x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Young Drivers Test at Silverstone has 'potential to overlook talent'

Yas Marina Circuit chief Richard Cregan concerned mid-season event could see Formula One teams focus on cars rather than youth.

French driver Jean-Eric Vergne of Red Bull Racing navigates the Yas Marina Circuit during the Formula 1 Young Drivers Test on November 15, 2011 in Abu Dhabi.
French driver Jean-Eric Vergne of Red Bull Racing navigates the Yas Marina Circuit during the Formula 1 Young Drivers Test on November 15, 2011 in Abu Dhabi.

Richard Cregan, the chief executive at Yas Marina Circuit, has added his voice to growing criticism regarding the decision to host a Formula One Young Drivers Test in England this July ahead of traditional venue Abu Dhabi.

This season will feature two options for teams looking to partake in the young driver programme, which has for the past two years taken place at the end of the year in the capital of the UAE.

As it stands, 10 of the 12 marques are ready to run at Silverstone following the British Grand Prix on July 8, while only Red Bull Racing and Toro Rosso will continue to test their young talent at Yas after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on November 4.

Eric Boullier, the team principal of Lotus F1 Team, had earlier this week called the decision to offer young drivers testing at Silverstone "nonsense" and Cregan said he could understand the Frenchman's concerns.

"If you're a good young driver in the middle of a season, then it's not ideal to be testing a Formula One car midway through the year," Cregan said.

"These guys should be focusing on whatever series it is they are racing, which is why the F1 testing in Abu Dhabi worked so well in the past because it was effectively the end of their season."

The main issue with testing in Abu Dhabi this year is that, courtesy of a busy calendar that culminates with six races in eight weeks, a Young Drivers Test in Abu Dhabi would effectively mean some team members working for five consecutive weeks without a break.

Cregan, however, warned that hosting the young driver test in July could also see teams focusing more on improving their car than evaluating potential talent; a situation that must be avoided, he said.

"It is first and foremost a Young Drivers Test and it must remain that," he said.

"It is a chance for young drivers to get maybe a first chance to drive an F1 car and it is chance for teams to run their eye over a driver and evaluate his performance. Developing the car and parts should be secondary."

Under the testing agreement teams have signed, marques can withdraw from Silverstone and switch to Yas if poor weather is predicted.

However, if a team's car leaves the pit-lane at the three-day test, it is deemed to have partaken and will be prohibited from taking to the track again in Abu Dhabi four months later.

Boullier, who is also the vice-president of the Formula One Teams Association, said on Monday that "it's a bit disappointing, to be honest", to be testing in England instead of the Emirates.

"I am a supporter of young drivers, and for me Abu Dhabi [in November] was the perfect scenario.

"The young kids finish the season, and you can organise this test in a hot, nice place, with nice variety. So I was actually a bit cross with the decision to bring it earlier to Silverstone. We had a strong discussion, let's say, and definitely I was against this. It is absolutely a nonsense to have a Young Driver Test in July when all the young kids are in the middle of the season and focused on racing and the championship. We cannot disturb this. It is completely the wrong timing.

"You also have another issue: bringing this test in the middle of the season you have to consider there will be a different point of view for the team; and as a team it's another opportunity to develop the car and bring some parts to test."

Boullier added that while he was against the Silverstone test, his Oxford-based Lotus team opted to run there instead of Abu Dhabi for cost-cutting reasons.

"Between choosing to go to Abu Dhabi for young drivers, which is very important for me, and Silverstone, I obviously have to choose what is best for the team and that is Silverstone," he said. "But actually I would like it to rain, so we will go back to the original schedule."

Cregan said regardless of whether Yas hosts two or 10 teams this November, the circuit will be ready. "We'll still be working to the same standards," he said. "So in that sense nothing changes."

 

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

 

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