The lights go green on the 2011 Formula One season in Melbourne this weekend and a host of new rookies are preparing for their first full Grand Prix.
The new recruits will not have long to prove themselves if 2010 is anything to go by with Vitaly Petrov the only the rookie to be given a second year, mainly because of his huge financial backing.
Team Lotus reserve driver Karun Chandhok knows exactly how they feel having been ditched by Hispania last year after just ten races, despite an impressive 14th position in a car that was so far off the pace. Chandhok was happy with his performance and understands the commercial reasons for driver choices but believes the limited testing in F1 makes it very hard for rookies to make the grade.
He explained: “I think when I had the opportunity in those ten races I did a good job relative to my team mate and was very competitive and most people recognize that.”
“I think F1 has changed and it is a little bit different these days. I think there are a lot more commercial considerations going into driver choices.”
“I understand why the testing regulations have changed to keep costs down but it makes life very difficult for rookie drivers.”
Chandhok explains that when drivers such as Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen made their debuts they had a lot of time to prepare. “If you take Nico Hulkenberg or Vitaly or another of the other guys it was only when they got to Budapest that they had done the same sort of mileage as Lewis or Heikki had done before their Grand Prix debuts.”
“Lewis is a tremendous talent and probably one of the top four drivers of my generation but at the same time he had all the mileage to prepare so you have to keep some perspective and factor things in like that.”
One driver looking to enter the cut throat world of Formula One in 12 months time is GP2 star Sam Bird who hopes teams will look past the financial implications and see his undoubted talent and speed. “It is extremely difficult for rookies,” he said, “the fact there is limited testing makes it very difficult for a rookie such as myself to jump into F1.”
“Most teams would prefer to take someone who is more experienced, who knows the car and the schedule of a race weekend.”
“I just hope that my results over the next 12 months are good enough so that hopefully someone will look past all this and think, we need to give Sam Bird a chance.”
“With where my sponsors are I believe I would have to get to F1 on merit, outright speed and potential than paying my way.”
“I hope that I can get there on talent alone. It would be a wonderful feeling to be able to say I got there because I was good enough.”
Top 5 Rookies
1. Lewis Hamilton (2007): The first black driver in F1, Hamilton came second in his debut year, only one point behind eventual winner Kimi Raikkonen. It took him only five races to win his first race but off-field struggles with McLaren teammate Fernando Alonso saw him squander a 13 point championship lead. Twelve months later Hamilton become the youngest ever F1 champion.
2. Jacques Villeneuve (1996): The Canadian racer, famed for his dyed hair was a quick driver and when he followed his legendary dad, Gilles, into F1 he was an instance hit. Partnering Damon Hill in the Williams he finished just behind him in the title race. Four wins and seven podiums in 16 races confirmed his talent and a year later was crowned F1 World Champion.
3. Jackie Stewart (1965): The charismatic Scot convinced Lotus to offer him a drive in 1964 but refused the seat believing gaining experience in a lower Formula was better for him. A risky strategy that paid dividends as a year later he joined Graham Hill at BRM and achieved four podiums in his first six races, finishing third in the standings. Stewart went on to be three time world champion with victories in 1969, 1971 and 1973.
4. Emerson Fittipaldi (1970): The Brazilian came into F1 in tragic circumstances. Jochen Rindt's untimely death at Monza left a seat open and Fittipaldi grabbed the chance with both hands. It only took the youngster four races to get his first win and two years later was crowned the world champion. Fittipaldi repeated the feat in 1974.
5. Mark Webber (2002): The Aussie struggled with finances to get into F1 but he eventually secured a three race deal with Minardi, the laughing stock of F1 in the late 1990s and 2000s. However a fifth place finish in his debut in Australia from 18th on the grid launched his career and he now finds himself at Red Bull. Although he didn't win a race until 2009, he is now fighting for the world championship after narrowly missing out last year.