He is arguably one of the most dominantly talented drivers to have graced the Motorsport stage in the past few years, so why is Robin Frijns’ future shrouded in such uncertainty? Shouldn’t he be every team’s first pick for a race seat next season? One would think so.
If you had won every single-seater championship on your first try since switching to cars, you would be forgiven for having a sense of entitlement. No one has accomplished such a feat in years yet, unfortunately, Robin Frijns now finds himself in a state of flux. After upsetting the 2012 Formula Renault 3.5 season by beating title favorite, Jules Bianchi, his opportunities to race hinge on the needs of a new GP2 team. Certainly, his debut in the series was met with much success, but Robin still finds himself without a full time race seat this season. His role with Sauber as their third driver does at least keep him relatively busy every other weekend, but he is robbed of seat time on Fridays for reasons out of his control.
Sauber’s two drivers, Esteban Gutierrez and Nico Hulkenberg, are rookies in two senses. The former is completely new to the series, with a couple young driver tests and a friday practice session comprising the sum total of his F1 experience before getting the call up to a race seat, and the latter is new to the team. Both drivers’ situations almost require both of them to participate in every practice session. Esteban needs the seat time to make sure he is prepared for the weekend and Nico needs the seat time to make sure the team has a clear and consistent development path throughout the season, especially considering their early-season woes this year.
This leaves the talented Robin without a meaningful role to play this year. This is the crux (or one of them) of the problem with Formula One. Robin is just one of many talented drivers who, had they been born 10 years ago, would now be part of an F1 teams that went testing each and every week, logging thousands upon thousands of miles while collecting valuable data. Formula One 10 years ago was the perfect environment for young drivers to improve their skills behind the wheel while also actively contributing to the success of a Formula One team. If Sauber’s fortunes suddenly turn in Canada this weekend, will Robin have had anything to do with it? Most likely not, and that is the problem with being the third driver in an F1 team. If you are lucky enough to get the chance to do Friday practice sessions, then you can at least lay claim to having contributed to the progression of the team. With Robin, he really isn’t contributing to Sauber. It’s unfortunate to say that, as if he was allowed the chance to run of Fridays, I’m sure it would pay dividends.
Will he be in the hunt f0r a race seat next season? He should be, but circumstances are working against him. If the rumors are to be believed, Nico could be going to Ferrari next season to replace Felipe Massa. This would leave only a sophomore driver in the role of team leader and Robin filling the empty seat. Hardly a recipe for success, no matter the talent of either driver. Perhaps Robin and Sauber could work out a deal with one of the bottom two teams to get a race seat. A less than desirable possibility, but a possibility nonetheless.
For now, it seems Robin’s immense talents will be resigned to sitting in on strategy briefings and hoping that Hilmer Motorsport is in need of a driver once in a while. Not a situation worthy of his ability at all, but such is the plight of the young driver in modern motorsport.