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Daily Debate: Should The FIA Impose Minimum/Maximum Age Limits On Drivers?

Daily Debate: Should The FIA Impose Minimum/Maximum Age Limits On Drivers?

With the return of Michael Schumacher comes the talk of the multiple world champion’s age, the German having just turned 41 this year. This news comes on the back of a flurry of young drivers seeing themselves promoted to the sport, most notably Jaime Alguersuari for Scuderia Toro Rosso last season. At the time of his promotion to the race seat, Jaime was just 19 years and 125 days and became the youngest driver to have ever competed in a race. Currently, Alguersuari is the only driver in the field to have been born in the ’90s.

Through the years, Formula One has seen young and old alike compete in the sport, with the oldest driver currently being Louis Chiron who raced around the streets of Monaco in 1955, aged 55 years and 292 days at the time. Chiron even attempted to race again 3 years later at the ’58 Monaco Grand Prix but failed to qualify his Maserati.

As mentioned, Alguersuari became the youngest driver to have raced in the sport last year, beating the previous record set by Mike Thackwell in 1980 by 57 days. Sebastian Vettel set the record for being the youngest driver to drive a Formula One car at a race meeting, completing Friday Practice duties for BMW in 2006. Vettel was just 19 years and 54 days. Sebastian went on to become the youngest points scorer at 19 years and 349 days, before becoming the youngest ever winner in Formula One, surprising everyone at the 2008 Italian Grand Prix with a stunning pole-to-flag victory at just 21 years and 73 days. The oldest race winner is currently Luigi Fagioli who won in France at 53 years and 22 days.

Interestingly, when Kimi Raikkonen first found himself in a Formula One car in 2001, much fuss was made of his inexperience and Peter Sauber had to fight to get his young driver a super license. It was eventually granted and Raikkonen went on to score a point in his first race and six years later, took the 2007 world championship. Alguersuari too danced with controversy in 2009 when Scuderia Toro Rosso wanted to give the young Spaniard a chance, the other drivers being very wary of Jaime and the fact he hadn’t driven a Formula One car around a circuit prior to the first practice session.

At the other end of the spectrum, Alain Prost returned to Formula One in 1993 at took his final championship, aged 38. Michael Schumacher’s most recent crown was achieved at age 35 while Damon Hill was 36 when he won the 1996 Japanese Grand Prix and sealed his championship. Going back in time, Juan Manuel Fangio was 46 when the Argentine took his fifth and final world championship, convincingly defeating Stirling Moss 40pts to 25pts.

With the young comes inexperience and therefore worry among the other drivers. A young driver may be more hot-headed and desperate to prove his worth. Inexperience at controlling a Formula One car and dealing with situations as they arise during a race cause concern for others on the track. Likewise, with age comes the deterioration in reflexes, perhaps even in muscular strength. Rubens Barrichello was one of the first drivers to be seen leaning his head during last year’s Brazilian Grand Prix.

Should there be age limits imposed on Formula One drivers, or is it more about experience, talent, strength and fitness?

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Oliver White

2 comments

  • There already is an effective lower limit on F1 drivers. Apart from a few specially-sanctioned low-powered series such as Formula BMW (where the limit is 14), all drivers in single-seat car racing must be at least 16 years of age. This is safety-driven because of a combination of two things – the risk other competitors would face from an immature driver and the risk to a growing body of being in a big accident (yes, motor sport is dangerous for everyone and karts can cause serious injury, but the probability of serious damage is higher with the combination of a growing body and a high-powered car). Realistically, a driver must therefore be at least 17 before being experienced enough to get a Superlicence.

    I see no reason why any age limits beyond this are necessary. Medical restrictions should stop anyone physically incapable of driving a F1 car from being in a F1 race. The other concerns regarding both young and old drivers (mostly clogging up seats that better drivers should have) relate to skill. A combination of a more effective preparation scheme for potential F1 rookies and returnees and methods of encouraging the talent in series to rise to the top should sort this out.

    This is where F1 Clienti and any equivalents it might have could come in useful. Two-year-old F1 cars could form the basis of a programme for inexperienced and potentially rusty drivers to develop their skills, do “exhibition” races and get used to the F1 way of doing things even if those drivers haven’t got the backing of a F1 team (mandating that anyone using the scheme cannot have had a contract with a F1 team for the previous 12 months should prevent the scheme being abused). This could also act as a reward for drivers who excel in series which lead to Superlicences but can’t attract a F1 team’s notice even so.

    The scheme could be arranged such that the costs were met by the driver when/if they could afford to pay, unless the driver wanted to pay upfront (e.g. a personal sponsor wanted to be seen on something). The whole thing could even be screened online and people who wouldn’t normally be able to be F1 journalists (either because they’re up-and-coming national-level journalists or they’re bloggers with low budgets) could be invited to give the drivers media practise, which could also encourage sponsors to assist the drivers.

    The development of drivers such that old drivers don’t cost others their chance is more complicated. It would need a combination of things – encouragement of developing countries to make cost-effective initial series, making it cheaper to do initial series in developed countries, comprehensive theory training and scholarships would all help, but even all of them together might not solve the issue entirely.

  • If you have the talent to be competitive and the ability to perform at the edge then age, young or old, should have nothing to do with it.

    Problem is that there are really only about ten race seats worthwhile and the numbers that are trying to get those ten spots is significant, and having sponsor money often opens doors to some who maybe haven’t earned their place. Can’t imagine what the feeling must be when you are in over your head in a car that can take you to the extremes like todays Grand Prix car can.

    I would rather follow someones “career” ( that is why they call it a career ) and see him get to the top as opposed to having it be given to a young fellow with a deep wallet.

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