Today sees Formula 1 make its first return to the Circuit de Magny Cours – or for that matter, any circuit in France – for the first time since 2008. The reason for the event? Three of the teams will be participating in this year’s second ‘Young Drivers’ test session, with Ferrari, Mercedes and Force India doing the honours this time around.
We have already seen three others teams – Williams, Marussia and HRT – take part in a two-day session at Silverstone in the week following the British Grand Prix, with those outfits opting to save costs (at the expense of two extra days’ running) by not travelling to Abu Dhabi for the now-customary four-day test event at Yas Marina at the end of the season.
With Ferrari, Mercedes and Force India now breaking ranks to arrange their own test session at Magny Cours, that leaves the grid’s remaining seven teams – McLaren, Lotus, Red Bull Racing, Toro Rosso, Sauber and Caterham – with the final test outing once the season wraps up, unless of course they can arrange something else in the interim.
This week’s three teams will bring a mix of up-and-comers and more established test drivers to the event, with only Mercedes opting to run just the one driver for the entire event.
The reasons for that are obvious.. The Brackley-based squad – which is falling ever closer into the clutches of Sauber in the battle for fifth place in the Constructors’ Championship standings – is bring a host of major updates to its W03, and needs as few variables as possible in assessing the usefulness of these components. The driver is perhaps the biggest variable of all, so into the seat hopes its regular test driver and GP2 stalwart, English racer Sam Bird.
Ferrari and Force India, on the other hand, are giving over their cars to two and three drivers, respectively.
Ferrari will split its running between its subcontracted reserve driver, Jules Bianchi, and upcoming Italian talent, Davide Rigon.
Bianchi will dovetail his running with a stint in Force India’s VJM04, in which he is inherently familiar on account of his regular Friday practice outings for the Silvertone team, to whom he has been loaned by Ferrari.
The Frenchman will be joined by South American racers Luiz Razia and Rodolfo González. Both of whom have made appearances at ‘Young Drivers’ test sessions in seasons past, with neither having displayed the kind of form in the junior-tier GP2 Series championship to warrant consideration for a permanent F1 berth.
Razia will make his third such outing in a ‘Young Drivers’ test, having driven for Virgin Racing and Team Lotus (now Caterham) in 2010 and 2011, respectively.
González is making his second such outing and will the Force India for a day at Magny Cours, having previously driven for Lotus Racing (as Caterham was then known) in 2010. González has achieved very poor results this year driving for Caterham’s GP2 Series team, and one suspects that the English team would have blocked his outing with Force India if they were at all keen on his services for the future.
Force India, however, is somehow staying afloat despite the massive debts that have mired the other companies run by team principal Vijay Mallya, most notably his airline and brewery concerns. There’s no denying that the team can do with a little bit of extra cash, and what moderate skills Razia and González might bring will be more than offset by the number of zeroes in the cheques they’ll be carrying in their race overalls…
We’ll of course bring you all of the highlights and analysis over the next three days running at Magny Cours.