x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

The future of Formula One makes a return to Abu Dhabi

Three days of testing to kick off on Tuesday, as all Formula One teams seek to try out cars and contenders at Yas Marina Circuit.

Fabio Leimer, who raced in the GP2 at Yas Marina Circuit at the weekend, will have an opportunity to test a Sauber car.
Fabio Leimer, who raced in the GP2 at Yas Marina Circuit at the weekend, will have an opportunity to test a Sauber car.

ABU DHABI // Lewis Hamilton and McLaren-Mercedes hogged centre stage on Sunday at Yas Marina Circuit after winning the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, but the limelight on Tuesday moves to drivers hoping to form the next generation of Formula One racers.

Over the next three days, all 12 teams on the F1 grid will take part in the Young Driver Test, with none of them using drivers who took part in Sunday's race.

With a ban on testing during the season, the event has been designed to give the teams a chance to look at their reserve drivers, and drivers from GP2 and other motor racing series.

The circuit is closed to the public for the test, which runs until Thursday afternoon, but Richard Cregan, the chief executive at Yas Marina Circuit, said the 5.5km track would be fully staffed to ensure the F1 teams have all the support necessary to drive in a safe and comfortable environment.

"The point of the test is to provide a realistic comparison between the young drivers and the established F1 drivers," he said. "From a Yas Marina Circuit perspective, we will continue to ensure the track and facilities are operating at the same high level."

Last year a two-day test took place in Abu Dhabi, but while a number of young drivers were put through their paces, the event was designed for teams to try Pirelli tyres, with world champion Sebastian Vettel among the drivers who took part.

Daniel Ricciardo drove an F1 car - for Red Bull Racing - for the first time last year on the Abu Dhabi track, and he surprised everyone by lapping quicker than Vettel.

The Australian's career has subsequently taken off and he competed in the last 10 races for the Hispania Racing Team.

But the 21 year old said setting fast times is not all teams are after.

"It is nice to see your name on top of the list and part of you wants that, but it depends on what you are doing," he said. "The team could be running a high fuel run, checking tyres, checking parts. The most important thing is to get as much out of each run as you can."

Among the drivers from GP2 taking part is Fabio Leimer, who won Saturday's feature race at Yas Marina, and he drives for Sauber on Tuesday.

Peter Sauber, the Sauber team principal, has not remained in Abu Dhabi with the Swiss team to watch how Leimer and Esteban Gutierrez, the reserve driver, fare, and he said not so much should be read into lap times that come from the test.

"Everyone watches the lap time," he said. "Ricciardo was faster than Vettel one year ago. But, these test times are very difficult to judge. How much fuel they drive, the temperature is important, the tyres are important whether they are hard or new."

Sauber views the test as "not really a young driver programme" and those comments ring true at McLaren-Mercdes, where the hardly youthful Gary Paffett, the 30 year old who has tested for the British team since 2006, will share driving responsibilities with Oliver Turvey, 24, who is 94 days older than Vettel.

A number of the 23 drivers scheduled to take part will look to the story of Jerome D'Ambrosio for inspiration. After he put in solid performances for both Renault and Marussia Virgin, he found himself four months later on the grid for the opening race of 2011 in Australia with the latter team.

"I had a couple of weeks waiting, hoping, and then I got the drive, which was good and all thanks to the test," the Belgian said.

Testing is due to begin at the track from 9am on Tuesday.

gcaygill@thenational.ae