Three countries which haven’t had F1 drivers for decades are represented once more in 2011.
Belgium has gone 17 years without an F1 driver, Venezuela 27 years and Mexico 30 years.
How will their three drivers plus Britain’s Paul di Resta fare in 2011?
The last Venezuelan to race in F1 was Johnny Cecotto, who was Ayrton Senna’s team mate in 1984.
His successor, Pastor Maldonado, is a somewhat controversial replacement for Nico H?â??lkenberg at Williams.
H?â??lkenberg had a good first season including a surprise pole position in Brazil, but the team needed a driver who could bring money with them.
On paper, Maldonado fits their requirements of bring a driver who is both quick (he’s the reigning GP2 champion) and well-heeled – note the PDVSA logos which now adorn the FW33.
The Venezuelan driver has a reputation for being fast but wild. He was handed a lengthy ban in 2005 after he failed to slow down sufficiently under yellow flag in Monaco and hit a marshal who suffered a broken back.
He was disqualified at the Hungaroring last year for ignoring the black-and-orange flag on consecutive laps while driving around with a broken front wing.
But he can also turn the speed on when he wants to, particularly at Monaco, where he won in World Series by Renault in 2006, and in GP2 in 2007 and 2009. He won the GP2 category at his fourth attempt last year with an impressive string of feature race victories.
At Williams he can learn from a team with a strong engineering heritage and the most experienced F1 driver of all time alongside him.
The team made a big call by dropping H?â??lkenberg for him. It’s up to Maldonado to prove it was the right decision.
Paul di Resta
|Notes||2010 DTM champion|
2006 F3 Euroseries champion
Paul di Resta started out on the classic path to Formula 1 – karting followed by Formula Renault and then Formula Three.
But having clinched the F3 Euroseries title in 2006 – beating Sebastian Vettel, no less – he was unable to find sufficient backing to take the next step to Formula Renault 3.5 or GP2.
He ended up spending four years in the DTM – not single-seaters, but perhaps the next-best thing.
He worked wonders with a two-year-old car in his first season, and clinched the title last year with a storming end to the season, including three wins and three second places in seven races.
Di Resta also had the opportunity to make eight outings in practice for Force India last year. He has been testing with them for two years, and knows the team well.
But it remains to be seen how much of a setback his deviation from the traditional route to F1 has been for his development as a top-line driver.
|Notes||2010 GP2 runner-up|
2006 British F3 (National)
Sergio Perez is the youngest member of the ‘Class of 2011’. He will be the first Mexican driver to start an F1 race since Hector Rebaque in Las Vegas 30 years ago.
That has aroused considerable excitement in his home town of Guadalajara where 150,000 people – 10% of the population – turned out to see him perform a demonstration run last month.
Perez finished runner-up to Maldonado in GP2 last year. He might have run Maldonado closer in the points standings but for a mixture of misfortune and, it must be said, a tendency to get involved in needless accidents.
But while Maldonado now has the ultra-experienced Rubens Barrichello to learn from, Perez’s team mate is Kamui Kobayashi, who has just a single season in F1 to his name.
In the past Sauber has proved an excellent place for young drivers to make their start in F1 – think Kimi R?â?ñikk?â?Ânen, Felipe Massa and, of course, Kobayashi.
Given the performance of their cars in testing there’s a good chance Perez, Maldonado and di Resta will find themselves in close company in 2011.
Belgium is best known in Formula 1 for its magnificent Spa-Francorchamps circuit. But not since 1994 has the country had an F1 driver.
Jerome d’Ambrosio will change that this year. But his opportunities to do more with his F1 debut other than bring the streak to an end will be constrained by the performance of his Virgin MVR-02.
The team look set to spend another year towards the back of the grid. In Timo Glock, D’Ambrosio has a tough team mate to be compared against, as Lucas di Grassi found out last year.
But the team were impressed with his technical feedback when he first drove for them last year. And he’s had an extended opportunity to familiarise himself with the car thanks to Glock’s misfortune.
Although D’Ambrosio’s GP2 results from last year don’t look great on paper, they mask a year often frustrated by technical problems.
That may stand him in good stead for a year with the outfit that had F1’s least reliable car last year.
Who will be the top-performing rookie in 2011?
- Pastor Maldonado (21%)
- Paul di Resta (48%)
- Sergio Perez (30%)
- Jerome d'Ambrosio (1%)
Total Voters: 145
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Images ?é?® ?é?® Julien Leroy/firstlap.be, Force India F1 Team, Sauber F1 Team, Virgin Racing