The Young Ones


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So on Sunday Max Verstappen became the youngest Grand Prix driver of all time, at the age of 17 years and 166 days. Although unable to complete the race distance due to mechanical failure, he raced strongly in the midfield, comparing well to his (slightly) older team-mate despite being on the less favoured tyre compound.

Obviously time will tell whether Verstappen can cement his place in Formula One, but the very fact of his promotion leads one to young could a future F1 driver realistically be? What is actually required to drive one of today's cars in terms of physical and mental development? Would a schoolboy racer offer more advantages than just in terms of light weight - reflexes? Visual acuity?

At the moment, certainly in Europe, there are very few racing series that will issue licences to under-16s, by which time some young drivers have been racing karts for a decade or so. This presents a practical barrier; as does the recent restructuring of the F1 superlicence regulations, which prevent the theoretical possibility of an F1 team taking a driver fresh from karting.

It is possible to imagine the constraints on series such as F4 / FRenault being relaxed over time, providing an earlier entry point into single-seaters; then those who excel early, as Max did, would attract the attention of the F1 teams.

Personally, and feel free to call me crazy, I wouldn't be surprised if we see drivers as young as 13 racing in F1 over the course of the next, say, 25 years.
The main stumbling block is that the physical fitness required to pilot a generation of F1 cars that will be gaining seconds per year going forward is not normal for a person younger than 16. Verstappen's neck is huge. He's been training for this his whole life. This kid is an exception, and there's still a lot of questions to be answered.

Your 20s will always be your peak years.
Hamilton is now 30 and driving at least as well, if not better, as he ever has. Or maybe this is his final season?:nah: The physical peak may be in the 20s but the racing ability is frequently as good in the 30s.
Well, if a team did want to hire a 16 year old in the near future, they might look to the Road to Indy series. The organizers do seem to have a strong interest in advancing the truly gifted, giving them guaranteed money and drives at the next level up if they win the championship. What that means is that really talented drivers get a good chance to move up. But, with the restructuring of the points awarded in various feeders, it would require a driver to transfer to GP2 to get the points for a super license at that young an age. Also, transitioning from Indy to F1 is horrendously tough, mostly because of the physical fitness requirements being totally different. Transitioning from Indy feeders to F1 would be even harder.

And honestly, my opinion is that if they're quick enough, and smart enough, and fit enough, why shouldn't a 16 year old be given a chance? Likewise, if a fifty year old had what it took, why not? Talent is not restricted by age.
Unfortunately, the primary determinant now is how much money his (or her) backers can pony up! Talent is not a particularly large part of the equation any more.

That is why, IMO, the F1 talent pool gets shallower each year.
Sadly true, siffert_fan, which is why I like that the Road to Indy series tries to support talent by promoting series champions up to the next level.
I think the main problem with such young drivers is not so much their physical ability but more their psychological approach to racing. I know if someone has been driving carts since they were 5 their track etiquette will be different to a kid on the road but they are still very emotionally immature even until their 20's and some never grow up.

There is also the problem with the Playstation generation who have grown up thinking that a high speed crash doesn't hurt as all you do is restart the race or re-spawn or what ever it is you do on these machines.

Haven't the FIA just put an age limit on super licences?
With your average kid, I'd agree with you FB, but since I was very emotionally mature for my age at 16, I don't find it inconceivable that there are other kids like me. That said, I'd had several pretty good shunts by the time I was 16, so I'd learned that crashing hurts, and there is no do-over button. I don't think it's fair to exclude those who are capable of approaching racing in a mature fashion just because they happen to be young people. Unfortunately, and understandably, I hold an extreme minority opinion.

Of course, if you asked my father about the maturity level of racing drivers, he'd say they never get past five years old, and have attention spans only slightly better. But my father was a mechanic and then team manager for feeder formula teams that had pay drivers, so his opinion's more than a bit skewed.

I think you're right that the FIA put an age limit on super licenses. More's the pity.
There will never be a stage where drivers less than 17 years old will be in F1 ? Not possible a few ramifications involved

i) Physical aspect although cars are less physical demanding to drive and better studies have been made into being in top physical condition

ii) DVLA issues and government pressures. So you can drive an F1 car but you haven't got a driving licence to drive a car on the road row

iii) The image that F1 will convey that it is accepted that young drivers can be reckless , accident prone and irresponsible so a lot of more teenagers will copy it

Would a car manufacturer in F1 want to promote selling its cars marketed using a teenager?
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