The eyes of the F1 world remain on Abu Dhabi this week, as a big field of so-called ‘young drivers’ conduct three days of testing. But, as ever at the pinnacle of motor racing, nothing is ever exactly as it seems.
“I think it is not so much a ‘young driver’ test,” said Peter Sauber, who returned to Switzerland after Sunday’s race rather than opting to remain with his team in the Arab emirate. He might be referring to the fact that, at the age of 30, McLaren’s Gary Paffett is not exactly ‘young’.
“I think he’s still young enough to be in Formula One,” insisted team boss Martin Whitmarsh.
In reality, with F1 testing now such a rarity, the top teams need reliable drivers at the wheel, as nowhere in the rules are they forbidden from trialling solutions for the 2012 season this week.
“In our case, the priority is the technical programme,” confirmed Mercedes’ Ross Brawn, who is running Sam Bird throughout the three day test. “We’ve got Nico (Rosberg) for the long term and we are not right now in the market for a young driver.”
Ferrari reserve driver Jules Bianchi’s car was running a huge gantry of aerodynamic sensors on Tuesday, while Valtteri Bottas’ Williams had 2012-style top-exiting exhausts.
Jean-Eric Vergne’s Red Bull was fitted with a device to record front wing flexibility, and teams were getting their first taste of Pirelli’s 2012 tyres.
“I was surprised how different the Pirelli prototype 2012 was compared to the normal 2011 tyre,” said Canadian Robert Wickens after testing the Renault.
Sauber’s comments may also have been a reference to the fact many in this week’s driver lineup are not being considered for official roles but have simply paid handsomely.
GP2 driver Fabio Leimer, fourth quickest in Sauber’s C30, is believed to have paid hundreds of thousands of Swiss francs for his single day of running.
In the paddock was the 22-year-old’s wealthy backer Rainer Gantenbein, who according to Blick newspaper has forked out more than $16 million throughout Leimer’s formative career so far.
Asked if he is a ‘madman’, he laughed: “Sure.
“(But) I regard it as an investment. It would be great if some money would flow back to me if Fabio makes it to formula one.
“We had some talks with Virgin and HRT (for 2012) but I prefer to give him a third season in GP2.”