Valtteri Bottas stands in a privileged position heading into the 2012 Formula 1 season. While for some the third driver role may be a bit of a misnomer, the 22-year-old Finn enters the season knowing that he will drive on 15 Fridays - roughly three quarters of the year's events, give or take a Bahrain Grand Prix. It is, as he admits, the perfect opportunity.
The role of the third driver has been subverted in recent years by the ban on in-season testing, making almost obsolete the role drivers like Alex Wurz, Olivier Panis and Pedro de la Rosa previously enjoyed.
As well as reducing the number of quality drivers therefore involved in Formula 1, the lack of testing also provides fewer chances for young drivers to acclimatise and develop. Where Lewis Hamilton racked up more than 3000 miles before he turned a wheel in anger, Bruno Senna was a testing virgin - save for a day and a half with Honda in 2008 - when he made his race debut for HRT.
Of course there are still examples of those who have trodden the path from third driver to full-time seat. One need only look at Force India, for example, with both Paul di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg making the graduation after serving time in the reserve ranks. Jerome d'Ambrosio too landed a Virgin seat after playing understudy during the team's maiden season.
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