The Jerez test was supposed to be a chance for the teams and drivers of F1 2013 to get to grips with their latest berths and machinery, but Force India’s strategical antics over the course of the week suggest there may have been more at stake for two men in particular at the British based team. With James Rossiter and Jules Bianchi racking up a similar number of laps each, was there more going on than first meets the eye?
On paper, it might not seem like much of a contest.
James Rossiter is a comparative F1 veteran; he may never have started a Grand Prix but that hasn’t isn’t to say he hasn’t had his moments. A career that began with Honda in 2006 and encompassed Super Aguri, Brawn GP (with who he played a vital role in developing the 2009 title-winning BGP001) and a case of what-might-have-been when he signed for the stillborn USF1 project back in 2010. Since then, he has been trying his hand in Le Mans endurance racing before being signed to Force India and put back in an F1 cockpit this week for the first time in three years. Thanks to this experience, Rossiter isn’t short of knowledge and know-how when it comes to setting up a Grand Prix car.
Jues Bianchi is a different kettle of fish altogether; French, a Ferrari protege and, at 23, six years the Brit’s junior, he has had a far more illustrious single-seater career. A Masters of Formula 3 and F3 Euroseries Champion, Bianchi made his mark in 2010 and 2011 when he logged twin 3rd places in two successive GP2 Championship campaigns. Since then, the only way has been up for the Frenchman as he was snapped up by Ferrari and ‘loaned’ to Force India for 2012 to gain important experience behind the wheel. He has already completed nine free practice sessions at tracks including Silverstone, Monza and Yas Marina which must put him in prime position for the vacant seat currently available in the cockpit of the second VJM06.
The Jerez test for Force India had all the hallmarks of an event that took place over twelve years ago at a sun-soaked Barcelona circuit on the eve of the 2000 Formula One season. Frank Williams had something of a dilemma on his hands; one seat already filled (by Ralf Schumacher) and two promising young pretenders vying for the second. The Brazilian star Bruno Junqueira lost out to a little known Formula 3 driver only two seasons out of karts who had never won a single-seater championship.
His name? Jenson Button.
Unlike the Williams event, this ‘shootout’, if it has indeed been one, was not one advertised to the public and media. We can only speculate if we are looking in entirely the wrong place and Adrian Sutil is in the car come Melbourne. Let’s assume it was a test of the two men’s mettle. Which one will Force India go for?
Jules Bianchi – the established driver, recent experience of racing in single seaters, the younger man at 23 and the guy who has the most hours in an F1 cockpit.
Or do you go for James Rossiter, the older, more established man with the mechanical background and F1 insight going back 7 years? His Le Mans series exploits do not qualify him for the job as well as Bianchi, but only two years ago this Anglo-Indian team gave another young man a chance. One who had spent several years racing tin-tops in Germany. A certain Paul Di Resta…