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F1 Advent Calendar 2012 (Day 22) - Testing splits // The Young Driver Test in 2012 faces a three-way split, to its detriment

Published by Christine Blachford

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This is the F1 Advent Calendar 2012, hello and welcome! We’re heading rapidly towards the end of the season now, but there’s still time for some racing action. Today, though, it’s not about Sunday afternoons, but what comes after. Day 22 - Testing splits.

The Young Driver test can be a key part of new talent finding its way into Formula One, especially with other testing opportunities so few and far between. We’re seeing more and more teams running a third driver during the first session of practice on a Friday, but there’s a limited time available during the race weekend.

We’ve known the Young Driver test previously to be one big event, held in Abu Dhabi, with each team fielding one or two new or returning names to see how they get on. Although called the Young Driver test, it’s not always related to age - the restrictions are on how much experience a driver has, and how long it is since they last participated in any F1 action.

For this year, however, the 2012 season saw three separate tests, one at Silverstone, one at Magny Cours and then the more traditional one at Abu Dhabi. Silverstone was the first, taking place in July, with Williams, Marussia and HRT participating. HRT actually only took part in the first day, leaving it to the other two for the remaining two days. It’s no surprise that of the three, Williams led all three days with their young driver Valtteri Bottas. Bottas was also given opportunities to participate in Friday Practice sessions with the Williams team, and has since been signed for a race seat with them in 2013.

The next three day Young Driver test took place at the French circuit of Magny-Cours, with Ferrari, Force India and Mercedes in action. Jules Bianchi led all three days, the first and third with Ferrari, with a stint in the Force India car on the second day. There’s nothing like going fastest in two different cars to show what you’re made of. Bianchi afterwards said he felt he was ready for a seat in F1, but has, as yet, not been signed up.

The final testing in Abu Dhabi came in early November, and was much more of a hodge-podge of driver entrants. Several teams were rewarding young names for their performances in some of the junior categories, whilst others were looking for future talent. Lotus, McLaren, Sauber, Red Bull, Toro Rosso and Caterham were all in action at the Yas Marina circuit, with McLaren, Red Bull and Lotus leading the three separate days. Gary Paffett was in action for McLaren on occasion, just proving that it isn’t really a Young Driver test at all.

The trouble with the testing being split into three is that it was a lot harder to keep track of. As a fan, I’ve previously enjoyed watching the Young Driver testing results pour in, and learning lots of new names and faces, seeing who has what experience and pondering why some drivers are getting a chance over others. With three separate sessions, different teams turning up to each, and all happening with very little coverage, it was hard to follow.

Regardless of whether I managed to keep up or not, the teams completed their testing in time for the brand new US Grand Prix. Although the drivers were mostly inexperienced during the testing, a few teams still felt like they gathered useful information from the track time.

McLaren in particular were very hopeful heading to the new race in Austin. Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh said: “A team like ours uses the test for a range of technical developments so you will see a very heavily-instrumented car doing lots of aerodynamic runs and lots of configurations. I would be disappointed if we come out of that without arriving in Texas with something that we can put on the car that makes us quicker.”

And, as it turns out, the testing would help McLaren secure victory at the new US race, but that, I think, is a tale for another day.

That’s all for this episode of the F1 Advent Calendar 2012, thank you for joining me today. Three more episodes stand between us and the end of the series, so I hope you’ll join me next time for another mini adventure.

All content in the series F1 Advent Calendar 2012