With the Formula One driver situation playing more Status Quo than a ‘70s jukebox, rumors over promoting GP2 drivers into the series for the 2017 season have been thin on the ground.
As teams are happy to keep their current drivers, switch to a rival F1 pilots or on the rare occasion look to a series past GP2, seats begin to fill up for 2017 as some wait on the sidelines.
The season is another exciting one, with three drivers in contention to become champions on November 26/27 in Abu Dhabi. Antonio Giovinazzi, Pierre Gasly, and Raffaele Marciello are all fighting for the title.
The champion cannot return to the series once they have won and they can struggle to find a drive elsewhere. Plenty of time remains, four months until testing should begin with their 2017 machines; however, drivers get more uneasy as every tick of time goes on.
Giovinazzi and Marciello currently do not have links with any Formula One team, while Gasly has connections to the Red Bull Junior Team, the next-in-line to be promoted.
Toro Rosso’s confirmation of Daniil Kvyat alongside Carlos Sainz at the team leaves Gasly in an awkward position should he win the title.
A dismissal of Kvyat at some point in the season or if Gasly finds a seat at another team by the Red Bull management could give him his only hopes.
Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull’s current oldest driver, drove an F1 car for the first time at the 2011 British Grand Prix for HRT before moving to Toro Rosso in 2012. If Gasly is put into the sport somehow like this, it may put unnecessary pressure on the shoulders of Kvyat, though.
THE SEAT STRUGGLE
The battle for rides continues to be debated over time. Since 2011, no GP2 champion automatically jumped from the series into Formula One.
Davide Valsecchi (2012) and Fabio Leimer (2013) never raced in the sport, with Jolyon Palmer (2014) and Stoffel Vandoorne (2015) both waiting a year before racing for Renault in 2016 and McLaren in 2017.
Romain Grosjean (2011) found a move up to drive for Lotus in 2012, although he already had experience in the sport with Renault in the second half of the 2009 season.
Pastor Maldonado is the last champion promoted without any prior F1 experience after beating Sergio Perez in the 2010 season, with those drivers’ careers beginning in F1 in 2011 with Williams and Sauber respectively.
It is not only champions, though. Although surprises usually happen with F1, only a lucky racer, potentially further down the previous year’s standings, will find a way through.
In 2015, three drivers graduated to the series, while two ex-GP2 drivers made their debuts in 2016. Some fans do criticize these people as ‘pay drivers’ that receive the jokes.
WHAT COULD BE DONE?
Many would potentially ask about a mandatory drive or test as an opportunity for racers.
Young drivers completed time in the sport in the past. For four seasons between 2003 and 2006, many teams used third drivers and third cars on Fridays with only the first four teams in the Constructors’ Championships unable to do so.
Now-four-time champion Sebastian Vettel and former GP2 racers Alexandre Premat, Michael Ammermueller and E.J. Viso all had Friday laps in Formula One cars in 2006.
Some schemes already take place in American racing, with the Indy Lights champion having a three-race chance at a team in IndyCar the following season.
With the lengthy discussions that go on between teams to try and agree on things in Formula One, getting a team to agree to take a driver for any races would probably be impossible.
A test driver role would surely be easier for teams to enforce with their existing allocation of two cars, but again, it would be down to whether they would want to do something they are told to do.
This could be a driver given an opportunity to drive a Formula One car in a pre-season test, a test with a car that is at least two years old, or any potential in-season tests between races.
It could even intrigue if a limit were placed on how much testing a regular driver could do in pre-season as the team finds things out with their cars, leaving other drivers to take up the role.
Previous champions Palmer and Vandoorne have both signed as reserve drivers one year after their wins; however, the 2016 champion is not guaranteed anything just yet. A trophy to put on the fireplace is a nice prize, but some automatic drive is surely sweeter.
However optimistic to think that every driver who sets gets high up the GP2 standings are good enough drivers for F1, until they step into a car consistently, how do the teams and the public know for sure?
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