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January 07, 2023 8 min read

The most recent world champion in Formula 1 made his professional start at the age of barely 17 years old.

By a significant margin, Max Verstappen won the F1 race the following year at the age of 18 years, 228 days. Verstappen accomplished a lot while still a young man, but other adolescent sensations have not replicated his success in the world championship. Not from the junior single-seater drivers who are currently on the road, at least.


Verstappen's unique entry into Formula One was made possible by two important factors: he was under the age of 18, and he had only competed in one season of car racing. The FIA changed the qualifications for an F1 superlicence after Red Bull selected Verstappen from the European Formula 3 championship, where he had almost immediately transitioned from karting.

From that point forward, all drivers who apply for a superlicense must be at least 18 years old and have "finished at least 80% of each of two full seasons" of recognized championships. In order to ensure that not all drivers who meet the other requirements can obtain the license, there is also a points requirement. This requirement serves as a quality filter.

However, there are other factors at play that lessen the likelihood that a young driver will have the same impact on the F1 landscape as young Max Verstappen did.

Prior to Red Bull stepping up their game, only truly McLaren had a formalized framework for fostering new drivers during the late 1990s and early 2000s, before establishing a junior driver academy became prevalent among teams. Red Bull's weak negotiating leverage against the "super managers" and those with a budget at the time contributed to their decision to expand their driver development program and subsequently add an F1 team by 2005.


Many were astonished by Raikkonen's elevation to F1. Enrique Bernoldi, a Red Bull protégé, was vying for a Sauber spot in 2000, but the team chose to sign Formula Renault 2.0 driver Kimi Raikkonen instead. Peter Sauber had been persuaded by Raikkonen's test results that he was the driver to target, but it was also because the 21-year-old was managed by Dave Robertson and his son Steve.

Dave, who tragically passed away in 2014, had unexpectedly picked the British Formula 3 racer over Formula 3000 champion Bruno Junqueira the year before, putting Jenson Button in the starting lineup. Although commercial attractiveness was and still is a key factor in F1 teams' decision to sign a driver, at that time, the power of managers who had already been successful in bringing future stars to F1 only grew.

Shortly after, Nicolas Todt established a similar reputation by paving the way for other drivers, including Felipe Massa, to join Ferrari. Nowadays, however, there is a simpler method for talents to be thrust into the paddock spotlight by anything other than their pure financial value thanks to numerous F1 teams conducting young driver programs that can each involve as many as 10 juveniles.

With their longtime de facto B-team Toro Rosso, which is now a "sister" organization of AlphaTauri and fields grand prix winners Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda, Red Bull has had a presence in this area. Tsunoda only spent a year in each of Formula 3 and Formula 2 before earning a spot in Formula 1, but Gasly had to win the GP2 championship, nearly repeat it in Super Formula, and then compete in Formula E before making it to Formula 1.

Red Bull's young single-seater squad is still led by Dr. Helmut Marko, their motorsport consultant, but several of its competitors have hired them or have connections to them. Red Bull's rapid promotion approach has caused others to be more cautious about moving drivers up the single-seater ladder too quickly, especially at the final stage. Six of the 20 youngest F1 racers of all time had their debuts with Toro Rosso, although only half of those are still on the grid today.

Piastri, an F2 champion, is now in a limbo. Oscar Piastri, the current F2 champion, was signed to what is now the Alpine Academy after winning the 2019 Formula Renault Eurocup, and he serves as the ideal illustration. He intended to receive sponsorship for two years in F3 and two years in F2, but after winning both championships on his first try, the FIA's regulations prevent champions of the junior series it certifies from competing the following year.


Despite the respect that Piastri's fellow Australian holds in the F1 paddock as a racer and talent scout, Mark Webber, a former Red Bull driver, handles Piastri's career. However, Mark Webber lacks the promotional clout necessary to get Piastri a seat in the F1 grid. Despite Piastri having consecutively won the two greatest championships on the FIA road to F1.


Due to the paucity of face-to-face meetings that could occur during the Covid-19 pandemic and the unpredictability of the time period, some clubs decided to finalize their 2021 line-ups as soon as feasible. The way that drivers like the Robertsons, Webber, and Todt use their time has altered as a result of the escalating costs of racing. In the past, you may have served as your driver's PR machine by extolling their virtues and pleading with you to sign them. Now, you won't even consider it until you've raised the necessary millions to even move them to the back of the grid in a premium junior series.

Additionally, due to the current superlicence system, most drivers must compete in F2 if they want to have a chance of earning the necessary superlicence points to be eligible for F1.

Even though Piastri was in charge of F2, Webber's first goal was finding the money to keep him in that position through 2022, which left him with little time to market the 20-year-abilities old's to other F1 teams.

Pourchaire tested for Alfa Romeo but Zhou was given the driving assignment Following his impressive F2 victories as a rookie in Monaco and at Monza, it appeared for a time in 2017 that Alfa Romeo, owned by Sauber, would promote Theo Pourchaire to a race seat. The Sauber apprentice, who is 18 years old, lost out to Alpine junior Guanyu Zhou for the spot.


Pourchaire had only held that position since he quickly advanced to F2 thanks to his F4 championship win and F3 runner-up finish as a rookie. Anyone who wants to follow that trajectory needs to start in a top F4 team, realistically get picked up by an F1 team, and then be placed in a top team in F3 after bypassing Formula Regional. The same is true of moving on to F2 after only one season, regardless of performance.


These days, other companies than Sauber also make investments in such a manner. While Alpine only hires juniors once they reach the F3 level, Ferrari and Red Bull do the same. Drivers must have at least two seasons of racing experience before making their Formula Regional debut, which lessens the likelihood that the French-owned British team will ever recruit a kid for F1.

Even though many teams will have their own branding all over your car nevertheless, sometimes being an F1 junior is all the promotion you need to bring further investment into your career and fund being in the junior series. However, having a strong management structure separate from that is essential to standing out as you advance in the ranks.


Lando Norris' career trajectory has been greatly influenced by ADD Management, along with that of a number of other McLaren-affiliated drivers, and Infinity Sports took George Russell to the top while also persuading Williams to sign its newest junior driver, Logan Sargeant, and calming the storm of Dan Ticktum's junior career (he will make his Formula E debut next week). Each of these drivers has been supported by a solid network of people who have helped keep them "on the correct path."


Even though being self-managed or just a father-and-child team like Verstappen was outstanding, a young driver trying to break into Formula 1 may run into trouble if they lack that extra support.

This brings us to the monetary aspect of the superlicence scheme and the junior single-seater pyramid as a whole. Long before a young driver enters the office of an F1 team, its impact is felt strongly.

Mercedes has used Mazepin for testing. You must test if you want to stand out in F4. You need to test a lot in order to keep up with your competitors. Approximately 40 days a year. You need money to do that, and even F1 teams aren't willing to invest that much on a young driver who has a very slim chance of still being under contract with them in eight years.

So you have to be wealthy to conduct private testing. While being wealthy by itself won't make you an F1 competitor, you will ultimately have more potential for advancement than someone without that budget ever would.

The simplest approach to earn all 40 of the minimum required points for your superlicense is to compete in as many different series as you can. Again, this relates to money, but it also implies that if you compete in two or three championships annually from the moment you begin driving, you will be a considerably less sensational signing when you make it to Formula One than drivers like Raikkonen or Verstappen were.


You can now conduct winter and summer series because the FIA now permits superlicence points to be gained from two non-clashing series in a calendar year. If your primary campaign is in the same car, the winter series gives you a head start on it and also helps you get a spot for it.

You essentially get the first choice on the same seat for the Formula Regional European Championship if you secure a seat with a top team for the Formula Regional Asian Championship, which begins this weekend. In the opposite situation, if you've already registered for FREC, there will likely be a spot reserved for you in FRAC. Those that arrive first are the wealthiest since those seats sell out quickly, frequently the previous summer.

Your preparations also far exceed those of a driver without the funding to compete in both championships because you can use the same engineer and mechanic for both series.


FRAC is still an option for drivers who upgrade to F3; earlier, F2 drivers could participate as well. It assisted Zhou and Nikita Mazepin in their transitions into the F1 world. You'll probably do ten or more private test days on GP3-era vehicles while competing in F3. These tests are a crucial component of the market for selling tickets in the F1 support paddock, thus even though they may be against FIA regulations, they go unnoticed.


Even in Formula 2, it's the same issue, but despite having a limited budget, people like the late Adrian Campos did at least consistently recruit racers who pleased him personally.

Although the superlicence system was changed in 2015 to stop drivers from making an impact at such a young age and to prevent underprepared drivers from entering the F1, it has instead created a climate where only those who are over-prepared with thousands of additional running kilometers hold a realistic chance of a rapid progression up the ladder.

And if they do get into F1, they typically bring a large sum of cash with them to give to the staff when they arrive.

This is a summary of an original article written by Ida Wood on Racefansand the original can be found here.

Photo by Abed Ismail on Unsplash


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