This weekend's Russian Grand Prix will see Sergey Sirotkin make his first appearance in bold Renault F1 colours as he takes to the Sochi Autodrom for an FP1 appearance as part of a deal that also sees him join the French firm as test and development driver.

Placing the GP2 race winner alongside Mercedes prot?g? Esteban Ocon, it gives Renault one of the most impressive development driver line-ups around and offers a potential glimpse of what the future F1 grid could well look like, particularly with the likes of Alex Lynn, Pierre Gasly and Stoffel Vandoorne also waiting in the wings.

Crash.net takes a look back at a few notable young guns who made the most of their 'behind the scenes' test and development duties to prove they were worthy of getting a race drive...

Fernando AlonsoTested with Renault
Though Fernando Alonso had already raced in F1 prior to his decision to take a sabbatical with Renault in 2002, it is remarkable to look back now and imagine the then-youngster still had to work hard to prove he was worthy of a race seat in 2003.

Whilst an eye-catching debut with Minardi in 2001 made the decision to revert to a test driver role with Renault - returning to F1 as a full manufacturer after completing the purchase of Benetton - appear like a step back, the Spaniard made the most of more lenient testing restrictions back then to impress behind-the-scenes with his feedback and his evident pace.

However, any promotion would come at the expense of either Jenson Button or Jarno Trulli, with Briatore subsequently opting to take what was considered something of a risk by dropping the former - much to the chagrin of many at the time - in favour of the Spaniard. Of course, the ensuing pole positions, podiums, wins and two world titles over the following four seasons went all the way - and then some - to vindicating that call.

Mark WebberTested with Arrows and Benetton
It is easy to forget that Mark Webber could have easily foregone the allure of open-wheel racing had an aerodynamic flaw with Mercedes' CLR sportscar not caused him to hit the headlines for the wrong reasons with two airborne crashes during the 1999 Le Mans 24 Hours. Without this, it's plausible to imagine Mercedes could have continued its focus on sportscars and Webber could have remained a tin top driver for the remainder of his career.

Of course, we will never know, but Webber recovered from being hurtled skywards in the most fearsome of circumstances by returning to single-seaters with an F3000 bid underwritten by fellow Australian Paul Stoddart, the ambitious entrepreneur keen to nurture home-grown talent for the Minardi team he had purchased.

Driving for the Arrows F3000 team, Webber was subsequently signed as its F1 test driver for 2000 before getting a Benetton testing gig in a deal that also saw Flavio Briatore become his manager. Matching well against Giancarlo Fisichella and Jenson Button when he got behind the wheel of the B201 - the last Benetton prior to Renault's full takeover -, and finishing runner-up in F3000, Webber finally made the move into F1 full-time in 2002, where he would remain until a return to sportscars in 2014.

Robert KubicaTested with BMW Sauber
Hailing from a nation not exactly known for its racing stars, Poland's Robert Kubica may have been a Formula Renault 3.5 Champion in 2005 but he was still a relative unknown when BMW - entering F1 as a constructor through an alliance with Sauber - picked him as its test driver and FP1 driver for the 2006 season.

Often topping the sporadically participated FP1 sessions - reserved for test drivers - and highly valued within the BMW fold, Kubica looked destined to become the first Polish driver to race in F1 as he neared a deal for 2007, only to instead get his debut early when Jacques Villeneuve was ruled out of the Hungarian Grand Prix. In a wet and wild race, Kubica finished seventh on the road to provisionally score on his debut, only to be disqualified for having an underweight car.

With Villeneuve exiting BMW altogether after the event, BMW happily promoted Kubica to a full-time drive, where he proceeded to podium at Monza in only his third F1 start. Staying with BMW until its F1 exit in 2009 before joining Renault, Kubica became a race winner at the 2008 Canadian Grand Prix and notched up 12 podiums, only for a rallying accident to leave him with a hand injury that would cruelly curtail his F1 career.

Mika HakkinenTested with McLaren
Having made a name for himself as the latest fast Finn to come through the junior ranks, it was no surprise Mika Hakkinen settled into F1 with aplomb during two fruitful seasons at Lotus in 1991 and 1992. With several top six finishes under his belt, Hakkinen was being courted by top teams for 1993 with Williams seemingly destined to secure his services.

However, Williams would send Hakkinen's career into an unintended spiral when it failed to register its 1993 entry in time, requiring all teams to agree on allowing the team to register late. Sensing an opportunity to use Hakkinen as leverage, Lotus manager Peter Collins refused to play along if it went ahead and poached his driver, forcing Williams to cancel the agreement.

Despite this, a defiant Hakkinen and manager Keke Rosberg kept negotiating elsewhere, coming close to a deal with Ligier before entering talks with Ron Dennis' McLaren, who needed 'insurance' in case the undecided Ayrton Senna opted to exit. In a hastily arranged agreement, Hakkinen agreed to join McLaren, but with Senna staying put and Michael Andretti already signed, he was relegated to a test driver role instead.

Despite the set-backs - not least as he watched the Williams car he was supposed to drive win the 1993 title and Andretti flop in what could have been his McLaren seat -, Hakkinen waited patiently, earned respect and duly grabbed his opportunity when he replaced the out-of-favour American for the latter rounds prior to a full-time drive in 1994.

Though Hakkinen's arrival would ultimately coincide with McLaren's dwindling form - forcing him to wait until 1997 for a long awaited maiden win -, two world titles on the bounce in 1998 and 1999 proved the good guys can eventually prevail.

David CoulthardTest driver with Williams
Receiving his opportunity in the wake of Ayrton Senna's tragic death at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, though Williams originally hoped to lure Heinz-Harald Frentzen from Sauber as their own direct rival to Michael Schumacher, the German's reluctance to switch saw the team turn to David Coulthard instead.

First signed to Williams-Renault as test driver in 1993 to dovetail with a F3000 campaign, the Scot began the year intending to assume a similar role only to eventually be called up to fill the legendary shoes of the late Senna.

Leaving Williams with a relatively inexperienced line-up for a title-defending season, the team had hoped Coulthard could emulate Damon Hill before him - after he was also a surprise test driver-to-race driver signing for the team a year earlier -, but Renault subsequently put pressure on the team to get a bigger 'name' in the car.

As such, Coulthard was forced to swap seats with Nigel Mansell on four occasions, creating a friction that prompted him to seek an alternative deal elsewhere. However, Williams fought to retain Coulthard and he stayed with the team full-time for another season before ducking out of his deal a year early to join McLaren from 1995.

This is just a handful selection of once little-known newcomers that went on to find success via the route of test and development driver - including Sebastian Vettel, Jolyon Palmer, Nick Heidfeld and Damon Hill -, so we want to know who you consider to be the most savvy 'unknown-turned-superstar' signing in F1...

 

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