Over the past two decades, Formula 1 has gradually reduced the level of testing its teams are allowed to conduct during World Championship races.
20 years ago, the 2002 season saw 71 individual test events held in the calendar year – some one-day events for one team at locations such as Paul Ricard and Ferrari’s own test track in Fiorano, others multi-day tests with multiple teams. Now in 2022, only two three-day Tests have been booked – both taking place in the pre-season.
While teams are free to run what the regulations call ‘old cars’ – cars that have not entered this year’s championship – the opportunity for teams to run their current cars is limited to the calendar’s 22 Grands Prix weekends.
However, this year’s F1 sporting regulations feature a new addition. Article 32.4c) obliges teams to field “a driver who has not competed in more than two championship races in their career” at least twice during the season – for each car in the team.
This year the likes of Nick de Vries, Lim Lawson and Jury Vips have been given an early start in opening practice sessions. Alfa Romeo will field Formula 2 runner-up and Sauber junior driver Theo Purcher in opening practice at the US Grand Prix this coming weekend, while IndyCar drivers Alex Palu and Patricio Oward will fill McLaren’s two slots in the final race of the season. But is one hour of practice on a Grand Prix weekend enough for inexperienced drivers?
Former F1 driver Pedro de la Rosa, who retired earlier this week, has joined the Aston Martin team as an ambassador. Also with 104 Grands Prix starts, de la Rosa is one of the greatest test and reserve drivers in Formula 1 history, covering 100,000 kilometers as a test driver alone for the likes of Jordan, Jaguar, McLaren and Ferrari. .
Asked by RaceFans about the new 2022 practice rule on Friday, de la Rosa said it was “very difficult” for inexperienced drivers looking to gain seat time in modern F1 cars.
“I think we all have to agree that it’s very difficult for the younger generation, the younger drivers to get into Formula 1,” De La Rosa said.
“Really the only way is to drop it into the FP1 session, just to increase the pace and, firstly, not to crash and make a good impression on the teams. In general, it is extremely challenging for the new generation, because they are fighting against experienced drivers like Fernando Alonso or Lewis Hamilton and they have to deliver immediately. There is no room for the middle man.
Was the introduction of this new rule beneficial or would teams – and inexperienced drivers – be better off with a different arrangement?
With testing being so expensive, it’s unlikely we’ll see season testing returning to the rules anytime soon – especially as the calendar progresses. Therefore, running inexperienced riders in the first practice sessions without periodic testing is better than no running at all.
Many teams value the opportunity for novice drivers to run in real grand prix conditions where their lap times and performance can be measured against current competition drivers and provide similar comparisons. It’s also a great experience for drivers to gain track time in representative sessions by sharing the circuit with the grid.
With each team forced to replace every driver in the competition at least once during the season, all 20 drivers will miss at least one practice session during the season. Not only does this new rule ensure fairness, but it also means that each team knows they won’t lose track time to their rivals during the season.
Although, according to Pedro de la Rosa, modern novice and reserve drivers will benefit greatly from the simulator’s functionality, there is no substitute for actual track time in an exclusive Formula 1 car.
The new rules may mean that every team must field inexperienced drivers during the season, but how much can an hour’s practice benefit novice drivers – especially if that session is wet or marred by red flags? With six days of testing this season, a lot will be asked of inexperienced drivers as they step into the race seat with minimal cockpit time.
There are loopholes with the rule. As a rookie, Zhou Guanyu’s first practice session in Bahrain technically met his criteria for the season, meaning Alfa Romeo will only have to offer Pourchaire one outing for the rest of the season. Rookie drivers deserve more track time before they are asked to compete in F1.
It is unrealistic to expect Formula 1 to offer more testing opportunities as the budget cap ages. Without that, giving young and inexperienced drivers the opportunity to participate in practice sessions is a cost-effective deal.
Running free practice as mandatory rather than optional means that the top teams don’t have to worry about spoiling their drivers’ track times as they race for victory or even the championship. Teams have the freedom to choose which drivers to replace with a free practice driver, meaning there can be no complaints about them being inconvenienced during the season.
With each team now having its own young driver academy program – or affiliated with one – this rule is a great way for teams to put more drivers to the test and help them decide who they think they want to promote to a place in the competition. in the future. Fixing or removing the rule will only reduce the chance for young drivers to test themselves in current F1 cars in an age where teams have such severe restrictions on how they can drive their current car or their car from a season ago.
Do you agree that the change to the novice driver rule for Friday practice this season is positive?
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