McLaren-Mercedes team principal Martin Whitmarsh has let the cat out of the bag regarding a tie-up between long-time Mercedes-Benz protégé Paul di Resta and Force India in F1 2010 – confessing that the Scot 'will be running in the majority of the Friday sessions at grand prix weekends'.
As the new chairman of the Formula One Teams' Association (FOTA), Whitmarsh has revealed that for the first time in four years, some teams – McLaren admittedly not amongst them – are re-examining the viability of running test and reserve drivers in Friday practice rather than the regular race-driving duo.
In the wake of a hugely encouraging test outing with Mercedes-powered Force India at Jerez in southern Spain in December, di Resta last week told Crash.net
that he is close to inking a deal to be the Silverstone-based squad's third driver this year [see separate story – click here
]. Whitmarsh has since hinted that the deal has now been done.
“If you are trying to win a championship, to not allow your principal drivers the Friday session is not something we would contemplate,” the Englishman told Reuters
, “but it's something that some other teams are looking at and it's a great opportunity for Paul.
“Paul will be running, I believe, in the majority of the Friday sessions at grand prix weekends for Force India. I'm happy for him. He's going to push like hell to make his case to have a race drive at Force India during the course of this year.”
“Since the test, for sure we have been in talks,” di Resta had previously admitted. “We are in the final stages of finishing off the programme they have set, and hopefully we can build a very long and strong relationship.”
The West Lothian ace would likely also have been a candidate for a similar role at McLaren alongside fellow DTM front-runner Gary Paffett this year but for his Force India agreement, as the 23-year-old cousin of reigning IndyCar series Champion Dario Franchitti is highly-regarded by the Woking-based outfit following an eye-catching test in 2008.
The multiple world championship-winning operation is seeking to replace Sauber new boy Pedro de la Rosa, and as Paffett has 'other commitments', Whitmarsh acknowledged, 'we need another driver'. The team chief refused to rule out experienced BMW-Sauber refugee Nick Heidfeld, who has yet to be announced in the same position at Mercedes Grand Prix as had been anticipated. The 32-year-old was in contention to be Lewis Hamilton's F1 2010 team-mate until reigning world champion Jenson Button suddenly became available, and he was also in the frame for the seat at Sauber that ultimately went de la Rosa's way.
“We think of Nick very highly, and are surprised that within the German media he is perhaps not so highly-considered,” Whitmarsh confirmed. “Gary probably did 60 days in the simulator last year for us and he'll do the same sort of number and maybe a bit more this year, but he's got other commitments so we need another driver.
“We are seeing what's happening at the moment. There's no great panic. We are very confident in Gary; we've worked with and supported Gary for a number of years. At the moment we've got two race drivers who are pretty keen and eager and are working hard at Woking, but during the course of the year we will see what happens.
“I might be wrong, but one can imagine that the driver market and maybe the entrants will be slightly more volatile than they have been in recent years. I sense that there will be some drivers who think they are gainfully employed at the moment, who may be available in the future.”