Rookie Team Driver Watch: Scrapheap Challenge
This is the next in my three part series of drivers who might be available to the four or five newcomer teams who might make it to F1 next year. Here we will look at how some teams will try and turn one teams old junk into their new treasure. Now a wise man once said that you can’t polish a turd but some of these guys never got a decent chance. Some of these guys will bring money with them which will push their ability up in the eyes of teams but the thing they have in common is that they are all currently on or likely headed toward the F1 scrapheap. Lets sort the wheat from the chaff.
In another age of Formula 1 when there more seats and less politics Klien would have been the ultimate journeyman driver. He’s not fast, he’s not slow, he’s a bit inconsistent. He is a poor man’s Giancarlo Fisichella without the occasional performance that makes you think “what if he could do that every week…”. Which is why he has been a test driver for the past few years and Fisi is way past 200 Grands Prix.
That said Klien does not present a terrible option, if you build a decent car he will be solid in it. After a few years as a test driver to add a little maturity to his passable speed Klien could be a driver that keeps it on the road and doesn’t disgrace himself. Just don’t expect him to turn into a superstar. It’s not going to happen.
Does anyone else still remember Davidson’s brother Andrew worrying about his results on the very first series of Big Brother? That seems a long time ago and now little Ant is the more famous of the two. Davidson’s career has stalled since the collapse of Super Aguri and he needs to get it on track quickly. He has been linked to Manor and Lotus and he needs to grab a seat, any seat if he possibly can.
Davidson has shown he has potential during his time in F1 but he’s never been given anything on a race-day you could describe as halfway competitive nevermind good. He might not get something like that next year but he needs to be on the grid to impress someone higher up. Out of all those on this list Davidson would be my choice, he’s the one whose most likely to become a great driver in my eyes. He could be the next David Coulthard, good but not good enough to be a champion.
Grosjean has been less than impressive with the chance he has been given in F1 this season but are we really surprised? He got thrown into possibly the worst situation on the grid, a 2 time world champion teammate, a recently competent team in the midst of a down season dealing with one of the biggest off-track controversies F1 has ever seen. That’s hardly the kind of environment in which a rookie is likely to succeed. I’m not saying Grosjean is the second coming of Alain Prost or anything of the sort but he’s got a solid record in GP2 and would have been a title contender this year had he not taken Piquet Jr.’s vacated seat. He still finished fourth in the standings despite missing four rounds, which he still leaves him way out in front of everyone’s flavour of the month, Kamui Kobayashi, who will get to in the next column.
Everyone seems ready to throw Grosjean on the fire but is he really as bad as he looks or did he get given a bum deal? For now I’m going to at least give him the benefit of the doubt; Renault is a mess.
Liuzzi was never a driver I really rated, he came in to F1 off the back of an impressive F3000 title in 2004 and looked the next best thing. Across the next three years he managed a total of five points and never looked particularly great. That said he’s come back in to cover for the Fisi to Ferrari move at Force India and look much improved. He seems to have developed into a sound driver, not super quick but certainly impressive enough to make a back of the grid team .
Liuzzi has every chance of keeping his seat with Force India but if he doesn’t then a team at the back of the grid would be well advised to pick up the young Italian and let him come and make them look good compared to some rookie who is going to blow money they don’t have by bouncing the car off the Armco all over the globe.
Why anyone is considering Takuma Sato as a viable option is beyond my powers or estimation. I know he’s not slow but he’s terribly erratic, crashes with alarming regularity and has a habit of making his teammate look superb. During the 2004 season Sato managed 34 points and one podium in what was easily the second best car on the grid. On the other side of the garage Jenson Button managed 85 points, ten podiums and third in the championship.
A lot of drivers get the benefit of the doubt because they never got the chance in a good car. Sato had it and showed he’s not worth the seat. Why give him another chance? Sato has a decent chance of getting a seat mainly because he could bring a good amount of sponsorship and publicity but if someone does take him on they are looking at someone who will underperform and bring them a hefty repair bill. Avoid like the plague.
Nelson Piquet Jr.
In all honesty Piquet Jr.’s F1 career is probably dead and buried, he needs to think what he fancies next; IRL, DTM, A1GP. That said I think its fair to stick another sword in Renault’s floundering carcass at this point. I’m not saying Nelson is super fast but the kid was on the ball in GP2 and I don’t believe Renault has ever given him a chance. Of course they should have concentrated on Fernando, he’s a 2 time world champion but they should have given Piquet a chance.
It doesn’t seem like he ever got it, and it's unlikely he will ever get a return to the grid but I think F1 is yet to see the real Nelson Piquet Jr. A brave team boss would certainly be making a gamble but I for one would applaud them for it.
Scott Speed graced the F1 grid for 28 races from 2006-7. He provided a rubbish zero points during that period. He did absolutely nothing which I can recall of note and never looked like he might. He made it to F1 because he was young, American and semi-competent. I wouldn’t even have him on this if USF1 didn’t exist but they do and Speed has to be on their potential candidate list, they need a native driver if they can find one.
Which is the reason Speed has every chance of an F1 seat next year, if he wants it, who else do USF1 have as an American option? I’m all ears for an answer. That said why would Speed even want to come? He’s breaking into NASCAR now and seems to be settling in well. I believe Speed can have a USF1 seat if he wants it. I also believe he’ll be an idiot to take it if he does.
Since his exit from the F1 grid at the end of the 2007 season Doornbos has bounced around all over the shop. His promising Champ Car season which included two wins and rookie of the year honours came to nothing the next season and he ended up in the godawful Superleague formula. He has been in the IRL grid this year and has produced nothing spectacular by way of results.
Doornbos never really got a good shot in F1, 8 races with Minardi in ’05 and three with Red Bull in ’06. Sadly you have to think there might be a reason for that. Sebastian Bourdais has shown us that Champ Car might not be a good measuring stick and Doornbos has done very little else worth talking about since. Doornbos should only be an option for a team if he’s bringing some Dutch sponsorship cash with him and they need the money. He wouldn’t disgrace himself in an F1 car but that could be said about another thirty drivers. Next.
Montagny always looked useful in a testing capacity for Toyota and didn’t disgrace himself when given 7 top flight races for Super Aguri in 2006 but at 31 years of age it looks like F1 has passed him by. Montagny would be a cheap option but he looks to be another guy F1 has passed by for a reason. Nothing wrong with him as a driver per se but that doesn’t separate him from a lot of guys.
I couldn’t find too much fault with a team for picking up Montagny, other than a lack of ambition and suspicious judgement. He’s not a bad option but there are many better options out there.
In The Middle
The drivers on this list provide a middle ground between the experienced hands looking to hold on for another year or two and the young hotshots looking to come in and prove themselves. Sadly this list doesn’t have much on it to really inspire me the only one I would REALLY like to see back in F1 is Anthony Davidson, I really hope he gets a chance to come in and show F1 what he’s made of.
Of the rest I think Liuzzi probably should be in F1 looking at his Force India performances this year. I would be intrigued to see Nelson Piquet Jr. and Romain Grosjean given a chance outside of the sinking ship which is Renault. I don’t know that they will get it but it would be interesting to see.
Christian Klien is a decent option but F1 seems to have passed for Montagny and Doornbos. Scott Speed would be an idiot to return given his current opportunities in NASCAR however.
Anyone taking Sato will lose my faith in their team, I’d rather ask Nelson Piquet Sr. to come out of retirement.
In the next installment we’ll look at the young guns trying to break into F1 out of GP2, F2 and elsewhere and consider those who never got the F1 chance they may or may not have deserved.