Renault’s third and reserve driver Jack Aitken believes he has an opportunity to stake his claim to replace Carlos Sainz in 2019 if the Red Bull driver moves on.
Sainz moved to Renault late in 2017 after three years at Toro Rosso, with the switch designed to test him in a bigger team ahead of a potential promotion to Red Bull. Daniel Ricciardo is out of contract at the end of the year and Sainz is one of the favorites to replace the Australian if he moves on, which would open up a seat alongside Nico Hulkenberg at Renault.
Aitken is about to take on his maiden Formula 2 campaign – driving for ART alongside Mercedes youngster George Russell – and he believes the timing is good for him to put himself in the frame for a Formula 1 race seat next year.
“It is a realistic proposition, even if Renault don’t say so!” Aitken said. “I need to make it a realistic proposition. It’s completely up to my results and if Carlos leaves then they’ve given me the opportunity to prove that I’m worth it and that’s by doing well in F2.
“Doing well in F2… It’s very hard to put a number on it. They haven’t given me a number where they say ‘You need to be in the top whatever.’ They know what the level is and where I should be and they’re kind of going to review that. For me, that means I want to be winning races, at the top, going well and beating the other rookies, going along those lines.
“It’s quite a high bar but we’re talking about an F1 seat so it needs to be.”
Having signed his FIA super licence on Thursday of this week, Aitken is expecting to get a chance to show what he can do in F1 machinery during one of this year’s in-season tests.
“I’m ready technically. I haven’t driven the car yet other than in the sim so hopefully I’ll get a taste of it sometimes soon, either after Barcelona or Budapest.
“In F2 I need to do well because there’s no reason why I shouldn’t if things aren’t going against me too much. Equally with the F1 tests they’re obviously looking to see how you do, so it’s important as well and it’s hard to choose between the two. At the end of the day if you’re really good in one and awful in the other it’s going to be difficult. You need to do well in both.”
And as a member of the Renault Sport Academy, the 22-year-old believes he is well placed in terms of where the team is along its development path with the aim of challenging at the front in coming seasons.
“The plan comes together quite nicely but you never know what can happen. I think I’m in the right place. The car is in that perfect area for me at the moment where it’s a strong midfield challenger and I think will probably get some podiums quite soon.
“They’re only going to continue that upward curve until they get what they want and they’re committed to the academy. So if I keep getting results it’s all good news, but that’s the most important part of the equation.”