Formula One’s test and reserve drivers need to get hands-on experience during race weekends if they are to be ready to step into a car when needed, according to one of the most experienced testers out there.
McLaren’s Gary Paffett, who has tested for the squad since 2003 alongside his successful career in DTM, says that, in the event of a race driver being incapacitated, teams could be calling on replacements who had not driven their cars for up to two years.
In 2008 long-time Ferrari tester Luca Badoer was asked to fill in when Felipe Massa was critically injured at the Hungarian Grand Prix.
He was consistently several seconds off the pace of Kimi Raikkonen and his experience showed the scale of the challenge facing teams and drivers in that situation.
Paffett was speaking during his stint as a guest summariser during yesterday’s Radio 5 Live coverage of the second practice session in Montreal
He said that he felt a reserve driver with little recent experience who was asked to step in for a race driver could be put in a potentially dangerous position and was certainly not able to drive to their full potential.
Asked by presenter David Croft if he had asked McLaren for some track time during practice sessions, he said “Yeah, I have kind of asked.”
But the conversation soon turned more serious, with Paffett adding: “I’m probably not such a big fan of no testing because I would like to be driving the car… it’s an interesting discussion with all the test and reserve drivers you have now.
“Paul di Resta’s getting some running with Force India, and Fairuz Fauzy’s had an outing in Malaysia, and you’ve had a few drivers that have done a little bit of running on Fridays but it’s not consistent.
“You’ve got the rest of the reserve and test drivers out there that are waiting to get into the car, if something were to happen to one of the other drivers, that may not have driven for two years now because of the restrictions in testing.
“So there’s a point there to say it’s perhaps dangerous, or certainly not helpful for the test and reserve drivers. If you’re expected to step in for someone there’s no way you are going to do eveything to your potential. It’s something that I think really needs to be looked at. ”
He said that ideally test and reserve drivers would get track time during race weekends but that the idea needed to be made an attractive proposition for teams – maybe through a mechanism like allowing extra sets of tyres for their runs.
Regular Radio 5 Live summariser Anthony Davidson is one of a large number of drivers with F1 experience who are racing in this weekend’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. When asked if he would like to compete, Paffett said: “It’s something I do want to do.
“It is difficult at the moment because it is one race and it is difficult just to go and do that on its own. My ties with McLaren and Mercedes mean it is also difficult to find someone I can do it with that does not conflict with probably every sponsor and partner everybody’s got.
“But it is something I would absolutely love to do, something very different and certainly something attractive. It is something that at the right time I will go and do.”
Of his DTM season, he said that results so far had been mixed. “I had a win at the first race at Hockenheim from pole. The second race at Valencia was when I was bashed into by an Audi for half the first lap which was eventful. That put me down a bit. I finished seventh there, which was a bit disappointing.
“Last weekend I had a fifth at Valencia. It’s gone OK I would say, so far – one win and a couple of points-scorers so we’ve just got to try and get back on the podium.
When asked about McLaren’s season he said: “We’re not really much ahead at the moment, I think we’re still catching at the moment.
“But we certainly showed last year when we started with a poor car and we made great leaps forward. But we did have a poor car at the start of last year, so we had great leaps to make up. This year we’re not quite so far behind so we don’t have so much time to find.
“They do develop the car very quickly, that’s for sure, we do have a lot of updates and they do a very good job. But the thing is with updates on cars, you have a lot of stuff planned, some things come along and they don’t work.
“You can’t say that we’re not going to be caught. I think it’s going to be very close. We’re in a good position now but it is going to be very close.”
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