The 2013 F1 season will not only play a big part in shaping Jules Bianchi's future as a grand prix driver, but should also give an indication as to the potential of Ferrari's driver development programme.
That is the view of Ferrari Driver Academy chief Luca Baldisserri, who admits that the scheme has come on in leaps and bounds since it took Bianchi under its wing as a raw French talent and helped nurture him towards the top flight.
“It's true Jules has been with us since the start, but one has to admit that, back then, we were not as structured as we are now and that he already had a reasonable level of training,” Baldisserri acknowledged in an interview with the Ferrari website, “The real effects of our programme are being seen and will be seen, at least I hope so, with the drivers who joined the FDA at the start of their journey, such as Raffaele Marciello and Antonio Fuoco.”
Although Bianchi has yet to become a fully-fledged Ferrari – although, for many, it is only a matter of time – he has carved out a niche for himself with Marussia, impressing onlookers with his pace and performance over the first half of a 2013 campaign he felt certain to miss out on after being passed over by Force India in favour of Adrian Sutil.
“It was very important for Jules to have finally reached the highest level of motor sport,” Baldisserri continued, “This is a key year for him: he has to gain experience and grow as a driver in what is a very competitive environment, learning to manage stress and always stay focused. We try to help him, especially on the mental level, supporting him as much as possible, because clearly we cannot get involved in the operational side of his relationship with Marussia.”
Bianchi admits that he has had to readjust his sights after accepting a ride at the back of the field, but Baldisserri insists that that is not necessarily a bad thing.
“At the start, he was very psyched up and you could see how the delight at having managed to get into F1 was giving him an additional boost,” the Italian commented, “I can see he is growing, also in terms of his relationship with the team, learning to discuss things with the engineers, trying to understand what direction to go in to develop the car and trying to make a contribution.
“It's very important that he should always be able to set himself targets, so he doesn't slacken his effort and make stupid mistakes, which could come from a lack of concentration. In this phase of his career, it's vital he proves able to grab any opportunities that can arise over a race weekend, maybe when circumstances can mix things up, such as rain or a safety car period: these are the times when a driver can make the difference...”