For all racing drivers starting out in racing the ultimate dream is to reach Formula 1. This dream for many drivers is turning into the impossible dream with the direction F1 has taken in the last decade. The cost saving measure of severely limiting testing, has made it almost impossible now for many young drivers to gain any experience of an F1 car outside of a race weekend. A perfect example of this is the imminent announcement of Lotus, that Heikki Kovalainen will replace Kimi Raikkonen for the final two races of the 2013 season.
On the surface this appears to be a fairly innocuous appointment in the grand scheme of F1 because it’s only for two races. Yet this could have a major effect on the future of F1, and all because of a driver Lotus already has under contract. Enter into the fray young Italian Davide Valsecchi. He’s a very quick driver who after a close fought battle claimed the 2012 GP2 title and despite 2012 being his fifth year in the category he was hopeful of stepping up to Formula One in 2013. Despite already having some experience in F1 as a reserve driver for the now Caterham team in 2011 to match his GP2 title he found offers in F1 hard to come by, and eventually took a reserve driver deal with Lotus for 2013. With little running during the year it appeared his chance had come when Raikkonen announced his decision to undergo back surgery and therefore miss the final two races.
On the other hand the team had different ideas and it appears instead offered the drive to half the F1 paddock as they sounded out Nico Hulkneberg and even Michael Schumacher before giving the drive to Heikki Kovalainen. This is a perfect example of the increasing struggle of many young drivers hoping to reach F1 as many teams are sticking with proven, experienced drivers rather than taking a chance on a young prospect. Indeed the only way to get into F1 for a young driver in the current climate appears to be waving millions of pounds worth of sponsorship at teams with rookies Esteban Gutierrez, Max Chilton and Geido Van Der Garde taking the route into F1 for 2013. All of these drivers incidentally, finished behind Valsecchi in GP2 in 2012. On the other hand, there are some teams on the grid willing to give young drivers a chance with Force India exemplifying this the most with the third driver/free practice role they have given to Paul Di Resta in 2010, Nico Hulkenberg in 2011, Jules Bianchi in 2012 and now James Calado in 2013.
All of these drivers save from Calado have progressed to race drives with Williams also nurturing Valterri Bottas with free practice drives throughout the 2012 season to prepare him for a race drive in 2013. Indeed, free practices at F1 weekend are turning into extended test sessions for many teams looking to try out a new young charger they hope will be a future world champion.
Finally in reflection, this week has shown both sides of the young driver coin as despite the fact most of the headlines have been made by Davide Valsecchi being overlooked by Lotus in favour of Heikki Kovalained, it has also emerged this week that McLaren appear poised to give one of their young drivers in Kevin Magnussen a race drive with the team in 2014 replacing Sergio Perez therefore showing that for many drivers the choice of team in any F1 role can make or break your career. Nothing near there then.