Focus - third drivers ready and waiting 16 Oct 2003
Wednesday's announcement by the FIA that six of the ten Formula One teams will be allowed to run a third car in Friday practice next season is good news for those aspiring to become Grand Prix drivers.
Under the 2004 regulations, BAR, Sauber, Jaguar, Toyota, Jordan and Minardi will all be permitted to draft in an additional driver for the Friday sessions, the only provisos being that they have a Super License and have not driven in more than six Grands Prix in the past two seasons.
Among those likely to be waiting eagerly in the wings are BAR test driver Anthony Davidson and Toyota tester Ricardo Zonta. Davidson already has two Grand Prix starts to his credit (with Minardi in 2002), but the revised regulations could give him the chance to learn not just two, but all the tracks on the Formula One calendar.
Zonta, meanwhile, is also eligible to run on Fridays. The Brazilian has two season's worth of competitive Formula One experience, having raced for BAR in 1999 and 2000. Since then he has shrewdly maintained his links with the sport as a test driver, first with Jordan and then with current employer's Toyota.
But it is the potential arrival of all-new faces that really makes the new Friday format an exciting prospect. This year's Heathrow agreement tests have provided a sneak preview of what could be in store. Jordan gave 2003 F3000 champion Bjorn Wirdheim his Grand Prix meeting debut at Indianapolis, while at Suzuka Formula Nippon star Satoshi Motoyama got his first taste of Formula One power with the team.
Luckiest man of all, however, was surely Zsolt Baumgartner, who after running for Jordan in the Friday tests at Hockenheim and the Hungaroring, then went on to became the first Hungarian to start a Grand Prix - and in front of his home crowd to boot - standing in for the incapacitated Ralph Firman.
Of course the new format will not only be a chance to try out or showcase new driving talent. With the teams allowed to run the third car in a different livery, it will also present no end of marketing opportunities, allowing the teams to tailor their sponsorship strategies to individual countries and events.
This could provide a huge boost not just to individual teams, but to the sport as a whole. For example, imagine the additional interest among American fans if their favourite CART, IRL or even NASCAR driver is among the Friday runners. Or the prospect of a Bahraini or a Chinese driver appearing in their country's inaugural Formula One event. The possibilities are endless.
See also: Race weekend changes approved by FIA