If Force India was a title challenger, it would no longer sign a ‘Friday’ driver – that is the admission of Otmar Szafnauer, the Silverstone based team’s chief operating officer.
Ahead of the launch of the 2012 car at Silverstone circuit on Friday morning, he backed the decision to sign Jules Bianchi to drive one of the race cars on most Friday mornings this season. In the last two seasons, Paul di Resta and then Nico Hulkenberg occupied the same reserve role, stepping up into the race seat the following year. In those cases, Vitantonio Liuzzi and then Adrian Sutil lost their seats.
“Better to have to make a tough decision than to have no choice,” defended Szafnauer. “The advantage,” he told the German magazine Auto Motor und Sport, “is that you can get a young driver that you believe in and get a direct comparison with the regular drivers.
“Even if he’s only running on a Friday morning with one set of tyres on a green track, our simulation tools are now so good that we can extrapolate the handicaps. The third driver also brings a third set of feedback which helps the engineers.”
Szafnauer acknowledged, however, that sidelining a race driver for an entire 90-minute practice session is not something a title-contending team can do.
He refers, therefore, to the fact that some of the “smaller teams can get some sponsorship money” from the third driver solution.
“The disadvantage is that when it comes to the world championship, you want to be making maximum use of your (race) drivers. So for this you need all the practice sessions, especially in changing weather conditions.
“If you are going for the championship, you really can’t afford to (run a Friday driver),” admitted Szafnauer.