RACE DEBRIEF

    One new addition to the Sporting Regulations for 2022 is the rule that mandates the use of rookie drivers on at least two occasions during first free practice this season.

    A rookie driver is defined as someone who “may not have participated in more than two F1 World Championship Races during their career” – meaning there are a few with race experience available for the teams to choose from. But for the majority, there are other clear standout candidates that they have existing links with.

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    So, notwithstanding the ability for teams to look beyond those listed below, here’s a speculative rundown of who could be getting some track action this year, based on who teams have on their books – or at least have ties with.

    Mercedes

    The defending champions can call on an experienced name from outside F1 in the form of Nyck de Vries, who won the Formula E World Championship for Mercedes last season. The Dutchman also had time testing for Mercedes in Abu Dhabi, so is building on his experience.

    Frederik Vesti provides a very different option if Mercedes decide to go down that route, as the younger Dane only joined them a year ago and has so far been competing in Formula 3. His Formula Regional title in 2019 makes him eligible for a Friday practice licence if Mercedes opt to give him the 300km in a representative car that is also required.

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    De Vries tested for Mercedes in Abu Dhabi

    Red Bull

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, Red Bull have the largest number of drivers currently eligible to carry out free practice running already on their books, courtesy of their young driver programme.

    Starting six Formula 2 races is enough to be eligible for a Friday licence, meaning Juri Vips (sixth in F2 in 2021), Jehan Daruvala (seventh) and Liam Lawson (ninth) all have the ability to qualify. And both Vips and Lawson have definitely completed the 300km in an F1 car that is needed, having been part of the Young Driver Test in Abu Dhabi last year for Red Bull and AlphaTauri respectively.

    Dennis Hauger, meanwhile, is the reigning Formula 3 champion and has picked up enough Super Licence points to be considered, as he steps up to F2 in 2022.

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    Vips could be a potential call-up for Red Bull

    Ferrari

    Ferrari’s two most experienced young drivers that don’t drive for the team have either had extensive F1 experience already (Antonio Giovinazzi) or are currently racing (Mick Schumacher), meaning it’s Robert Shwartzman who is the most obvious candidate as part of their academy set-up.

    Last year’s runner-up in the Formula 2 championship has had experience in F1 machinery during the Abu Dhabi test but has yet to take part in an FP1 session, after seeing a planned outing in 2020 get cancelled.

    Callum Ilott is taking a year’s break from the Ferrari Driver Academy to race in IndyCar, but if his links have been retained then there’s a chance he could also be in the frame.

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    Shwartzman was F2 runner-up in 2021

    McLaren

    With an IndyCar team as part of their racing programme, McLaren can call on their exciting talent Pato O’Ward, who made his F1 debut during the Abu Dhabi test in December last year.

    O’Ward has two wins to his name in IndyCar and finished third in the championship last season, while fourth the year before gets him past the 25-point mark required for a Friday licence. He was also desperate to get another chance in F1 machinery after loving his first taste at Yas Marina Circuit, and is the only driver signed to McLaren that is currently eligible.

    That said, McLaren shared reserve drivers with Mercedes last season, so if that tie-up remains in place then de Vries might be a consideration.

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    Alpine

    If we’re honest, it would be a pretty big shock to not see Oscar Piastri fulfil duties for Alpine. The Australian has been a revelation in recent seasons, winning Formula Renault Eurocup, Formula 3 and Formula 2 titles in consecutive years.

    Without a race seat for 2022, Piastri is reserve driver at Alpine and so race weekend experience would be extremely useful in that role – but there are other outside options if the team needs them.

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    For Christian Lundgaard, the calendar would have to match as he’ll race in IndyCar, and it is unclear how strong his links to Alpine will be while he’s in the United States. Meanwhile, a Formula Renault Eurocup title in 2020 followed by fifth in last year’s Formula 3 championship also just gets Victor Martins above the 25-point threshold to be considered.

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    Piastri is highly rated by Alpine

    AlphaTauri

    As the Red Bull sister team, the same pool of drivers is available to both squads, although it’s more likely that the less experienced options would get a chance with AlphaTauri.

    Aston Martin

    Aston Martin don’t have a driver academy at this stage and their reserve driver – Nico Hulkenberg – has started a few too many races to meet the criteria here. Similarly Nick Yelloly drove in the Abu Dhabi test as part of his role as simulator driver, but his recent sportscar history leaves him without enough points for a Friday licence.

    Aston most likely won’t be short of options, however, as they have an attractive seat that could be available to interested parties.

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    Aston should have plenty of takers for a run in their AMR22

    Williams

    This list could have been a lot longer at Williams, but the only driver confirmed as part of their 2022 driver academy is Logan Sargeant, who joined late last year. The American impressed in Formula 3 – finishing runner-up in 2020 and seventh last year in a less competitive team – and already has three F2 starts under his belt, with a first full season to come.

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    Sargeant also completed a day of testing in Abu Dhabi last year, so has the required mileage in F1 machinery.

    Jack Aitken was reserve driver last year and is eligible after only starting one Grand Prix so far, while Roy Nissany also has the race starts in F2 coupled with experience of an F1 car, but neither have been confirmed as still being involved for 2022.

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    Sargeant represented Williams at the Abu Dhabi Young Driver Test

    Alfa Romeo

    A bit like Alpine, Alfa Romeo have a clear standout talent waiting for an F1 chance in Theo Pourchaire, who has been impressing the team over the past few seasons.

    Still just 18, Pourchaire won French F4 in 2018, German F4 a year later and was runner-up in his debut F3 season, before finishing fifth in Formula 2 last year. He’s a member of the Sauber Junior Team and is known to be highly rated by Team Principal Frederic Vasseur.

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    The most likely other option is likely to come from Alfa’s power unit supplier, in the form of Ferrari youngster Shwartzman.

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    Could we see Pourchaire out for Alfa?

    Haas

    Haas have two strong candidates for FP1 outings, with Pietro Fittipaldi still just eligible having started the final two races of 2020 in place of the injured Romain Grosjean. The Brazilian impressed the team with his last-minute call-up and continues to do so when testing for Haas. He remains their reserve driver heading into the new season.

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    Given the close collaboration with Ferrari, Team Principal Guenther Steiner also says there will be discussions with the Scuderia about any academy members needing seat time, with Shwartzman having tested for Haas for the first time in Abu Dhabi last year.