Pierre Gasly

Waiting In The Wings

Photo: Red Bull Racing

At certain points in time there will always be those who are trying to go out with one last hurrah; to prove that they can really make the difference they’ve always claimed, while there are some who are very hungry to prove their worth; to show that they are the next generation of champions that will drive the road to glory.

In recent years the manufacturers & recently the privateer teams have followed the Red Bull & McLaren archetype of a modern young drivers programme. Sebastian Vettel & Lewis Hamilton are the cornerstones of proof at how this philosophy has worked.

Hamilton was backed by McLaren for much of his youth after they saw the potential had even as a younger teenager, this added with Lewis telling Ron Dennis that he wanted to drive for him one day. Vettel was also found at a young age by the Red Bull junior programme and this was long before they bought out Jaguar at the end of 2004.

In 2016 Mercedes, Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren and Renault have the most notable young driver programmes, while  Williams and Force India have signed drivers from other series to be reserve and development drivers for themselves. 

The Scuderia Toro Rosso team is part of Red Bull’s modern junior programme with former Formula One driver Dr Helmut Marko at the helm, he has a major say in who goes where within the Red Bull programme, this is something that no other team has adopted thus far, this is despite numerous talk that Haas F1 is a now a junior team for Ferrari and Manor Racing likewise for Mercedes. 

Teams have also been known to utilise their reserve or development drivers in other racing series to keep them race sharp which makes perfect sense, this is coupled with bringing them in the garage as well as meetings and briefings over the course of a Formula One weekend to help their understanding of the teams operations. 

What does this mean for those younger drivers?

With the extended life of some drivers in modern Formula One, it’s become an increasing common occurance that some drivers will stay beyond 10 or even 15 years in the sport, this is creating a back log of younger drivers that are being groomed and prepared for their Formula One journey.

Stoffel Vandoorne is the prime example of this back log, a McLaren junior driver that has had plenty of success in junior formula including his domination of the 2015 GP2 championship; which he nearly scored more than double the points of runner up Alexander Rossi.

With Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button still occupying seats at the team, it has left Vandoorne waiting in the wings for a seat to open up, to put it into perspective Alonso and Button have a combined total of nearly 600 grand prix starts between them, this is also arguably the most the experienced line up in the history of the sport.

With Kimi Raikkonen being kept on at Ferrari for yet another year into 2017, Alonso, Button and possibly Felipe Massa still being kept on in their respective teams, it means that those younger drivers are not being given the shots that perhaps they feel they deserve.

Some drivers like Pascal Wehrlein, Esteban Guttierez, and now most recently Esteban Ocon have been given a chance on the grid through their parent teams by way of a relationship to the other teams. Werhlein and Ocon being Mercedes junior drivers being the prime example has helped them secure seats at Manor through the power unit deal they have with Mercedes.

Can the situation be resolved?

Of course it can, but it relies on the teams top brass being bold enough to take the decision to take them on. It feels as if teams have pinned themselves into a comfort zone where they feel they must trust the drivers with years of experience in an attempt to garner as much information to move forward.

This practice while it may work is now proving to be a hinderance to the numerous amount of junior drivers eager to make their mark, many have fallen by the wayside over the years because of this and with now a bottle neck clearly forming behind the scenes, the time has come for a new generation of youth to prove they have what it takes at the highest level.