Poisoning the well – F1’s underlying problem

Romain Grosjean
c/o James Moy Photography

If one thing has struck me about this season, it is that there is a major underlying issue that has the potential to deeply affect the sport that we love. I have dedicated much time this year to the discussion of penalties and driving ethics, but also to the prospects of young talent as it rises through the junior championships.

I have now spent almost one third of my life, and pretty much the entirety of my adult life, engaged within the highest levels of international motorsport, but my heart for racing remains in the ladder to reach Formula 1, and in the talented youngsters who should create the future of the top level.

The key word in that last sentence, however, is “should.” Because the current structure of single seater motorsport is filling the path of progression for a young driver with ever greater hurdles and roadblocks. We have reached a very dangerous time, at which the talent pool looks likely to stagnate and for motor racing fans to be denied witnessing the talents of an entire generation at the very highest level.

Breaking into F1 has never been easy. It should never be easy. As the undeniable top rank of international motorsport, only the very best should progress. Of course, we know this isn’t always the case. Spaces are limited and top teams are reluctant to take a chance on a rookie, even those with a cheque book the size of a small nation’s GDP. Money ultimately talks, but if there aren’t the spaces, there aren’t the spaces.

In the aftermath of Spa and Romain Grosjean’s race ban, many are questioning who has the right to be in Formula 1 and whether the junior categories are preparing drivers for the rigours of F1. The question of driving standards, and of policing those standards, is something I have written about already this week and this article is not designed to go back over that ground. I have made my opinions on that perfectly clear.

But the question of young drivers in Formula 1, and whether they are ready for the challenge, is one which really does need to be addressed.

Formula 1, I feel, has made a rod for its own back. It is a rod which has been created largely from empty cans of Red Bull, and it has affected everything and everyone in the sport.

Sebastian Vettel and Helmut Marko
c/o James Moy Photography

Red Bull’s influence in motorsport cannot be overstated. For over a decade now it has ploughed millions, I’d hazard potentially billions into racing. It has sponsored young drivers, and given breaks to hundreds of talented kids. So why the beef?

My gripe lies with the simple fact that of the entire Red Bull programme, one driver has succeeded to the levels which every young driver programme wishes. But what Red Bull and Dr Helmut Marko have seemingly failed to grasp is that Sebastian Vettel was not and should never have been considered to be the norm. He is not a template, nor a model of every young driver’s career. He is the exception to the rule. He is special, a one off. The likes of a Vettel come around once in a generation. An expectation that every driver will have the same rate of progression as the two-time champion is unrealistic and grossly unfair.

But that is what Red Bull drivers are faced with. And that is why there is an ever growing scrap heap of immense talent, all branded with that infamous logo on their hinds. Branded with broken dreams, all united with disillusionment and disdain for the promises which were shattered in front of them in a shower of remorseless savagery and cold, bitter resentment.

Sebastian Vettel was the youngest driver to score a point and take a pole, youngest to win a race, youngest to win a world title in Formula 1. And ever since then the sport, led by Red Bull, has searched for ever younger talent, determining that they have the talent to win an F1 world championship before they’ve barely had a chance to get to grips with slicks and wings.

Jaime Alguersuari is a prime example. A driver of huge talent and immense promise, and yet booted out of the programme by the time he was old enough to order a beer in America. The vast majority of the F1 paddock, and even some within the Red Bull family, still find that one baffling.

Lewis Hamilton and Martin Whitmarsh
Monaco 2006
c/o GP2 Series Media Service

Of course it isn’t just Red Bull. McLaren backed Lewis Hamilton to the hilt and brought him to F1 at a very young age. He, too, exceeded expectations, taking the fight to a two time world champion and missing out on the championship by a single point in his rookie season. But McLaren realise he’s the exception. They know he is a one off. The youngsters on the McLaren roster are kept out of the limelight and allowed to evolve in their own time. McLaren’s been around long enough to understand that a great driver needs nurturing and supporting if he is to achieve his full potential.

After Spa everyone is pointing the finger at the likes of Grosjean, Maldonado, and saying that these kids are pushing too hard, making too many mistakes… but what do we honestly expect?

What do we expect when we rush drivers, barely out of their teens, into the highest level of international motorsport and tell them they’ve got a season to prove they’re worthy of their place or they’re out? What did we think was going to happen? Seriously? Did we expect them to take it easy? To not take every risk?

In researching a recent article for F1 Racing magazine on why there are no Italian drivers in F1, Stefano Domenicali was very up front about the situation. But in looking at young drivers his assessment was fascinating. Sergio Perez, he admitted, was probably too young to join Ferrari. I suggested a driver such as Luca Filippi, who has outscored Romain Grosjean in the second half of GP2 in 2011. Stefano didn’t have to think long before declaring Luca was probably a bit too old and had spent too long in GP2.

This is something you hear all the time. Driver X or driver Y, having spent four or five years in GP2 clearly can’t be all that good or they would have won it in their first season. They’re too old now anyway. At that ripe old, pension drawing age of 26.

So you take it down to base level and think about it… it’s perfectly possible for a driver to step straight into GP3 out of karts, and if he’s mega, mega special he could finish in the top 3. That’s 16 races. Then he steps into GP2 and takes the title in his first year. 24 races. The world raves about him and he gets an F1 shot. After 40 single seater races. Yes, we have seen the likes of Button and Raikkonen do the same, but they are world champions, the special ones. It doesn’t happen for everyone. These drivers were allowed time to make their mistakes. They had repeated chances. Think about how long it took Jenson Button to win his first race, and then how long it took him to mature into a championship winning driver. Then look at today and how few drivers get a shot at even a second season, let alone a third, fourth, fifth without winning a race.

The argument from Red Bull and their like comes that if a driver was that good then his rate of progression would have been on a par with a Vettel. If any driver doesn’t shape up to be as good at the same age then it is a simple decision to drop them. But this, for me, is desperately short sighted. Everyone matures at different speeds. Let’s take Button again as that example. Which driver would you rather have? Jenson aged 19, or Jenson aged 29? I’d go for the 29 year old vintage every time.

Jenson Button… the complete article
c/o James Moy Photography

So ask yourself, who would you as a team boss rather employ? The 19 year old kid with 40 races under his belt, or the kid with a bit of the world behind him and 100 races in a single seater? All of that accrued knowledge, experience, mistakes and corrections. As I’ve said already this season, Formula 1 seems to be the only job on earth where inexperience counts for more than experience. Where else would you be interviewed for a position, and the guy with a decade of experience is passed over for the kid straight out of University?

The true greats will arrive quickly and will make a good showing, but they will make mistakes. Even the mighty Vettel took out his now team-mate early on in his career and was described as a “kid” who had a tendency to “fuck it up.” But we can’t rush every driver and expect them to be that one diamond in the rough. It is unrealistic.

We are so quick to pass judgement on these youngsters when they do reach F1, that we perhaps lose sight of the fact that they are not as experienced. But we shouldn’t have to make that distinction. They should be ready. They should be experienced. The fact that they are not is because the modern trend is to rush them through the junior ranks.

But we must also realise that the junior championships are ripe for an overhaul. And the starting point must be GP2. To my mind, it has to become a professional championship. Just like 250cc / Moto2 is for motoGP. Max Biaggi spent 8 years in 250s, but did that make him too old? Did that harm his career? Absolutely not. It helped shape him into the rider he is. Why shouldn’t GP2 be full of the drivers who can’t quite get to F1 because there aren’t the spaces yet? Why shouldn’t a Sam Bird, a Luca Filippi, a Jules Bianchi, race there year after year? And if a kid comes along and wipes the floor with them, you know he is a genuine talent. If not, you have a professional championship, full of brilliant racing drivers, all of whom can earn a crust and not have to bring the insane levels of backing currently required for a season in F1’s feeder category.

For that to happen though, there needs to be a major shift in GP2’s thinking. Bernie will have to loosen his grip and allow some TV revenue to go to the teams. Costs will have to be reduced across the board from the championship organisers and from Dallara. It will require a sea change, and it will be a tough transition. But it has to think seriously about its future for I fear that if costs are not reigned in, if it does not become the professional championship it has always had the potential to be, then its position in single seater racing will come under threat. It will price itself out of a young driver’s consideration, the level of talent will dip and it will no longer be taken seriously. Teams will go off and race elsewhere. The championship will die.

If the purpose of GP2 was to train the future F1 champions, but there are no spaces in F1, then GP2 must stop promoting itself as a “Feeder Series” and start promoting itself as the best racing on earth outside F1, with cars just shy of F1 pace, racing on the same circuits, with a field full of F1 test and reserve drivers, and the very best talent from around the world on the cusp of F1.

A full grid in GP2… but for how long?
c/o GP2 Series Media Service

Until it does however, Formula 1 has some soul searching to do.

By searching for ever younger talent, I fear that potentially superb drivers are being thrust onto the big stage before they are ready, before they have reached the right level to be in Formula 1. They are forced to make their mistakes on the grandest stage of all, and are kicked out for making those very mistakes that every driver must make as he matures, as he evolves… as he learns. You cannot invent experience. You cannot create knowledge from thin air. Only by living, and in this case racing, can anyone amass maturity.

Those mistakes should be made in junior categories. They should be ironed out there, and a driver should be deemed ready when he or she is ready, no matter that they are 25, 26 or 27, no matter how many races they have run. Because it is that very experience that makes them as close to being the complete driver as possible.

Formula 1’s restrictive testing policy means that today, even if a young driver is given a shot, he has next to no time to get himself up to pace.

Jerome d’Ambrosio will race this weekend in Monza. Sure he’s racked up thousands of kilometres on the simulator, but he’s had only a handful of laps in the car for real, at the mid-season test in Mugello. This weekend could make or break his career. One weekend. Four hours of practice. Three qualifying sessions if he’s lucky. One race, the results of which could see him launched into a fulltime drive in 2013, or into the depths of obscurity. It is the challenge every young driver faces, times one hundred. Never mind one season. He has one weekend.

My greatest fear is that Formula 1 has backed itself into a corner. By searching for ever younger talent and disposing of it before it has had time to mature, have we signed away the prospects of an entire generation before it has had a chance to show what it can do? Who will give a chance to anyone in that 23-29 year old age bracket? Who will open their eyes and realise that its all very well finding a talented 19 year old, but that someone who has been racing for a few more years and had the time to iron out his creases and properly prepare himself for Formula 1 is perhaps the better, safer, more complete option?

My guess is nobody. Until it is too late. And we are left asking what happened to an entire generation of incredibly talented racing drivers.

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41 thoughts on “Poisoning the well – F1’s underlying problem

  1. I do quite like the idea of a different GP2 image. It is a massive shame that open-wheel racing is either F1, IndyCar or the road to F1/IndyCar. Shoudn’t be like that. The sport shouldn’t push open-wheel specialists who just couldn’t make it to F1 out of the category.

    Still, the bigger problem at hand is not so much the Red Bull mentality (as much as I dislike that), it’s the budget situation. Sure, some of the multi-year drivers are fine, talented people, but you always have the feeling in 90% of the cases that there could be a better multi-year driver instead of him in this place, but that hypothetical guy ran out of money because he wasn’t quite the Vettel and didn’t have enough a priori backing.

    Obviously just my take.

    • I was just about to say almost the same thing. There are a lot of immensely talented drivers that never get a chance simply because they don’t have the funds. It’s pretty clear when correlating the number of F1 drivers from each nation with which nations have well-funded driver development programs that money determines who gets a chance.

      I think that if F1 wants to continue to claim that they have the best drivers in the world, they’re eventually going to have to deal with the reality that what they really have are the best drivers among the 0.5% (or whatever it is) of people with the financial resources to get a shot.

  2. Hi Will,

    Say the top three in GP2 (Razia, Valsecchi and Calado) were fighting over an F1 race seat for 2013. Who would you prefer to see in it? Razia or Valsecchi, who haven’t really looked much better than average for years but done well this year thanks more to consistency and experience than outright pace? Or Calado, who’s quite clearly more naturally talented and faster even if he might be lacking a little in experience?

    I would love to hear what you think.

    • I am curious to hear about what Will thinks of this as well. I add, that I think its great that these guys have matured into being championship contenders though.
      Maybe exactly because it might mean that a talent like Calado does not storm to the championship in his first year (if only not to have a year at the back of the grid and then drop out of single seaters), but has a tough fight of it, gets close and then returns the next year to really do it, having learnt to be a better driver still.

      • But then Maldonado gained a lot of experience in GP2, won the championship and (along with sponsor money) thereby earned the right to crash Williams F1 cars. I think in nearly all cases 2-3 years in GP2 is the most a future F1 driver should need and benefit from. But I agree with the thrust of the article that GP2 should become the home of those not quite in F1 (best of the rest, if you like) whether or not they are on course to actually reach it.

    • That’s a tough one. Luiz is more complete as a driver and a man than I have ever seen. His commitment, his focus, his racecraft is so much sharper. He’s hugely impressed me.

      Davide has been blistering, but his head has faltered on occasion. I rate him, and I like him and I think he would be a huge addition to the F1 paddock… on personality alone.

      James is a rookie, let’s not forget that, and to be up there fighting for the championship is something I never thought we would again see since the switch from Bridgestone to Pirelli. He is special, really special. Another year in GP2 would do him no harm at all, but I don’t know if his backers will plough the money in to allow that to happen.

      Will any of them make it to F1? Where are the spaces for them to do so? And if they don’t have $30million, will they get a shot anyway? Maybe they’ll end up in WSR. Or maybe, just maybe, Indycar will come calling, and pluck these fabulous drivers out of the broken European system, and give them the career their talents deserve across the pond.

  3. As Eminem said,
    Look, if you had one shot, one opportunity
    To seize everything you ever wanted in one moment
    Would you capture it or just let it slip?

    Everyone is looking for the next Vettel. I hope JDA captures it this weekend.

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  5. Very well written Will. I to have watched this happen over the last 20 yrs. For all the guff currently being tossed at Ro Gro and the other young drivers ppl forget that their experience is actually very limited even with a year in F1

  6. You know, I’ve often wondered when I’ve been watching GP2 and seeing the likes of Calado and Razia “Will these guys have a chance at F1?” and at its currant pace, its vastly becoming an uncertainty. I love watching the top GP2 drivers out there. In fact their races are occasionally more entertaining than F1, and the age of these drivers are relatively the same as those competing in F1 now. Take a Calado for example. He’s 23, another year in GP2 and he will be 24. By Stefano Domenicali’s logic, in three years time he will be too old to compete in F1. I’m sorry, but thats not right.

    Formula 1 has proved that in many cases, taking on 19-year-old drivers is a mistake. Unless they’re pulling moves like Romain Grosjean did in Catalunya last year in GP2 every other weekend, they are not ready for F1. Jaime Alguersuari’s time in Formula 1 was cut short because of his age. Starting at 19 is way too young. And because he is that age, three years in the team without looking like he progressing [i.e. moving the team up the field] feels like 13 years to F1 teams.

    Formula 1 needs to establish a general age cut-off point for drivers aspiring to drive for its team, and maybe have the odd exception for the Hamilton’s and the Vettel’s. I hate seeing drivers come-and-go, I absolutely hate it. 2009 was the tipping point for me. Lets not have another 2009 FOTA.

  7. Am new to F1 and thus have much to learn about the sport, its’ dynamics and its’ history. Nonetheless I did want to pose a question: What is the impetus for rushing these drivers through to F1 too early? Are the financial stakes for the teams and their sponsors such that their “prime directives” are to win within a much more compressed timeframe?

    Am looking forward to the arrival of F! at COTA here in Austin this November, though I’ll likely be working on race morning, tracking the results online. I work for a luxury downtown hotel that’s booked solid that weekend.

  8. Couldn’t agree more Will. As in any walk of life drivers will develop at their own pace. There is no proven formula for how quickly someone will progress and so it seems ludicrous for drivers in the junior drivers to all be treated as though they are superhuman. Not everyone can do a Vettel, Alonso, Hamilton and breeze through the junior categories. Infact if you look at the past at what age drivers reached F1, Prost was 25, Mansell 26, Piquet was 26, Damon Hill didn’t get a chance until he was 31. Some of the greatest drivers in F1 history and yet in today’s world they in all likelihood would never have got the chance at the top level.

    Romain Grosjean seems to fit the point you’re making perfectly. He has the potential to be one of the best drivers of his generation, yet being rushed into F1 the first time almost killed his career off and he had to go back into the lower categories and work back up to where he is now. He may have flaws, the incident last weekend certainly not being his finest hour, but you cannot argue that he is immeasurably better than when he was last in the sport. Alguersuari is another one, thrown in at the deep end at Toro Rosso without any testing and he struggled, yet was turfed out just as he had got to grips last season and was showing his true potential. I for one hope he gets back into F1 in the future because he’s an exceptional talent and the way Red Bull treated him was disgusting in my view.

    Will, I’d love to hear your thoughts on Antonio Felix da Costa, who I also notice is in the Red Bull junior programme. He really has stood out to me in GP3 this season as a star of the future, his drive in Hungary in particular was sublime. I hope no matter what happens in the seasons ahead that he is nurtured properly and only put into F1 when he is ready. Out of all the junior categories I’ve watched this year he is probably the only driver that has made me sit back and think ‘this kid is the real deal’, and it would be a shame to see him thrown onto the scrapheap and not given a chance in the future to build on his potential.

    • I think Antonio is the real deal. Seriously. So impressive, so fast. A little rough around the edges, but he’ll be amazing.

      My fear of course is that he’s with Red Bull now. They’ll move him into WSR full time next year rather than GP2. They haven’t put a driver in GP2 since Speed, Buemi, Ammermuller and Zaugg got their arses handed to them. So they’ll put him in WSR, and if he does well and is leading the championship, they will probably pull him mid season, throw one of the STR boys on the scrap heap and thrust Antonio into the big time before he’s really ready. But if Antonio doesn’t compete immediately in WSR, just as with Williamson this season who had 5 races before he was dropped and replaced by, ironically, Antonio, then I fear da Costa will join that ever increasing list of immense talent that Red Bull threw away.

      • In one sense, I can see the plus points for Red Bull running drivers in WSR as opposed to F1 and that the fact that WSR rarely clashes with F1, allowing drivers to race when F1 isn’t.

  9. As a relatively recent devotee to the sport, I can say that I’m always amazed at just how difficult it is for drivers, no matter their talents, to have a chance at a Formula 1 seat. It’s why I’m often bothered by claims that the 24 drivers on the grid of every grand prix are without question the best drivers in the world. They’re not. Surely, they’re among the best. But there are countless drivers that are almost certainly their equal, and despite their talent and potential, were kept out of the sport by circumstances all too often beyond their control.

    Formula 1 needs a makeover in so many ways. It needs to learn how to properly treat its fans. It needs to find some way to at least pretend it cares about maintaining itself financially. And it needs to figure out what it’s going to do when the likes of Alonso, Button, Raikkonen, Webber, Massa, Schumacher (again) and other older veterans on the grid leave the sport for good. Because it doesn’t appear that anyone has any interest in grooming their replacements. It’s very likely that Hamilton, Vettel and Rosberg will still be there, but the quality of driver elsewhere on the grid may suffer if the generation of drivers for whom you’ve expressed your concern aren’t given a chance at the big time sooner.

    Formula 1 is such a short-sighted sport, both in the way it’s managed and the way in which it’s perceived from within. Maybe it’s Bernie. Maybe it’s an inherent byproduct of an endeavor devoted to the discovery of tenths, even hundredths of a second. Maybe it’s something else altogether. But it needs fixing.

  10. I think the lack of testing for these young drivers cannot be understated. They have to learn the car and develop it all during the race weekends. These rookies come to F1 with practically no seat time and are expected to step right in and contribute. This takes time and experience. I think testing should be opened back up but outlaw race seat drivers from partaking. Make that title of “test driver” actually mean something rather than just a position.

  11. Has it occurred to anyone that a huge part of the problem in F1 is that it has lost sight of it’s heritage. It has always been a “constructor” series. It has, in just the last two decades become so focused on micro managing the car, with the goal that no team will have an advantage, that the driver has become the most important element for success. TOO important! Gone are the days when teams were allowed to develop, let alone implement cutting edge technological changes to their cars. The cars, even the engines are now practically designed by the FIA. Remember when Tyrell had four steer tires? Remember when there were cars on the same track with varied and different numbers of cylinders? Whatever happened to new ideas like 4-wheel steering and brake assisted steering? What happened to letting constructors build from scratch, the “crazy” concepts, which somehow have ended up in the cars we drive on the street today.

    The cry has gone out to cut costs, make a better show for the fans, slow the cars down, make some rules in order to insure there will be more passing. Are you kidding me? Are these issues really what should shape the pinnacle of motor racing? A resounding “NO” is my answer. One thing I do think is fruitful is the way they have regulated reliability, putting limits on how many engines and transmissions the teams can use per season, without penalty. But the redeeming quality of that regulation is that they’re not banned from further competition, just penalized. But, constructors now are spending ever more time and money on just the aerodynamics of these cars. And, as far as the rest of the world is concerned, it’s mostly wasted, because it’s so specific to F1 cars, that we’ll never see the world’s automakers implement much, if any of it.

    Every other racing series is a strict formula, focused on parity amongst the cars, so we can ostensibly weed out the best drivers. Can’t the unarguably top echelon of motor racing go back to being a series devoted to whatever the constructors can dream of and conjure up? No rule yet has succeeded in cutting costs, nor will they ever accomplish that. Let the FIA concentrate on safety regulations and leave the rest of the designing choice to the constructors and their OWN designs. Length and width and all the safety features the FIA can imagine.

    However, the most ridiculous rule ever put into effect by any governing body, in my opinion is the ban on testing. The thought that anything good can come from that is nothing short of insanity. Does the FIA consider itself “Big Brother” now? The importance of testing is immeasurable compared to any argument against. When, in the history of F1 have new teams had such a difficult time being able to keep up with the rest of the field, let alone have no possible chance of winning? No testing.

    Hundreds of engineers and mechanics invest thousands of man hours building a machine, yet all our attention and adoration is showered on one driver? What’s wrong with that picture? And don’t shout back at me that the car can’t win without a driver. Naturally, I stipulate that the driver is a disproportionately important member of the team, but it’s still a “CONSTRUCTOR” series. The ONLY series in motor racing which is. And so what if this decade or that is dominated by Ferrari, or McLaren, or Williams, or any other team. The cycles are sometimes longer than others, but they all come around eventually.

    Want to slow the cars down? Want to put a lid on spending? Never going to happen. Want to see more passing and put on a better show for the fans? Well, for those who think the FIA should make more rules and regulations, how about banning rear wings altogether? After all, is a wind tunnel any cheaper than building your own test track? For me, I’m happy to wait for the faster cars to lap the back markers.

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  14. F1 needs experienced drivers. Also, you can’t tell whether a seemingly mediocre GP2 driver won’t succeed in F1? There’s no way you can predict correctly that. Oh, well, there’s 50% chance to make it right.

    My point is about money – drivers in F1 that sit in the carbon-polyurethane seat and think about money are likely to crash on the second chicane or just present less-than-average performance.
    Certainly, there are exceptions to the rule, but drivers are very susceptible to changes in environment, and one with clear mind, who’s enjoying lovely team support is likely to make a good race, podium, if you will. Perez is my example this season.

    The “you have one season or you are gone” approach is simply wrong. While I understand that F1 is the highest hill, should we wait for someone to get killed, or to ruin an entire factory and team’s efforts in just one turn?
    Apart from the human injuries and health, Romain’s shunt is very costly – I’d estimate it roughly to 20 million euros, and that includes the factory resources, the human time to think and produce the parts needed for Spa, the teams’ accommodation and arriving with the trucks, etc, etc.
    The car repair itself is at the bottom of the expense sheet.
    Perez, Hamilton, Alonso and Kobayashi may have well gotten the points on Spa, especially Alonso and both Saubers. The latter team needs points just like I need water and air.

    Should we start thinking about the first chicane on Monza today? Late braking 80 meters after the correct braking point and 4 middle field cars are gone, being slashed like a sword – we’ve seen that last year, haven’t we?

    F1 needs experienced drivers with proper education – mostly mental. F1 does not need kids. Kids don’t play with multi million toys.

  15. Fantastic article and really hits the nail on the head. I hope this and the recent incident/s at Spa get the people with power in the sport to really act now. Whilst they are at it, the MSA and FIA could re-draw the entire single seater map and make it simpler for everyone to see who is actually talented and worthy of progression. If people within the sport can’t articulate or fully understand what series is better, then it’s so much harder to generate the media coverage and of course the commercial backing required to get on the (or any) grid.

  16. Absolutely fantastic. An outstanding read, even better than the one on driver safety & stewarding. which is a tall order!

    My favourite lines are:

    “Jaime Alguersuari is a prime example. A driver of huge talent and immense promise, and yet booted out of the programme by the time he was old enough to order a beer in America”

    Couldn’t agree with you more. The way Jaime adapted so quickly to Pirelli tyres in 2011 shows immense skill.

    “Formula 1 seems to be the only job on earth where inexperience counts for more than experience. Where else would you be interviewed for a position, and the guy with a decade of experience is passed over for the kid straight out of University?”

  17. Total agreement with you here, Will. How many athletes in other sports take a bit longer to mature and become great in their discipline? In other sports,there are options for them get their second chance. F1 has such a narrow path to the top…so many are excluded far too early and many others never get the chance.

  18. Why is it that F1 teams are looking for ultra-youngsters to begin with? Ferrari seems to be the most consistent in its reluctance here to me, at least since I started following F1 in the mid-90s.

    Where’s the gain for a top team to do so? Drivers switch teams often enough that you’re unlikely to produce a driver who will stay with you for his/your team’s lifetime. Alonso is in his third top team. Räikkönen likewise. Button jumped teams like mad early in his career.
    Hamilton and Vettel are still with their first top team but I don’t think many people expect them to stay with them forever by now. Something I actually expected of Hamilton when he joined his childhood dream team.
    Even if you were to build up your own top driver, the financial gain seems to be small if you want to retain them once they score their first victories or even WCs. I very much doubt retaining Vettel is cheap for Red Bull.

    So… why? Why is someone too old for entry into F1 at 26 now? Unless you’ve got those 30 million that Maldonado brought (and age/experience apparently is not a sufficient reason for racecraft ;)).
    Is that the Red Bull running mill approach starting to run rampant with other teams for no actual reason?

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  22. Great article Will, absolutely spot on. You mention Jenson, and I
    think he is a good case in point.
    Rightly considered now as one of the best of the current generation, what would have happened if Ross Brawn hadn’t given up on the 2008 Honda mid season, and subsequently got ahead of the game for 2009? Button got a race winning car, and the rest as they say, is history. Without that, I wonder if JB would even be in F1 now. Not everyone can be a Vettel, either in terms of “straight out of the box” talent, or being in the right place at the right time.
    This year I have often wondered what Barichello would have done with the Williams…

    Anyway I think as many people have said, the lack of testing, and the having to perform at all costs attitude is leaving new drivers with little choice than go balls out at all time.
    I think the teams should be able to test, but not using the regular pair of drivers, and not on any tracks used in the championship.This should be on a sliding scale – the lower down in the championship they finished the more hours testing they are allowed. This would allow the team’s not only to bring on new drivers but also let the lower teams develop the cars “in season”. Honestly how can anyone expect HRT to improve when they can’t put a car on the track except on race weekends?
    Oh, and ban wind tunnels?

  23. Pingback: Global Tech Review | 7 stories to read this weekend

  24. Mr. Buxton, that was a fantastic article with lots of great points.

    I would like to add that there are innumerable real life examples here to prove your points. And as a huge fan of sportscar racing, I find that a lot of those examples come from that arena – specifically young single seater drivers who have been forced out of their own development ladder for various reasons who have found refuge in the various endurance racing series worldwide.

    Just this year, we have seen Brendon Hartley, Sebastian Buemi, and Kazuki Nakajima all excel and encounter newfound success in Le Mans prototypes for their raw pace and racecraft, which they have no doubt picked up in their time in single seaters. And Romain Grosjean, who spent the years between his first outing in the Renault R29 and his current tenure with Lotus driving nearly everything else imaginable. Nakajima is now a factory driver for Toyota, running in their very best teams in both the WEC and Super GT. And Hartley is lined up once more for F1 testing with Mercedes.

    These successes by young drivers in forms of motorsport outside of open wheel racing I believe perfectly prove your point that so much talent is falling by the wayside simply because they are not deemed to be world championship material. As you say, just look at McLaren – Oliver Turvey may be out of single seaters, but in the meantime he is developing his craft as a factory driver for McLaren GT.

    It\’s just a shame that this is what it takes for us to recognize talent these days.

  25. Putting the impact on drivers to one side, I’ve long thought there’s a huge commercial opportunity going begging here. Just look at the NASCAR Nationwide Series. I’d suggest running a single, 60-75min race on a Saturday afternoon, straight after F1 qualifying and, ideally, finding a way to call it Formula 2. Surely, if you could get even half of F1 viewers to watch it, it could be massively lucrative?

    • Immediately after quali is GP2. Then GP3. F2 exists but is of a lower level than GP2 and WSR. Probably around GP3 level. Bernie and Allsport Management decide F1 timetable and that’s why GP2/3 appears rather than F2 which is FIA.

  26. Although you raise some good points, you can hardly expect a team to sign up a Button for 10 years to wait for him to mature. Everyone is fast. Mostly everyone has the money needed. It’s always going to be a cutthroat environment for drivers and you can’t blame teams for looking out for standout drivers like Schumacher or Raikkonen. It’s just the way that works now, and the fact is you DO get drivers who perform in that scenario.

    Any fast driver can come of age in 5 years, no team is willing to wait around for that long based on chance and I wouldn’t either.

    The way you see how GP2 should run makes sense.

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