The F1 teams generally downplay the lap times at the Young Driver tests – partly because they don’t want to reveal too much about the spec of the cars they’re running and partly because they don’t want to be too hard on the driver who happens to be slower. The typical F1 team report reads “ Although so-and-so is very young, and drove the car for the first time on a proper race track, he gave us mature and useful feedback and we completed everything on the proramme”, etc, etc.
It’s a shame, of course, that the three days of Young Driver tests were not televised because there were some very talented guys having their first look at F1; and, as well, we saw several teams trying 2012-spec exhaust layouts and Pirelli running some new, squarer-shouldered tyres (and some new compounds). I mention the TV element only because the test was bound by the usual TV rights restrictions…and yet not even the rights holders bothered to film it. That, in my opinion, is a big opportunity lost. A 30-minute highlight package at the end of each day’s running would have reached a big audience – particularly with the lack of testing these days.
Conclusions? I’ve put together the adjoining results list so that we can make some sense of what took place. Bear in mind that the cars were probably in different specs on all three days and that there were both “long runs” and “short runs” and plenty of different tyres from which to choose.
Nonetheless, Jean-Eric Vergne’s 1min 38.917sec lap on Thursday is a quick lap by any standards – a time that would have put him fifth on the grid only four days before, ahead of both Ferraris and only fractionally slower than Mark Webber (1min 38.858sec.). Red Bull’s Head of Race Engineering, Ian Morgan, commented dryly: “This was the hottest day so far, with track temperatures around 55deg C” (the track would have been slower than in qualifying, in other words). “And it was a frustrating day because we had a run of niggling problems in the afternoon that prevented us getting through the tyre programme. Jean-Eric didn’t put a foot wrong throughout the test and he was able to put in a lap time whenever we needed it…”
That’s very impressive, I’d say – so it will be very interesting to see what Red Bull do with “JEV” from here on in. He’ll be in the Toro Rosso again for FP1 in Brazil – but his stock would have risen considerably since that last, disappointing WSR race in Barcelona.
Sam Bird also looked good in the Mercedes, lapping within half a second of Jules Bianchi’s Ferrari – or about 50 per cent closer than Michael Schumacher got to Felipe Massa in Abu Dhabi qualifying. Sam was also very near Michael’s Q1 time, which I think also says quite a lot. (I’ve selected comparative times based on what the Young Drivers would have been looking at, given the variables of the three day test and the different weather conditions.)
Other points of note:
- Oliver Turvey was a little quicker than Gary Paffett in the McLaren but VMM as a team didn’t seem interested in going for a quick time; not too much should be read into that comparison, therefore.
- Max Chilton, the young Englishman, did an excellent job for Sahara Force India, despite driving for two days only (the first and last days); and so did Johnny Cecotto Jnr in his single day with the car.
- Fabio Leimer, winner of the GP2 Feature race on Saturday in Abu Dhabi, was very near Esteban Gutierrez, despite having only one day in the Sauber (Day One).
- Rob Wickens showed his precocious talent by jumping into the Renault and going very quickly out of the box on Day One; and Kevin Korjas was impressive, too, in his only day in the Renault (Day Two).
- AT&T Williams had a dreadful Saturday in Abu Dhabi, but both Valtteri Bottas and 2011 FIA F2 Champion, Mirko Bortolotti, gave the team a new face in the three days of testing. Excellent job by both drivers.
- Kevin Ceccon (pronounced “Check-on”) completed three Grand Prix distances for STR – and looked very solid, too. (I’m tempted to say “given his age of 18-and-a-bit” but we’ll let it ride…). Stefano Coletti, who returned to GP2 over the weekend, was about a second away, although I suspect he’s still not yet 100 per cent fit after his big accident in the wet at Spa.
- Luiz Razia (the Brazilian who qualified fourth and finished second in the AD GP2 Feature race) shone at Team Lotus, although you have to give credit to Rodolfo Gonzalez, another Venezuelan, who tested for TL last year but has had a difficult GP2 season.
- HRT will be pleased that they had two drivers ahead of the quickest Marussia Virgin time (which was set by Rob Wickens on the third day) – and Dani Clos, the talented Spaniard, was very impressive on Day One for HRT. Nat Berthon, who is less experienced, was not slow on Day Three, either.
Abu Dhabi Young Driver Tests – November 15, 16 and 17
Red Bull Racing
Jean-Eric Vergne 1min 38.917sec (3 days)
Sebastian Vettel’s pole lap: 1min 38.481sec
Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro
Jules Bianchi 1min 40.279sec (3 days)
Felipe Massa’s Q2 time: 1min 39.623sec
Mercedes Grand Prix
Sam Bird 1min 40.897sec (3 days)
Michael Schumacher’s Q3 time: 1min 40.662sec
Vodafone McLaren Mercedes
Oliver Turvey 1min 41.513sec (2 days)
Gary Paffett 1min 41.756sec (2 days)
Jenson Button’s Q1 time: 1min 40.227sec
Sahara Force India
Max Chilton 1min 41.575sec (2 days)
Johnny Jecotto Jnr 1min 42.873sec (1 day)
Paul di Resta’s Q1 time: 1min 41.064sec
Esteban Gutierrez 1min 42.049sec (2 days)
Fabio Leimer 1min 42.331sec (1 day)
Kamui Kobayashi’s Q1 time: 1min 41.613sec
Lotus Renault Grand Prix
Rob Wickens 1min 42.217sec (1 day)
Kevin Korjas 1min 43.776sec (1 day)
Jan Charous 1min 44.470sec (1 day)
Bruno Senna’s Q1 time: 1min 41.391sec
Romain Grosjean’s FP1 time: 1min 42.685sec
Valtteri Bottas 1min 42.367sec (2 days)
Mirko Bortolotti 1min 43.277sec (1 day)
Pastor Maldonado’s Q1 time: 1min 42.258sec
Scuderia Toro Rosso
Kevin Ceccon 1min 43.686sec (2 days)
Stefano Coletti 1min 44.545sec (2 days)
Sebastien Buemi’s Q1 time: 1min 41.737sec
Jean-Eric Vergne’s FP1 time: 1min 42.633sec
Luiz Razia 1min 43.944sec (1 day)
Rodolfo Gonzalez 1min 44.022sec (1 day)
Alexander Rossi 1min 44.283sec (1 day)
Heikki Kovalainen’s Q1 time: 1min 42.979sec
Hispania Racing Team
Dani Clos 1min 45.278sec (1 day)
Nathaneal Berthon 1min 45.839sec (1.1 days)
Jan Charous 1min 46.644sec (1 day)
Daniel Ricciardo’s Q1 time: 1min 44.641sec
Rob Wickens 1min 45.934sec (1 day)
Charles Pic 1min 46.348sec (3 days)
Adrian Quaife-Hobbs 1min 47.292sec (1 day)
Timo Glock’s Q1 time: 1min 44.515sec
Rob Wickens’ FP1 time: 1min 48.551sec