The rookie class of 2012 has a French flavour

2012 F1 season preview

In the last two seasons France has had no F1 drivers and no race of its own.

But the estrangement between the sport and the country which gave us the phrase “Grand Prix” will be a thing of the past this year. The 2012 F1 driver roster boasts not un, not deux, but trois French racers.

Joining the three new drivers from France is Australian Daniel Ricciardo. All four are embarking on their first full seasons of Formula 1.

Romain Grosjean

Romain Grosjean, Lotus, 2012

Romain Grosjean returns to F1 this year

F1 starts: 7

Getting a single chance in Formula 1 is hard enough – just ask last year’s World Series by Renault champion Robert Wickens, who hasn’t been able to find a place in the sport’s top flight this year.

Romain Grosjean has been lucky enough to get a second chance. His first came in late 2009, substituting for Nelson Piquer Jnr at Renault.

Owing to restrictions which had just been introduced at the time, Grosjean was among the first drivers not to have the extensive testing time available to his predecessors.

Making matters worse, Renault were in disarray following the ‘Crashgate’ revelations, which forced out team principal Flavio Briatore and technical director Pat Symonds. And Grosjean found himself up against one of the best drivers in the sport – Fernando Alonso.

His brief debut was not a success and he was not retained for 2010. But after two years away Grosjean will race for the team again this year.

During his absence Grosjean was appointed to galvanise the under-performing DAMS GP2 team and take them to the championship. More mature and less error-prone than before, he got the job done with three races to spare.

He was given the chance to drive Renault’s R31 in practice sessions last year. He said it was, “a real test in terms of seeing if I had the speed, feedback and everything the team was looking for”.

Romain Grosjean, Lotus, Jerez, 2012

Grosjean testing the Lotus E20 in Jerez

Team principal Eric Boullier is a supporter of Grosjean’s and duly promoted him back to the race team. But Grosjean will once again have to face up to sharing a team with a world champion – this time, Kimi Raikkonen.

This makes for an intriguing partnership between the pair whose last F1 starts came in Abu Dhabi in 2009. Both were among the quickest at Jerez last week, and the contest between the two comeback kids is certainly one to watch.

Grosjean, who was born in Geneva and holds dual French-Swiss nationality, is staying realistic about his chances: “Formula One is a big, big challenge, but I think the biggest challenge personally will be to get 100 per cent out of myself and the car, every time. No mistakes.

“That is the life of a Formula One driver. You need to get 100 per cent out of the car, focus, concentrate and improve lap after lap.”

Daniel Ricciardo

Daniel Ricciardo, Toro Rosso, Jerez, 2012

Daniel Ricciardo is half of Toro Rosso's all-new line-up

F1 starts: 11

Toro Rosso’s status as Red Bull’s ‘junior team’ was made emphatically clear when both Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi were cut from the squad at the end of last year. Team principal Franz Tost recently said the pair lacked the talent to graduate to a seat with Red Bull.

Having seen Alguersuari condemned to the F1 scrap heap before he’d reached his 22nd birthday, Ricciardo can’t be under any illusions how high the stakes are. Get it right and he could end up at the wheel of a car good enough to win the world championship.

Get it wrong and he will join the ranks of Scott Speed, Sebastien Bourdais and the other Toro Rosso rejects.

Ricciardo arrives at Toro Rosso with some F1 experience courtesy of his stint at HRT last year. He also boasts a strong CV from his time in junior formulae.

He won the British F3 championship in 2009 and would surely have been a rookie champion in Formula Renault 3.5 the following season had he not been rammed by Jon Lancaster in a bizarre crash at Silverstone.

Encouragingly for Ricciardo and his even-less-experienced team mate, the STR7 looked handy during its first test at Jerez last week.

Jean-Eric Vergne

Jean-Eric Vergne, Toro Rosso STR7, 2012

Vergne and Ricciardo reveal the STR7

F1 starts: 0

Vergne and Ricciardo have been team mates before: the pair shared a berth at Formula Renault 2.0 team SG Formula in 2008. Ricciardo claimed the title that year while Vergne finished fourth.

“We have similar driving styles and we get on well and that will be a positive factor for us next year,” said Vergne. “Dan could probably have a slight edge over me at first as he has done 11 races this year, but let?s see how it develops, as we have all the winter testing ahead of us before we start racing.

“I know that I have a lot to learn, so I hope I can do that quickly. I am conscious it could be very tough, but I also know that in general, I learn and I adapt very quickly: certainly that was the case in every category that I have raced in so far. Formula 1 is different, tougher than all the rest, but I feel confident.”

Vergne shadowed Ricciardo’s progress up the motor racing ladder. Ricciardo won the British F3 championship with Carlin in 2009, Vergne did likewise the year after. And after Ricciardo was runner-up in Formula Renault 3.5 on his 2010 debut, so Vergne did the same last year.

Both turned out for Toro Rosso last year in a Friday testing capacity and have had the chance to sample Red Bull’s car in the young drivers’ tests.

So far there’s not been much to separate them, and that should make for an absorbing contest between the pair at Toro Rosso this year.

Charles Pic

Charles Pic, GP2, 2011

Pic had a strong GP2 campaign in 2011

F1 starts: 0

For the third year in a row Marussia (formerly Virgin) have appointed a rookie alongside the experience Timo Glock.

Can Charles Pic do what Jerome D’Ambrosio and Lucas di Grassi couldn’t and hold onto his place in F1?

Realistically, whether he does or not could be out of his hands. At this end of the grid, sponsorship can count for at least as much as talent.

With seat time at a premium it’s a concern the team did not take advantage of the opportunity to give Pic some time at the wheel of last year’s car in Jerez last week.

Pic showed a decent turn of speed in GP2 last year. In nine qualifying sessions he was the only driver to bag pole position more than once.

But at times luck deserted him – he failed to take up his place at the front of the grid in Valencia due to a technical problem. Nonetheless he claimed a pair of wins and three second places – with most of his best results coming in the longer feature races.

He could prove the trickiest team mate’s Glock’s had at Virgin/Marussia. They can expect to spend more time racing each other than the rival teams, with the probable exception of HRT.

Which of this year’s new drivers have you got your eye on? Have your say in the comments.

You can choose which drivers and teams you support by logging in with your F1 Fanatic account and going to My account > Profile > Edit.

2012 F1 season preview


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Images ?? Lotus F1 Team, Lotus F1 Team, Red Bull/Getty images, Red Bull/Getty images, Alastair Staley/GP2 Media Service

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41 comments on The rookie class of 2012 has a French flavour

  1. Andy G (@toothpickbandit) said on 16th February 2012, 15:26

    One thing that I am thankful for in the whole Sky/BBC debacle, is that now I’ll be able to watch drivers like these progress up through the ranks through Sky’s GP2/3 coverage. I think it will make me more invested in the midfield / back-of-the-pack battle, and will be great to see a young driver go from GP3 right to the top one day.

    The ideal solution of course would have been free-to-air GP2/3, but I guess I’ll settle for this silver lining.

    • John Bergqvist (@) said on 16th February 2012, 15:50

      In 2009-2011, the BBC paid money to get out of showing the support races. It’s an option in the contract that, if you agree to show F1, you agree to show 1 or more of the support races. Last year they were all on Eurosport in the UK.

  2. TommyB (@tommyb89) said on 16th February 2012, 15:44

    As the old saying goes. ‘You wait years for a French driver in F1 and then 3 come at once.’

  3. Joey-Poey (@joey-poey) said on 16th February 2012, 15:57

    Part of me wants to cheekily support Pic for having a last name that’s a homonym of mine.

  4. Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 16th February 2012, 16:20

    Ricciardo is going to have a better year than Vergne, that’s expected, really: 11 races, plus some friday appearences is a lot.

    So how are they going to interpret Vergne’s progress if he finds himself really behind the australian?

    Because they dumped all the others in a blink of an eye…

    • Klaas (@klaas) said on 16th February 2012, 17:26

      More interesting is how are they going to interpret Dan’s progress if he finds himself behind the Frenchman.
      I have a strong feeling that Vergne is gonna impress this year.

    • katederby (@katederby) said on 16th February 2012, 21:42

      Don’t be so sure Ricciardo will get the upper hand. Vergne is the more aggressive driver so if he can keep out of trouble he could become the rookie of the year. And I can see Grosjean beating his team mate too after his excellent GP2 year. Also, excited to see Pic, been following him since his Arden days.

    • Mike (@mike) said on 17th February 2012, 4:52

      Fer no.65 is right, with Ricciardo’s experience him being ahead is to be expected.

      That’s not to say it will necessarily happen though…

      I suspect that this is going to hurt Vergne.

      I think it’s gonna be a case of, whoever does better in results will end up on top, however if they both do well, they are both screwed. I don’t think this is necessarily a great thing… but I think it’s what Red Bull will do.

  5. KaIIe (@kaiie) said on 16th February 2012, 16:28

    “Which of this year’s new drivers have you got your eye on?”
    I’d say pretty much all of them. It’ll be fascinating to see how well Grosjean manages against Räikkönen. Many experts and “experts” have claimed how Kimi will destroy him, and he’s there only because a team must have two cars. I’m thinking it’ll be a much closer contest.

    Ricciardo vs Vergne at STR is going to be yet another great addition to the already exciting midfield battle. Ricciardo should have a slight advantage early on in the season due to his starts in 2011, but if Vergne is as good as Red Bull hopes he is, he shouldn’t have any problems getting up to speed in a few races.

    Pic… well, I just hope he gets some chances and appears on our TV screens at times. Can you remember when D’Ambrosio appeared in the coverage (while not being lapped)? I think Pic’s only real battle this year will be against his team mate, as HRT is (again) struggling with their new car and Caterham (should) have moved forward even more.

    • Klaas (@klaas) said on 16th February 2012, 17:23

      Pic’s only real battle this year will be against his team mate

      Pic’s only real battle will consist in finding enough money to keep his seat. Beating Glock in the standings didn’t help D’Ambrosio at all.

      • BasCB (@bascb) said on 16th February 2012, 18:17

        Given that Pic has a healthy long running source of sponsorship in his family business, he might stick around.

        Actually I must say this years rookies and returnees at least look like worth following closely!

    • I remember him holding the fastest lap at Canada or somewhere!!

  6. Enigma (@enigma) said on 16th February 2012, 17:24

    What’s the exact definition of a rookie? Obviously there’s a difference between doing 7 races Grosjean did and the 18 (out of 19) Senna did, but where does one draw a line? Perez hasn’t had a full season either, last year he started 17 times compared to Ricciardo’s 11.

    Just curious where exactly one draws the line.

  7. It’s really exciting to have rookies from France, but they should stay in F1 for a considerable period of time and not vanish from the radar. F1 has an ugly history of letting its talented drivers go away after a year or two. The most prominent ones that come to mind at Ralph Firman and Sebastien Bourdais. Of course there were also Cristiano da Matta, Alan McNish, Tomas Enge, Michael Andretti and many others. The arrival of French drivers will only herald renewed interest in F1 if they stay on. Let’s hope these extremely talented rookies manage to stay on and attain great success in F1.

  8. Girts (@girts) said on 16th February 2012, 19:53

    At least three of them will be very interesting to watch. Ricciardo and Vergne are considered to be possible future Red Bull drivers and Grosjean could do a Rosberg and outperform a former world champion. We also have to remember that Bruno Senna has never experienced a complete F1 season (including adequate pre-season testing) so far. What is more, 2nd seasons (Perez, Maldonado, di Resta, Hulkenberg) are often even more decisive for drivers’ futures than the 1st ones as Please-be-gentle-I’m-still-learning doesn’t work anymore.

  9. Just wonder when we are going to see Chinese drivers around. I predict, in 10 years time there will be at least 4 on the grid. Mr Helmut Marko is an i…t
    I cant stand him honestly

  10. il_Leone_22 said on 16th February 2012, 21:52

    I think F1 should have a ‘Rookie of the year’ award like MotoGP, so we know who is a proper rookie. Let me put it this way, would Kobayashi and Alguersuari be counted as rookies in 2010? I wouldn’t since they didn’t start a full season, so I am counting Grosjean, Ricciardo, Vergne and Pic as 2012 rookies. Despite me contionously saying that Daniel was a 2011 rookie on my Twitter page. (I met Dan at Bruntingthorpe once, he is so kind).

  11. I’d be interested to see how Grosjean’s season goes. In 2009 he wasn’t great, the only time he looked good was during his brief battle with Button in Brazil. This year I’d say he hasn’t got anymore excuses, he’s simply got to perform. He definitely can’t let Raikkonen beat him similarly to how Alonso beat him. He should be fine as long as he can hold on to Raikkonen and keep it on the road.

  12. After seeing both Pic and Grosjean doing extremely well in Monaco this year, I have no doubt they’ll both fare quite well

  13. Frank said on 17th February 2012, 1:18

    I believe that Grosjean will do very well in the Lotus this year as they will probably be closer to the front of the grid than the others, and he will accumulate the most points of the 4 rookies(?). Not only that, he will also prove himself against Raikonen, especially at the begining of the season…only in the second half of the season will we see the real Grosjean. I hope to see a mighty squabble from the Toro Rosso’s and more interesting to see how their management deals with them…I don’t think they will be a match for Force India, but will fight well against Sauber and possibly Caterham. Pic is in for the fight of his life for sure, however short that might be…good luck Lads.

  14. wasiF1 (@wasif1) said on 17th February 2012, 1:35

    To me Daniel Ricciardo will win the Rookie of the year award come the end of the season.

  15. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 19th February 2012, 20:48

    I’ll be watching them all, I think all 4 new drivers have something unique about their position, well, maybe not Pic, but perhaps it will be third time lucky for Marussia!

    The battle at Toro Rosso really ought to be interesting, not only because of the two drivers but because of the team itself. Only one driver from their team has progressed any further in F1. If you put another two on the pile they’re going to be under pressure from RBR to sort their act out.

    The Lotus situation I think will be the most exciting driver line-up in terms of the anticipation of it

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