Recently, Toro Rosso announced an exciting all-new driver line-up of Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne. Both of these rising stars are Red Bull protégés. Aussie Ricciardo raced with HRT at the back of the F1 grid for part of the season just gone, gaining experience in a car that – let’s face it – wasn’t a machine that could showcase much of an individual driver’s talent. Vergne has impressed in recent young driver’s tests driving for both Toro Rosso and the parent team, Red Bull.
It’s great that Toro Rosso are ‘designed’ to bring in rookies into F1. But let’s not forget that it’s not just any rookies they are designed to bring in – it’s for those who are supported by Red Bull in their Young Driver programme. That hasn’t always been the trend in the team's driver line-up however – think the talented Frenchman Sebastian Bourdais.
Toro Rosso’s 2011 drivers, Sebastien Buemi and (part-time DJ) Jaime Alguersuari, had been with the team since 2009 (Buemi slightly longer). They have both produced good performances. After several years however there haven’t been many openings in the top teams, with most sticking with the same line up. So they had limited options where to go if they wanted to move. Now they have been dropped, just like that. Both drivers face a rush to get one of the very few remaining seats for the 2012 season.
Let’s not forget that Buemi is 23 and Alguersuari is just 21. At the time of writing they are both out of F1, although there are rumours that Alguersuari is all set for an all-Spanish team at HRT. Based on this, I cannot help but feel that talent gets lost for other agendas.
Here are a few more examples - Adrian Sutil performed brilliantly this year at Force India, yet may find himself out of a seat in 2012 now he’s been dumped by the team. Nick Heidfeld did better than his team mate during his brief season at Lotus Renault but was sacked. Look at Nico Hulkenburg in 2010 – pole position in Brazil for the struggling Williams team and other good performances, then chucked into a 3rd driver role at Force India for 2011 (although this has turned into a 2012 race seat).
I know that these things have happened in F1 for years and it’s not new. It’s a massively competitive and business-focused sport. Personally however, I don’t think F1 has been crueller than it is at the moment. If you lose your race drive in F1, a 3rd driver role brings little in terms of running. Logically the most sensible move would be to go to the next ‘best’ series – Indycar – but this doesn’t have the global reach that F1 does.
With so many young drivers realising their F1 dreams early in life, if it ends quickly, how are they motivated to achieve more?