Jean-Eric Vergne is part of the new generation of French drivers on the Formula 1 grid and heading into his third season at the top level.
Last Updated: 05/02/14 12:13pm
Jean-Eric Vergne is part of the new generation of French drivers on the Formula 1 grid and heading into his third season at the top level, his goal will be to make a defining impression after being overlooked by Red Bull in favour of his departing Toro Rosso team-mate Daniel Ricciardo.
Having debuted at the start of 2012, the then 22-year-old rookie frequently struggled in qualifying only to come alive on race day, with four solid eighth-place finishes giving him a higher championship finish than Ricciardo.
That trait was maintained to a lesser extent through 2013, with Vergne's race prowess not as well pronounced but Ricciardo's qualifying advantage far more evident as the young Aussie successfully won his battle against both Vergne and Kimi Raikkonen to replace Mark Webber at Red Bull.
The World Champions softened the blow by highlighting Ricciardo's greater experience as an explanatory factor behind their decision but, heading into 2014, Vergne's F1 career appears to stand on a critical pivot: it's now or never for 'JEV' to prove himself.
Vergne was promoted to an F1 race seat with an impressive junior record, having won the French Formula Renault 2.0 and British Formula Three championships. Much like just about every other F1 driver these days, Vergne started out in karting before moving to the French Formula Renault Campus in 2007 and comfortably winning the title. At the end of the season he became a member of Red Bull's esteemed junior programme at the age of 17.
The following season he competed in the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 and Formula Renault 2.0 West European Cup and walked away with the French Formula Renault 2.0 title. Although 2009 failed to yield silverware as he finished second in the Eurocup, he took the step up to the British Formula Three Championship in 2010 and claimed 13 wins for Carlin. Vergne followed in the footsteps of former STR driver Jaime Alguersuari and future team-mate Ricciardo, who won the title in 2008 and 2009 respectively. He also had stints in the GP3 Series and Formula Renault 3.5.
Vergne's first taste of F1 action came at the end of the 2010 season when he took part in the Young Driver Test for Toro Rosso, a run-out that was followed by him being handed the test and reserve role duties for the 2011 season. He took another step forward when he took part in Friday practice sessions in three of the final four races of the year.
After dominating in the double title-winning RB7 during the 2011 Young Driver Test, it was clear that Red Bull had bigger things in mind for the Frenchman and it wasn't too long before he was confirmed as a Toro Rosso driver for 2012.
Although he was bundled out of a debut points finish on the last lap in Melbourne by Ricciardo, he starred next time out at Sepang in the pouring rain, bravely staying out in the downpour on intermediates which laid the platform for a fine eighth-place finish.
But with the team soon falling off the development pace, pressure began to build on Vergne to get out of Q1 on Saturdays - the Frenchman falling at the first hurdle eight times in the 20 races.
Three more points-scoring finishes followed at the end of 2012, but there were just three top-ten results in the entirety of 2013 - and none at all after June's Canadian GP.
Far better is required in 2014 if Vergne's nascent F1 career is to progress to a fourth season.