Reigning British F3 champion Jean-Eric Vergne looks likely to step into the role recently vacated by Daniel Ricciardo as Red Bull pushes another of its protégés towards F1.
The Frenchman is currently competing in the World Series by Renault, where he has been a title contender despite his comparative lack of experience in the category, and, according to the BBC
, could get regular outings with Scuderia Toro Rosso once the championship comes to end in early October.
Vergne has already tasted F1 with the Italian squad, having joined it for last year's 'young driver' test in Abu Dhabi, but is now being lined up to reprise the Friday morning practice runs enjoyed by Ricciardo at grands prix earlier this season, prior to the Australian - a WSbR rival of Vergne's - being parachuted into the HRT line-up.
With their race seats now looking more secure, at least to the end of the season, STR regulars Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi will take turns in allowing Vergne to drive their cars in Friday practice at the final four races of the year.
The drinks brand is known to be ruthless with its talent pool, and 21-year old Vergne will need to impress, as does Ricciardo, if he is to remain a part of the programme long term. The Frenchman is currently second in the WSbR points, with two double-header rounds to run, at Paul Ricard and Barcelona, in the next five weeks, and could find himself in the mix for a possible promotion to F1 in 2012 as Red Bull re-evaluates its roster in a bid to both strengthen the Toro Rosso line-up and find a potential replacement for Mark Webber in the senior RBR squad. Having been an official reserve for both squads this season, Ricciardo is more likely to land a race ride next season, with Vergne potentially auditioning for a regular back-up role.