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What Is The F1 Young Driver Test?

Have you ever wondered how young rookies get into Formula 1 when teams aren’t allowed to do any testing outside of official events? These rising stars aren’t just thrown into the most incredible machines on the planet on their first race weekend, and instead they make use of F1 young driver testing.

The F1 young driver test is an opportunity for young drivers to experience Formula 1 cars for the first time, and it’s held at the end of each season. It also allows the teams to analyze the driver’s skills in the car and gain some information on how they perform in their car.

The young driver test might seem simple, but teams also use it as a “testing session” since testing is banned in Formula 1 outside of official testing events. Below, we go into more detail about the F1 young driver test and tell you everything you need to know.

What Is The Formula 1 Young Driver Test?

The Formula 1 young driver test is an annual event that is hosted at the end of the very season. It usually takes place at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, which is where the final race is usually hosted.

The young driver test gives teams the opportunity to allow some of the up and coming stars to drive their cars. This is often used to get the driver in the car and allow them to become more comfortable with it, and just gain some experience too.

Even though these drivers tend to come from Formula 2, driving a Formula 1 car is still a big step up from what they are used to. This means that they do need some time in the car even before they land a seat with a Formula 1 team.

This is not only important for the driver, but also for the teams and the FIA. Both have their own reasons for valuing the young driver test at the end of each season, which is why it’s so important. But let’s consider it from a driver’s perspective first.

From A Driver’s Perspective

Firstly, it can be extremely intimidating to get into a Formula 1 car for the first time for young drivers. Even if they are a Formula 2 champion, getting into a Formula 1 car is a whole different world,with more power, more downforce, more sensitive machinery and a more complex driving process.

Drivers need time to get used to the cars and learn how they work, and also become more comfortable in them. The young driver test gives these drivers that opportunity by giving them potentially multiple days and hundreds of laps in a Formula 1 car.

This allows the drivers to become more familiar with how everything works, as it can be extremely overwhelming. This way they will be more prepared to step up to Formula 1 when their time comes to get into the car.

From A Team’s Perspective

For teams, the young driver test is crucial for several reasons. On the one hand it’s great for drivers to gain experience in the car without having the pressure of a race weekend looming over their – or the team’s – heads.

Most of the teams will use drivers from their academies. This way, it won’t be as much of a surprise for a driver if they are called up to stand in for one of the full time drivers on a race weekend, as we saw in 2020 with Pietro Fittipaldi for Haas after Romain Grosjean’s accident in Bahrain.

Having their academy drivers participate in the young driver test and gain confidence in the cars gives the teams more confidence in their reserve drivers. If a driver was injured or ill during a race weekend, the academy driver could be called up as a stand in.

Teams will also take the young driver test as an opportunity to gather more data from their cars. Even though the test drivers might not be able to give as much feedback as a regular driver that’s used to the car, and the teams are restricted to running a car that has taken part in at least one race of that year, it’s still a useful opportunity for analysts to gain more data to work with.

Tire Testing

Teams may also send their full time drivers out in the young driver test to experiment with new parts that come along due to rule changes. We saw that happen with the 18-inch tires at the 2021 young driver test in Abu Dhabi.

The full time drivers are more experienced with the cars and can give better feedback than the younger drivers. However, a portion of the usually 3-day testing period must be devoted to non-full time drivers. We’ll go through the actual regulations soon, but let’s finally look at how the FIA benefits from the young driver test.

From The FIA’s Perspective

The FIA has become stricter in recent years in terms of who can enter Formula 1. The FIA has clamped down on the Super Licence rules, which, along with having 40 Super Licence points, also require the driver to have driven at least 100 kilometers (about 62 miles) in a Formula 1 car prior to their first race weekend.

Doing so will ensure that the driver has driven a Formula 1 car before and that they will be able to drive the car in a safe and competent manner when they get on track. The FIA takes this element of their rules very seriously, and no driver is allowed to enter the sport unless they are qualified enough per the FIA’s rules. This helps the FIA to further ensure the safety of the sport.

The FIA also sees this as an opportunity to give younger drivers a chance to prove their skills in a Formula 1 car. If given the choice, many teams would rather use their full time drivers in the test to get better feedback and make more progress on their cars, or gain valuable insight about new aspects, again like the 18 inch tires tested at the end of 2021 for the 2022 season.

The FIA is continually investing in the long-term future of the sport, so obviously they would prefer to give the drivers of the future as much experience as possible.

Who Can Take Part In The F1 Young Driver Test?

In the past there have been strict rules on who is allowed to take part in the young driver test at the end of the season. However, in 2020 those rules were slightly relaxed, which caused a lot of controversy between fans, teams and drivers.

Initially, you could only qualify for the young driver test if you had taken part in no more than two Grand Prix. This meant that each driver in the test would be inexperienced from an F1 standpoint, and they would all have been given a ‘new’ opportunity to drive a Formula 1 car.

However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the 2020 post season young driver test rules were altered,which allowed drivers who had not raced in 2020, but had raced in previous seasons, to take part in the test. This was great news for Alpine (then Renault), as it meant that 2-time world champion Fernando Alonso (who raced in F1 in 2018) could drive a more recent Formula 1 car and get used to it.

Other teams were unhappy though, as they claimed that it gave Alonso and Alpine an unfair advantage over the rest of the grid, especially the drivers who were moving to new teams and had to get used to their new cars at the first race of 2021.

Young Drivers

In the majority of cases, teams must use at least one “young” driver during their young driver test (there’s no age limit). This means a driver who has not raced in Formula 1 before, or has not participated in more than two Grand Prix weekends.

This gives the teams the opportunity to use their academy drivers and start preparing them for the possible next step in their motorsport journey. It will give the team an idea of how quickly the driver is able to adapt to the new car as well.

This rule has been put in place to ensure that teams use their young drivers, rather than their third drivers who are more experienced, at the young driver test. This makes it more fair between all teams and ensures that they give the youth an opportunity to experience Formula 1.

Experienced Drivers

In some cases, you may see some experienced drivers taking the wheel at the young driver test. In 2020 we saw Fernando Alonso and Robert Kubica at the young driver test for their respective teams. In 2021 we saw Sebastian Vettel, Charles Leclerc, and a few other drivers taking part in the test.

2020 was an exception as teams were allowed to use any driver that hadn’t driven a Formula 1 car in a race during that year. In 2021 we saw some of the current drivers taking the wheel of mule cars (see below) as they had to give feedback on the new-for-2022 18 inch Pirelli tires, which young drivers would not have been able to do as effectively.

In some cases, we often see the teams using their third drivers or test drivers in the young driver test. This is usually accepted because these drivers help to test the car, which will ensure that everything runs fine for the younger drivers who are experiencing the car for the first time.

What Is A Mule Car In F1?

A mule car in F1 (and other motorsports) is a base car that is used to test new parts. The team will set everything on the car back to a standard format and only apply one new part at a time to see how it affects the performance of the car. Mule cars are often based on cars from previous seasons.

This allows the team to get an accurate representation of the difference in performance of parts, such as new tires, and they are able to compare what the car does with the parts equipped and without the parts equipped. Formula 1 teams used mule cars during the 2021 young driver test to see how the car reacted to the new 18-inch Pirelli tires.

Final Thoughts

The Formula 1 young driver test is an annual event that takes place at the end of the season. Since unofficial Formula 1 testing has been banned, teams use this as an opportunity to allow their academy drivers to experience Formula 1 cars or to test new parts for upcoming rule changes.