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Gary Paffett for Next Year?

Rumor has it that one of Prodrive’s drivers in 2008 will be Gary Paffett, presently a test driver for McLaren. Although there are a lot of young drivers around at the moment who look like future GP winners, Gary is one that I reckon you can bank on. Take a look at his career on Wikipedia and you’ll see what I mean.


Gary Paffett

The man was Schumacher-esque in the lesser formulas – wins the Formula Vauxhall Junior Class B Championship with 13 fastest laps, 13 poles, 13 races out of 13 races (how’s that for boring monotony?). Not content with that, he does it again in the Scholarship class of F3 – 13 wins, 13 fastest laps, 13 pole positions.

It gets a bit confused after that but it does seem that, whatever car you put him in, he’ll drive the wheels off it. Competition for Lewis Hamilton perhaps?

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The New Brits

Anthony Davidson has been talking about his career and hopes for the future. His contract with Super Aguri is his first season-long chance in F1 competition and he wants to make the best of it. Five years as a test driver is a long apprenticeship.


Anthony Davidson

As might be expected, Davidson thinks that customer cars will be good for the sport, especially as they will mean that new and smaller teams will not be sentenced to an extended period of being back markers, coming in two or three laps down on the rest of the field. Using chassis that have already been through extensive development, such teams could realistically expect to be competitive in a very short time and the spectacle for the fans would be better as a result.

This is all relevant to the looming row over Super Aguri’s intention to use a development of the Honda 2006 car this season, of course. Things are quiet for the fledgling Japanese team at the moment but are bound to heat up if Toro Rosso lose their battle to run a variation of the Red Bull RB3 in 2007. Gerhard Berger seems confident of winning that one so there may be a good chance that SA will get their way too.

Naturally, Davidson wants SA to succeed in their plan as it will give him a good car in which to make his mark in F1. He deserves such a chance in view of his long wait and previous brief debut in a Minardi. Customer cars are coming, like it or not, in 2008 so I think no harm will be done by allowing them this year. It wouldn’t be the first time that rule changes have been instituted ahead of their projected time – we already have a standardized tire formula even though it was not due to happen until next year.

I think the teams protesting about SA’s and TR’s cars are over-reacting anyway. Neither team will suddenly shoot to the front of the field as a result of using good chassis; it will take time for them to get used to the cars and tune them in for optimum running. And even Adrian Newey has been trying to deflate some of the hype surrounding his RB3, pointing out that it is unrealistic to expect it to be a world beater right from the start.

Let the second teams have a decent chance, say I, and then we’ll get some really competitive races. And we might even get to see how good Davidson is.

Another Brit whose stock is increasing is Gary Paffett. If Prodrive are to be a sort of B team for McLaren/Mercedes next year, they will need drivers. Gary’s position as a McLaren test driver puts him in pole position as one of Prodrive’s line-up. Ideally, they would want an experienced driver as number one (David Coulthard maybe?) and Gary could slot in as the young hotshoe. On his past record, he would be ideal for the task.

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Gary Paffett Waits for F1

Bernd Schneider, one of the fastest men in the DTM (German Touring Cars), is of the opinion that Gary Paffett, not Pedro de la Rosa, should have replaced Montoya in the McLaren team this year. Since Schneider has raced against Gary (and lost the DTM championship to him), he should know.


Gary Paffett

But who is this guy Paffett? Admitting to my somewhat hazy knowledge of the subject, I looked him up in the Wikipedia. And it turns out that the guy has a record that outshines even Lewis Hamilton’s. It seems whichever form of racing he entered, he would be champion sooner or later.

So Schneider may have a point, although it is certainly moot at this stage; there is no way we can change what actually happened. The consolation prize is that McLaren have taken him on for another year as a test driver and, from there, he could perhaps do a “Kubica” and force his way into F1 by sheer ability.

Whatever happens, Paffett must join the list of those new drivers with outstanding potential who are about to break into F1. There seems to be a long line of them eager for the next veteran to vacate his seat. I have even read articles in which it was suggested that the older drivers should get out and let the young ones have a go.

It makes me wonder whether the sport is becoming so competitive and demanding that drivers become worn out by their thirties. Decades ago a driver could continue to race well into his forties; indeed, Fangio was forty when he won his first World Championship. Slowly the age of retirement has come down and Michael Schumacher has set it now at 37.

It is interesting too that both Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen have hinted that they will not continue racing in F1 for many more years. Although they did not give their reasons, it seems likely that the pressures of the sport have become so great that very few can stand them for more than ten years or so.

We know that the physical demands have increased almost to the limit of human endurance. Many of the champions of the past would find their neck muscles inadequate to the task of winning today, for instance. But there are other stresses that a driver has to deal with now as well, the constant probing by the press, the attendance at functions for the sponsors, availability for testing the cars in between races; the modern driver gets little respite from his job.

Add to these demands the apparently inexhaustible supply of talented, ambitious youngsters streaming up from the lower formulae and one can see that the old soldiers of F1 have an enormous (and very often thankless) task to retain their seats. Even Mark Webber, who has been driving in F1 for only four years, is feeling the pressure.

It looks as though the sport is becoming a relentless machine that consumes drivers and then spits them out once they have served their very short time. In the future it may be that drivers will enter very young, as they turn twenty or twenty-one, give of their best for no more than a decade, and then disappear by the time they hit thirty.

Which is not necessarily a bad thing. I am all for new guys being given the chance to show how good they are. We will just have to get used to seeing new faces more often, I guess.

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