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Teams reluctant to embrace ‘rookie’ requirement

20 April 2013


While an extra set of tyres might be enough to persuade teams to venture out in the early part of Friday free practice, they appear less willing to do so with a newcomer at the wheel.

Speaking during Friday's FIA press conference in Bahrain, several team principals admitted that they had been taken by surprise when it was revealed that proposed addition of extra tyres came with the caveat that they had to be used by an inexperienced driver rather than an F1 veteran.

The first three rounds of the 2013 F1 season have been blighted by a lack of track activity early on Friday mornings, prompting the sport's supremo, Bernie Ecclestone, to announce that plans were in place to increase the tyre allocation from next month's Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona. What Ecclestone failed to mention, however, was that the offer would only be open to those teams willing to run a rookie. While this would be no problem for the smaller teams at the back of the field – Sauber, Williams, Marussia and Caterham all have drivers in their first year of F1 – the leading lights have baulked at the suggestion.

“It was originally discussed that there should be an extra set of tyres for rookie drivers, but I think that's quite difficult,” McLaren's Martin Whitmarsh reasoned, “At the end of the day, if it's the people in the grandstands who we're thinking about, I think they come to see [Fernando] Alonso, [Lewis] Hamilton, [Kimi] Raikkönen, [Jenson] Button, [and] that's who they want to see. I think, if we all put out rookie drivers they've not heard of, they'll feel cheated in some way.”

Whitmarsh's comments echoed those of Ferrari counterpart Stefano Domenicali, who called for the extra rubber to be available to all drivers.

“It would be difficult to explain to the people that are in the grandstand that Mr X has an extra set of tyres to run and Alonso, Hamilton, whoever is not running, [doesn't] because that extra set of tyres is just for the rookie,” the Italian explained.

Unsurprisingly, it was Sauber's Monisha Kaltenborn who embraced the proposal most warmly, but even she suggested that there would need to be strong wording to the regulation if it was put in place.

“I think it's a good idea because, first of all, it gives you a good reason to really get these drivers in,” she noted, perhaps aware that 2013 Sauber reserve Robin Frijns is unlikely to get much F1 running this year, “But I think it also should be done in such a way that it should be not just an option, otherwise not many teams would really make use of this kind of an option.

“We see it with ourselves: if you have already a rookie driver who is one of your regular race drivers, do you really want to take away time from them to still get another one in? I think, if it just comes in as an option, we really would have to think about it: do we make use of it or not?

“On the one hand, it's extremely important as we can see with such drivers that, if they have more opportunities, they're simply better prepared, [but] it will be a difficult call for us if it's just an option.”

Asked earlier in the weekend whether he thought McLaren would benefit from running one of its junior drivers, such as WSbR frontrunners Kevin Magnussen and Stoffel Vandoorne, on a Friday morning, Jenson Button admitted that it was unlikely.

“I don't think you'll see many of the big teams having a third driver drive the car on Friday, but I think it's a good idea to have extra sets for your [regular] drivers,” the 2009 world champion commented, before acknowledging that there were few chances for newcomers to make their mark on the top flight.

“I think it's very difficult for young drivers to have mileage in a F1 car,” Button continued, “They need to bring a lot of money, it seems, to have the opportunity, but now that they have extra tyres, it could actually be useful for the middle of the grid teams to have a third driver for more mileage, more information.

“There are quite a few test drivers who will sit around and watch Friday, Saturday, and Sunday every other weekend. They don't get to drive the car, so I think it's good for them – and, for the future of the sport, it's important that youngsters are actually getting the chance to drive an F1 car and to experience a grand prix weekend properly rather than just watching what happens.”


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