It’s a tough ask but Taylor Barnard, who has been announced as the McLaren Formula E team’s test and reserve driver, has a chance to emulate Jake Hughes’s hard-won slot on one of the world’s most competitive grids.
Barnard may only be 19 years of age and have come off the back of a relatively modest set of results in his first Formula 3 season last year, but for some at McLaren there is a growing belief it may have unearthed a future Formula E gem.
The championship is screaming out for its own Kimi Raikkonen in Formula 1 2001 moment: something mind-blowing where a total novice comes in and smashes up a few applecarts, unsettling the pool of the same old drivers a bit.
Could that all come from Taylor Barnard?
He was propelled into Sam Bird’s car at the Valencia test last October and did a very good job, not only adhering to the requested programme of the team but also in setting a laptime that was seventh-best from the 22 on track on day one.
That made a few people sit up and take notice. Despite the staccato nature of the day, which featured a curtailed timetable after a battery-triggered pit fire, several more experienced rookies were also out on track. These included names such as Luca Ghiotto, Victor Martins and Zane Maloney, who, although on specific programmes, were all in the lower reaches of the classification.
Barnard did a fine job and he went for a time, which others probably didn’t. Still, that should not detract from the inherent pace he displayed in his Formula E genesis moment, even if it mildly irritated McLaren team principal Ian James.
“On one hand, you get frustrated because he goes and puts in some bloody quick times after being told it's not about that,” James tells The Race.
“But on the other hand, he's also ticking through the test items as well. So, you kind of get the whole package, which is great.”
Barnard himself tells The Race that inevitably the Nissan Formula E package was “quite different to anything I've driven before”.
“I've not driven anything electric either before. So yeah, to jump in and be quick straight away was really nice.”
Barnard appears to be the one of the new generation who has the coolest of heads. There is a reserved detachment from the kind of big-fish-in-a-little-pond thinking that Formula E is all about.
“It's a really early stage in my career and I think to get myself in with McLaren and just develop my skills and to build myself as a driver is a great step for me,” he adds.
“To be able to extract all the information I could from Sam [Bird] and Jake [Hughes] - not even the way that they describe how the car is behaving, but just the way they behave off track and the way they work with the engineers - it was a really good experience for me to have.
“It’s something I can build on for myself and take forward for me and my career.”
It isn’t so much that the anticipation for Barnard is unduly high now. Because it was always up there anyway, according to James.
“We had high expectations because there were two or three people that I know and trust, who had sort of brought Taylor to my attention,” he recalls.
“We're keeping an eye on various programmes, F2, F3 and so forth, and looking at the talent that's coming through there but Taylor's name had come up on more than one occasion, and it seemed a great opportunity for us to initially get him in the DiL [driver-in-the-loop simulator].”
That programme “confirmed our expectations”, says James, who adds “we knew he was going to fit in well with the team, but also perform and add value in there”.
The designs McLaren has on the future are starting now. It has already soaked up the positives of hiring Hughes, who age apart has several similarities to Barnard. Both appear to share the same meticulous work ethic and range of learning aptitudes.
“I think he's going to be an integral part of the team,” says James of Barnard.
“We saw this with Jake, initially in his role as the development and reserve driver and we're going to see it with Taylor as well. He's going to be instrumental in making sure that the preparation for the races have been done that we're trialling the software updates that we're able to bring throughout the year and just refining things for the package that we bring on track.
“We've also got the simulator itself which is a constant development process as well, as one thing that I've learned over my years and Formula E is that the simulator is never finished.
“You're always working on it and refining it and Taylor in his role is going to play a key part in that development as well.”