Young drivers set for F1 running in 2022

Guanyu Zhou driving for Alpine during practice at the Austrian Grand Prix

Changes to Formula 1’s rules look set to open the door for more rookie running on race weekends in 2022.

A proposal has been put forward that would mandate the use of a young driver during selected practice sessions during the season.

It comes as a response to the realisation that the sport’s next generation has precious little opportunity to acclimatise to F1 machinery before making the step formally.

Teams are currently limited to testing contemporary machinery only at official events, or by exploiting ‘filming’ days designed for marketing and promotional purposes.

The development comes at a time when questions over whether F1 needs more teams has reared its head, a notion unpopular with teams owing to the potential financial implications it could have on them.

“We are fully supportive of the sporting regulations which are in place next year, that we have to do mandatory two free practice sessions with young drivers during race weekends,” said McLaren’s Andreas Seidl.

“In addition to the young driver testing we have post-season, because it’s just difficult nowadays to get seating time for these young guys coming out of the junior categories.

“Therefore it’s also our responsibility to provide that seat time and moving forward we would also be supportive in order to provide even more.

“What is good is if it’s mandatory for all teams because then it is fair from the sporting perspective so I like that.”

The key factor for Mercedes boss Toto Wolff is that the drivers involved can’t have grand prix experience, opening opportunities for the likes of Formula E world champion Nyck de Vries.

“We need to give young drivers the opportunity to have a little bit more stress during the race weekend, have a comparison against the other guy in the garage, work with the team, and I very much welcome the regulations for next year,” Wolff said.

Of all teams, Alpine arguably faces the greatest headache when it comes to driver talent, with academy members Oscar Piastri and Guanyu Zhou showing well in Formula 2.

Both have been linked with a move into the available seat at Alfa Romeo Sauber, though comments from Frederic Vasseur over the weekend suggest their odds are lengthening due to their Alpine relationship.

Earlier this season, Zhou took to the wheel of Fernando Alonso’s car during Free Practice 1 for the Austrian Grand Prix, while Piastri has been suggested as a potential reserve driver next season.

“We’ve run Guanyu Zhou, one of our F2 academy drivers, in Austria this year and we are looking at the opportunity to run him again in an FP1 session later this season,” explained Alpine director Marcin Budkowski.

“Obviously we welcome this regulation because we believe it’s the right thing to do, to develop young drivers.

“It depends what we do effectively next year with our young drivers and especially with the reserve driver role,” he added with regards to whether Alpine would give the practice outings to an individual or share it among its academy members.

“Should we put one of our young drivers – academy drivers, if you want – that are currently competing in F2 as a reserve driver, then that’s the best way to actually prepare your reserve driver to step [up], should he have to, if one of your main drivers can’t participate.

“It’s likely to be the same one but it doesn’t have to be.”

Ferrari has a similar issue, such that Callum Ilott has headed to IndyCar for 2022.

The Brit was another linked to Alfa Romeo Sauber, though his move to the American series has put his F1 aspirations on ice.

However, there are a raft of other drivers waiting in the wings, albeit not with the credentials at this stage of Alpine’s juniors.

Marcus Armstrong, Robert Schwartzman, and Arthur Leclerc are members of the Ferrari Driver Academy, the former two campaigning in F2 and the latter, younger brother of Charles Leclerc, in F3.

Of those, Schwartzman is arguably the best placed, sitting third behind Piastri and Zhou in the championship standings.

“We have been investing in the younger generation for many different reasons, for a number of years, so without so many testing opportunities it’s great to see that, as a sport, we have now the window to at least give them these FP1 opportunities,” said Ferrari’s racing director, Laurent Mekies.

“We all know that it’s a very tough ask to a young driver to get into a car in FP1, one hour, and to perform.

“I think giving only one shot and not the two shots to whoever is going to probably be… is not the best way around.”

Historically, Red Bull has had something of a production line of drivers waiting in the wings, though the pressure valve has been released somewhat next season given Alex Albon’s signing with Williams.

Liam Lawson is arguably the best placed, though 21-year-old Juri Vips is a two-time Formula 2 race winner this season.

Behind those two, Red Bull backed the top three Formula 3 Championship place-getters; Dennis Hauger, Jack Doohan, and Jehan Daruvala.

With two teams in F1, the Austrian drinks brand therefore has two seats it would potentially need to fill.

“At Red Bull we do a huge amount to give youth a chance and I think that applies not just to the drivers,” said team principal Christian Horner.

“It’s a good thing, anything that gives young drivers an opportunity to get some time.

“You hope that it’s based on merit rather than finance available, but I think it’s a positive thing to ensure that young drivers are getting a chance.”

It is expected the 2022 sporting regulations, together with its calendar, will be confirmed when the FIA World Motor Sport Council meets later this week.

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