Since the ban on in season testing at the beginning of the 2009 season rookie drivers have had a tougher time than their predecessors in getting to grips with Formula 1. During the free spending nineties and early naughties, team’s were racking as much as 90,000 testing kilometres during the season giving the teams plenty of time to put young talent through their paces. By the start of 2008 the teams had been limited to 30,000km during the season as the budget cuts started to bite and the total ban starting in 2009.
The lack of time any new drivers would get in the car must have been a big concern to the teams as there was only one new face on the grid as the ’09 season opened in Melbourne. The new face was the Swiss driver Sebastian Buemi, partnering Sebastian Bourdais at Torro Rosso. After scoring points in two out of his first three races many would have thought that the ban had little or no effect! Buemi’s and STR’s season started to unravel soon after with no points coming his way until the final two races of the year. Sebastian is now in his third season with STR and has matured into a very competitive driver, scoring points in three of the six races so far in the still uncompetitive STR.
The start of 2010 saw a whole raft of new drivers taking to the circuit with the inclusion of three new teams, Lotus Racing (Yes the one that’s now Team Lotus running the BRG livery), Virgin and Hispania Racing. Hispania Started the season with newbies Bruno Senna and Karun Chandhok, although it soon became apparent that the busiest people at the factory were in the seat fitting department as anyone prepared to part with cash was given the seat ahead of the impressive Chandhok. Also at the back of the grid Virgin had hired the services of Lucas Di Grasi, he had a disastrous season in an unreliable car and his contract wasn’t renewed for this year. Two drivers in the midfield who had mixed fortunes were Nico Hulkenberg and Vitaly Perov. Both had several off track excursions during the year. Nico’s season peaked in Brazil where he claimed pole position in changeable conditions but not even that could save him from losing his seat to Pastor Maldoado (and his considerable backing) for 2011. Petrov looked like he wasn’t going to be more than a one season ‘pay driver’ until a truly fantastic drive in Abu Dhabi to keep title chasing Alonso behind him for nearly the length of the race. These heroics (and Russian sponsorship) saw him rewarded with a new two year deal with Renault, a deal looking fully justified with a debut podium in Melbourne this year. The stand out rookie of the year (and all years since the testing ban) is Kamuri Kobayashi! (I know he had two races in 2009 for Toyota). After four DNF’s in the first four races many did wonder if the performances when he stood in for Glock in ’09 where in fact just flukes? No is the easy answer, although he chalked up four more DNF’s, he did manage to finish in the points no less than Eight times, out scoring the returning Del La Rosa 16 points to 6 by the time Heildfeld had replaced the Spaniard. Another four excursions in the points saw Kamuri crowned top rookie for 2010 finishing just ahead of Petrov and Hulkenberg with an impressive 32 points.
As for the 2011 rookies, well the jury is still out, d’Ambrosoi in the Virgin has quietly going about his driving, keeping out of trouble with a best placed finish of 14th. At Williams, Maldoado hasn’t got off to the best of starts that’s been blighted by off circuit excursions during race weekends. He has recently started to deliver on his promise with two top ten grid slots and running sixth in Monaco (until ‘frickin’ Hamilton took him out). By far the most impressive new boy of 2011 is Paul Di Resta. I can’t think of another of Sutil’s team mates that had given him such a run for his money! After just six races into his F1 career there is already talk of him replacing the seven time world champion Michael Schumacher at Mercedes! High praise indeed.