F1: Who is waiting in the wings?

Monday was a strangely busy day in the F1 driver market, with Williams confirming that former Force India driver Paul di Resta will serve as their reserve driver for 2016, while Canadian Nicholas Latifi has signed on to test with Renault.

While the 22 drivers who will line up on the grid at Melbourne Park are already superstars, who are the men waiting in the wings and taking on the testing duties, and what exactly do they do?

Reserve and test drivers have aptly been referred to as the ‘forgotten men’ of F1. With so few testing opportunities, and many teams preferring to use their regular drivers in Friday practice sessions, there is a lot of watching and waiting involved for reserve drivers.

Some of these drivers have been old hands such as Pedro de la Rosa who spent many years working with Ferrari even when his chances of a race-seat were over as he was able to impart great wisdom to Ferrari’s younger drivers while also providing the team with invaluable feedback.

Just in case

Others have been forced back into reserve roles due to the lack of racing opportunities. This was the case for Kevin Magnussen and Esteban Gutierrez who spent 2015 testing with McLaren and Ferrari respectively after losing their race-seats after the 2014 season. Both men were rewarded for their patience with a place on the 2016 grid.

And then there are youngsters waiting for their chance to make the step up to F1. Fernando Alonso, Romain Grosjean and Pascal Wehrlein are among those who will line-up in Melbourne on Sunday having first served an apprenticeship.

But what does a reserve driver actually do? The obvious answer is ‘fill in for a frontline driver’ as Magnussen did last year in Australia when Alonso was ruled out by a concussion. However, that is rare and for the most part, the duties are somewhat less glamorous.

“Normally nothing happens,” Wehrlein, who was at Mercedes last year, told CNN last year. “If something happens to Nico or Lewis I’ll be in the race car. It must be really bad luck if one of them couldn’t drive but I’d step in.”

He added: “You take all the information you can. The target this year is to learn everything: procedures, all they say about the car and getting confident with everyone within the team.

“You learn from watching the drivers but also talking to them. You have to learn everything about the car so that, if I jump in, I don’t do so not knowing anything, not prepared.”

Just in case

While Wehrlein said that Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg were very helpful when he started the role, there are certainly drivers who will feel threatened by the presence of a third driver, as Grosjean explained of his time as a reserve driver.

“I didn’t drive at all,” he said. “There was not even a simulator at Enstone [the team’s headquarters].

“It was also hard to work with the drivers as they were thinking ‘this driver wants to get your Friday’ [a practice session] or your race seat, so it is a little hard to get on with the race drivers.”

Just in case

(That’s a very young Grosjean in the back right…)

In order to counteract such problems, the likes of Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull have ‘young driver academies’ where many drivers are groomed and given racing opportunities. It’s here that many of the next F1 drivers will emerge from.

Not all the blanks have been filled in for the 2016 campaign, but this is what we know of the second line of drivers thus far:

Ferrari
Development drivers: Antonio Fuoco and Charles Leclerc

Force India
Development drivers: Alfonso Celis and Nikita Mazepin

Haas
Reserve drivers: Santino Ferrucci and Charles Leclerc

Mercedes
Reserve driver: TBC

Manor
Reserve driver: Alexander Rossi
Development driver: Jordan King

McLaren
Reserve driver: Stoffel Vandoorne
Development drivers: Nobuharu Matsushita and Oliver Turvey

Renault
Reserve driver: Esteban Ocon
Development driver: Nicholas Latifi

Red Bull
Reserve driver: Pierre Gasly

Sauber
Reserve driver: TBC

Toro Rosso
Development drivers: Niko Kari, Sérgio Sette Câmara, Luis Leeds

Williams
Reserve driver: Paul di Resta
Development drivers: Alex Lynn and Lance Stroll

While names the likes of Di Resta, Rossi, and even Stoffel Vandoorne are well known, it may be worth paying attention to a few more, there could be a future F1 champion among them.

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