Stevens’ initial outing a rarity in modern F1: an in-year debut

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Will Stevens’ confirmation at Caterham for Abu Dhabi this weekend should likely be viewed with pretty low expectations. It’s his Grand Prix debut, on limited testing, coming with a team that has missed the last two races.

But it will still be interesting to note how his debut goes compared to other recent in-season debuts, which have been fewer of late. Stevens is in with some interesting company, though.

Here’s the last five, which have occurred over the last five years:

Andre Lotterer, 2014 Belgian Grand Prix, Caterham

Stevens of course is the second driver to debut with Caterham this year, following on from Lotterer, a three-time 24 Hours of Le Mans champion who is one of the best sports car drivers worldwide at the moment. Lotterer was matched against Marcus Ericsson rather than Kamui Kobayashi as Stevens is. At Spa, the German outqualified Ericsson by nearly a second, which was mightily impressive with no test time and no F1 seat time since his Jaguar test days more than a year ago. A mechanical retirement bogged him down before completing a lap, but he’d been plenty impressive. He’s since turned down future opportunities to race F1, and it’s hard to blame him.

Daniel Ricciardo, 2011 British Grand Prix, HRT

Ricciardo was off-loaded to HRT for the second half of 2011 as a way to gauge his potential for a Toro Rosso seat the following year. The Australian made his debut at Silverstone and was matched against Vitantonio Liuzzi, a similar-type driver as is Kobayashi in terms of outright F1 results. The HRT didn’t do either driver any favors but Ricciardo was respectable, within 0.6 of Liuzzi in qualifying (albeit 24th and last) and making it home 19th to finish his debut, also one spot behind Liuzzi. Under the radar, sure, but it was the beginning of a run that has since seen the frequently happy, smiling Australian ascend to become a Grand Prix winner.

Kamui Kobayashi, 2009 Brazilian Grand Prix, Toyota

Fittingly, Kobayashi made his debut in a similar manner as Stevens will be this weekend – end of the season with minimal expectations. But once he took over for Timo Glock at Interlagos, Kobayashi announced his arrival in F1 with authority, and a ridiculous amount of excitement to boot. Kobayashi qualified 11th, which was seven spots behind Jarno Trulli, but that could be excused given Trulli’s qualifying prowess. Kamui was ahead of World Champion Jenson Button and both McLarens, and that spoke volumes. Come race day, he flirted with scoring points after some of his moves, and ended one spot outside the then top-eight points scorers in ninth. A sixth at Abu Dhabi the next race marked his first points and the beginning of a respectable career, while it was Toyota’s final start.

Romain Grosjean, 2009 European Grand Prix (Valencia), Renault

“RoGro” was essentially thrown into a no-win situation, replacing the point-less and out-of-favor Nelson Piquet at Valencia with the Singapore 2008 “crash gate” scandal and Fernando Alonso’s lost wheel at Hungary the previous GP fresh in the minds in the paddock. He did well to qualify 14th, ahead within three tenths of Alonso in Q2, and ahead of Giancarlo Fisichella and Jarno Trulli, as well as Ferrari fill-in Luca Badoer. He ended 15th after an uneventful race, still on the lead lap.

Jaime Alguersuari, 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix, Toro Rosso

2009 was quite a year for in-season debuts, it seemed. Alguersuari’s came with all the added hoopla and consternation over his youth – at 19 years and 125 days, the Spaniard became the youngest driver ever to start a Grand Prix. Alguersuari ended 20th and last on the grid, eight tenths off STR teammate Sebastien Buemi and four tenths off Robert Kubica in 19th in the BMW Sauber. He made it home on race day in 15th, a lap down, ahead of Buemi. Both have gone onto new ventures since their Toro Rosso days ended at the end of 2011; Alguersuari has tested for Pirelli and he and Buemi both race in FIA Formula E. Buemi is fresh off winning the World Championship with Toyota in the FIA World Endurance Championship.