The Hungarian GP is set to take place on the 30th of July and following this the teams will remain at the track to carry out two days of tests on the 1st and 2nd of August.
Testing rules stipulate that each team must give half of their total in season test time over to young drivers, so these tests are an excellent opportunity to evaluate the future talent and, for those youngsters, it is a chance to impress and be noticed. It is also an excellent opportunity for fans to have a look at where future allegiances may lie for those who don’t follow the junior categories.
In all honesty, Formula 1 tests are rarely very entertaining. The regular drivers do lap after lap with no competitive action, and the juniors do lap after lap trying desperately to keep it out the wall. There isn’t normally any coverage of the event and, unless you are a proper anorak (which I am) it could quite easily pass by unnoticed. This test, however, is proving to be particularly interesting and, for a number of reasons, should have your attention.
The period around the middle of the F1 season, where discussions about contracts and driver movement take place, is affectionately known as ‘Silly Season’ and rarely has that name been so fitting as it is this year. There are seats available at the majority of teams, including the big two, Ferrari and Mercedes. With a vast crop of young hopefuls snapping at the heels of the out of contract old timers, as well as some interesting returning prospects, Silly Season has been in full swing for some time and is set to remain intense for the foreseeable!
Announcements are now starting to be made about who each team will run in the two day test and it is a bumper package of newbies, a lot of whom are central to the Silly Season speculation. This is a chance to decide who we would like to see on the grid going forward, and also to see the talent the junior categories have and why, if you don’t already, they might be worth a watch.
Here is a rundown of who we know will be taking part so far and all you need to know about them to follow their progress.
Sauber: (Confirmed) Gustav Malja and Nobuharu Matsushita
Gustav Malja currently drives in F2 for Racing Engineering having graduated from Formula Renault 3.5 in 2015. In this, his second year in the championship, the 21 year old Swede is currently 11th in the overall standings having achieved his first podium of the season in the Monaco Sprint race. Last year, driving for Rapax, he finished 13th in the Championship making it to the podium twice during the campaign. This will be his first run in F1 machinery, with Sauber being very complimentary about the progress they have seen in him since his move into GP2 (now F2), he has said it is “a dream come true” to get the call up.
Nobuharu Matsushita is also an F2 driver and has participated in the series since 2015 when he joined ART from the All-Japan Formula Three series, having won the championship there. Since joining F2, he has come in ninth, sixth and then eleventh last year and currently sits seventh in the Championship with a win in the Spanish Feature race under his belt. He is currently the Test and Development driver at McLaren, making him an interesting choice for the test role at Sauber with a likely link to the proposed Honda engine deal.
Haas: (Confirmed) Santino Ferrucci on both days
Santino Ferrucci is currently competing in his second season in the GP3 Championship with Dams. Having finished twelfth last year, he occupies the fourteenth spot in the 2017 standings. Prior to this, he competed in the Toyota Racing Series where he finished third and in Formula 3 where he took one pole and two wins in his first season came eleventh in his second season along with two top ten finishes in the Macau Grand Prix. Last year at the age of 17, he was signed as Haas’s Development driver and has taken part in a number of tests for them since.
Toro Rosso: (TBC) Sean Gelael and Daniil Kvyat/Carlos Sainz
Sean Gelael drives for Arden in the F2 Championship and, following a difficult start to the season, is currently seventeenth in the standings with three points. Driving for Campos last year he finished fifteenth overall. He also ran the second half of the 2016 WEC season in the #30 Extreme Speed Motorsport Ligier Nissan and took part in the Silverstone round of the ELMS with SMP and took a fifth place finish. He has been taken on as a test driver by Toro Rosso and, having completed a day’s running at the Bahrain test for the team, he will return in Hungary.
Renault: (Confirmed) Nicholas Latifi and Robert Kubica
Nicholas Latifi is another F2 driver. He currently drives for Dams alongside young Brit, Oliver Rowland, both of whom have test and development roles with the Renault F1 Team, but it is the Canadian, Latifi, who gets the call up on this occasion. Currently fourth in the Championship, he took his first win of the series in the Sprint race at Silverstone having come close to taking the win earlier in the season in Barcelona before a last lap spin saw him finish in third. Prior to his GP2 career, Latifi spent two years racing in European Formula 3, coming tenth and fifteenth respectively.
Robert Kubica. Ok we all know the story here and there is a very real buzz about his *potential* return to the sport.
Following his maiden win in F1, he was largely regarded as a future championship contender with rumours that he had signed a pre-contract with Ferrari. Following an accident at the Ronde di Andora Rally, his right arm was partially severed leaving him with nerve and muscle damage that drastically limited his range of motion and ability to perform within the close confines of an F1 cockpit.
Since then, and following intense physio, he has returned to motorsport, competing in European and World Rally Championships and was set to compete in this year’s World Endurance Championship in the LMP1 category with ByKolles. Having pulled out following a difficult test for the team, he went on to test a GP3 car and a Formula E car before returning to Formula 1 in a private test for Renault in the 2012 machinery. Renault were impressed with his performance, with rumours that he surpassed the pace set by test driver, Sergey Sirotkin, and have since ran another private test for him, admitting that the intention was to evaluate the possibility of him making a full time return to the sport.
Pleased with his progress and keen to continue his evaluation, Renault have announced that they will run Kubica on day two of the test. This will give him an opportunity to experience the 2017 machinery and gauge whether he is comfortable with the increased aero demands as well as revealing his pace relative to current drivers.
Kubica is not considered a rookie and, having already run Hülkenberg in one of their tests, they only have one day available for testing an experienced driver, so running Kubica will be to the detriment of their current driver, Jolyon Palmer. A big decision, but one that they must think to be worth it. All eyes on Renault then!!
McLaren: (Confirmed) Lando Norris and Stoffel Vandoorne
17 year old Lando Norris is currently competing in the European Formula 3 series with Carlin having come eighth in the British Formula 3 Championship in 2016 despite only having participated for the latter half of the season. He is currently third in the Championship with three wins to his name, including one at his home race at Silverstone. It has recently been confirmed that he will compete in the 24 hours of Daytona in January with United Autosport, marking his sports car debut, although he is determined that his focus remains solely on single seat racing. This year he was signed as a McLaren junior and, although it is yet to be confirmed, it is thought he will take part in the test along with full time driver Stoffel Vandoorne.
Williams: (Confirmed) Luca Ghiotto and Lance Stroll
Luca Ghiotto is driving with Russian Time in his second year of the F2 championship. In his first year, he finished eighth in the championship in the Trident with one win and four podiums to his name, and is currently fifth in the standings having made the podium in Bahrain, Barcelona and Silverstone. Prior to his career in F2, He competed in the GP3 series where he fought closely with Esteban Ocon for the title and finished second with just eight points separating the pair. This will be the Italians first outing in Formula 1.
Force India: (Confirmed) Lucas Auer and Nikita Mazepin
Lucas Auer will get his first opportunity to drive an F1 car at the test. Currently contesting his third year in DTM, he is second in the championship standings by just two points and took his first win in the series last year with Mercedes customer team, Mücke Motorsport. The 22 year old Austrian is the nephew of Gerhard Berger and is hoping he can be the latest in a string of drivers, including Pascal Wehrlein, Esteban Ocon and Paul Di Resta, to use DTM as a springboard to make it into Formula 1.
Nikita Mazepin is Force India’s current development driver and will embark on his second test for the team in Hungary having took part in the 2016 in season test at Silverstone. Mazepin currently drives in European F3 and is 15th in the Championship standings with a highest finish of fourth. The young Russian caused controversy last year when he punched fellow youngster Callum Illot in the face following a practice session where he believed the Brit held him up. Since then, he has been quietly going about his racing, keen to let his performance on track speak for itself and, lucky to have retained his position within the Force India team, he will be hoping this test is as successful as the last.
Ferrari: (Confirmed) Charles Leclerc and Kimi Räikkönen/Seb Vettel
Charles Leclerc is the reigning GP3 champion and is currently driving in F2. He is leading the championship by a very comfortable margin and has just matched Vandoorne’s record of 5 consecutive pole positions in the series making it 6 from 6. A member of the Ferrari Driver Academy, he is widely regarded as the next big thing and it’s anticipated that he will join the F1 grid in 2018, although the driver market will have to shake out first to see where, and indeed if, he could take a seat.
There is a saying in motorsport, that your teammate is your benchmark, well Leclerc’s teammate at Prema, Antonio Fuoco, is having a hell of a time of it. The average gap between the pair in qualifying this season has been 1.02 seconds and the gap in the championship standings is 165 points. If he goes on to take the F2 championship this year, and with a 67 point margin at the half way mark, it is looking likely, he will be the first driver to win GP3 and GP2/F2 consecutively and only the third driver to take the title in their rookie year – the others being Lewis Hamilton and Nico Hülkenberg.
One roadblock to Leclerc’s progression into F1 is Antonio Giovinazzi, who will drive for Haas in the test. He is also a member of the Ferrari Driver Academy and with limited seats available, Ferrari may find themselves with a difficult decision on their hands, particularly as Haas seem to have sealed the deal with their current drivers for next year, narrowing the availability further.
Red Bull: (Confirmed) Pierre Gasly and Max Verstappen
Pierre Gasly is the reigning GP2 (now F2) champion. After a closely fought battle with Antonio Giovinazzi, he took the crown, but the doors into F1 were closed. So, despite being part of the Red Bull Racing young driver program and having experience driving the Toro Rosso and the RB12, he has had to spend a season racing in Super Formula with Team Mugen, where he is currently eighth in the driver’s standings. He took part in the New York City round of the Formula E Championship with Renault e.Dams in replacement of Sebastien Buemi who was racing in WEC. Putting in an impressive performance, he took seventh in the Saturday race having qualified on the back row of the grid and fourth on the Sunday following an intense fight for the podium positions. This is all the more impressive when you consider that he had just one day’s testing in Formula E machinery beforehand. Proving he can turn his hand to any series he enters, he will be hoping he can add to his impressive form with a good outing in the test and inch his way closer to a seat in F1.
Mercedes: (Confirmed) George Russell (Both Days)
George Russell currently drives in the GP3 series with ART where he is now leading the championship. Having taken the momentum from his first win in Austria into his home race at Silverstone, he returned to the top step of the podium in race one, maximising a hard earned pole position. He competed for two years in European Formula 3 where he finished sixth and third respectively and gained a second place finish in the prestigious Masters of Formula 3 race. This followed his championship win in the Formula 4 Championship in 2014 which seen him become the youngest ever winner of the McLaren Autosport BRDC Award. Graduating to GP3 this year, he was also announced as test driver for Mercedes AMG F1 and took part in a private test in the 2015 car in April. This will be his first time running in the W08, but having completed more miles in the simulator than either of the team’s full time drivers, he is confident he can do a good job.
So that is the testing line up so far, lots of new faces to get behind and follow. Some we may be seeing in the top flight in the near future and some we can get behind for their campaigns in the junior formulae. With the opportunities for driver movement as they are currently, their performance in this test may prove to be a deciding factor in how their immediate future pans out and, for me, that’s pretty exciting!
I’ll keep you up to day with any changes to the line-up.