A practice that is becoming more and more common in motorsports is one of team driven young development programmes.
It is a process that the likes of Ferrari and Mercedes are dipping their fingers into as they prepare themselves for a future beyond their current stable.
However the most prolific of these programmes belong to the Red Bull and Renault outfits, both of which run mammoth – and cut-throat – young driver initiatives.
Marussia also back Manor Grand Prix’s GP3 squad, although whether that truly works as a driver development programme for the Virgin Formula 1 squad remains to be seen.
The FIA Institute have also engaged up and coming talent with the inaugural Young Driver Excellence Academy this year. The programme sees twelve potential future stars being guided by Alexander Wurz (ex-Benetton, McLaren and Williams F1 driver) and former WRC co-driver, Robert Reid.
These programmes not only set out to improve driving skills on the race track, but also aim to establish high spec media skills, while also looking to better a pilot’s concept and understanding of physiology, psychology, nutrition and career management.
Yet the FIA Institute’s programme will only last for less than a year, before the next round of candidates are selected. Young drivers that find themselves working with teams and large companies have the prospect of longer term relationships.
Back in Formula 1, Team Lotus are aiming to tap into the potential of youth and with AirAsia, are implementing a programme to do just that.
Indeed, 2011 saw the début of Team AirAsia in GP2 and while the team (with Luiz Razia and Davide Valsecchi) had a GP2 Asia campaign tainted by accidents and poor luck, the basic foundations are being laid.
Earlier today saw AirAsia’s next step in their driver development programme with the announcement of their continued involvement with Team Lotus.
Although AirAsia is run by the Tune Group, whose CEO is Team Lotus principal Tony Fernandes (and therefore an natural extension), it should also be viewed as AirAsia putting their money where their mouth is with regards to the motorsport prospects.
Launched during a Team Lotus live street demonstration in the Malaysian city of Putrajaya, AirAsia, the ten drivers joining the Team Lotus / AirAsia young driver programme shows a squad readying themselves for the long game.
At the head of the pile is American pilot, Alexander Rossi. The Californian graduated from the famous Skip Barber Racing School, eventually winning the Formula BMW Americas Series in 2008. Since then there have been forays into International Formula Master, GP2 Asia, GP3 and this year World Series by Renault.
Other drivers in the programme include Tanart Sathienthirakul from Thailand, who will be competing in this year’s KF2 European Championship, young Briton Matt Perry (British and International Formula Ford), Max Klinkby-Silver from Denmark (International KF2 Championship) and Malaysia’s Weiron Tan (Asian KF2 Championship).
Both Senna Iriawan (Indonesia) and Daim Hishamuddin (Singapore) will be competing in the Euro KF3 Series, while also taking part in the Asian Karting Open Championship.
There are no guarantees that any of these drivers will ever make it to Formula 1 or any other top-level motorsport, but creating the opportunity and opening the right doors is a factor that the sport needs to invest in for its own sake.