Career Paths - The Young Driver Risk


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Max Verstappen is the latest driver to appear at F1's top table through Helmut Marko's Red Bull young driver programme, at 17 years old. Too young?

Red Bull's theory is that talent will out, in F1, at a young age. And it's hard to suggest that their first team has not benefited from the theory. They have two superb drivers...

But if you're a driver, is this a good idea? There are only 2 seats to aim for, and Red Bull seem not to easily vacate those. So what happens if you seem good enough but there's a glass ceiling.

Arguably 24-year-old Jean-Eric Vergne has proven his worth to a standard that merits a Red Bull drive, indeed he was closer to Daniel Ricciardo than Seb Vettel was. But his F1 career seems over already. Jaime Alguersuari was less talented and shoved aside at 22.

To prove yourself by your mid-20s is quite the hurdle! The growth shown by the likes of Felipe Massa or Jenson Button after 3 seasons could not have happened as Red Bull's newbies.

For a driver, do the others provide better? Ferrari's plan of loaning to lesser teams seems to have extended Perez' career, McLaren seem to give an opportunity in the full squad too.

I suspect the Red Bull program will continue to pay off for some, but lets hope Vergnes aren't abandoned by the rest in future.
A young driver will have little to fear and will gain a few tenths here and there from that. The trouble is, when things aren't going so well, how much do they now about setting a car up and getting the best out of a bad situation.

While the prime aim of the Red Bull junior program is to develop young drivers, with the constent threat of getting kicked out, it can hardly be a fun ride for the brief spell they get to sit in the car.

Torro Rosso aren't benefiting as a team from having these young drivers. Their best fnish is 6th thanks to Vettels year in the team and his single win. Taking Vettel out of the equation and the best finish by a TR driver is 6th place. That's JEV at Singers this year, Canada last year and then you have to go way back to Liuzzi in China 2007. If we put that into a bit more context, again leaving Vettel out of it for a moment, using the old scoring method, In the last 9 seasons (under the old scoring system) Torro Rosso have scored just 3 points. No better than Minardi scored in their last 7 seasons (and that was leaving out USA 05 as a false example due to that race).

So if the drivers for Torro Rosso now (Speed, Buemi, Liuzzi, Vergne et al) are perfoming little better than hte likes of Geni, Mazzacaine, Wilson and Albers, then whats the point in the program.

For anyone who doesn't make the grade, if they find another seat depends usually on timing and cash. For a jump up to a better team they have to be in the right place at the right time and to find another seat towards the back of the grid they must have the backing. Given that they have been members of a funded development program its usually massively unlikely that they've got the personal backing of someone who has to make their way into F1 without major team support (Maldanado for example).
That maybe the case but there's nothing to choose between him and JEV and there's any number of current drivers who would be as quick.
At least the Red Bull program looks at drivers of all nationalities to bring through. Previousl young driver programs appear to have all been about bringing through French (ELF), British (BP) and German (Mercedes) drivers in the past. From those though we have World Champions in Prost, Schumacher and Vettel. Any I have missed? Did the BP British Driver program throw up a champion?
Derek Warwick and Brian Henton are names that spring to mind but that may have been because BP sponsored the Toleman F2 team.
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