Force India has admitted that it had planned to run Jules Bianchi as its reserve driver for two years before considering him for a Formula 1 race drive.
The Silverstone-based team launched its 2013 VJM06 on Friday, with only lead driver Paul di Resta in attendance. Bianchi, who drove for Force India in free practice on nine grand prix weekends in 2012, is one of several drivers in contention for the second race seat, with Adrian Sutil and Bruno Senna both considered leading contenders as well.
Speaking at the launch of the new car, Force India deputy team principal Bob Fernley said that the departure of Nico Hulkenberg had disrupted the team's long-term driver plans.
"The idea of the Nico/Paul partnership not continuing into 2013 wasn't our plan," said Fernley. "Obviously, it slightly de-railed our program. If we'd had an ideal world we'd have liked to run Jules for two years as a third driver.
"Is Jules ready to go into a primary seat? Yes, he is. Absolutely. But we've just got to make sure we tick all the boxes now."
Fernley said that having two drivers on board for the first test of pre-season at Jerez next week was not as important as getting a revised long-term plan in place with its lineup.
"We have all these long-term plans and we want to make sure the decisions we take are the right ones," he said. "And we don't have to rush those decisions. Today [at the launch], a lot of the talk is about why we don't have other drivers here.
"Well, the key objective today is to launch the VJM06 and two new partners with our program. We only needed one driver to do that. When we go to Jerez, there's no better person to do all the baseline work and get the car ready for Barcelona, than Paul.
"Paul will be the key focus for Jerez. After that, the shareholders will be ready I think to announce the three-driver lineup, which will see us into 2013 and hopefully longer term."
Fernley dismissed the idea of holding an on-track evaluation of the various candidates for the 2013 lineup.
"We've got a number of people pooled that we want to look at for the primary drive, and a couple of people that we want to look at for the third driver program," he said. "We don't need to evaluate the people we're looking at – we'll make the decision and they'll go straight into the program. As long as the baseline work is done and we can bring the second and third driver in for Barcelona [on Feb. 19], they're going to be competitive straight away."