car.

Hence all the work Ferrari has done in the last couple of races with its famous flexi wing. “It’s better to have problems now, than to find them out in February,” says the Ferrari team boss, who has to deliver at least multiple wins and a championship challenge next season.

In Abu Dhabi this week, Bianchi has to do a programme of work to, says Domenicali, which will also focus a lot on the new 2012 tyres from Pirelli “The idea is on the one hand to give Bianchi some important experience and on the other hand obviously, to test the new tyres from Pirelli.”

As to the experimental Pirellis in use this week, motorsport boss Paul Hembery says, “The 2012 tyres have a squarer profile, designed to distribute wear more evenly across the footprint, while the softer compounds have been adjusted to reduce the risk of blistering.

“This new range of tyres is designed to bring the relative performance of the compounds closer together, thereby making strategy even more important next year. The new tyres are also designed to increase performance, making the 2012 tyres some of the most extreme that Pirelli has ever produced.”

Speaking to team strategists and engineers at the weekend, they want tyre choices that are 0.8 seconds per lap apart in performance. Any less than that and the strategy will be predictable and much more, as it is at the moment, and the harder tyre becomes one to avoid.

Pirelli would like to be even more central to the racing next year and that’s what this week’s tyres are a staging post towards.

Elsewhere Robert Wickens will get a chance in the Renault as well as the Virgin car. Charles Pic, rumoured in French circles to have already signed a race deal to replace Jerome D’Ambrosio for next year, will also be out in the Virgin car.

F2 winner Mirko Bortolotti and GP3 star Valtteri Bottas will have a run with Williams, Kevin Ceccon is out in the Toro Rosso.

1. Jean-Eric Vergne Red Bull 1:40.011 83 laps
2. Jules Bianchi Ferrari 1:40.960 85
3. Robert Wickens Lotus Renault 1:42.217 78
4. Fabio Leimer Sauber 1:42.331 67
5. Gary Paffett McLaren 1:42.912 41
6. Max Chilton Force India 1:43.016 81
7. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:43.118 71
8. Oliver Turvey McLaren 1:43.502 35
9. Sam Bird Mercedes 1:43.548 53
10. Rodolfo Gonzalez Team Lotus 1:44.022 87
11. Stefano Coletti Toro Rosso 1:45.278 87
12. Dani Clos HRT 1:45.329 68
13. Charles Pic Marussia Virgin 1:46.930 30
14. Adrian Quaife Hobbs Marussia Virgin 1:47.292 32

The JA on F1 2011 limited edition collectors’ review of the year “Vettel steals the show” is now ready to pre-order. A large format 240 page paperback, it comes out on December 12th, costs £9-99 plus postage and can be sent anywhere in the world. All copies bought through this site are personally signed by James Allen.

To order your copy, click HERE

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Sorry that something went wrong, repeat again!

I believe there is a provision for running a test in current machinery if you plan to come back after the Massa/Badoer fiasco.

I think in the case your allowed to ask for a 2 day test.


James, really awesome posts and analysis! Speaking of the tests, I was browsing through pictures of it on the F1 official site and saw all the funny looking sensors used to collect data. I’ve been wondering what each one does, what other equipment they have to gather certain data. I thought it might be great if there would be a post about that some time. Just a thought!


Shouldn’t the young guns test be used only to test the young guns as opposed to test new parts? I don’t get this. If anything, they should give the drivers an unchanged car used this year or even a 2010 or older spec car… Why is this test not included in the non-test agreement?


The test was introduced to give young drivers some time to familiarise themselves with the car so we don’t get a situation like Alguersari in 2009 when he hadn’t even driven the TR before. Also it was so the teams could check out the tires of the future so they don’t go designing their future cars blindfolded.

The test isn’t to see how good the drivers are, that’s why they have junior formula.


I think that with only one race left, it is quite reasonable to be testing for 2012. Why wouldn’t the teams test both a driver and car? After all, they want to test the driver’s ability to give useful feedback, as well as his speed (which for many candidates is pretty similar).

I strongly believe that any additional tests next year (eg before the European season and/or during the summer) should also be for young drivers only. It would be good for the Gutierrezs, Ricciardos, Vergnes and Bottases of the world to get in-season running.

Having said that, I’d happily grant Kubica such a test (perhaps the rule should be ‘not raced in F1 since the beginning of the previous season’, or similar).


I agree, for the young guns test make them run the same spec car as they raced… simple.

That being said, they need more testing in general.


if the performance of the tires is being brought closer together, that will surely make the racing duller… as will making them more even-wearing and less likely to blister… this is a really regressive step in terms of racing excitement.


F-1 tests are cool!

I fondly remember those years (with in season tests allowed) carefully following every test, reading published test reports, comparing times, photos of cars…

So I am eagerly looking forward to this test – it’s just like old times, but with new drivers =)


This sounds like a crucial test for the teams for 2012 development and as such I’m suprised others aren’t following mclaren’s lead by using a reserve driver.

James, do you think the lack of in season testing has hurt some drivers more than other (in terms of refining technique etc) – I’m thinking Hamilton, Massa etc? I wonder if Bolt would still be the fastest sprinter in the world if he were denied the opportunity to train?


It’s also a just reward for Garry Paffet to have a go in the proper car after dovetailing his DTM duties with sim work at the MTC and flying around everywhere to be on Standby in case LH breaks a nail or JB falls of his bike. 😉


If Robert Kubica’s rehabilitation was at a more advanced stage it would be logical to assume that he would make an appearance at this test. No evidence of Kubica in an F1 car at this point is a significant indication of his current physical condition.

Time will tell if Kubica will return in 2012. I hope someone has been documenting Robert’s story: the many stages of surgical proceedures, the hours of physiotherapy and the phsycological impact.

For the Formula One ‘Young Guns’, Robert Kubica’s absence offers an opportunity and stark reminder of how quickly things can change.


Kubica can’t participate in this test, as much as we would all like him to, because the drivers can’t have started more than two Grand Prix before.


Its sad to say but I doubt Kubica will be back in F1.. He will probably race again but not in F1 or Rally!


Kubica would not be eligible for the young driver test as drives must not have raced in more than a set number of F1 races, which Kubica far exceeds.


I’m sure Bernie would have made an exception – just for the PR coverage it would generate.

No other team would object for fear of looking petty.

I’m with the original poster – no Kubica testing to date makes a 2012 return unlikely IMO.


Gamal Liranzo Tavarez

Hi James

I am from the caribbean and I read your blog on a regular basic, I love this blog. Also I have one question about your new book, is the book going to be available on amazon.com? I already own The Edge of Greatness, a masterpiece and would love to buy this new one.


Yes, but it won’t be signed. Signed ones only available here. Thanks for your support


“Elsewhere Robert Wickens will get a chance in the Renault as well as the Virgin car. Charles Pic, rumoured in French circles to have already signed a race deal to replace Jerome D’Ambrosio for next year, will also be out in the Virgin car.”

James, I find it very odd that Virgin would sign Pic over Wickens; I’m told that Wickens has backing from Marussia. Looking at his results, I don’t think there is much that Wickens will learn from another year in the junior leagues. Of all the drivers running at the Young Driver Tests, I think Wickens is perhaps the most-ready for Formula 1. On the other hand, Pic had a mid-season collapse in GP2 and then blew it right at the death. Pic has money, but it comes from a company connected to Renault, and Virgin run Cosworth (because I believe Marussia road cars use Cosworths). On paper, all of the evidence suggests that Robert Wickens is the best person for the team: he has money from one of their backers, he has much stronger results, and he has an existing relationship with the team. Or is there just some larger part to this puzzle that I’m missing? Like another team (say, Renault) buying Wickens from Marussia, or a disintfatuated Timo Glock looking for greener pastures?


Alonso was able to show his talent at Minardi and his time there hardly squandered his potential, so I don’t think a season or two in a backmarker car would hurt Wickens.

Red Bull dropped Wickens from their young driver program, even though he was getting good results. Presumably Red Bull had a reason for doing so.


Not one word of copy written by Autosport about Wickens in its coverage of the driver test. Why?


Or I should say, no interview with him, as there are with other drivers.


As a Canadian I’m quite biased but I think it’s also true that Wickens looks the most ready out of this crop.

Which begs my question: Why do North American drivers struggle so much for F1 acceptance? One gets the impression if Wickens were from Europe, had a more European-sounding surname, that he’d be signed for next year’s seat at Marussia. Hope he’s in the crop of people being considered for Renault next year but highly doubt it. Wish he could jump into a free seat at a team like Catherham (cough, cough, Jarno) and show his worth.


Lets be fair, Canadian drivers don’t struggle for acceptance if they’re any good! Years ago there was this father/son double act. Villeneuve I believe they were called, pretty awesome reputation preceeds both of them!

The rest of them only have about 30 race starts between them and one of them I seem to recall has the dubious honor of being the only F1 driver ever to be disqualified from a race for being too slow. Can’t remember his name, it was something like Eric Peace. My F1 trivia gland fails me currently.


Yeah, good points. I guess I should have refined my point. I met Wickens once and it struck me how tough he’s had it to get into such a Euro-centric sport that declares itself global. North American racers have to make huge, huge sacrifices (like living overseas most of their young-adult lives) to get to the top, and if they do, something about that says they’re better in some way than a lot of the European contemporaries, simply because they’ve got grit and determination.

F1 needs Wickens. It’s that simple. We need a North American in the world’s premier motorsports competition. There IS a culture of motorsports on this continent. Without a North American in F1 it’s sort of like the “World Series” of baseball. Worldly in name alone.


Perhaps, tim, Marussia are playing the long game with Wickens. Rather than bringing him into the sport when he is ready for it, they may be bringing him into the sport when the sport is ready for him. Wickens has had success in virtually every category he has raced in, but right now, Virgin are in turgid times. The MVR-02 isn’t particularly great, and the entire team has had an overhaul of their design philosophy since they separated from Nick Wirth and Wirth Research. Perhaps Marussia do not want to put Wickens in the car until they are confident that the car is every bit as good as Wickens is. To do so otherwise might squander his potential.


Well I only said French colleagues believe that to be true. I’m waiting to see


That’s true, you did indeed say that. I’ve seen this story elsewhere on the internet, and most of it seems to have come from a certain other F1 blogger, and everyone has believed it. I saw a story on Autosport this morning where Pic himself is downplaying it, saying he has his “fingers crossed” that he will be racing next year. So I’m reading that as meaning that even he is a little unsure about whether it will happen.


One of the French papers was saying it on Friday in Abu Dhabi.


I have mixed feelings about what McLaren are doing. At one level it shows a pure desire to win by maximising the benefit from testing. Would they have run “young” Pedro if he hadn’t raced? On the other side, it would be good to have more drivers getting a chance at racing and it seems unlikely that Paffett will ever race in F1.

It feels like fewer drivers get a go than used to be the case. Experience with the cars is seen as too important since there is no testing available. As fans we would like to think that Rubens and Jarno are in F1 for their pace, not that they can develop the car better and make their teammates faster – which is the suspicion – and part of the reason Nick was dropped.




If it was Red Bull who were doing this, the British press would by crying foul until they were blue in the face.

It’s pretty disgraceful thing for any team to do. It completely undermines the whole concept of a Young Drivers Test. I guess McLaren are just that desperate to be good that they’ll break the ‘spirit’ of the sport.


Nonesense, all press like to kick up a storm, ite sells newspapers you know.

Mclaren have had their fair share of beatings in the press over the years.


Correction, the team was not found in possesion of anything. Mike Coughlan was found in possesion of the Ferrari documents but Mclaren were punished under article 151c for bringing the sport into disrepute. This charge was brought against Mclaren because it happened when Coughlan was one of their employees. The document was in the private possesion of Coughlan, it was never found at MTC, not one page. It was discovered by a repro guy at the local photocopying shop when Coughlan stupidly asked his wife to go and photocopy it. It was never found at Mclaren because Stepney and Coughlan were hatching a plan to defect to Honda together and thought the Ferrari data would come in handy. Both Coughlan and Stepney had meetings with Nick Fry at Brackley before the scandal got out. Mclaren were punished simply because Coughlan’s misdeed happened on their watch and because Bernie and Max wanted to give Ron Dennis a good kicking for being a thorn in their side over the running of the sport. Read Ecclestones biography for his own admission of this and get up to date.


I don’t believe either team gets a rough time from the press. I think it depends on the nationality of the drivers.

If Button and Hamilton were team-mates at Red Bull, do you think the British press would be crying foul?

The only team that has always got a rough deal from the press is Ferrari, there seems to be some inherent mistrust of the team.

Even in 2007 when Mclaren were found to have 780 pages of confidential Ferrari data and designs, the British press defended the team to a fault.

I don’t know what the Italians wrote about Mclaren, I don’t know how the Germans write about the other nationalities, but from a UK perspective, we defend our own.

I followed Senna from F3 and the British press weren’t always the kindest in their dealings with him either.


However McLaren did let one person completely untested in F1 have a race seat, Lewis Hamilton and that seems to have worked for them.


Well.. that was when testing was unlimited. Lewis was the most prepared rookie to ever enter F1. With the ban on testing, I dont think any rookie will be able to do as well as he did in his first season.


Bear in mind that Lewis spent the winter of 2006 testing before his debut in 2007. There was no limits back then


Thanks for answering on my behalf. I went looking and Hamilton first tested in F1 in 2004. When Montoya went, I found it interesting that they delayed Hamilton’s career by those races.

You could make arguments about confidence and being brilliantly prepared for your first race and a career getting off on the right foot. Or, the thinking could have been around helping Alonso not feel so much like the new boy in the team… Ron Dennis had some interesting driver management ideas. Ron has suggested that he thinks Whitmarsh is more successful at it. He could be right.




Interesting that this session should double up as a 2012 testing ground and young driver assessment although McLaren’s use of Gary Paffett is hardly plausible in the latter sense. Still I don’t blame them at all as next season gives them an opportunity be properly competitive against Red Bull from the start with blown diffusers gone in their entirety. Ferrari of course are trying to replicate Red Bull’s flexible front wing, and I suspect they are close as the keen eyed will have noticed the Red Bull wing doing similar if slightly less evident oscillations at Abu Dhabi. What Red Bull’s competitors need to do is to improve their aero efficiency to a corresponding level whilst maximising down force with minimum of drag as this is what makes the Red Bull car so supremely agile, and why Sebastion Vettel is able to extract such sublime performance from it because it’s capability is so elastic. – It will not be easy if Adrian Newey has anything to do with it. Young driver assessments are always useful, but I suspect are always secondary to car development. I note conflicting messages about the Pirelli 2012 tyres as certainly the experimental soft tyre tested in free practice at Abu Dhabi was more durable but slower than its 2011 counterpart which makes sense to me.

Not sure what Pirelli mean when they say 2012 tyres will be higher performing as performance can be read as faster or more durable, but it’s a trade off between the two as we all know. Personally I hope they are significantly more durable and hence more latitude to gain ground.


Sadly, at least 1 team is using the test as a fund raising event, rather than giving a chance to a promising young driver.

A reality of modern F1, but not a good one.


Go on do tell?


I’d guess Renault or, maybe, HRT since they have limited sponsors. Both seem to be running several drivers which will surely seriously limit any actual testing.


Renault is running Wickens because he won the Formula Renault championship.


I thought we were going to see lower-profile tyres next year, not just ‘squarer’ tyres. Has this been moved back to 2013, or was the idea abandoned altogether?


Good point. What happened to them? I thought tyre companies didn’t like F1 because the tyres had no relevance to other automotive formats. I guess the costs for redesigning the cars to accommodate was too prohibitive.


I think the low profile tyres were ditched because the engineers didn’t want to cope with the design approach change. It would have been very costly as suspension philosophy would have to change dramatically which also has a knock on effect on the chassis concept. Larger rims needed to run low profile tyres would make todays cars undriveable due to the intense vibrations. Most of the suspension travel on a current F1 car is in the tyres side wall and to lose that would mean that chassis would have to be designed with more compliance and the suspension would have to have more scope for travel/bump/damp/rebound etc which ultimately means bigger, heavier components and engineers don’t like that.


This was my understanding as well: F1 tyre technology is non-transferable to road tyres or even other sporting tyres… I thought that this unique nature of the tyres is what kept other tyre companies from investing in F1.

This time last year, there was a powerplay between the FIA-favored Michelin and the teams’-favored Pirelli, and the future nature of the tires was a clinching factor…

Obviously I missed something!!


In the last few months there has clearly been a massive effort to hype French drivers and get them into F1 by whatever means possible.

How much are they offering Renault engined Teams for a seat ? How can a publicly traded company spend it’s money on Nationalistic posturing, why would the shareholders tolerate it ?

It is unlikely to lead to anything, you need a Team Owner to play along and help “your man” along at the expense of his teammate and the main practitioner of this is now banned from F1.


Why would shareholders tolerate it…

Some would and some wouldn’t… You know what you’re getting into if you buy shares in Renault.

There’s very little stopping you from selling up if you don’t like how Renault behaves.


James, there are some drivers who are paying for a run during this test. Is there any chance of them getting into F1 in terms of bringing sponsorship money?


Afraid so. But that’s always been the case with F1 tests, so I’ve not made a big deal of it.

Remember Schumacher only got his Jordan chance in 1991 thanks to a cheque from Mercedes….


wasnt it peter sauber


Nup. Mercedes had Schumacher and were doing sports car stuff with Sauber (1989 and 1990 with the Sauber C9). Schumacher enters F1 with the condition that if Mercedes-Benz entered F1 then he would have to move to them.

Sauber entered backed by Mercedes-Benz but by that stage Schumacher had gone to Bennetton where Flavio was inc harge and with Bryne doing the cars, Schumacher didn’t want to ditch the racing winning team for Sauber. Peter Sauber decided that an unhappy driver isn’t worth it and left him. Schumacher then went on to win 2 WDC’s with Bennetton while Mercedes ditched Sauber by the end of 94 and Suaber was then powered by Ford in starting 95.

Sauber although has been more closely associated with Ferrari and BMW in recent times. Around the turn of the century as Schumacher had gone to Ferrari again with Bryne doing the cars the Saubers were called along to hold up Hakkinen as backmarker cars in atleast one race. An Irony given that Schumacher had the relationship with Sauber because of Mercedes and they were doing his bidding anyway ehre. Hakkinen won the WDC anyway.

Sauber was later invested in by BMW until they got bored.

Peter Sauber has a penciant for picking great up and comming drivers. Raikkonen, Massa, Heidfeld (2nd year) and Kubica have all in recent years come from Sauber.

He has also picked Perez and Kobayashi currently, the former is quite like one of the best, if not the best rookie this year and they both could go on to better things.

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