F1 teams struggling to find drivers and it’s not because of superlicence chaos

F1 is facing a shortage of race-ready drivers but it has little to do with the controversial superlicence system.

Red Bull’s attempt to sign IndyCar star Colton Herta for sister team AlphaTauri has hit the buffers due to the American’s lack of the required number of superlicence points.

With F1 and governing body the FIA refusing to grant an exemption, Red Bull have been forced to admit defeat in their bid to bring the 22-year-old into their programme. That intransigence is seen as a missed opportunity by many, given F1’s increasing profile in America.

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There have been calls for the superlicence rules to be overhauled to give talented drivers from IndyCar – the highest profile single-seater series after F1 – more of a chance to move on. However, there are other factors at play which mean there are relatively few chances for drivers to force their way onto the 20-driver grid, even if they do have the required number of superlicence points.

One of the main issues is the limit of testing, introduced in 2009 to control costs. Previously, it was fairly straightforward for budding F1 drivers to get behind the wheel of an actual car. Now, they are restricted to simulator work, ‘filming days’, the end-of-season young drivers’ test and testing cars from previous seasons. And the latter would be of limited use at present given seismic regulation changes for 2022.

As pointed out by The Race, in pre-season testing earlier this year, just 23 drivers got to run, including non-race drivers Robert Kubica, Pietro Fittipaldi and Nikita Mazepin, who was soon sacked by Haas following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Nico Hulkenberg and Nyck De Vries have had race outings as illness stand-ins for Sebastian Vettel and Alex Albon respectively.

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Juri Vips, Liam Lawson and Antonio Giovinazzi have had practice outings, taking the number of drivers to 28 while more drivers will get run-outs before the end of the season, including Logan Sargeant for Williams and Robert Shwartzman with Ferrari.

While useful, one or two 90-minute sessions is unlikely to prove one way or the other whether a driver has what it takes for a full-time F1 seat.

One suggestion to give more drivers an opportunity to prove their worth is to allow more testing time for non-race drivers under the cost cap. Previously, the richest teams could test unlimitedly but that is no longer possible under the recently-introduced financial controls.

A failure to tweak the system could see potential stars of the future never get an opportunity at the top of the sport.

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