Formula One: A Sport Where The Big Boys Play?
For years, motor racing was a sport for the older and more experienced drivers; in its first few decades, the dangers of motorsport were higher than ever before and breaking into Formula One required one to be very well backed. Naturally, there were not many drivers under the age of 25 challenging for race wins and World Championships apart from a standout few, most notably Bruce McLaren, the founder of one of the most successful Formula One teams in history, which, of course, is named after the legendary personality.
Statistics evidently back up the fact that for a long while, the relatively older drivers were the ones taking home more of the glory, more of the trophies and being the glamorous time that Formula One was going through, more of the girls and media attention. The first ever Formula One Drivers World Champion, the late, great Giuseppe ‘Nino’ Farina was forty four at the time of his World Championship year, further proving that the older drivers flourished in Formula One.
To get its first ever ‘young’ champion, one who was aged 25 or under, Formula One had to wait for an incredibly lengthy twenty two years when a certain Emerson Fittipaldi rocked the motorsport world by becoming the youngest ever Formula One World Champion with Team Lotus at the age of 25; having such a young World Champion seemed to be very unorthodox at that point of time. Little did anyone know that a few decades down the line, an insanely talented and raw Max Verstappen would make his official Formula One debut, incredibly, at the young age of seventeen.
The Shift In Mentality
Since Fittipaldi’s first World Championship triumph in 1972, the Drivers’ World Championship has been won by a driver aged 25 or under merely six times out of a possible forty five! To further show the lack of young champions, it is essential to note that those six championships won by ‘young drivers’ since 1972 includes a pool of only four drivers, with the sublime Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel each winning two before they crossed the age of 25.
In 1992, a 23 year old Michael Schumacher led the renaissance of young drivers competing for race wins regularly as he had a stellar season, finishing third in the Drivers’ Championship and taking a hard-fought victory at Spa Francochamps in horrifying wet conditions. Since then, a great number of drivers have made their Formula One debuts at or before the age of 25, with some popular recent examples being Daniil Kvyat, Antonio Giovinazzi, Lance Stroll, Esteban Ocon, Jules Bianchi, Daniel Ricciardo and the young phenom that is Max Verstappen.
Verstappen, in his first race for Red Bull Racing at the 2016 Spanish GP took a historic victory, fighting a surging Sebastian Vettel, wearing tyres and the prejudice that he was too young to be in Formula One. At that time, Verstappen was aged 18 years and 228 days. His debut victory was quite simply astounding.
The New Generation And What They Offer To The Sport
This fire of young drivers constantly competing for wins has been kept alive since 2016 by a solitary Max Verstappen, who has been entertaining Formula One fans week in, week out ever since his debut. However, the ever changing nature of Formula One has now sprung a gift; Daniel Ricciardo’s switch to Renault Sport for 2019 has thrown the driver market into turmoil and the ones getting the best out of it are the younger drivers.
This season, Max Verstappen is the only driver below the age of 25 to compete for one of the top three teams (Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull). Fortunately though, in 2019, he will be joined by the immensely talented likes of Pierre Gasly and Charles LeClerc, who have made their way to the top at a very young age.
Gasly, 22, has impressed in his first year in Formula One with Toro Rosso and with one hot seat at Red Bull being left vacant with Ricciardo moving away, he was the obvious choice with his aggression and intelligence being exactly what Red Bull were looking for.
LeClerc, 20, is one of the most promising drivers around and after dominating Formula 2 last season, Ferrari drafted him into Sauber for 2018 to gain experience and the young Monegasque had adapted quickly. Since the start of the season, he has been showing signs of a top driver; predictably, a lot of conjecture surrounded him and his next future move and now, he has finally secured a drive with Ferrari.
Elsewhere, McLaren, who have the resources to win but just seem to fail to put them together, have gone for a very fresh lineup with Carlos Sainz Jr and the newly promoted Lando Norris, both of whom are under the age of 25, replacing the outgoing Fernando Alonso and the former GP2 champion, Stoffel Vandoorne.
Antonio Giovinazzi, Ferrari’s critically acclaimed Simulator Driver who briefly drove for Sauber last season could also compete for them in 2019, this time though, for a full season. This will surely be much to the delight of the ‘Tifosi’ and the passionate Italian Formula One fans, who may finally see a young Italian Formula Driver capable of getting to the top in the near future.
With three of the six spots of the ‘Big Three’ being occupied by promising young talents who are fresh into their Formula One careers, the 2019 season promises a pool of finessed young drivers who have the potential to make the racing dynamic, fresh and without question, very exciting.
Younger drivers bring in a fresh element of raw, passionate and risky racing into Formula One which the older, more calculated drivers lose over time as they become more cautious and consequently the arrival of the younger generation into the main fray may well make the races more dramatic and thrilling for the ardent fans watching from across the globe.
These drivers could be legends in the making and with Formula One TV audiences dipping in certain parts of Europe, this younger generation’s performances and driving skill can attract greater people to watch Formula One, as the series goes through a major transitional period under new owners Liberty Media. Gasly, LeClerc, Verstappen and potentially even Norris can be big marketing assets for Formula One in the longer run should they stay at the top for long enough and their presence could be invaluable for the series and their respective teams.
Now that they are with the best teams, can they win?
A lot depends on how they perform and deal with the immense pressure. However, with Verstappen often showing others how its done in the last few seasons, there is a strong feeling that this young lot will be able to mix in and offer strong competition to the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, drivers who have consistently proven their talent for the last decade and won multiple World Championships on the way.
The younger generation’s rise to the top signals a new era in the history of Formula One, a new era in which, under new leadership and fresher talents, Formula One can grow even further globally.