With only 20 spots on the grid each season, Formula 1 is a highly competitive and exclusive sport.
However, like any sport, factors such as injury and illness can rule a driver out of a given Grand Prix.
This is where reserve drivers come in.
So, who are this year’s backup drivers, and what exactly are they expected to do?
F1 reserve driver meaning: Roles and responsibilities
The role can change from team to team, but generally speaking, a reserve driver is on stand-by during a race weekend to fill in if one of the main drivers is unable to race.
This means that they travel with their team to Grand Prix races, and are typically seen in the garage or on the pit wall.
They may also attend team meetings and briefings during the weekend to ensure they are across important information should they be required to step in.
Reserve drivers are also afforded some time in the car on-track, usually during the first free practice session (FP1) in each weekend.
Outside of a race weekend, backup drivers do frequent work on a team’s simulator. This allows the driver to maintain their skills, while also providing important data to the team regarding potential tweaks to the car. They are generally given time in the car at post or preseason testing, too.
Sometimes drivers are both a team’s official reserve and test driver, although in other cases there is a separate test or ‘third’ driver, who typically does not travel with the team.
It is also worth noting that some teams have more than one reserve driver. Whilst this may appear unnecessary given the unlikelihood of both full-time drivers being unavailable, it is mainly in place to cover the schedules of the reserve drivers themselves.
A number of backups have full-time roles in other series such as Formula 2 or Formula E, which can rule them out of certain race weekends.
Has a reserve driver ever won an F1 race?
No, an F1 race has never been taken out by a reserve driver.
However, there have been a number of occasions where back-ups have made the most of their opportunity.
Alexander Wurz delivered arguably the best performance from a reserve driver in F1 history. Replacing Gerhard Berger – who sat out three races following the death of his father – at Benetton in 1997, Wurz retired from his first two races before finishing an unlikely P3 at the British Grand Prix.
Nicola Farini (1994) and Mario Andretti (1982) also made the most of their opportunities when filling in at Ferrari. Farini finished P2 in a tragic race at San Marino that resulted in the death of Ayrton Senna, whilst 42-year-old Andretti secured pole position and a P3 finish at the Scuderia’s home race in Monza.
A recent and notable reserve performance came in the form of Nyck de Vries last year, who was substituted in for Williams' Alex Albon at Monza. Now a full-time AlphaTauri driver for the 2023 campaign, the Dutchman finished in ninth and picked up points in a memorable F1 debut.
Who are the 2023 F1 reserve drivers?
The majority of teams have named their reserve drivers for the upcoming season.
Red Bull and AlphaTauri will continue their shared system, which sees three drivers – Liam Lawson, Dennis Hauger and Zane Maloney – cover them for the year.
Aston Martin have announced that the duo of Stoffel Vandoorne and Felipe Drugovich will make up their reserve pool for the upcoming season.
Former full-time Alfa Romeo F1 driver Antonio Giovinazzi will continue as a backup at Ferrari, with ex-Haas driver Mick Schumacher at Mercedes.
Schumacher, Vanoorne and Drugovich will also provide extra cover at McLaren alongside IndyCar champion Alex Palou.
Australian racer Jack Doohan will balance his full-time F2 commitments alongside his role as Alpine’s reserve driver, whilst fellow F2 competitor Théo Pourchaire holds the same role at Alfa Romeo.
Pietro Fittipaldi also continues as Haas' backup driver.
Williams have not announced a reserve driver for 2023, but they typically use a driver from Mercedes' pool should they need a replacement.
Full list of 2023 F1 reserve drivers
and Zane Maloney
Schumacher, Stoffel Vandoorne
and Felipe Drugovich
and Zane Maloney
What is Daniel Ricciardo’s role at Red Bull?
Following a mutual contract termination at McLaren last year, Daniel Ricciardo has returned to Red Bull for 2023.
The Australian has not been named as a reserve driver, but will instead take up the third driver role.
His role is flexible, but key responsibilities include testing, simulator work and commercial activity.
This will likely see him become the face of the Red Bull F1 team if the full-time drivers – Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez – are unavailable for certain publicity events.
Riccardo drove for Red Bull from 2014 to 2018, picking up seven wins during that period.