This season rookies taking part in the rookie and developing nations session will be exactly that.
A1GP has revised its eligibility rules for rookie and developing nation drivers, abolishing the upper age limit but now precluding those who have competed in five of the fastest international single-seater series: Formula 1, GP2, Champ Car, Formula Nippon and the Indy Racing League.
In essence, this means that teams will not be able to gain any advantage by putting an experienced or established racing driver in the rookie-only Friday morning free practice session, in addition to the rest of the official race weekend.
When the rookie session was introduced in 2006/07, it was aimed at encouraging teams to take a chance on younger drivers, bringing them up through the ranks and developing them for the future. However, the session often became part of the wider strategy game in A1GP, with teams maximising the potential of the session by putting in their experienced stars from the very beginning, provided they hadn’t competed in more than six A1GP races.
For example, last season there were rookie sessions with GP2 race winner Adam Carroll, Champ Car race winner Michael Jourdain Jr competing against the likes of relative novices Gonçalo Araújo and Felipe Guimarães.
Last season’s A1 Team South Africa rookie Wesleigh Orr welcomed the new rookie rules for the forthcoming season – saying that it will lead to more drivers being given a break like he was. Orr got his chance to be the squad’s rookie after winning a pre-season shoot-out, and says he wouldn’t have got his chance in A1GP if it wasn’t for the rookie session existing – another unique aspect of A1GP.
“Last season it was beneficial to have guys like Adam Carroll in the rookie session occasionally because then we knew how far we had to go to reach the top,” Orr told A1GP.com from his home in South Africa.
“But the new rules are a good thing because we will now be competing against our own level of driver and we will have a baseline idea of who is succeeding and who isn’t. Last season, with all the strong drivers and little track time it was hard to tell how we were doing because of the people who had more experience.
“Friday morning’s session is supposed to be a rookie session – and last season, lots of the field wasn’t what I’d call rookies. It is also a good thing because we can now have a chance of getting to the top of the charts if we are the strongest rookie, which boosts confidence.”
The revised eligibility rule is only part of the enhanced package for rookies. The total track time in the session will increase from 50 minutes to an hour, and the gap between the two half sessions will increase from 10 to 20 minutes, giving more time for the drivers to learn and study their telemetry data in between.
The design of the new A1GP Powered by Ferrari car also helps the drivers with track time. With longer lasting carbon brakes in place of steel ones, rookie drivers will spend less time ‘bedding’ them in for the main driver, and more time completing flying laps. A team will only need to run one or two sets of brakes per season, rather than replacing them each race as before.
“Bedding brakes means carefully wearing them in for the main driver, and rookies often spend three laps bedding in brakes at the start of each weekend,” Orr explained. “You are crawling around the track at this time and not working on performance. With the longer lasting brakes, it means there will be far less time needed to be spent on that.
“The extra ten minutes in the pits between sessions will increase the analysing time and it will mean we could find our pace quicker.
“All the rule changes have been beneficial in so many ways. All these small factors make a big difference to us as drivers.”
A1 Team South Africa has yet to confirm its driver line-up for 2008/09, however Orr remains in a strong position to retain his rookie role.