Sidepodcast - All for F1 and F1 for all

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Ryan Gault

Ryan is one of those people who follow every sport going, from football to speedway and golf to ice hockey. He has followed Formula 1 for as long as he can remember, which just so happens to be the 2001 US Grand Prix, Mika Häkkinen's last ever win. Since then he has followed the tribulations of the greatest Swiss team since he heard about Grasshoppers Zürich, Sauber. Currently studying Journalism at the University of Huddersfield, while also attempting to write about TV and Eurovision.

Bringing up the kids - Who benefits the most from young driver development programmes?


The discussion of female drivers in Formula 1 is gathering pace ahead of the 5Live special on Monday night, and whilst the likes of Susie Wolff lay claim that they deserve a shot at the big time, others have gone under the radar a bit, including the newest addition to the Red Bull Junior Team. Beitske Visser, 18 year old Dutchwoman, will be racing in the Formula ADAC for 2013, and naturally brings a lot of promise with her.

No less because she has signed up to the Red Bull Junior Team, a programme which has produced three-times World Champion Sebastian Vettel, and fellow Formula 1 drivers Vergne, Ricciardo, Buemi, Alguersuari, Liuzzi, Klien and so on.

Red Bull expect results from Visser
Red Bull expect results from VisserCredit: Red Bull / Tim Luedin

But it’s a brutal programme, if you don’t get the results then you are left in the eternal wilderness. For every Vettel there is an Edoardo Piscopo, Mika Mäki and Adrian Zaugg. Antonio Felix da Costa is tipped to be the next big thing from the programme, he’s even reserve driver for Red Bull in China, but so was Brendan Hartley, who was dumped by Red Bull despite being their reserve driver in 2009 and 2010 because of a poor season in Formula Renault 3.5. Even decent performances by Buemi and Alguersuari at Toro Rosso were not good enough for them to face the axe.

Catchment area

There are alternatives: go to Ferrari’s Italian heavy driver academy (Pérez and Bianchi excluded), go to McLaren and find yourself on an episode of Tooned, go to Lotus and worry if they’ll still be going next year, or Marussia.

In fact, the Marussia Young Driver Programme isn’t a foolish option, especially considering the team come from a long background in junior formulae. Manor Motorsport has been going since 1990, with considerable success under John Booth in Formula Renault, Formula Ford and Formula 3. Although the team has splintered since, they remain competitive in GP3 and AutoGP as Manor MP Motorsport.

Indeed the process is already in motion, Marussia’s link up with Carlin Motorsports in GP2 last season smoothed the path for the well-backed Max Chilton to come through into their Formula 1 team. His teammate at Carlin at the time, Rio Haryanto, would also drive alongside him at the Young Driver's Test in Silverstone, following on from previous test sessions for the team after being the best placed Manor driver in GP3.

It’s a proud history for a very strong and recognisable team in the junior series

For 2013 they have already signed up Anglo-Italian Dino Zamparelli, the first of three drivers for their GP3 squad: “We have been working extremely hard over the winter to achieve the seat and this is a dream come true to be able to get everything off the ground with the help of my Bristol based investors.”

Zamparelli is probably most famous for his lightning reactions during the rain at Spa while racing in Formula 2. And has the opportunity this year to test for Marussia at the Young Driver's Test should he be the quickest in his GP3 team. Although the other two seats have yet to be confirmed, Tio Ellinas and Kiwi Nick Cassidy have so far tested their 2013 challenger, and likely candidates for the remaining seats.

They do follow in a line of successes for the team, from Lewis Hamilton, Kimi Räikkönen and Paul di Resta to British touring car star Jason Plato and a little known man called Christian Horner. It’s a proud history for a very strong and recognisable team in the junior series.

Another prospectus

Caterham are, of course, not a team that likes to be left behind on these sorts of things. The current Caterham Racing team in GP2 will feature their current test driver Ma Qing Hua, as well as Sergio Canamasas.

Last season saw Giedo van der Garde effectively pass his exams with an acceptable showing in GP2 last season for Caterham, while his team mate Rodolfo González has signed for Marussia as their reserve and occasional Friday practice driver. In 2011 they had Luiz Razia on their books, who was set to move on to Marussia before his backers did a runner.

They also support a number of drivers lower down, most notably the 15 year old Malaysian Nabil Jeffri who become the youngest person to ever drive a Formula 1 car during a straight line test in 2010. American Alexander Rossi, who still harbours hopes for Formula 1, Fairuz Fauzy, Davide Valsecchi and Razia have all had opportunities to drive the Lotus/Caterham in a Friday practice session as well.

It’s no guaranteed success that the drivers will eventually end up in Formula 1 either

It’s interesting to see the effect of having a development programme when you are at the back of the grid. It ensures smooth progress, especially those who might be able to offer money to ensure the long term running of the team. It’s no guaranteed success that the drivers will eventually end up in Formula 1 either, you don’t need to think hard on that one. The money, and the opportunities, afforded to the young drivers give them a chance to impress, and do something they might not have been able to do in a structure where it is vital to have the right people financing your way through the sport.

Marussia have benefitted most from their programme, and other programmes as well. Max Chilton has been on their radar for a while and signing him up has allowed for his eventual progression into the Formula 1 car and ultimately all the money that comes with it. The programmes shouldn’t necessarily be considered for talent alone, those at Red Bull and Ferrari are expected to produce results or face the axe, but as long as you have the backers and can get yourself a superlicence (which considering the availability of young driver tests at the end of the season isn’t a hard feat in itself), it’s beneficial for either Marussia or Caterham to tag onto them early.

It doesn’t always work, Caterham might have promoted Van der Garde to Formula 1, but have lost both González and Razia to Marussia, while the Russian team have certainly had their fair share of people tossed aside for whoever can stump up the most cash in a bid to race in Formula 1. One thing is likely, these youth programmes are not there to find your next World Champion.