LONDON, Jan 26 (Reuters) - Britain’s Paul di Resta is set to become a grand prix regular as Force India’s reserve driver while compatriot Gary Paffett will be McLaren’s main tester, according to team principal Martin Whitmarsh.
The McLaren boss told Reuters after the Mercedes launch in Stuttgart that his team needed to replace Spaniard Pedro de la Rosa, who has taken a race seat at Sauber, but were in no hurry to do so.
Paffett, who is racing in the German Touring Car (DTM) championship with Mercedes this season, will give the new McLaren its test debut on Feb. 1 in Valencia before champions Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton get their hands on it.
Di Resta, 23-year-old cousin of IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti who has tested a McLaren previously and been supported by the team and engine partners Mercedes, was not an option to replace de la Rosa.
“Paul will be running I believe in the majority of the Friday sessions (at grand prix weekends) for Force India, so it’s a great opportunity for him, said Whitmarsh, whose McLaren team have a cooperation agreement with Force India.
“I’m happy for him. he’s going to push like hell to make his case to have a race drive at Force India during the course of this year.”
Formula One teams have always had the option to put reserves in the car during Friday practice to make up for the lack of testing during the season, but rarely do so.
“If you are trying to win a championship, to not allow your principal drivers the Friday session is not something we would contemplate,” said Whitmarsh. “But its something that some other teams are looking at and it’s a great opportunity for Paul.”
McLaren are due to present their team and new car on Friday but Whitmarsh said only Paffett would be named alongside Hamilton and new arrival Button.
“Gary probably did 60 days in the simulator last year for us and he’ll do the same sort of number and maybe a bit more this year. But he’s got other commitments so we need another driver,” he added.
“We are seeing what’s happening at the moment. There’s no great panic. We are very confident in Gary, we’ve worked and supported Gary for a number of years.
“At the moment we’ve got two race drivers who are pretty keen and eager and are working hard at Woking but during the course of the year we will see what happens.
“I might be wrong, but one can imagine that the driver market and maybe the entrants will be slightly more volatile than they have been in recent years,” added Whitmarsh, referring to paddock fears that some of the new teams could struggle to keep going.
“I sense that there will be some drivers who think they are gainfully employed at the moment who may be available in the future.”
Editing by Pritha Sarkar; To query or comment on this story email firstname.lastname@example.org