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What Do Reserve Drivers Do In F1?

Formula 1 drivers are celebrities who are easy to spot when they’re outside the car. However, there are some drivers who are with the team behind the scenes. These drivers travel to each race, but it’s unlikely that you would ever see them, and they’re known in F1 as reserve drivers.

Reserve drivers in F1, also known as test drivers, are the third drivers in Formula 1 teams. They often take part in testing and do most of the simulator work. The reserve drivers are usually the stand-ins for the full-time drivers if they are unable to race in any particular event.

While people don’t often hear about the reserve drivers in Formula One, there are some notable names throughout the grid. Below, we discuss reserve drivers in F1 in more detail, and we’ll also discuss the difference between test and reserve drivers.

Are Reserve Drivers The Same As Test Drivers? 

Reserve drivers and test drivers are usually the same in Formula 1. Since the team already employs a reserve driver, they also use them to test the car and work in the simulator to find new ways to develop the car. However, some teams may employ separate test drivers.

We often see these drivers taking part in test sessions at the end of the season when helping out the young drivers at the young driver test. The reserve drivers have an important role as they have the experience of driving the car and using the simulator at various points across the entire season, so their feedback is crucial for updates.

Some test sessions require the teams to use younger drivers that have raced in fewer than two Grands Prix. This gives the next generation of talent an opportunity to drive a Formula 1 car and get some mileage under their belt. This is called the young driver test, and it usually happens at the end of the year.

Do All F1 Teams Have Reserve/Test Drivers?

Every Formula 1 team has its own reserve/test driver. In modern Formula 1 it’s important for each team to have a third driver that can help the team out when the main drivers can’t race. Test drivers are much more important than just being back up drivers though.

Some F1 teams also share reserve drivers with other teams. In this scenario, both of the teams will have several options when it comes to reserve drivers just in case the other one is not available. This can make the situation slightly more complex, but there are strict criteria that need to be followed in order to become a reserve driver in Formula 1.

Formula 1 reserve drivers must be able to jump into the car at any time, even during a Grand Prix weekend. This means that a driver must have a Super License, which is quite difficult to obtain.

The drivers also need to have some experience in a Formula 1 car. It’s difficult to get time in a Formula 1 car as the driver needs to have proven themselves and track time is also expensive, so not many drivers are able to get enough track time to secure a reserve driver seat for themselves. This is why many reserve drivers are ex-F1 drivers or F2 drivers that have taken part in a previous test.

2022 Reserve Drivers For Each F1 Team

The 2022 reserve drivers for each F1 team are:

  • Mercedes – Stoffel Vandoorne and Nyck de Vries
  • Red Bull – Sébastien Buemi and Liam Lawson
  • Ferrari – Mick Schumacher and Antonio Giovinazzi
  • McLaren – Stoffel Vandoorne, Nyck De Vries, Oscar Piastri, and Paul Di Resta
  • Alpine – Oscar Piastri
  • Aston Martin – Nico Hulkenberg
  • Williams – Jack Aitken
  • AlphaTauri – Liam Lawson
  • Alfa Romeo – Robert Kubica
  • Haas – Pietro Fittipaldi

Most of the smaller teams only have one reserve driver. However, when it comes to the bigger teams such as Mercedes, Red Bull, and Ferrari, there are multiple options for them to choose from just in case their other driver is not available. Many of the reserve drivers are active drivers and are taking part in other championships.

This means that if they’re racing on the same weekend as Formula 1 it could be difficult to get them to the track in time for the Grand Prix, especially if the races are on the opposite sides of the world. So, having a second backup driver is helpful for the bigger teams who can’t afford to lose out on points.

Do F1 Reserve Drivers Get Paid?

F1 reserve drivers do get paid. The reserve drivers for Formula 1 teams are part of the team and therefore also earn a salary. The salary for a reserve driver is not usually disclosed by the team, so it’s unclear how much these drivers earn for the work that they do.

Reserve drivers may also have their own sponsors that they bring to the team, and these sponsors often also pay the drivers for doing any kind of PR work or attending sponsor events. This adds to the driver’s pay.

The drivers could earn more if they are substituted in for one of the full-time drivers. Their contracts often have several bonuses attached and if the driver achieves a goal that has been agreed upon between them and the team (such as scoring points for example), they could be paid a bonus. Reserve drivers usually also have other commitments that may earn them money outside racing.

What Do Test Drivers Do In F1?

Test drivers in an F1 team have many roles, most notably to fill in for another driver if they are unable to attend a race weekend. However, test drivers may also be involved in practice sessions throughout the year, testing at the start and end of the season, and in simulator development.

You might see the Formula 1 test drivers around the circuit throughout the course of a Grand Prix weekend. It doesn’t look like they’re doing much, but they actually have some very important responsibilities and they’re an integral part of the team.

While they might not be in the car on a race weekend, they can have a lot of responsibility when it comes to car development. In fact, the reserve drivers often do much more work behind the scenes than the full-time drivers do.

It’s not necessarily true for all test drivers though. Some reserve drivers take part in other branches of motorsport. However, when called upon they will tend to their F1 duties. Liam Lawson for example is racing in Formula 2. Nyck De Vries, Sébastien Buemi, and Stoffel Vandoorne are racing in Formula E.

Backup Drivers

Reserve drivers are essentially the backup drivers for the full-time drivers. If one of the full-time drivers is injured or unable to drive for any reason, the reserve driver will substitute for them. This ensures that the team is still able to run two cars during the Grand Prix.

An example is when Nico Hulkenburg raced in Sebastian Vettel’s place for the first two races of the 2022 season. Vettel had tested positive for Covid-19 and was unable to race, which meant that a reserve driver had to be brought in as a substitute.

Some teams, such as Ferrari, have reserve drivers who are on the current Formula 1 grid. Mick Schumacher is the reserve driver for Ferrari and would replace one of the Ferrari drivers if they were unable to race. In this case, Schumacher would drive the Ferrari, and the Haas reserve driver, Pietro Fittipaldi, would fill in for him.

Testing

When it comes to testing it’s important for the teams to have a driver ready and available to drive the car and put some mileage on it. In the majority of cases, the test driver will be driving the car during these sessions. The only exception is preseason testing when the full-time drivers will be trying to get as many laps under their belt as they possibly can to get to grips with the new car.

The reserve driver might also be used to do some testing laps with an older car. Formula 1 teams are allowed to use older cars to do unofficial testing, and many teams have done this in the past. Red Bull called on Alex Albon for testing at Silverstone in 2021 halfway through the season.

Simulator Work

Formula 1 banned teams from doing testing throughout the season with their current cars in 2009. This was done to bridge the gap between teams with bigger budgets, and smaller teams who can’t afford unlimited testing days.

This means that teams have developed incredibly advanced and realistic simulators that the drivers use to help develop their cars. It’s often the reserve driver that does most of the simulator work, which involves changing different elements on the car to see if the car would improve or not.

The simulator work also sometimes involves working on a basic setup for the upcoming Grand Prix. Since the drivers have limited real track time, they need to have a starting point for their setup, and the simulator is the best place to find that.

The reserve drivers will go through all the basic setup elements, such as the gear ratios, wing angles, and even some of the more precise elements such as the ride height. The full-time drivers will then fine-tune the setup to their liking during the practice sessions. This helps the team to save time when it comes to setting up the car for the Grand Prix weekend.

Why Are Reserve Drivers Sometimes Not Used?

In some cases, we have seen scenarios where the reserve drivers were not called in to fill in for a driver who was unable to race. We recently saw it happen with Mick Schumacher following his massive crash during qualifying at the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

You may have expected Haas to call in Pietro Fittipaldi to replace Schumacher for the race, however, that did not happen, and there is a very good reason for that. Fittipaldi was racing in Formula 2 in Saudi Arabia, so in theory, could have been called up to replace Schumacher on Sunday quite easily.

However, due to the fact that Schumacher’s crash took place during qualifying, this would not have been possible. This is because Fittipaldi had technically not qualified for the race. In order to be entered into the Grand Prix, the reserve driver must take part in at least one practice session. No reserve driver had done this for Haas that weekend.

We also saw a strange reserve driver choice in 2020 when George Russell stepped in for Lewis Hamilton, who had Covid-19, in Bahrain. Mercedes’ reserve drivers at the time were Stoffel Vandoorne and Esteban Gutiérrez, but George had more recent F1 experience and had completed various tests for Mercedes in the past too.

Final Thoughts

Reserve drivers in F1 are drivers that are called upon to step in for a main driver if they are unable to race. On top of this, reserve drivers, also known as test drivers, may help the team develop the car throughout the year through test and practice sessions, and through simulator work.