Any additional pressure placed on the shoulders of rookie Alexander Albon and returnee Daniil Kvyat may be eased by the knowledge that Red Bull junior Dan Ticktum may not be eligible for the extra points required to obtain an F1 superlicence.
According to a report by Motorsport.com, Ticktum’s attempts to compete in the Asian Formula 3 Winter Series (AWS) to ‘top-up’ the points required for an F1 superlicence may be in vain due to the eligibility of the competition.
Currently, two-time Macau winner Ticktum has 35 of the 40 points required to secure a superlicence and be eligible for a seat in Formula One.
He was an outsider for one of the Toro Rosso seats in 2019, but his defeat to Mick Schumacher in the European Formula Three Championship meant he fell five points short of the requirement.
In a bid to fast-track Ticktum to the 40-point threshold, he was entered into the Asian F3 Winter Series, where he would need a minimum of third place in the championship to secure the additional five superlicence points.
The most up-to-date list of FIA competitions which allow drivers to accumulate superlicence points was published in December 2018, which includes the Asian F3 Winter Series. However, this competition may no longer be accepted as a contest that can award superlicence points.
FIA’s Appendix L regulations state that a series must take place over five race weekends and on three different circuits, whereas this championship is three races weekends over two circuits.
When asked by Motorsport.com for clarification, FIA safety director Adam Baker said: “All championships listed in the table are eligible for superlicence points, should the criteria defined in Appendix L be met.
“As in previous years, the criteria in Appendix L include the number of weekends over which the championship is held.
“Any championship which does not meet the Appendix L requirements will unfortunately not be eligible for superlicence points.”
This development might mean that Ticktum pulls out of the Asian F3 Winter Series altogether, if it becomes ‘worthless’ to him.
Despite positive signs in the opening two rounds, he trails the coveted third place in the championship by 35 points with 75 still to play for.
What does this mean for Kvyat and Albon?
The 2019 Toro Rosso pair are unlikely to come under immediate pressure for their seats, unless Red Bull start adding other superlicence-eligible drivers to their roster.
If Ticktum remains on 35 points, then he will be unable to compete in F1 in 2019, barring some kind of FIA dispensation.
The Briton will be able to participate in free practice sessions though, which means a more intensifying development role could be on the cards for 2019.
Ticktum spent the tail-end of 2018 taking part in races in the Super Formula series and Formula Two, no doubt getting a feel for each championship as potential competitions for 2019.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner had previously expressed his frustration at Ticktum being unable to take part in testing, but he now has the required 25 points necessary to carry out ‘free practice only’ duties, should Red Bull or Toro Rosso choose to use him.
Toro Rosso may be resistant to using Ticktum early on, however, due to Kvyat and Albon needing time in F1 machinery after not competing in 2018.
A junior driver system that has previously been bursting with talented drivers has started looking a bit thin in recent years, made evident by their decision to bring back Kvyat for a third stint at the team, and recall former academy drivers Brendon Hartley and Alexander Albon in the last couple of years, although the latter showed very strong, race-winning pace in Formula Two last year.
Aside from Ticktum, their remaining academy drivers are still in the earlier stages of their junior careers, and are unlikely to hit Toro Rosso’s radar for a couple of years.
By: Luke Murphy
All images: Motorsport Images