It’s pretty ridiculous, isn’t it. I can see why teams need a decent reserve driver- to test in the simulator, drive in free practice, keep the regular drivers on their toes, become aquainted with a team they are likely to race for in the future. Nico Hulkenberg and Daniel Riciardo are two who meet those criteria.
But, as Klon suggests, I think money often plays a large part too. For a team like Sauber, with two inexperienced race drivers, to choose a rookie as a third driver is quite inexplicable. Except, of course, he’s Mexican, and it doesn’t take a genius to work out that Sauber’s Mexican backing might be conditional on them running two Mexican drivers
3rd drivers can also be seen as a driver development asset. Let’s use Esteban Gutierrez for an example. Peter Sauber said he didn’t want to throw Gutierrez in the deep end because he wasn’t ready- so the reason Gutierrez has a multi-year contract with Sauber is not entirely due to money (as he was third driver last year), but more as a future prospect. Peter Sauber knows he won’t be able to keep Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Pérez in his race seats forever- so Sauber is doing the best he can to nurture Gutierrez’s talent during the testing ban (with the same fitness
program and young driver tests, etc.) before Sauber lands him a seat to replace a departing Pérez or Kobayashi. The lad has talent, he won GP3, and I think he met Sauber as a prize test for winning Formula BMW in the BMW Sauber days- so it’s not about Telmex money in this case.
It seems kind of a waste of talent to me. If a top driver prefers to be a 3rd driver in a F1 team (with the downfall of not participating a single race during a season) than try his luck in another formula (and they do it for the possibility of a future seat), it just tells us how big a diference there is between F1 and the rest of the motorsport world in terms of money, prestige etc, and it just shouldn’t be that way…
I just assumed they didn’t (race in another formula). Well, they have to chose events which don’t clash with the GPs and efectivelly have “two jobs”, right? They don’t race, but they go to the office (again I’m assuming, as I remember seeing Hulk this year, diResta last year and Koby the year before on the pit walls during the GPs).
I guess, maybe they shouldn’t be called reserve drivers, since they efectivelly don’t substitute the principal drivers whenever these are unfit and called something like “driver in which Sauber has an interest” or testing drivers..
Anyway, the point remains the same, if it’s only for poor old Hulkenberg: waste of talent.
Sauber has announced Gutierrez won’t be used if Perez misses another race
Teams tend to invest in drivers for the long-term. Sauber evidently have a plan for Gutierrez, one which does not involve him racing just yet. He’s signed as a third driver so that they can put him into a car when he is ready, rather than let someone else – say, an overly-ambitious Malaysian airline magnate, for example – from sweeping in and signing him early.