This weekend sees the inaugural race of the MSA Formula, Certified by the FIA Powered by Ford. A lengthy name which basically means the British version of the FIA’s newly created Formula 4 model. Designed to make the first step into formula racing a well regulated and affordable one that feeds into the FIA Formula 3 European Championship and beyond, it’s a championship that has attracted many rising stars from the karting scene. With the championship open to drivers from 15 years and up – they’re pretty young rising stars too.
Which leads us onto our main point. Whatever your opinion may be on young drivers in Formula 1, we all know that drivers in the pinnacle of motor racing are getting younger. That trend would probably have continued if it weren’t for the decision by the FIA to put a minimum age limit on super license holders of 18 as from 2016. This would of course have prevented the participation of Max Verstappen in Formula 1 this year – which seems a little bit of a blanket approach as he surely represents that age is no barrier to talent.
Anyway, back to the point. Drivers are getting younger. They’re not only younger, they’re also better prepared. In every respect. While Carlin were one of the first teams to provide a specific sports science/physio at the track for their drivers, these days many drivers bring their own trainer to the circuit. For those that don’t they will most certainly have one that they work with on a regular basis away from the track. This wasn’t always the case. They may also have a psychologist and will very likely have a nutritionist as well. This certainly didn’t use to be the case.
When a certain Sebastian Vettel raced with Carlin in 2006/2007, he would spend his down time between sessions watching episodes of Little Britain on his lap top and eating a Bombay Badboy Pot Noodle. Now this might not have been particularly indicative of the time and probably a bit more to do with the laidback nature of a future superstar, but even since Vettel’s World Series years, times have changed.
The movement to personal motorsport trainers and physios, nutritionists and psychologists doesn’t mean that you have to have all this to be a successful driver, there are still drivers out there who take the old school approach (due to preference or a lower budget) and they’re still bloody quick. And most importantly and key; they’ll still probably have racked up 60 race starts by the time they’re 17. What it does show though is that drivers are treating this as a serious business. From the start. So when a driver turns up in a Formula 1 paddock still in his teens, don’t underestimate what they might be capable of.
This weekend at Brands Hatch 19 young drivers aged largely 15 and 16 years-old dealt perfectly with a 20 minute qualifying session in damp and slippery conditions around the rather tricky Brands Hatch circuit. All out to prove something in the first qualifying session of the season, some drivers on old wets, new wets and even slicks, the session passed without a single red flag.
This blog was written before the racing action kicked off so who knows the weekend might turn into a complete shunt fest. But we’ll keep banging the same drum. Want to know where the next World Champions are coming from? Watch the junior formulas. Because these guys are going to be making headline sooner rather than later. And judging by the emerging talent in these junior formulas (and not just Carlin talent!) some of them will probably still be in their teens when they first get to the top – whether that be Formula 1, IndyCar or Touring or Endurance racing. We’re not saying that every 18 year-old deserves to be in Formula 1 – far from it. But when it comes to judging drivers, the criteria needs to be something other than age. These kids are good.