Franck Montagny announced he would be leaving Formula 1 to pursue his racing career elsewhere. Christian Klien may follow if he can’t land the Force India seat. Both these drivers have no desire to continue their 3rd driver or testing roles as they see no future for themselves.
Rewind few years back, when Robert Kubica in BMW and Anthony Davidson in Honda were making names for themselves in Friday free practice sessions regularly finishing on the top of the timesheets. Sebastian Vettel in his few Friday outings in 2007 season (in the expense of the race drivers) also had a chance to sell himself.
There are only 22 race seats available in F1 and after the Prodrive fiasco who knows when the 2 more vacant places on the grid will be filled up. For the drivers that can’t make it on the grid the test driver role used to be the obvious plan B. Some drivers are still willing to do the test and back up duties if they see a promise of a F1 drive in very near future. But with the current restrictions on testing and no room for 3rd drivers to showcase their skills on on race weekend Fridays many prefer alternatives to keep on racing. Champ car, IRL even Nascar became the destinations for many F1 drivers – Montoya, Villeneuve, Speed, Doornbos.
Some may say there is nothing wrong with older drivers leaving. But F1 teams could sure benefit from employing the experienced drivers in a way McLaren employs Pedro de la Rosa or Ferrari Luca Badoer. But as these drivers now face a season with only an odd drive on the test track here and there, they prefer going elsewhere.
The situation is more damaging when the young drivers are concerned. Christian Klien had enough of doing more less nothing in Honda colours for a year, Narain Karthikeyan does not feel Williams job has too many benefits for him. Vitantonio Liuzzi may be willing to take a testing job for a year, but if no race drive comes around he too will likely start looking elsewhere.
Then there are many up and coming young drivers from junior Formula series. Where do they get chance to put their F1 skills on display ?
And there is no Minardi any longer where managers could place their drivers to start off their F1 career (Fernando Alonso)…
I understand that the testing is where big money is burned. But some room should be made for those in line for the race drive. If nothing else than perhaps the 3rd drivers could return and feature on race weekend Fridays in some near future …