Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne will get F1 chance with Toro Rosso

By Andrew BensonBBC Sport at Spa-Francorchamps
Jean-Eric Vergne
Vergne is currently racing in the Renault World Series

Red Bull protege Jean-Eric Vergne will be given a chance in Formula 1 by feeder team Toro Rosso.

The Frenchman, 21, is to run in first practice sessions later in the season as the team assess his potential.

Team principal Franz Tost told BBC Sport it had not been decided exactly when Vergne would make his debut.

It is likely to be after Vergne ends his campaign in the Renault World Series, which is the same weekend as the Japanese Grand Prix on 9 October.

The decision means there are four drivers in the mix for two seats at Toro Rosso in 2012 - incumbents Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastian Buemi, HRT driver Daniel Ricciardo and Vergne.

However, Tost said the move was "not confirmation" that there was at least one vacancy at Toro Rosso next season.

"It is just the confirmation we give him the chance to learn some race tracks, to get some experience of an F1 car, to learn our team, do some works with press, marketing and get some knowledge of all the technical issues and topics that are coming up for an F1 driver," Tost said.

But he did add that the team had had enough time to judge the potential of Buemi and Alguersuari, who have been racing for them since 2009.

"After three years, you should know whether a driver has potential, has the chance to come to Red Bull or not," Tost said.

There is no vacancy at Red Bull in 2012, following the announcement on Saturday that Mark Webber would continue alongside world champion Sebastian Vettel.

Tost said Red Bull's management had not decided whether to continue with their current line-up.

"We will see at the end of the season," he said. "Theoretically we can continue with both drivers. But this is not a decision for today or the next few weeks."

Ricciardo competed in free practice sessions for Toro Rosso this season until Red Bull paid lowly HRT to give him a race seat from the British Grand Prix.

Tost said he had been impressed by Ricciardo's performances alongside the experienced Italian Vitantonio Liuzzi in their three races together so far

"Ricciardo is a skilled driver," Tost said. "He has the potential and so far he is doing a good job.

"I didn't expect that he will in qualifying from the beginning onwards be faster than Antonio, because Antonio is quite competitive in qualifying.

"I expect that Ricciardo needs a couple of races to come close to Antonio or maybe to be sometimes faster than him.

"His disadvantage for the rest of the season is he doesn't know many of the tracks - Singapore, Suzuka, Korea, Brazil. This will be not so easy for him.

"To learn the track and then to be faster than his team-mate is another story.

"In the races he is doing a good job. In Hungary he was some laps faster than Antonio therefore I would say is he is on the correct way."

Red Bull are trying to establish which of their junior drivers - if any - are good enough to replace Webber as Sebastian Vettel's team-mate at the headline team when the Australian leaves.

Vergne is lying second to Canadian Robert Wickens, a former Red Bull protégé now a Virgin Racing reserve, in the World Series by Renault with two races remaining.