x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

The first impressions will last for F1's Young Drivers Test programme

Young drivers should follow my example if they want to get themselves noticed at Yas Marina Circuit this week.

Jean-Eric Vergne tested for Toro Rosso on Friday and will get another chance to impress this week with Red Bull Racing.
Jean-Eric Vergne tested for Toro Rosso on Friday and will get another chance to impress this week with Red Bull Racing.

It is not every day that you are able to get behind the wheel a Formula One car and the drivers taking part in the Young Drivers Test programme in Abu Dhabi must take the bull by the horns and drive the tyres off the car to get noticed.

You have to make an immediate impression in F1 if you are to impress and that is what the guys at Yas Marina Circuit need to do if they are to realise their dreams of racing in a grand prix one day.

Jean-Eric Vergne, who is testing for Red Bull Racing over the three days at Yas, had his first experience in an F1 car, I believe, on Friday doing one of the practice sessions for Toro Rosso.

He did a fantastic job and impressed immediately. That is what you have to do to break into F1. You have to make a name for yourself and get people and teams in F1 talking about you.

That was how I approached it when I got my first chance to test an F1 car in 1987, when I drove a Benetton at Brands Hatch in England.

I was on my way to winning the British Formula 3 championship and I got noticed by Peter Collins, who was in charge at Benetton at the time. He arranged for me to have a test.

One thing different back then was that testing happened all the time between races. Now with the cost-cutting measures in the sport there is no in-season testing on track so it means drivers trying to break into F1 are limited to when they can get the experience behind the wheel.

Anyway, I remember I went down to Brands Hatch not knowing what to expect, but I was determined to take the opportunity and use it and that was exactly what I did.

I was quicker during the test than Thierry Boutsen, the race driver for Benetton at that time, and I think I was third quickest. Nigel [Mansell] was the big name at the time and while he was fastest I remember I was not too far away from his time.

That raised my profile massively. No longer was I "Johnny Herbert, the Formula 3 driver", I was now in the mix with F1 drivers, matching their times and showing I could handle myself in the car. It helped start my F1 career and helped get me my drive with the Benetton team in 1989 after I did a year of Formula 3000.

I was on a roll from doing well in F3 so I was not really nervous going into the test, but what stands out for me was when I left the pit for the first time.

I got up to second gear and thought I would see what power the car had and I put my foot down as I went up to third gear. Back then the cars had a turbo engine, which gave a horsepower of around 950, and I just remember hearing a little whooshing noise and then nothing.

I was just thinking, "Oh, this isn't that amazing" when the car suddenly flew forward and the power was unbelievable. I just remember that driving those opening couple of laps having a huge grin on my face. This was it, this was what I wanted to do and I was living my dream.

I adjusted quickly to being in an F1 car and that is what the guys driving today, tomorrow and Thursday have to do. The good drivers always find the transition to F1 natural and that is what the team owners and engineers will be looking for when assessing performances.

The guys taking part all have some experience, be it GP2 or Renault World Series, and the only thing that will be different is everything will be a little more advanced.

They will have much more power, more grip and better tyres and, if they are good, it will not take them long to adapt.

Johnny Herbert is a former F1 driver with three career victories. His column is written with the assistance of staff writer Graham Caygill


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