It’s almost time to reveal the winner of the 2022 Aston Martin Autosport BRDC Young Driver of the Year. At Sunday night’s Autosport Awards at Grosvenor House, Ollie Bearman, Luke Browning, Jamie Chadwick or Louis Foster will be crowned as the 33rd winner of the initiative to find and help the best up-and-coming British single-seater talents.
Of the previous 32 winners since David Coulthard became the inaugural victor in 1989, seven have gone on to start a Formula 1 world championship grand prix, three have taken F1 victories and one – Jenson Button – has been world champion.
Outside of F1, Award winners have scored numerous successes around the globe, most notably three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and four-time IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti, and 2014 World Endurance title winner Anthony Davidson. Quite aside from the £200,000 prize and F1 test, that’s quite a list to join. But what are the key things finalists should do? Here’s our guide.
We’re taking as a given that the finalists will have had successful seasons – that’s how they get selected by the panel of judges in the first place. And as soon as the final four is announced, there are things they can do.
The days of a finalist rocking up and saying, “Oh, this is quite a big deal” in surprise are over, but different levels of preparation are still apparent. Speaking to previous finalists to get an idea of the process is an obvious place to start.
The cars for the test are usually known at that point too, so getting information and tips from relevant teams or drivers is often something winners have done. ‘Leave no stone unturned’ is the message. Talking to the judges is not forbidden either, though few are bold enough to do so beforehand…
Take the fitness and simulator tests seriously
Browning is put through his paces by Awards partner Athletic Thinking
Photo by: Motorsport Images
Part of being prepared in any motorsport competition is being fit. Chairman of the judges and 146-time F1 starter Derek Warwick has always recommended drivers be strong enough for the category above the one in which they are competing in case of a call-up or test opportunity. The same applies for the Award tests, particularly as the MotorSport Vision F2 machines are often described as “beasts” by finalists.
The results of the fitness tests, conducted this year by Athletic Thinking, don’t decide the competition, but they do give important insights. They can reveal how seriously drivers already take their fitness and highlight any potential strengths and weaknesses. The fitness results can also be useful when the time comes to give all the finalists, win or lose, feedback the following January.
It’s a similar story with the simulator tests, run again in 2022 by the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team. This year, each driver was given 40 laps of Silverstone’s Grand Prix layout in a Mercedes W13. The runs were divided into 10-lap stints consisting of three runs using a baseline set-up and a final run using an option set-up. Some drivers have more simulator experience than others, so progression is also taken into account.
Mercedes feeds back to the judges by assessing the drivers across four categories – pace, consistency, feedback and approach/attitude – underlining the need to have a rounded approach and not just to find lap time.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions
Across all the judges, engineers and drivers involved in the process, there is a lot of expertise available to the finalists. This includes the benchmark drivers for the Beechdean Motorsport Aston Martin Vantage GT3 (Jonny Adam in 2022) and United Autosports Ligier JSP320 LMP3 (Wayne Boyd).
Warwick often points out that the judges “are not policemen” and are there to help the finalists perform to the best of their ability. There is a lot of information thrown at the finalists, who have to get on top of new cars and how the various runs will work. It’s much better to ask questions rather than stay quiet and miss an opportunity or make an unnecessary mistake.
Bearman takes the simulator test at Mercedes – a key part of the Awards test process
Photo by: Carl Bingham / Motorsport Images
Listening to detail is important, too. Track limits is often something that finalists have to be reminded about during the two days.
As with anything, trying to relax and enjoy the process can help ease the pressure, though that is easier said than done with so much at stake.
Understanding the best way to prepare and use the Pirelli tyres across all three cars is also important and specialists are on hand to advise. This can be particularly crucial given the cold or wet conditions often encountered at Silverstone’s Grand Prix circuit in October.
Adapt to the machinery
It’s pretty unusual for a professional driver to jump into three different machines on the same day in modern motorsport. But, with testing being restricted in many series, being able to get quickly on the pace with a car is important. As is being able to adapt as tyre degradation, fuel loads, set-ups and weather conditions change.
All that helps to explain why the presence of the GT3 and LMP3 cars at the Silverstone test is so important. Almost without exception, the strongest driver in the F2 car also provides the highlight of the running in the other machines. And if performances in the F2 car are close, the shorter runs in the GT and sportscar can be crucial to the result. They can also help open up future career options, as recently demonstrated by 2018 winner Tom Gamble now racing in endurance events.
Being successful in cars unusual to them usually requires drivers to do their homework and to learn to use the tools they have at their disposal. The GT car, for example, has ABS and traction control. In the past, some finalists have found these too intrusive and complained about them, while others have worked with the systems to get more out of the car. Guess which approach is normally better!
Jonny Adam shares tips with Chadwick about driving the Aston Martin Vantage GT3
Photo by: Motorsport Images
Be fast but don’t crash
This might be obvious but, ultimately, the biggest single factor in determining the winner is pace. It’s not just about topping a session – in most years two or three of the finalists will manage that at least once – but being consistently fast across the two days.
Being instantly quick out of the blocks is not essential, but the winner often is. More crucial, though, is being fast across all the different tests, often in different conditions, across all three cars.
The big no-no is, quite obviously, crashing. The odd running wide happens and we’ve seen the odd spin that finalists have got away with, but seriously damaging a car will put finalists out of the competition. It fortunately rarely happens, but this judge can think of at least two subsequently successful drivers who could have won had they not crashed…
Finalists spend most of the test in their own F2 car, with a randomly selected engineer. Forming a strong relationship with their engineer – another crucial general skill in motorsport – brings obvious benefits and helps the finalists get comfortable in the car quickly and find set-up tweaks to improve further.
Playing with the onboard anti-roll bar and front-wing adjustment is encouraged, providing the youngsters don’t go down the proverbial rabbit hole or end up losing focus on their driving. With unfamiliar cars – one of the strengths of using the F2 cars is that they no longer compete – more time can usually be found in driving style than set-up.
The F2 running is often tweaked and the timetable moved around depending on weather and circumstances, so finalists need to be ready to go at all times and there is little space in their schedule. The first F2 outing at the start of day one is the familiarisation run, after which the drivers are allowed to focus on the other cars.
Clicking well with the engineer assigned to their F2 car is important for drivers to focus on finding laptime
Photo by: Andrew Ferraro / Motorsport Images
In the GT3 and LMP3, they are given two runs on older rubber before a final session on fresh tyres. Lap times on used and new Pirellis are factored in by the judges, who also receive feedback from the teams running the cars. How the drivers interact with teams new to them is part of that assessment.
The rest of the running takes place in the F2 cars, with old and then new rubber. The sessions lengths vary – normally five flying laps but sometimes a one-shot ‘qualifying’ run is introduced – and all cars are out on track at the same time. The aim in most of the sessions is to set the best single lap time, so it can often be more sensible for a finalist to back off if they make a mistake or to find space than pressing on regardless.
The exception is the ‘pursuit’ run in which the drivers are given an out-lap (and tyre prep lap if needed) and then timed over a 12-lap run. The fastest lap is not important, it’s the overall ‘race’ time that is, so consistency and relevant use of the onboard set-up tools are key. Speaking to previous finalists about this particular test can be useful because even previous winners have been caught out here, with the dilemma of how far to manage tyre degradation being much more of a factor than in the other parts of the test.
So, being prepared, taking it seriously while enjoying the process (if possible!) and being fast without crashing. Sounds easy… The reality is of course much harder, but this weekend one finalist will add their name to the list of drivers who have proved it can be done.
An unsung hero of the Award tests
Many companies and organisations come together to make the Aston Martin Autosport BRDC Award happen, and that includes tyre supplier Pirelli. This year the Italy-based firm brought nearly 400 tyres, slicks and wets, for the MotorSport Vision-run Formula 2, United Autosports Ligier LMP3 and Beechdean Motorsport Aston Martin GT3 machinery. It’s a crucial contribution.
“It’s a long-running, prestigious award to find the next wave of talent that has had lots of big names come through it,” says Pirelli’s UK motorsport manager Jonathan Wells. “Pirelli has heavily invested in racing in general for 15 years. We’re at every stage of the FIA pyramid, plus GB3, GB4, and we’re in GTs at a high level globally so the Award is an easy fit for us.”
Pirelli supplies tyres to all machines used in the test
Photo by: Motorsport Images
Nevertheless, not everything is straightforward. Pirelli was not the supplier for the MSV F2 championship when it ran in 2009-12, so has used a Formula Regional European-style tyre. It’s also not been as heavily involved in LMP3 as some other categories, so it had to produce a batch of new front tyres for the tests, which fortunately coincided with a similar requirement for the Motorsport Games.
United’s switch to Pirelli rubber for the tests also created set-up challenges.
“We did support the LMP3 Cup and cars in the Gulf 12 Hours, but it’s quite a challenge,” adds Wells, who says the compound on the front is softer than that on the rear because so little of an LMP3 car’s weight is on the front. “It’s important to get the front axle working in the right way.
“Silverstone is always a challenge too. It’s one of the most aggressive circuits in the world in terms of load and high-speed corners, and the current surface is quite abrasive.”
Pirelli also had to take into account the cold weather of the UK in October when it came to the GT3.
“Our new DHF tyre is faster but the compound is not as benign – it’s more temperature-dependent,” explains Wells. “The DHE [used until the end of 2021] is more user-friendly for the finalists considering their minimal experience in GT3 cars as it has a wider working window.”
Aside from supplying the tyres and answering questions, Pirelli is otherwise happy to let everyone else do their thing at the tests.
“If everything is going well, we’re just here,” concludes Wells.
LMP3 machines rarely run on Pirellis, meaning some adaption was involved for the test
Photo by: Andrew Ferraro / Motorsport Images