Gary Paffett has been a full time McLaren test and reserve driver since December 2005. In his time with the team he has completed 67 test days, 4,746 testing laps and over 21,000 testing kilometres. He also drives the team’s simulator, helping to develop the car over the year. Away from Formula One, Paffett competes in DTM and is currently in his tenth season. He was champion in 2005 and has been runner up on a number of occasions, including in 2012.
As with many drivers, Paffett started his racing career in karts. He made his debut in 1991, when he was ten years old, racing in the British Junior Kadet Championship. He finished sixth in his first season, improving to fifth in his second and third in his third. In 1994 he started racing in the British Junior TKM championship, coming second in his first year and winning the championship in 1995. He won another championship in 1996 and swept the board until 2000 – winning everything he entered.
In 1999, after becoming the British Formula Vauxhall Champion, he won the prestigious McLaren Autosport BRDC award (the year after current McLaren driver Jenson Button). This earned him a test with the McLaren Formula One team. He said of the experience: “This was my first test in an F1 car and was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. The sheer speed of the cars is something that is impossible to imagine before you get the chance to drive it. I got a day of testing at Jerez in December 2000 and was invited back to a further test at Magny-Cours in January 2001”.
From there he competed in the British and German F3 championships, winning the latter in 2002. In 2003 he made the switch to DTM, driving for Team Rosberg. He finished 11th in his debut year with four points, picked up at the Nurburgring and the A1 Ring (now known as the Red Bull Ring). In 2004 he moved to the HWA team and progressed right up the order to finish second behind Matthias Ekstrom. That year he won four races – Hockenheim, Norisring, an invitational race in Shanghai and Nurburgring. He stayed with the team in 2005 and became champion, ending the year with 13 more points than Ekstrom, with an impressive five out of 11 victories. He took a year out of DTM to concentrate on his McLaren testing duties in 2006 but returned in 2007. A stint with Persson Motorsport in 2007 and 2008 saw Paffett back down the order, but a return to HWA in 2009 instantly saw him finish second again.
He currently lies sixth in the DTM championship as well as continuing his testing duties and simulator driving for McLaren. He recently celebrated his 100th DTM race at Oschersleben, back in early September. Over his career he has claimed 20 wins, 32 podiums and ten pole positions. He is the most successful DTM driver on the current grid, and is the third most successful DTM driver of all time, behind Bernd Schneider and Klaus Ludwig. 75% of his DTM race starts have resulted in points.
Paffett shares his McLaren test driver duties with Oliver Turvey. He also attends Young Driver Tests for the team. He attends races as the team’s reserve driver, and he also stepped into that role for Force India last year at the Australian Grand Prix. There have been times when Paffett has been in attendance at Formula One race weekends and, after Free Pratice on Friday, he has been flown back to the McLaren Technology Centre to work on tweaks and updates for the car. It is a relentless job being a test driver!