The Abu Dhabi young driver test gives us a chance to see some of the young talent of the moment in action. Bear in mind that Ferrari, Mercedes and Force India ran their allotted test at Magny Cours earlier in the year: there, Julien Bianchi took the wheel of the Ferrari and also ran for Force India, with Davide Rigon also getting a go in the red car. Brendan Hartley had a day in the Force India, and Rodolfo Gonzalez ran for Mercedes. Luiz Razia also had a day in the Force India.
Sam Bird also had track time in the Mercedes. At Silverstone in the summer three teams – Williams, HRT and Marussia – opted to run their chosen young drivers. Valterri Bottas was quickest for Williams, Max Chilton had some time in the Marussia, and Rio Haryanto also took the wheel for Marussia. Ma Qing Ha was the only other runner, handling the HRT for one day.
Abu Dhabi Line-up
The line up for the Abu Dhabi test is, bar Bottas, a more representative picture of possible future F1 drivers; it is unlikely that Haryanto or Qing Ha will make serious waves, after all. This is the planned list of names:
McLaren – Gary Paffett, Oliver Turvey, Kevin Magnussen
Red Bull – Antonio Felix di Costa, Robin Frijns
Caterham – Giedo van der Garde, Alexander Rossi
Toro Rosso – Luiz Razia, Johnny Cecotto Jnr
Lotus – Nicolas Prost, Eduardo Mortara, Davide Valsecchi
Sauber – Esteban Gutierrez, Robin Frijns
Of the above a few names stand out, some for different reasons. We’ve already talked about Frijns, who is most certainly a future star, and Felix di Costa also seems to be highly rated. Those are the two – along with Bottas – who you are likely to see in F1 in the not too distant future. Luiz Razia is an interesting name; the Brazilian has his supporters and has previous experience of F1 machinery with Virgin. That Toro Rosso should choose him is curious as he is not a Red Bull academy driver. Notably, he ran at the Magny Cours test for Force India, so this will be his second outing this season.
Giedo van der Garde is one of those drivers who has been hovering on the edges of F1 for some time. He is said to have considerable backing, but having been in the GP2 series since 2008 – his form has been reasonable if not spectacular – he is leaving things very late. HRT, Marussia and Caterham may be interested. Nicolas Prost, son of the great Alain, is another who is running out of time. The Frenchman is 31 years old now and, quite honestly, is not considered F1 material.
Davide Valsecchi may be on safer ground: the Italian won the GP2 series this year and could yet be picked up by someone. Johnny Cecotto Jnr, son of the former F1 driver and motorcycle champion of the same name, has not set the world alight but many consider him better than his results suggest. At 23, he still has time.
Familiar and Fresh
Over at McLaren and we have familiar faces Oliver Turvey and Gary Paffett – the former of whom is young and quick, but maybe not top notch material, and the latter whom appears to have missed the boat – joined by an interesting young talent, Kevin Magnussen. Just 20 years of age, Magnussen is the son of former F1 driver Jan Magnussen, a man whose career was a curious mix of blinding speed and supreme talent plus an apparent lack of interest when he hit the big time. Young Kevin’s performances so far have been good enough to make people take note, if not spectacularly impressive. This test could be an eye-opener.
With Esteban Guttierez strongly rumoured to have sealed a deal to race for Sauber next year there is a good chance he will be the next of the above to graduate to F1, along with Valterri Bottas at Williams. He will need to do well, as Sauber is also said to have signed Robin Frijns to a long-term deal. Felix di Costa and Valsecchi clearly have the talent necessary to make the breakthrough, and Razia may also be there or thereabouts. Of the rest, if they have money, they may get a chance. Let’s wait and see.