Erstwhile British F3 champion Jean-Eric Vergne looks set to become Red Bull's latest F1 graduate, after admitting that he getting closer to agreeing terms on a Friday testing role with Scuderia Toro Rosso.
The Frenchman, currently in the running for the World Series by Renault title after hauling in long-time leader, former Red Bull protégé and Marussia Virgin reserve Robert Wickens at Paul Ricard two weekends ago, has already been mentioned in connection with a handful of late-season outings with STR in 2011, but now appears certain to take on the responsibility of running with the team during Friday practice in 2012 as well.
“It's almost done, we've been talking about it for a while, although there is no confirmation from the team as yet, ” Vergne told French television station during last weekend's Singapore Grand Prix.
It is expected that the star, who won the 2010 British F3 crown with Carlin, will appear alongside either Jaime Alguersuari or Sebastien Buemi in Korea, Abu Dhabi and Brazil, but not take to the track at the new Indian GP venue as the two regular drivers take every opportunity to learn the new Buddh International circuit for themselves.
"It is just the confirmation we give him the chance to learn some race tracks, to get some experience of an F1 car, to learn our team, do some work with press, marketing and get some knowledge of all the technical issues and topics that are coming up for an F1 driver," STR team principal Franz Tost told the BBC
when Vergne's involvement was first mooted last month, "We will see [about our 2012 line-up] at the end of the season. Theoretically, we can continue with both [current] drivers, but this is not a decision for today or the next few weeks."
With the end of season 'young drivers' test at Yas Marina also a possibility for Vergne, the Frenchman is excited about the prospect of combining whatever racing he does next season with a full-time role at one of the two Red Bull teams.
“The main idea [of the 2011 outings] is to get some experience for next season,” he confirmed, “I've been working on next season, but [the impending outings] will not be easy because it's a year since I've been in a F1 car. I'm there to learn and to get a good comparison with Alguersuari and Buemi."
With Daniel Ricciardo already waiting in the wings for a race drive with STR, the exact nature of Vergne's involvement remains unclear, although it is widely expected that either Alguersuari or Buemi will be dropped for 2012, allowing the Frenchman to take up the third driver role in combination with a possible GP2 ride. Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel remain ensconced in the senior Red Bull Racing line-up for another year.