Formula 1 News

Young Formula One drivers: age is just a number

Drivers should be measured by talent, not their age
Wednesday, August 27, 2014

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August 27th, 2014 (F1Plus / Rosie Baillie) - The hot topic in Belgium was the age of Max Verstappen, who will be 17 years old when he makes his Formula One debut next year.

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It all began last week when Toro Rosso announced that Verstappen will race for them in 2015 alongside Daniil Kvyat.

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At 17 years old he will be the youngest ever Formula One driver, smashing the current record of 19 years and 125 days which is held by former Toro Rosso driver Jaime Alguersuari.

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Over the course of the weekend current drivers and Verstappen himself have faced questions about whether 17 is too young to be allowed behind the wheel of an F1 car.

The general consensus from drivers is that his age is irrelevant and his talent is what is important.

Age cannot dictate when you are ready for anything. It’s a measure of how long you have been alive and that doesn’t correlate with your personality, experience or readiness for anything.

Double world champion Fernando Alonso stressed this point and said that whether or not you’re ready depends on your personality.

“Sometimes you are ready for Formula One at 17, sometimes 29, or sometimes you are never ready,” Alonso said.

“It depends on the character, personality. So we need to wait and see.”

Sauber driver Adrian Sutil described the move as ‘risky’ and warned that only certain drivers could pull it off at such a young age with so little experience.

“It’s quite a risky move,” Sutil said.

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“There are certain drivers who can manage that, like [Kimi] Raikkonen, he had only one season in Formula Renault, and performed incredibly well, so it’s possible that it works again.”

Raikkonen made his F1 debut in 2001 after one year in Formula Renault. At the time there were concerns about his inexperience but he finished 10th in his rookie year. The rest is history and Raikkonen went on to win the 2007 world championship for Ferrari.

Ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix Raikkonen spoke about it, saying only time would tell whether or not Verstappen was too young for the sport.

“Seventeen is a little bit young! For sure, we need to wait and see how he’s going to perform in his first year,” Raikkonen said.

“I think the most important thing is that he has the talent; I mean he’s quick.”

But how does Verstappen feel? The 16-year old Dutch driver composed himself well in what can only be described as a rammed media session full of journalist and TV cameras, something few people his age could do.

Verstappen said he felt age was just a number and the most important thing should be your speed on track.

“I think I'm ready for it, at the end age is just a number," Verstappen said.

"At the end what is most important is I think you have to be fast on the track."

One of the main contentions or concerns is his inexperience and whether that makes him a safety hazard. Something similar before the start of the 2013 season when it was announced that five rookies would be joining the sport and they proved over the course of the season that they were not dangerous.

Being offered an F1 drive is not an everyday occurrence for young drivers and it is their ultimate goal. You regret the things you don’t do and if Toro Rosso offer you a drive, you can be sure they’ve seen something special, think you're ready and will do well. Especially when they’ve picked you over more experienced and older drivers in the Red Bull young driver programme.

1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve hit out at the decision to allow a 17 year old to join the sport. He told Autosport that it would be the ‘worst thing ever for Formula 1’ and could either destroy Verstappen or render the sport meaningless.

It will either destroy him [Verstappen] or, even if he is successful right away, then F1 will be meaningless,” Villeneuve told Autosport.

"What will F1 be? It will be nothing. It doesn't do any good for anyone.”

"I remember when I was racing in Formula 3 at 17 and I wasn't thinking the same way as I was later on because you haven't paid your dues."

Drivers begin karting at a much younger age now, which is why we’re seeing so many younger drivers coming in to the sport. Don’t forget that Verstappen has grown up around motorsport and has his father, former F1 driver Jos Verstappen, on hand for advice.

When you watch F1, especially if you go to a race, you can’t help but marvel at the skill of some drivers. The average person certainly couldn’t jump in an F1 car and put in competitive laps instantly, you need to be supremely talented.

Sebastian Vettel is a great example of a young driver who succeeded. He entered the sport at 19 years old and now holds four drivers' titles and numerous youngest records, including; youngest grand prix winner, youngest grand slam and youngest world champion. Yes, he was older than Verstappen but it shows that you can't be 'too young' to be successful, it really is about the talent.

It shouldn’t matter whether you’re a supremely talented 17 year old, 23 year old, 30 year old or 44 year old. If you’re talented enough and deserving of a drive, your age should be irrelevant.

Only time will tell whether Verstappen is too young or not. He is taking part in FP1 in Austin, Brazil and Abu Dhabi, so we won’t have to wait long to get some kind of idea.

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