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Life as Formula One’s third man 22 Mar 2006

Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) Renault Test Driver. Formula 1 Testing, Jerez, Spain, 7-10 February 2006. World ©  Capilitan/Sutton Robert Doornbos (NDL) Red Bull Racing Third Driver.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Sepang, Malaysia, 18 March 2006 Neel Jani (SUI) Scuderia Toro Rosso Third Driver.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Practice, Sepang, Malaysia, 17 March 2006 Markus Winkelhock (GER) MF1 M16 Third Driver.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Bahrain Grand Prix, Practice, Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain, 10 March 2006 Robert Kubica (POL) BMW Sauber F1.06 Third Driver.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Preparations, Sepang, Malaysia, 16 March 2006

Being one of Formula One racing’s third drivers is living life on standby, waiting for a chance that may never come. Testing, and for some an opportunity to shine for two hours on a Grand Prix Friday, could be the path to a full-time race seat - or just as easily a very long road to nowhere. Few drivers have successfully made the conversion to fully-fledged racer, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty willing and eager to try. We caught up with some of this year’s young hopefuls and asked them about life as ‘the third man’, about how they got here and about where they hope the position can take them…

Heikki Kovalainen, Renault: “At the moment my situation is great. I want to drive and being with Renault is fantastic. But naturally my ambition is to have a permanent race seat. Last year’s GP2 helped me a lot and prior to that the Renault young drivers programme because it saved me from going through difficult sponsor searches. My opinion was always that a team has to want me for my driving skills and not for the money I'd possibly bring. I get asked if I think that my chances to race in 2007 look good because Fernando (Alonso) will leave the team - but I don’t think in those terms. I know that I will make it, whatever he is doing. And the signals are all suggesting that it will happen in 2007.”

Robert Doornbos, Red Bull: Since I made my debut in F1 at the end of the 2004 season it’s a 24-7 job. Now I’m the third and reserve driver for Red Bull Racing, a team that has all the ingredients to become a top team in a very short period of time, and of course my target is to be part of that now and in the future. So yes I'm happy with my position and achievements at the moment, but I put everything aside to become a successful F1 driver in the future!

“The biggest obstacle in my career so far has been that I've had to work really hard to find the sponsors to achieve one of my dreams, which was to be racing in F1. Although I had very good results in junior categories, it's very hard to reach the pinnacle off motor racing, F1. As for now my role within the Red Bull family is clear - official test and reserve driver - and it's an investment in my career for the future as now I'm working with and learning from very strong engineers and a very experienced team mate in David Coulthard, which is all a great chance for me and I push really hard to make the most of it. And if the golden opportunity comes along to jump in and race than I'll take the chance and give it 110 percent, just as I've done until now!”

Robert Kubica, BMW Sauber: “To be the third driver in the BMW Sauber F1 team is a great opportunity. I am very happy about this. I do a lot of kilometres and gather a lot of experience. Testing is very helpful. We did a good job in the winter. I am concentrating on my job as a third driver and will focus on this.”

Neel Jani, Toro Rosso: “I'm happy with what I have achieved so far, but we have only had two race weekends, so there is still a lot to learn for a young driver like me. My biggest obstacle will have to be faced once I become an official F1 [race] driver. 2006 is a learning year for me and my aim is to get a racing seat in 2007.”

Markus Winkelhock, Midland: “I'm really satisfied, because I've learned so much. And during my first Friday drive, last weekend in Bahrain, I felt that I was really able to help the team. So I'm very happy.

“For me, the biggest obstacle was definitely my second year in F3. I was Rookie of the Year in my first year, but very unlucky in my second, so I had to do a third year. Yes, that was the biggest hardship so far. I want to advance as fast as possible. There's probably no possibility for me to race in F1 this year, but if I do a good job, who knows? Hopefully, I can get a drive next year.”

Giorgio Mondini, Midland: “I am starting as a newcomer to F1, so for now I'm satisfied. But this is only the beginning. Last year was my biggest obstacle. The whole 2005 season was very bad, because I was coming from a championship win (in Formula Renault V6). The step I made this year should have taken place last year. We made some bad choices, and basically wasted the year. Hopefully next year I will have a Formula One race drive. If things go as they should, this year, I won't race any Grand Prix. But next year it should happen.”