Rookie Report: Jean-Éric Vergne

Life as a Red Bull sponsored driver isn’t as easy as it sounds, yes you might have the hottest team in Formula One behind you and access to one of the biggest energy drinks around, but if you can’t deliver at the highest levels you’ll soon find yourself cast aside. They strive to be the best and it’s hard to argue with that attitude, if not their methods. Either way, Jean-Éric Vergne is the next Red Bull young ‘un to make the step up to the big time, following fellow Toro Rosso driver Daniel Ricciardo’s path into the big time. Although the former HRT driver has already revealed his cards about becoming the lead driver for the season, and with the Australian already having half a season and considerably more exposure under his Nomex, Vergne will be playing catch-up. And let’s hope Vergne has ‘race winning’ ability, lest he comes under fire much like Alguersuari and Buemi did before.

With lots to prove, as will all rookie drivers, there is a tantalising prize to who can do that quickest…with Vettel unlikely to be moving anytime soon, Webber’s seat will be up for grabs before.

So how did he end up at Toro Rosso?

Stepping aside from the bulls on his helmet, the French driver began his career is a familiar fashion, stepping inside a kart in 2001 it wasn’t until 2003 that he made it to the runner up spot in his home nation’s Rotax Max championship. Then two years later he took up the same position in the 2005 ICA class Euro championship, another year was spent in karting before he made the transition to single-seaters.

Ignoring the runner-up spot this time he won the French Formula Renault Campus title in 2007 with six wins, spending the majority of the year on the podium caught the eye of Red Bull and by the end of the year he was part of their junior team. Filling up his schedule, Vergne competed in both the Formula Renault 2.0 West European Cup and the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0, coming fourth and sixth respectively. Although not scoring a win, he was the highest placed rookie driver, and he took home the French Formula Renault 2.0 title for being the top French driver in the West European Cup. Staying with both series he improved in both to take up the familiar runner-up position again, but secured four wins in the Eurocup and three in the West European Cup.

His next move was to the British Formula Three championship in 2010, but as with many drivers he looked elsewhere to keep himself race sharp. Vergne also participated in the Master of Formula 3 and the Macau Grand Prix for Carlin, and well as GP3 and Formula Renault 3.5 for Tech 1 Racing. His time spent in the British F3 series was put to good use, out of 30 races we won 13, and was on the podium for 20, winning the series with six races to spare. Completing the triple for the Red Bull Juniors, as Alguersuari (2008) and Ricciardo (2009) before him.

2011 gave his first taste of life in Formula One when he became a test driver for Toro Rosso, but to pay the bills he continued racing in the Formula Renault 3.5 series, this time for Carlin. But despite five wins and nine podiums he came a tantalisingly close second to fellow 2011 test driver and Carlin teammate Robert Wickens.

Hitting the big time in Formula One was the aim for the young French driver and his first outing was in the RB5 at Goodwood in 2010, which was soon followed by participating in the young driver test in Abu Dhabi that same year for Toro Rosso. By the end of 2011 his involvement increased to take part in practice session, alternating between Alguersuari and Buemi’s cars from Korean onwards. Then in the middle of December Toro Rosso confirmed Vergne would be joining Ricciardo at Red Bull’s sister team.

As it has been made abundantly clear, in Toro Rosso you have to make your talent shine above the others in a Vettelian fashion. Jean-Éric Vergne has certainly shown he can win, and that he can push his teammates to the limit which will certainly come in handy when he hits the asphalt in Australia, whether he can keep the pressure on Ricciardo is ultimately down to him.



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