How the Aston Martin Autosport BRDC Award is judged

After a one year hiatus, the Aston Martin Autosport BRDC Award returns this year, seeking to find Britain’s best rising single-seater star. Here’s how the 2021 finalists were put through their paces and what the judges are looking for in the next driver to emulate David Coulthard, Jenson Button, George Russell and Lando Norris

How the Aston Martin Autosport BRDC Award is judged

It’s back. After a year in hibernation thanks to you-know-what, the Aston Martin Autosport BRDC Young Driver of the Year Award burst back into life for 2021. Four young British racers and a new guest judge helped to make this year’s contest, which kicked off last month, one of the best yet.

The details of the process get tweaked each year, but the overall structure is well established. The selected four, who have to be under 24 at the start of the calendar year and be an FIA Formula 3 rookie or compete in a lower level, conduct fitness and simulator tests before the two-day running on the Silverstone Grand Prix circuit. There they spend half a day driving GT3 and LMP3 machinery and the rest of the time with their own MotorSport Vision-run F2 car and engineer (selected at random).

This year’s chosen ones were Italian and German F4 champion Ollie Bearman (16), FIA F3 racer Jonny Edgar (17), Euroformula Open runner-up Louis Foster (18) and GB3 champion Zak O’Sullivan (16). Having all the finalists on-track in the same single-seater at the same time has been a key strength of the Award since 2010.

“You can tell it’s got into a good rhythm,” says 1992 Award winner and three-time Indianapolis 500 victor Dario Franchitti, this year’s guest judge. “It’s been developed to the same formula with the same team and it works well.

“The data analysis and timing from TSL is strong too. As a group we can see it develop in real time. Having the F2 cars – four on track at the same time so you don’t have to worry about changeable conditions – is a gamechanger. That’s powerful.”

This year the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team provided the pre-Silverstone simulator tests, which included 40 laps in the Mercedes W12 on the GP layout. The drivers were assessed on pace, consistency, feedback, approach and attitude. Reports were then provided to the judging panel.

It was a similar story with the fitness tests, organised by Athletic Thinking. Each of the teenagers was put through their paces in terms of strength and cardiovascular performance. As well as providing assessment information, the simulator and fitness elements also help with feedback, which is offered to all the finalists – win or lose – the following January.

Athletic Thinking runs Foster through his fitness test

Athletic Thinking runs Foster through his fitness test

Photo by: Bingham/Motorsport Images

Then it’s off to Silverstone. This year the first morning was largely spent in the Garage 59-run Aston Martin Vantage GT3 and BBM Sport Ginetta LMP3 cars. Following sighting laps in Aston Martin road cars and a brief shakedown in the F2s, benchmark drivers Jonny Adam and Charlie Robertson set times in the GT3 and LMP3 respectively. Each finalist then had two runs on old rubber in each car, before a final effort on new Pirellis. The finalists were allowed to see the data from the benchmark driver – and to get their advice – but weren’t allowed to see each other’s times.

Then it was back to the F2 cars. After another five-lap run on old tyres and a debrief, the quartet then had two five-lap runs on new rubber, with the aim being to set the fastest single lap time across the session.

“The reason we’ve historically done five-lap runs is to give as much seat time as possible for them to get used to the in-car tools, the front wing and front bar adjustment, and how the tyres change over the run,” explains judge and former McLaren designer/engineer Mark Williams. “I expect people to be trying stuff early on, and the laps be all over the place, but not in the later sessions.”

"I’m very impressed with all four, in and out of the car. I was very interested to watch them work with their engineers and dissect a new car" Dario Franchitti

At the end of the day, the Garage 59, BBM Sport and MSV teams reported back to the judges, who had spent time talking to the drivers, viewing around the circuit and assessing lap times.

Some drivers come out in a different frame of mind for day two, which is spent in the F2 cars. The first outing this year was a seven-lap run on old tyres, to give the drivers an idea of tyre degradation ahead of the afternoon’s ‘pursuit run’. Another five-lapper then preceded a new element for 2021: fresh tyres were bolted on for two one-lap runs.

“We’ve gone for a one-lap format this year because we want them to focus on delivering on one lap,” says Williams. “Tyres are at their best for one lap.”

“The Award throws up good challenges to the drivers and I like that we changed it up for day two,” adds Franchitti. “I like challenging the drivers. They’re teenagers but they’re experienced racing drivers and it’s good to put them in at the deep end.”

Finalists all hit the track together in F2 cars, where they had fresh tyres to do qualifying sim laps

Finalists all hit the track together in F2 cars, where they had fresh tyres to do qualifying sim laps

Photo by: Staley/Motorsport Images

There was then another five-lap run on new tyres before the ‘pursuit’. The drivers were set off at intervals so that they couldn’t trip over (or race!) each other, given an out-lap and one tour to prepare, then started a 12-lap run with the aim of doing the shortest ‘race’ time. No laps to back off and cool the tyres, no scope for errors – it’s a test of consistency and dealing with the rubber going off.

“I want to see fast, consistent laps,” says Williams. “And see the people who can use the in-car adjustments to manage the tyres and get the overall shortest time. Going as fast as you can and using the in-car adjustments to balance the car as the tyres wear is the best way of doing it. And not making mistakes.

“We can’t do a race because it would be too crazy and this is the closest way to simulate a race. We can’t test for racecraft, but the finalists have been successful in their year so you assume they can pass people.”

After the final runs each driver was interviewed by the judges, there was more F2 feedback from lead engineer James Goodfield, and then the judges were left to their deliberations after one of the closest contests in recent years…

How to be an ace engineer: James Goodfield

“I’m very impressed with all four, in and out of the car,” says Franchitti. “I was very interested to watch them work with their engineers and dissect a new car. With Ganassi [in IndyCar], working with the drivers there, we use a lot of the same tools and it’s good to see where the finalists were strong and weak compared to the drivers I usually work with.

“After 30 years the Award still gives the drivers a boost and it’s great to see it in such good health. It’s really fun.”

It will be even more fun for the driver who scoops, among other things, £200,000, full British Racing Drivers’ Club membership and an Arai helmet. But, like everyone else, they’ll have to wait until 19 December at the Autosport Awards to find out who will follow in the footsteps of David Coulthard, Jenson Button, George Russell, Lando Norris and the other 27 previous Award winners.

The judging panel has plenty of data to discuss over the two days

The judging panel has plenty of data to discuss over the two days

Photo by: Staley/Motorsport Images

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