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Abu Dhabi Young Driver Test is a farce, teams testing parts not drivers

By Berthold Bouman

The annual Formula One Young Driver Test is more and more becoming a farce as smaller teams use the programme as a means to generate revenues, while other teams test parts instead of drivers. McLaren Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh said in Abu Dhabi, “With the limitation on track testing, all teams play a different game. A lot of the small teams use young driver testing for revenue and a team like ours uses it largely for a range of technical developments.”

Giedo van der Garde, Caterham

And he added without shame, “I’d be disappointed if we come out of that without arriving in Texas with something we can put on the car or some better understanding that makes us quicker.” Which of course means McLaren is also testing parts and not young promising drivers, and ‘tested’ 30-year old Gary Paffett again, the Briton has been involved in McLaren’s Young Driver Test for the fifth consecutive year.

Teams couldn’t even agree on the date of this year’s Young Driver Test, as HRT, Williams and Marussia already had their Young Driver Test after the British Grand Prix at the Silverstone circuit in July, while Mercedes, Ferrari and Force India had their test days at Magny Cours in September, and the remaining teams opted for Abu Dhabi.

In July Whitmarsh said, “Sadly in Formula One, while we all know it is important to develop young drivers, every team has different motivations. The original concept was that at the end of the season, we should do a Young Driver Test and we felt we should try to stick to that original concept.”

Marussia’s Graeme Lowdon said in Silverstone testing at Abu Dhabi would have been too demanding for his personnel. “We have no problem at all with Yas, the facilities are excellent, all the teams love going there, the circuit is great and the timing is good in that it is near the end of the season, but there is no way we could schedule staff and component turnaround to work on what is basically a five-week continuous stint. For it to be held then, meant it didn’t work for our logistics,” said Lowden.

William’s Mark Gillan had another excuse why his team wanted to test at Silverstone. “When we have a young driver with the talent, professionalism and promise of Valtteri Bottas, an in-season Young Driver Test makes a lot more sense for us rather than at the end of the season,” he said. “We run him on a Friday already and any further exposure we can give him to the car can only help us — and him as well — so it works better.”

Finnish driver Bottas has shown time after time he is faster than both current Williams drivers Bruno Senna and Pastor Maldonado, and one might wonder what the point of Williams’ young driver programme is if they once again ‘hire’ paying drivers Maldonado and Senna, and not the very talented Bottas, who doesn’t have big sponsors to back him.

Antonio Felix da Costa, Red Bull Racing

But that is the way it works these days, was the comment of Liuz Razia yesterday, after he finished testing for Toro Rosso. “You have to have money backing you at the start of your career; obviously when you achieve success in Formula One probably you can get that back, but I’m quite comfortable with that. I’m pleased with my results and I think that I will be here because of a combination of the package,” he said to ESPN.

Last year Dani Clos, Fabio Leimer and Stefano Coletti admitted they had to pay for their Young Driver Test, since then only Clos has been in the HRT car during the first free practice session on Friday morning several times this season and is a serious candidate for a race seat, but others even haven’t accumulated enough mileage to get the FIA super-license they need to participate in an official Grand Prix event.

Yesterday Dutchman Giedo van der Garde tested aerodynamic parts, as he was driving around with a so-called transition vortex rake mounted on the Caterham to check the airflow of the front wing. Antonio Felix da Costa was doing the same for Red Bull, while other Dutchman Robin Frijns was testing a new rear wing for Sauber.

Of course, testing parts is not within the spirits of the Young Driver Test, nor is paying for a test-drive, perhaps the FIA should tighten the regulations and prohibit testing of new parts altogether, so the Young Driver Test becomes the Young Driver Test again.


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