Robert Kubica, Alfa Romeo, Circuit de Catalunya, 2020

Who will get the call if an F1 team needs a reserve driver this year

2020 F1 season

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Formula 1 chairman and CEO has made it clear the championship will race on if a driver tests positive for Covid-19.

“An individual having been found with a positive infection will not lead to a cancellation of a race,” he said earlier this month. “If a driver has an infection, [teams have] reserve drivers available.”

Hopefully F1 will be able to resume racing next month with no repeat of the positive Covid-19 tests which led to the cancellation of the season-opening race in Australia. But teams clearly need to have contingency arrangements in place.

For several teams, the question of who takes over if one of their regular drivers cannot race is a straightforward one. However for some of the top teams these potentially involve taking drivers from smaller teams.

Others have appointed reserve drivers who do not have sufficient FIA superlicence points to race in Formula 1. Dispensations can theoretically be granted to allow drivers who have not collected the necessary minimum 40 points on their licences.

However obtaining approval via a World Motor Sport Council in the tight time constraints of a race weekend vote may not be practical. And teams may not wish to leave themselves at the mercy of what the WMSC decides. Having a race-ready backup option would therefore be a sensible move.

Mercedes

Stoffel Vandoorne, Mercedes, Formula E, Mexico City, 2020
Vandoorne races for Mercedes in Formula E, which is on hiatus
Mercedes’ two named reserve drivers are both ex-Formula 1 racers who could be slotted in with ease: Stoffel Vandoorne, who joined them in February, and Esteban Gutierrez. While Gutierrez has performed demonstration runs for the team, Vandoorne’s recent addition to their line-up means he hasn’t yet been seen in a (non-virtual) Mercedes.

However Mercedes also has junior driver George Russell placed at Williams. They may prefer to promote someone with more recent experience both of F1 races and the team’s hardware. Arrangements are already in place for Vandoorne or Gutierrez to race for other teams, so loaning one out to Williams as a replacement for Russell may be an option.

Russell, who has lobbied Toto Wolff for a chance to drive the Mercedes, would surely leap at the opportunity.

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Ferrari

Antonio Giovinazzi, Ferrari, Hungaroring
Giovinazzi has tested for Ferrari
Antonio Giovinazzi is Ferrari’s named reserve driver, so if they need a replacement for Charles Leclerc or Sebastian Vettel they may come knocking at Alfa Romeo’s door. Ferrari also has ex-F1 racer Pascal Wehrlein on its books as a simulator driver.

Red Bull

If Red Bull need a reserve driver we could see Formula E Sebastien Buemi back on the grid for the first time since 2011. Alternatively, they may prefer to recall Pierre Gasly or Daniil Kvyat from AlphaTauri and place Buemi there.

The team’s other option is Sergio Sette Camara, who finished fourth in F2 last year and has sufficient superlicence points to make his F1 debut.

McLaren

Ahead of its planned switch to Mercedes power units next year, McLaren has an arrangement to use one of their reserve drivers – not those of current power unit supplier Renault – if one is needed. That means we could see Vandoorne back at his old team.

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Renault

Guanyu Zhou, F2, Virtuosi, 2019
Zhou impressed in F2 last year
Renault’s nominated reserve driver Guanyu Zhou was the top rookie in Formula 2 last year and also won Formula 1’s first Virtual Grand Prix. However the 21-year-old from Shanghai does not yet have sufficient FIA superlicence points to race in F1.

Who could they turn to instead? The team’s previous reserve driver was Sergey Sirotkin, who raced in F1 for Williams two years ago.

AlphaTauri

Red Bull’s other F1 team can also make use of Buemi’s services. None of Red Bull’s nine drivers on its Junior Team line-up have enough superlicence points to race in F1 yet.

Racing Point

Like McLaren, Racing Point can also call on Mercedes’ reserve drivers.

Alfa Romeo

Robert Kubica, Alfa Romeo, Circuit de Catalunya, 2020
Kubica knows his was around the C39
Robert Kubica could make a return to F1 if Alfa Romeo finds itself in need of a reserve driver. Or, indeed, if Ferrari does, and chooses to call on Antonio Giovinazzi. Kubica has already driven for the team in pre-season testing.

Kubica is due to race in the DTM this year, however. If clashing commitments keep him away from F1, Ferrari simulator driver and ex-Sauber (now Alfa Romeo) racer Wehrlein would be a sensible appointment.

Haas

Haas’s two reserve drivers Louis Deletraz and Pietro Fittipaldi are both related to F1 racers, but neither has yet qualified to race at the top tier themselves, being short of the necessary superlicence points. Whether the team would seek a dispensation for either, or both, or look elsewhere, remains to be seen.

Williams

New Williams reserve driver Jack Aitken hasn’t raced in F1 yet but was due to make his first practice session run this year. He was runner-up to Russell in GP3 in 2017 and took fifth place in Formula 2 last year, giving him enough FIA superlicence points to make his F1 debut if the team have to call on him.

View the current list of 2020 F1 drivers and teams

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...
Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...

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35 comments on “Who will get the call if an F1 team needs a reserve driver this year”

  1. I don’t totally understand the point in having a reserve driver who is not actually allowed to race the car (see Fittipaldi/Deletraz etc.). I know it’s a mostly ceremonial role, usually for sponsorship, and the teams aren’t actually expecting to call them in, but it still seems ridiculous.

    Surely the top three teams would pinch a driver from one of their lower associated teams (Mercedes – Russell, Ferrari – Giovinazzi, Red Bull – Gasly) and post their official reserves in there as a replacement (as the article suggests).

    1. Yeah, I think the point (from the team side) is mainly a way of securing finance (ie. sponsors) by promising a driver some sort of “driver” role, be it just for presentations, for simulatorwork or for a few sessions @ben-n

      It’s interesting how really RB and Ferrari more or less depend on calling drivers from their “second teams”. Only Mercedes really has a solid solution while Williams is decently prepared with having Aitken. And 2 teams are granted help from Mercedes.

      If would be funny if in the end we find Russel, Vandoorne and Giovanazzi with midfield positions from points gained for various teams (Russel, Vandoorne might end up racing for 3 teams? Giovanazzi, Gasly for two etc)

    2. @ben-n Friday testing is one reason. It’s possible to get up to 10 Superlicence points by doing Friday practise sessions, assuming a driver already has at least 25 Superlicence points.

      In some cases, the driver is there for development purposes and, as you say, not expected to have their reservation called in.

    3. @ben-n
      What I don’t understand is, if a team has appointed a reserve driver who does not have sufficient superlicence points, why can’t they preemptively apply for special dispensation to race from the FIA before the season even starts? That would make far more sense to me than waiting for the weekend they’re needed, then trying to rush through an application with possibly a day or less to process it. And if they are denied, then obviously they can’t fill that role so the team would have the opportunity to try to find a different eligible driver.

  2. I am puzzled by the fact that Hulkenberg’s name has totally diappeared from the ‘experienced drivers’ list. He wasn’t mentioned on the options as a replacement for Ricciardo and not mentioned as potential reserve driver. Is there some specific reason why this name has totally disappeared from press? Has he moved to another dimension? Lost in a e-racing game jumanji style? Still a bit baffled…

    1. They would have to pay him Fresillo

    2. Jose Lopes da Silva
      15th June 2020, 14:03

      The thing is that Hulkenberg is currently not connected with any team. Neither is Alonso. So likely they would not be first choices. Renault having Hulkenberg as a replacement would be an embarassment, just like whem Williams recalled Massa for not having no one else – but aggravated because, unlike Williams towards Massa, Renault dumped Hulkenberg.

    3. @fresillo None of the teams have contractual ties. This means he’s not likely to be on-site for an illness-related immediate replacement. If a reserve driver is called and turns out to be bad, or someone tests positive between championship rounds, then he might get asked to substitute for the substitute – because that would give him time to turn up.

  3. Other than ex-F1 racers, who are the drivers with enough superlicense points to make a reserve appearance. Jack Aitken can’t be the only one! And if F1 teams aren’t looking at these drivers isn’t there an issue with the system?

    1. @leethatsme I have seen a claim that the following drivers are eligible for a superlicence as they have the following points total:
      Nyck de Vries (78)
      Robert Shwartzman (69)
      Luca Ghiotto (66)
      Artem Markelov (60)
      Sérgio Sette Câmara (50)
      Marcus Armstrong (46)
      Christian Lundgaard (46)
      Jüri Vips (42)
      Jack Aitken (40)

      I believe that the article is wrong to claim that Red Bull doesn’t have a driver in their junior team that could claim a superlicence, because Jüri Vips has enough points and has been part of Red Bull’s Junior Team since 2018 (not to mention that I believe Red Bull actually has ten drivers in its Junior Team, not nine).

      There are a couple of drivers who are currently not quite on the minimum number of points, but might be able to get there reasonably soon. Liam Lawson, Jehan Daruvala and Mick Schumacher are on 36, 33 and 30 points respectively, but in theory it is potentially possible for those three drivers to participate in enough practice sessions this year to earn enough points to qualify (you can gain up to 10 points over a three year period via participating in practice sessions).

      1. Thanks anon (who you are I’ll never know). It makes me wonder why the teams aren’t looking at these drivers and recruiting them as potential replacements, Jack Aitken aside. As much as I was a fan of Hulkenberg, Buemi, Kubica, Vandoorne in their time, I get more excited about the new talent coming through. Norris, Russel and Albon were a breath of fresh air last year.

        1. @leethatsme it has to be said that a number of those drivers are already linked with some teams through their junior driver programmes.

          de Vries was, until about a year ago, part of McLaren’s Junior Team, before he decided to move to Mercedes’s Formula E team – that does give him links with Mercedes and McLaren.

          Shwartzman and Armstrong are active members of Ferrari’s Driver Academy, so could be called up by either them. I would not be surprised if they were more likely to be called up by Alfa Romeo though, as I suspect Ferrari would ask Alfa Romeo for one of their drivers instead.

          Ghiotto and Markelov are not, as far as I am aware, part of a junior programme, but the former has tested for Williams in the past and the latter has tested for Renault.

          Câmara has, I believe, rejoined Red Bull’s Junior Team – he had been at McLaren for a while – which means that Red Bull have two drivers whom they could call upon (Vips being the other one).

          Lundgaard and Aitken, meanwhile, are both members of Renault’s junior teams, so they are already bound to a team in F1 and could be called up in theory (although, as the article notes, Sirotkin’s previous racing experience might make him the preferred candidate).

          I should note that, when looking back over that list, it is biased towards Formula 2 and Formula 3 drivers, meaning there are other drivers who are eligible (assuming you’re talking mainly about junior drivers, as there are a number of veterans of IndyCar who also qualify).

          Looking over at the Super Formula, Nick Cassidy and Naoki Yamamoto – the latter was rightly brought up further in this thread – are also potential candidates. The latter is a plausible candidate as well, as he’s backed by Honda and did draw some flattering comments from his performance when testing for Toro Rosso.

      2. … as were Leclerc and Gasly the year before (where is that edit button when you need it).

  4. What about Sergio Sette Camara at RBR/AT? Doesn’t he have the sufficient amount of super license-points?

  5. Surely the Hulk would be on speed dial if many of these teams need a driver?

  6. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I would not mind seeing Sirotkin make an appearance in F! again…

  7. Adam (@rocketpanda)
    15th June 2020, 14:06

    Ever confused how Gutierrez manages to stay near an F1 car. Being subbed in for Vettel/Leclerc is pretty much the only way Giovinazzi’s going to drive the Ferrari in a race. Sirotkin, Vandoorne & Wehrlein all weren’t bad and deserved better.

    Also having reserve drivers that don’t have permission to actually drive the car in a race is ridiculous.

  8. Gavin Campbell
    15th June 2020, 16:43

    Isn’t it because the “reserve” drivers are often actually simulator drivers – so a lot of the young F2 racers on teams books are there because they are keen to do a lot of driver in loop sim testing?

    If im a young F3 racer I’m going to be very keen to pop into Renault once or twice a week to work with engineers running through programs on the sim. I’m going to be less enthused as a multiple Grand Prix winner to do the same. So the experienced guys on the books will be there for the upgrade packages, changes etc. while the young guys will do the donkey work.

    Its also a prestige thing where they can go to sponsors for their F2/3 drivers and say they are the reserve driver at a big F1 team. Its a bit of a hangover from the free/less-restricted era of testing but a lot of casual fans know what the reserve or test driver is in Motorsport – Sim driver doesn’t have the same ring to it.(Also now you don’t want to be confused with any E-Sport efforts going on either)

  9. I’m not so sure about Giovinazzi’s chance to drive Ferrari. Yes he is reserve driver for them but what I still remember what happened after Massa’s accident. Of course people and time has changed but I would not be so suprised to see Badoer making another comeback :)

    1. Jose Lopes da Silva
      15th June 2020, 17:50

      Indeed!
      You just reminded me of something. I was thinking about the bad luck Badoer suffered in Nurburgring 99 and thinking he deserved a race like Monaco 96 to score. And then I reminded that he was on until very late in the race. Had he not crashed with Villeneuve and he might have scored a point at the occasion.
      I suppose it would harder now than in 2009, unless we have mayhem races due to “rusty drivers” and he somehow manages to stay on track, even losing 2 laps to the winner

      1. Actually I think it would be easier now for a driver like Badoer to come into a top team and score – Badoer was, what, a second or so off the pace? In a top team in F1 as it is currently he’d almost certainly have qualified in the top 10 and scored points, such is the top 3’s advantage. In 2009 the whole field was sometimes covered by less than a second, so it can’t really be compared to now.

        1. @tflb Badoer is also nearing the age of 50 and doesn’t appear to have driven any sort of racing car for a decade now – the last time that he drove a race car in anger was in 2010, when he conducted the shakedown runs of the F10 (there was a demo run of an F60 in early 2011, but that wasn’t a serious testing exercise).

          It was difficult enough for Badoer to take over from Massa’s position over a decade ago when he still had occasional chances to drive the car, even if those cases were limited – but being considerably older and not maintaining the sort of physical training required to drive a car competitively, not to mention having not driven a race car for a decade now, suggests that he’d probably be a lot further off the pace than he was then.

          It brings to mind Hakkinen testing an MP4/21 in late 2006, where he was running a couple of seconds off the pace that Hamilton could set – and that was after being away from F1 for only five years, being much younger (38) at the time of that test and having taken up racing in DTM in 2005 to sharpen some of his racing skills: I can’t see how it would be any better for Badoer when he’s been inactive for a decade…

          1. I don’t think anyone was suggesting Badoer now, i think it was just a comparison.

            Regards Mika, if i recall he spent the whole day on one set of tyres and had something wrong with the car as well. So in hindsight he did alright!

          2. I didn’t mean Badoer now, I meant if someone with a similar pace deficit came in now, or the 2020 inequality in cars had been the case in 2009.

          3. @tflb OK then – I misread the intention of your post then, as it came across to me as an actual call for Badoer rather than just a comparison to Badoer’s situation.

          4. Badoer doesn’t have any superlicence points either. They don’t last forever!

        2. @tflb I would not rate Badoer anywhere near Gasly’s level, and even Gasly was sometimes struggling to finish inside the points.

          1. @mashiat well, if Gasly had a clean race he was still comfortably ahead of the midfield. I’d say a Badoer-level driver would still be on the fringes of the top 10.

          2. @tflb In the two races he participated in, Badoer was 2.7% off Raikkonen’s pace in Valencia, and 1.9% off his pace in Spa. For reference, if he was 1.9% off Charles Leclerc’s record-setting pace in Spa 2019, he would barely have made Q2. And don’t forget, he was in an era where he was able to test outside of race weekends to acclimatise himself to the car and the tyres etc. You add the fact that he is now 11 years older than he was back then (And 49 years old, only 2 years younger than Hakkinen), hasn’t driven an F1 car in more than a decade, has zero experience with Pirelli tyres and this new generation of cars, and I would predict that he’d be among slowest drivers on the racetrack. The only reason anyone would have to pick Badoer as a race driver would be to provide some competition to the Williams drivers.

        3. @mashiat looks like he was even slower than I remember then! I wasn’t calling for a Badoer comeback or even remotely suggesting he should be an option, people misread that, but rather was trying to make the point that what might have looked like a terrible substitution in 2009 might have been masked now by the relative pace of the top 3 compared to the rest, if a similarly slow driver were to step in.

  10. But teams clearly need to have contingency arrangements in place.

    While it is logical to have contingency arrangements, it would be nice to have some idea on what those contingency arrangements are. The last I heard on the subject was “the team” was “the sandbox”, i.e. if someone in a team got sick (which could easily happen) then everyone in the whole team had to go into quarantine. I would have thought a more logical contingency plan was for each team to be arranged into sandboxes that are smaller than the team, e.g. each team has two, three or four sandboxes, so that if someone was found to be infected then that 1/2, 1/3 or 1/4 of that team would be isolated and the team still has enough people to race at least one car.

  11. I think Naoki Yamamoto is also a possible reserve option for Toro Rosso (the guy that did FP1 for them last year at Suzuka). He has the superlicense points if I remember correctly.

  12. Alfa Romeo could use Marcus Ericsson I guess

  13. Have updated the above to include Sergio Sette Camara, who should have been on there.

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