He may be challenging to reclaim his crown in the hotly-fought pan-European DTM touring car series this year, but Gary Paffett has confessed that he has still not given up on his ultimate career goal of Formula 1 – even if he acknowledges that new drivers entering the top flight currently are ever-less prepared.
Paffett has been on the verges of F1 for some time, being employed as a test driver by multiple world champions McLaren-Mercedes since 2003. However – despite links to the abortive Prodrive project in early 2008 – he has never been given the opportunity to prove his worth at the highest level in a racing environment.
Now, though, that may change, with 26 cars expected to line up on the grand prix grid in 2010 and the possibility that Prodrive will get a second bite of the cherry in being granted the extra slot that would have gone to BMW-Sauber before the Bavarian manufacturer announced that it was pulling the plug on its F1 involvement at season's end. At 28, time is beginning to run out for Paffett to make his debut – and he knows that it could be a case of now or never.
“You are always looking,” the Bromley-born ace admitted, speaking exclusively to Crash.net
ahead of this weekend's British round on the 2009 DTM calendar at Brands Hatch. “F1 is still the goal you want to achieve. It's certainly something we will be looking at, and if an opportunity arrives I will surely look at how we can do it.
“There are a lot of new teams coming into F1 and we are keeping our eye out to see what's available, because for a lot of drivers it's a good opportunity with so many changes taking place. At the moment I'm concentrating on the DTM, and I leave the rest to Mark Blundell's management company who look after me. They're looking at it, and we'll just see where it goes.”
One obstacle that Paffett would not necessarily have to overcome – but one that many young drivers, and the Luca Badoers of this world, clearly have had to battle against – is the lack of seat time afforded to 'rookies' with the in-season testing ban in-force as it is. The 1999 McLaren/Autosport BRDC Young Driver of the Year
agreed that the regulation sets a potentially 'dangerous' precedent.
“It's not so bad for me because I'm racing in the DTM so I'm still busy driving and I'm still working with McLaren to help develop the car and keep my hand in,” he reflected, “but as a test driver I haven't driven this year's McLaren, which makes it very difficult to help the development of the car.
“An F1 car is very different to drive and a big challenge, and not doing any testing before you step into the car is pretty daunting in my opinion. Luca Badoer struggled quite a lot, so if you are expecting a driver to jump into a race seat mid-season they need to have driven the car, otherwise it could be seen as dangerous.”