F1 reserve drivers hope for a better seat

Racing in Formula 1 means being part of an exclusive club. There are only 20 full-time race seats.

Behind the drivers is an unannounced but important role: the reserve drivers. They’re usually veterans without a full-time ride, youngsters looking at the future of a career, or kicked-out racers looking for a comeback.

Lando Norris, who takes one of those 20 seats with McLaren, used a reserve spot in 2018 to get his seat in 2019. Esteban Ocon lost his seat at Force India, spent the following year as a Mercedes reserve and returned in 2020 with Renault. . now alpine. Alexander Albon was demoted to reserve by Red Bull for 2021, but returned for 2022, at Williams.

“I’m looking forward to having a year off. I’ve had a more global view of what it takes to be a top driver in the sense that I had a complete picture, sometimes on a race weekend or at full throttle in that area you’re in.” I just watch the race track,” said Albon, who has since signed a multi-year deal with Williams. “Last year it was a very different role, a lot about developing the car, seeing how the team operates.

The exact job depends on the team, but typically involves testing the car in the simulator, driving during testing and practice, and marketing and media duties. Reservations must also be on standby for the race.

“You have to be ready to step up and race the car,” said Pietro Fittipaldi of Haas. He raced in the last two events of 2020 after Romain Grosjean was injured in a crash.

“You never know when an opportunity is going to present itself, and you don’t just want to do it as a job, but do it because you want to do it well.”

Alfa Romeo’s Robert Kubica said he was woken up before 7am on the Saturday before the 2021 Dutch Grand Prix and told he would race the next day because Kimi Raikkonen had contracted Covid-19.

“On the one hand, you know there is this possibility, because this is my position, but I never think about it because it’s a bit of an awkward situation,” Kubica said. “I have to admit that I would like to race, but I don’t want our main drivers to be in a position where they can’t race. You never want that. You have the knowledge that it could happen, so I’m not going to drink beer the night before.”

As a rising star in 2006, he was “driving more than the top drivers” during the era of unlimited testing, which “was mega for a young driver,” he said. Kubica raced from late 2006 to 2010, with one win, before a serious arm injury cut his career short in 2011. He returned in 2018 and became a reserve with Williams and raced for them in 2019 but returned to a spot. reserve in 2020 with Alfa Romeo, where it remains.

“It’s much easier to fill this position when you’re a young driver because everything is attractive and nice,” he said. “But I have the privilege of driving sometimes in practice sessions: this makes it more attractive. That gives you a better idea of ​​what is going on with the car and means that you are more linked with the team in understanding the technical aspects.

Nico Hülkenberg took part in 177 Formula 1 races but lost his seat at Renault after 2019. He is now Aston Martin’s reserve and has competed in five Grands Prix for the team. Most recently, he took part in the opening two events of 2022, after Sebastian Vettel contracted Covid-19.

“You come into a weekend a little bit on the defensive as the others know their cars and are connected to it, you don’t know the car well, you don’t know the tires well, you have less knowledge and experience,” he said. “It’s hard to make up for , but you have to do your best, learn step by step; the time in the car is the most important thing so that I can develop it and gain confidence.”

Hülkenberg sees no downside to being a reserve.

“It doesn’t hurt and there were opportunities, otherwise I wouldn’t have raced a Formula 1 car since the end of 2019,” he said. “I came back several times, I got a lot of PR, it was a good boost for me. I’m still here, I’m still in the mix and while it’s unlikely I’ll be back, it’s not completely impossible, and you’re still in Formula 1.”

Kubica, who now competes in the World Endurance Championship, also retains his connection to Formula 1.

“Every time I put my seatbelts on and I’m in the car, it gives me some thrills,” he said. “And in the end, only people who have driven an F1 car can understand what I’m talking about: the feeling of driving the fastest cars in the world.”

“Not many people on the planet have the privilege to do so. I have to see myself as lucky.”

Fittipaldi almost got a race seat this year after Haas terminated Nikita Mazepin’s contract just two weeks before the first race due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. As the team’s backup, Fittipaldi was an option, but Haas rehired veteran driver Kevin Magnussen.

“I told them I knew I could act, but I respect the call and it doesn’t change the situation,” Fittipaldi said of Haas. “I’m still working hard on my goals, something else could happen, you just have to keep working.”

There will be at least one reserve driver from 2022 on the 2023 Formula 1 grid. Last year’s Formula 2 champion Oscar Piastri spent this season as Alpine’s reserve but is set to make his race debut. with McLaren in March.

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