The traditional path for a reserve driver hoping to graduate to a Formula 1 race seat is fraught with dullness and uncertainty. It usually amounts to little more than a year on the sidelines, during which the occasional test outing barely mitigates the endless days of hanging around the paddock on grand prix weekends.
But that wasn't the case for Stoffel Vandoorne and Pierre Gasly, who after winning in GP2/Formula 2 both opted to use Japan's Super Formula series as a stepping stone.
The idea was that a year in the Far East would serve as a holding pattern and keep them race fit, while furthering their education with mileage on unfamiliar tracks and in very quick cars. The stars would then align, and they could be slotted into F1 race seats. Both men did better than expected in Japan - Gasly even challenged for the 2017 title - and in both cases it all worked to plan, and their F1 graduations were assured.