Natural talent versus hard work


Staff Member
This was prompted by Galahad's post in the favourite driver thread, where he stated:
supporting the hard-working individual rather than the one who relies on naturally gifted talent mainly or solely.

It's something which gets mentioned quite a lot when referring to certain drivers - natural ability, raw talent, call it what you will.

So that led me to think, does it actually exist?
Or is it just that there are certain drivers who pick things up quicker than others and by the time they reach F1, they're already several seasons ahead of their peers?

If it is a tangible quality, which drivers do you think are generally regarded as having more of it?

Conversely, which drivers got where they did through sheer hard work and determination?
I think it is a quality, like a natural skill. I could work harder than any of the F1 drivers but be nowhere near as fast for example. That would go to show that hard work can only take you so far. In terms on which drivers have it, I would say they all do but some have a little extra in different areas. It could be said that Alonso has the extra skill in being able to keep driving fast over a consistant long period, whereas Vettel can really excel in finding the limits in a short space. Other drivers are more skilled in wet or variable conditions or in developing a car. I hope that makes sense.
The one driver who always springs to mind when talent or hard work springs to mind for me is Nigel Mansell. Compared to his peer group Mansell was probably the least gifted but sheer hard work and dogged determination won him numerous Grands Prix and, ultimately, a World Championship.
No disrespect to "our Nige" but the FW14B was a peerless car in 1992 but, that said, he still had to win the races. Back on topic, the most naturally gifted driver who never got a proper chance in F1 was Tommy Byrne. If ever you have the chance to read his autobiography I would recommend it, if only for the chapter where he tested for McLaren.
For me, hard work in F1 is getting and keeping sponsors, playing the game and knowing the right people. Fitting the description of raw talent and lazy would be Kimi Raikkonen. At the other extreme you have Karun Chandhok.
A bit harsh on Kimi there jez. Granted in his last two seasons you could say this was the case but he came to F1 for one thing - to be world champion. Once he achieved this he was only interested in a paycheck. But prior to this I think it would be unfair to call him lazy - he certainly took his career seriously, although one of the things about Kimi is he always seemed laxidasical even if he wasn't.

I agree that his raw talent should have been matched by more titles but that is just one of those things.

Back on topic and this argument not only applies to F1 but to the wider world in general - I'm sure we all know people who are very gifted but just don't have the work ethic to match whilst we will all also know people who are incredibly hard working but don't have the natural talent to go that bit further. Not often that you get both.

Now all of the drivers that are in F1 mustbe hard working to have the fitness required to be able to control a car throughout the race. However it is true that there are those who get to where they are with mostly talent and some hard work and vice versa. The classic case of this I think must be Prost vs Senna - arguably the most hard working man to enter F1 up against arguably the fastest driver to grace the sport.

This is a wide argument so I don't want to tie myself up in knots :)
A bit harsh on Kimi there jez.

I'm not saying he didn't try in the car, but by my definition of hard work (for an F1 driver), he was lazy.

For me, hard work in F1 is getting and keeping sponsors, playing the game and knowing the right people. .

Driving is just the fun part - not really work at all :)
For me, hard work in F1 is getting and keeping sponsors, playing the game and knowing the right people.

Is that not the job of the manager? Hard work for me is making sure you are as fit as you possibly can be (which I don't doubt they all do) and more importantly maintaining that belief and dedication to achieve the WDC even when faced with criticism, rubbish cars, age being against you and young whippersnappers arriving seemingly getting all the luck, the drives, the sponsorships, the notice...

Then we have the likes of Hulkenberg who worked in the factory and Grosjean who kept his bank job to keep up the funding.

It can be said that those perceived to have the talent are the ones that had the break early in their career and can now showcase it. But then would they have got those breaks had they not had that something special that the scouts spotted?

It's interesting, but as for working hard in the literal sense I don't think comes much greater than what an F1 driver does. And I mean all of them.
If you took twenty sixteen-year-olds with no driving experience whatsoever, and put them all in identical go-karts, would they all set the same lap time on their first lap, or would there be a spread of times? I'm pretty sure there would be a spread, and not due to learning ability or, clearly, experience.

It's surely to do with the subconscious mind picking up inputs about the car's behaviour, the grip of the surface and so on.

Obviously once you get to F1 level, they've all got this talent to a high degree (though still it varies; in adverse conditions most noticeably). So I think a big proportion then comes down to hard work. Jackie Stewart's book is very interesting, reading about the way he would ingratiate himself with sponsors and so on. Not just shaking hands and signing autographs, but taking the trouble to know the key players' names, their wives' names, just generally taking a personal interest. It might not appear to be worthwhile, but you never know when you might need someone's help or advice in the future. Similarly, getting to know the mechanics on the team and so on.

Basically I think it's a question of maximising all the tiny areas of potential advantage. If you can do something that might give you an advantage, why wouldn't you? This is the profession of being a racing driver.
those regarded as "natural talent" where once they step into the car they were quick even in poorer cars

Senna , Schumacher , Alonso, Raikkonen, Hamilton, Prost, Clark , G Villeneuve, Fisichella, Kubica

those regarded as more down to determination

Nigel Mansell, Mark Webber, Damon Hill
It's a question that crops up in a lot of areas and I don't think anyone's really come close to giving a good answer yet - it's the good old nature vs. nurture debate.

Although it may not be right, my personal preference is on the side of nurture, or 'hard work'. Increasingly I get frustrated if people my mum call me clever or intelligent because I feel it implies I could have just turned up to the exam or whatever and aced it, when in fact I've had to work like crazy (I know this isn't what they're actually trying to say so I keep my thoughts to myself...).

In the early stages of a career there has to be some sort of desire or natural talent to take it further, so I guess nature may be more influential here... although again it's impossible to rule out other experiences that may contribute, something as simple as riding a bike for example.

I'm going in circles but basically I'm saying mainly hard work but there has to be the initial spark to get things going.
Yes there are some more "gifted" than others, one man that I can think of recently that combined the both I believe was Michael Schumacher, pounding over the test track in Ferrari, but at the beginning of his career showed that he had "natural ability".

Then there's the Natural ability - one man that I think stands out the most in this recently is Kimi Raikkonen, wouldn't say he was lazy only in the PR stuff, if you think 2008 he was lazy, well I he had really bad luck...2009 showed he wasn't lazy.

Hard working of the current crop that I can think of is, Felipe Massa from 2006-2009, still believe he is working hard to this date as his 2011 season has in my opinion been better than the 2010. There is also the drivers in the smaller teams, would definitely call them hard working....

So yes, I do believe there are drivers with "Natural ability" and drivers that are "hard working".
Interesting question this, and I think it has taken on an even greater significance in this modern era of motorsport.

In the past, a guy who drove for a top-flight outfit could put in countless laps at various circuits throughout Europe, constantly honing his craft, becoming ever more familiar with the intricacies of the vehicle and the circuit. Nowadays, an hour-long practice session is considered critical running time. Track time is a rare commodity for even the most well financed racing organizations.

So how does one go about improving themselves significantly in such an environment? The sad answer is that I'm not sure they do. There is much less room these days for the guy that might be able to flourish down the road if he is just given enough time to develop. Chances are, they will not be given that time.

The naturally gifted drivers will shine in the feeder series they compete in, and a few of those will impress if they're ever given the chance to try out F1 machinery. Once they're in Formula One though, there is only so much they can do that isn't being done by every other guy on the grid. It's not like they can spend hour after hour on the driving range or in the batting cage, simply out-working the competition. The truly gifted drivers will of course improve, but it's more a case of refining the abilities that got them there in the first place.

I think my overall point here is that there probably was a time when sheer hard work and determination could overcome deficiencies in one's natural ability as a race car driver, but that era might have passed by with the introduction of testing bans and resource restrictions.

Only time will tell though, and quite frankly, I hope I'm wrong. There should always be a place for the guy that can "do more with less", but motorsport has always been a put-up or shut-up endeavor, and I don't see that changing anytime soon.

Giancarlo Fisichella is one of the most naturally talented drivers I;ve seen
He beat every teammate he raced except Alonso and Kovalainen..and these include

Ralf Schumacher - who some thought would be better than his brother but he was crash prone
Button - part of that was down to Flav's No 1 and No2 policy
Wurz - see above after initially matching him when Richards was in charge
Sato & Firman at Jordan
Massa at Sauber
Sutil at Force India

he was voted driver of the season in 2002 driving a Jordan Honda and scoring 7pts by the drivers despite Schumacher scoring 11 wins and record breaking points the F1 paddock must know something we don;t or they were all drunk when they voted for him

Only problem was his career was manipulated by Flavio Briatore who decided when Alonso arrived he had a new baby doll to play with and basically discarded Fisichella being past his sell by date....the way Flavio shafted both Fisi and Kovalainen at the end of 2007 to wait until Alonso was available which meant Fisi was only left with a Force India drive
If you took twenty sixteen-year-olds with no driving experience whatsoever, and put them all in identical go-karts, would they all set the same lap time on their first lap, or would there be a spread of times? I'm pretty sure there would be a spread, and not due to learning ability or, clearly, experience.
This is a good point, one which I can answer. In the first year when I was in the 6th form (nobody drove a car at this point, or had racing experience) there was a massive spread of lap times and racecraft abilities. Myself and one of my mates were consistently 3 seconds a lap faster than even the quickest of the rest, even though we all had the same experience prior to it. When we got out of the car, the head marshal said to us "You boys have got raw talent, you should do this more often."
Talent is clearly important, but you can get there through lots of practice and dedication, even if `the gift` isn't there. Just takes a little longer. That's why I think Lewis Hamilton is clearly one of the gifted ones, as he made such an impact in his first year in F1
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