F1 » Charles Pic
Along with Romain Grosjean, Jean-Eric Vergne and Jules Bianchi, Charles Pic is hoping to spearhead France's return to F1 success, but needs to prove that he has the staying power that other 'back-of-the-grid' recruits have lacked.
As has become commonplace for the majority of aspiring F1 drivers, Pic began his road to the top flight in karting, having been presented with his first kart by his godfather, former F1 pilot Eric bernard. Although he achieved several minor successes while competing in both France and Italy, however, as his subsequent career proved, he was usually the bridesmaid and never the bride.
Having coming closest to major honours by challenging for - but not winning - the European ICA Junior title, he made the jump to cars just three years after his competitive kart debut, finishing third in the 2006 French Formula Campus championship.
With little left to prove on the lowest rung of the national ladder, he then moved on to Formula Renault, again taking third spot in the final Eurocup standings and claiming rookie honours. He also contested the French national series, again running with SG Formule, but managed only fourth overall after failing to repeat the one victory he took in European competition.
His rapid rise up the ladder continued the following year when, remaining in the Renault fold, he joined Tech 1 Racing to contest the 3.5-litre World Series. Still only 18, he made the most of running with the championship-winning team by claiming two wins and four podium finishes, including an eye-catching wet-weather victory, from pole, on the streets of Monaco. Although he finished only sixth overall, Pic was again the highest-placed rookie in the standings, making it easy for him to remain with Tech 1 the following season.
Again, he claimed a brace of victories, along with a couple of poles and three fastest laps, rising to third in the final standings and paving the way for a move to the GP2 Series for 2010.
It took just half a dozen races for Pic to his his stride in the F1 feeder series, claiming victory in Bahrain as he finished fifth overall in the 'pre-season' Asian championship. Greater success was hinted at when the main series began, as the Frenchman claimed victory in the season-opening Barcelona feature race, but results proved patchy after that, with just one other podium - third in Germany - culminating in tenth in the points.
Moving to Barwa Addax for 2011 was seen as a step up as the Spanish squad had been more of a force than Arden and, despite a sluggish start in the truncated Asia Series, Pic again started strongly in the main championship, repeating his Spanish feature win in the third race of the year. He also revistied the top step of the Monaco podium by winning Sunday's sprint event in the Principality, but double retirement in Addax's home event in Valencia, followed by missing the points in both Silverstone races and being disqualified from the sprint in Germany hampered a potential championship challenge. Although he returned to the podium by taking second place in both the Hungaroring and Monza features, failing to score in the remaining end-of-season races left the Frenchman only fourth overall.
Despite his lack of championship silverware, Pic's performances - especially in qualifying - had already caught the eye of F1 teams. Now under the guidance of another former French F1 pilot, Olivier Panis, the 21-year old made his debut in the Abu Dhabi 'young driver' test, having been picked up by Marussia Virgin Racing. Despite being limited by the machinery at his disposal, Pic's showing at the Yas Marina circuit did enough for him to be rumoured as Jerome d'Ambrosio's replacement as soon as the ensuing Brazilian GP, and he was duly confirmed alongside veteran Timo Glock within days of the 2011 F1 season ending.
His grand prix career, however, got off to a stuttering start, as the renamed Marussia team opted to miss the first test of 2012 to concentrate on the construction of its MR01 chassis. Pic finally got his first official outing with the team as it ran its 2011 car in the subsequent Barcelona session, but then received another blow when it was revealed that the MR01 had failed part of the mandatory FIA crash test and would not be ready for the third and final pre-season test.
As a result, the Frenchman headed to Australia to make his debut in an untried machine, increasing the incline on an already steep learning curve. That he was subsequently lauded as the season’s best rookie by Marussia sporting director Graeme Lowdon was something of a surprise, but the Frenchman’s performances generally merited the tag. Although he was out-qualified 13-6 by Glock, Pic performed steadily and began to mix it with the Caterhams as Marussia’s package became more competitive. He equalled Glock’s best finish with twelfth in Brazil, but could not quite hold on to the eleventh position he needed to ensure that Marussia earned useful prize money for finishing tenth in the constructors' standings.
Ironically, the GP2 graduate had already agreed terms to move to Caterham for 2013...