Ferrari have always had an interesting approach to its driver selection process…go out and buy the very best drivers you can get on the grid—preferably ones who have won titles or are just about to. That seems relatively straightforward to me but then the Italian squad would not be doing their job if they didn’t start their own young driver development program…which they did several years ago.
Tragically, Jules Bianchi was part of that program prior to his untimely death and currently Esteban Gutierrez is part of their program as well. Esteban was the reserve driver in 2015 for Ferrari but found a home in Haas F1 for this season. Gutierrez came from Sauber where his Mexican financial backers had placed him so it is not a complete young driver scenario like Bianchi was.
Haas F1 has had a good start to their entrance in Formula 1 with points and a slew of non-listed parts provided by the brain trust in Maranello and while this has played well for the American team’s maiden season, it is also a challenge as team owner Gene Hass commented a few weeks ago.
There was much consternation on the faces of American F1 fans when the team chose Gutierrez instead of American driver Alexander Rossi but then I’ve always said that the team wouldn’t gamble on drivers just because they’re American, they would take the driver Ferrari handed them as part of their technical partnership. Rossi went on to win the Indy 500 so it wasn’t a real gamble, the young man can drive but he wasn’t part of the Ferrari program nor is he being eyed as a Ferrari potential.
Having said all of that mind-numbing preamble, it seems that Haas F1’s Guenther Steiner feels his team can be a great Ferrari driver development program for the Italian squad:
“Ferrari helped us out this year to find a driver,” said Steiner.
“Last year, we were looking at drivers and they had one in Esteban so we took him.
“If Ferrari have a good development driver in their stable it is maybe too early to take into their team because Ferrari is Ferrari.
“Ferrari don’t want to test a driver, they want a finished product there so if they ask us to have him for a year or two to develop him, why not?”
He’s right, they do want a finished product and right now, the closest thing Haas F1 has to that is Romain Grosjean, their star driver. Regardless, no one is going anywhere for 2017 as the team have signed Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel.
One has to think that one seat belongs to Haas F1 and the other seat would carry the weight of a driver Ferrari wants in it. Sure, it’s Gene’s team but if he likes his Ferrari relationship, much concession has to be given to the second seat. If Romain is their man, then Ferrari could jostle things up a bit in that seat currently held by Gutierrez.
If Ferrari were keen to take a driver from Haas F1 in 2018, it could be Grosjean but knowing Ferrari, they’ll look to big names on the grid like Vettel, Hamilton, Rosberg, Verstappen, Ricciardo and possibly a Sainz or Perez. Depending on how Wehrlein or Esteban Ocon acquit themselves over the next two years, there could be a possibility there but I wouldn’t bet on it. Ferrari want to drivers who are at the top of their game and the top of anyone’s list.
There are two seats at Ferrari but they’ve never been too keen to have a veteran champion and a youngster in the other seat. That’s not been their motive in the past. Even Barrichello or Massa were seasoned by the time they got to Ferrari. Something like Perez or Ricciardo would be a better fit than Grosjean or Gutierrez. If Verstappen continues to be the next Vettel at Red Bull, I can see Ricciardo beating feet to Maranello. That would leave Haas F1’s young driver development program sitting on drivers that they may not normally pick.
In all, I think Haas F1 has to do what’s best for Haas F1. No offense to anyone involved but Ferrari aren’t chomping at the bit for Grosjean or else they would have replaced Raikkonen with him in 2017. So Haas needs to get the two best drivers they can get in their cars and let Ferrari worry about Ferrari.
Hat Tip: AUTOSPORT and no, I have no idea why AUTOSPORT continues to spell his name “Gunther”. If I’m wrong in my spelling, then Haas F1 needs to change it’s website bio on him.