Under a rule introduced for 2022, both racing drivers must forfeit a free practice session for a driver who has completed two or fewer starts.
At the start of the season, most teams were in no rush to field rookies because they felt their race drivers needed all the mileage they could get in the new cars. Lately some have maintained that focus as they are in close battles in the Constructors’ Championship.
Additionally, the budget cap means teams are more wary than ever of a rookie causing costly damage, as happened with Alfonso Celis and Force India in Mexico in 2017.
Teams have just six races left to field a rookie on Friday, and of those, Brazil – which as a sprint weekend sees FP1 followed by qualifying – is obviously off the table.
That leaves just five more events, several of which also feature trade-offs. The risks associated with Singapore mean the street venue will not be chosen, especially as racing drivers have not been there since 2019 and will have to adapt to cars that are expected to be difficult to handle.
Traditionally, Japan is rarely used for FP1 racing, given how easy it is to leave and damage a car. Again, it has been absent from the calendar since 2019 and racing drivers will need to get up to speed with bad weather also a threat.
Still, it’s not impossible for a rookie to race at Suzuka, as Max Verstappen proved with Toro Rosso in 2014.
An added complication for Suzuka and Austin is that the sites were chosen for the 2023 Pirelli tire tests in an extended 90-minute FP2 session. On the one hand it gives racing drivers more track time if they miss FP1, but on the other hand they are forced to do tire tests and therefore the running plan for the day is more complicated than on other races.
Mexico is kept as a backup by Pirelli if any of the other tire testing sessions are affected by rain, but otherwise is likely to be a popular choice for rookies.
Abu Dhabi is sure to see a lot of rookies in FP1, simply because it’s the last chance. Teams also consider it relatively safe, given the large clearance, plus there’s less pressure on spares because there’s no racing to follow.
The complication for those currently racing in F2 is that they also face the series finale, with a close battle to position themselves behind the top two. Teams don’t like rookies having to jump from car to car on the same weekend, although Liam Lawson did it in Belgium last month.
Here’s what the teams have done so far and what they’re planning:
Nyck de Vries has replaced Lewis Hamilton in France, and the Dutchman is expected to do one more session for the team. The complication is that if he signs a 2023 race contract, his new team may want him to do some FP1 races.
Nyck de Vries, Mercedes W13
Photo by: Alastair Staley / Motorsport Images
Running of the red bulls
Juri Vips made an exit for Red Bull in Spain, before being dropped by the drinks company a few weeks later. Liam Lawson is likely to make the second run in place of Verstappen, although he is also expected to take part in an AlphaTauri outing.
Robert Shwartzman has worked hard in the simulator for Ferrari, and he gets his reward with FP1 races in Austin and Abu Dhabi. This is the first time the Italian team has used an FP1 session for a third driver.
Oscar Piastri was supposed to undertake the running FP1 for Alpine, but for obvious reasons the plans are now underway. Jack Doohan, who is due to drive the 2021 car in Budapest this week, is the logical choice for both sessions, and he remains a candidate for the race. However, if de Vries gets the go-ahead for the seat, there could be pressure to get him into the car.
McLaren’s plans are also unclear. The team would like to get Piastri in the car if Alpine agrees to release him early. However, it also fielded IndyCar racers Colton Herta, Pato O’Ward and Alex Palou, all of whom drove the 2021 car and are qualified to race in FP1. Zak Brown had hinted that O’Ward would drive in Mexico, but none of the three were guaranteed to race.
Alex Palou, McLaren F1 testing in Barcelona
Photo by: Monaco Augmentation Management
Liam Lawson drove for the team at Spa and is expected to do another session. However, plans could change if the team signs de Vries and it makes sense to give him some mileage.
The team did not have a junior program of their own and so agreed to use de Vries’ shared Mercedes reserve at Monza. However, this weekend the team reached a driver development deal with F2 champion Felipe Drugovich, and the Brazilian will drive in Abu Dhabi.
Like Aston Martin, Williams was happy to give de Vries a race in Spain, and that extra preparation paid off when he was called up to race at Monza. The team confirmed a few weeks ago that Logan Sargeant will drive in its home race in Austin.
The Swiss team read the rules well and the FIA agreed that Zhou Guanyu’s first weekend in Bahrain could count as a rookie session. Theo Pourchaire will be with the team in the United States and Mexico and is expected to replace Valtteri Bottas in one of those races – Mexico is more likely as the team is reluctant to combine the rookie race with a Pirelli test.
Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo C42
Photo by: Alessio Morgese
Haas has yet to confirm his plans, but unless there is a pressing reason to field another driver, Pietro Fittipaldi will take on the rookie race. However, he won’t be able to do Austin as Antonio Giovinazzi will be driving there, and leaving both drivers out of FP1 would be a challenge for the team in their home race.