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GP Week : Issue 187
24 GPWEEK.com // 24 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: He was young, and they needed the money. Not your usual trope, but not an atypical situation for Formula One. While much of the paddock heaved a sigh of relief with the news that Sauber’s financial woes had been averted by a significant investment package from Russia, the deal came with a significant string attached – 17-year-old racer Sergey Sirotkin was being groomed for a 2014 race drive with the team. I cannot claim any expertise when it comes to Sirotkin, so I cannot speak for his future potential as a driver. Paddock colleagues are divided between those who know little about him, those who think he lacks what it takes to make it, and those who feel that – given time and the space to progress through the feeder series – the young Russian could be a solid F1 driver. But it strikes me that we have been here before, with the last Youngest Driver in the History of EverTM, aka Jaime Alguersuari. In 2009, Alguersuari became the youngest driver to start a grand prix at the ripe old age of 19 years and 125 days old. At the end of 2011, the young Spanish racer lost his seat at Toro Rosso, and found himself in the F1 wilderness. He spent one season working for the BBC as a radio commentator, and has since been forced to wave farewell to his dreams of racing at the top tier of international motorsport. Alguersuari was not short on potential, but he – like numerous other members of the Red Bull young driver programme – was given a brief window of opportunity in which to shine, and then dropped when his relative lack of experience failed to reap dividends from a points perspective. Presuming Sirotkin is given the F1 drive he has been linked with, the young Russian will be racing for Sauber, a team with a history of identifying and nurturing young talent. But with Sauber confirming this weekend that there were no plans to give Sirotkin Friday morning outings this season, it appears that he will make his F1 debut with only pre-season testing under his belt. Current Sauber rookie Esteban Gutierrez struggled to acclimatise to Formula One at the start of this season, despite a traditional career that saw the Mexican racer – who was signed as Sauber’s reserve driver in 2010, but never drove for the team in FP1 – spend a season in GP3 followed by two years in GP2 before his promotion to the big leagues. In contrast, Sirotkin is currently taking part in his first full season of Formula Renault 3.5 . Igor Salaquarda, who runs the young Russian for ISR, has questioned the wisdom of pushing Sirotkin into a seat he is not yet prepared for. “All this hype is not good for him,” Salaquarda said. “That's way too much pressure – he’s only 17. He is definitely too young [for F1]. I don’t mean that he can’t do it physically – anyone can drive a Formula One car today. It’s much harder to cope with the enormous pressure of the world championship. “Sergey has only driven in Formula Abarth and Auto GP and Italian F3, but in both those series he had little serious competition. As such, he was fast. But if anyone is expecting him to win here right now, it's simply too much to ask. Already in the Eurocup 2.0 there is a great deal of competition, same as the [European] F3 championship, but Sergey skipped both those steps. He should spend more time in the 3.5 litre class to gain more experience.” No one can begrudge a racing driver taking advantage of the offer of a Formula One drive. They are competitive beasts born with the urge to fight at the front. But Sirotkin should consider whether it is wise to go for the prize now, or to play the long game: would he rather be the Youngest Driver in the History of EverTM, or the first Russian winner of a Formula One Grand Prix? It might be a good idea for young Sirotkin to give Alguersuari a call... TOO MUCH, TOO YOUNG OPINION OPINION KATE WALKER Editor