As F1 teams chase younger talent, is the sport skipping an entire generation of drivers who have been patiently waiting for their big team opportunity to come?
In the new decade (2020-29), Formula 1 is poised to witness an old guard vs. new blood battle. Lewis Hamilton, who is yet to extend his racing contract with Mercedes (or jump to Ferrari), is the clear leader of the old guard. While Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen, the young long-term recruits for Ferrari and Red Bull Racing respectively, are without a doubt the new blood in Formula 1. For a sport chasing the younger demography, 20-somethings fighting 30+ year old legends is the perfect headliner.
And Leclerc-Verstappen aren’t alone. There’s George Russell, Lando Norris, Lance Stroll, Alexander Albon and Esteban Ocon – all drivers 23 years of age or under. In fact, it would be interesting to research if the recent eras of Formula 1 have seen a higher success ratio with rookies entering and flourishing. I still have memories of rookies arriving at the Formula 1 and absolutely failing to come to terms with the faster cars. Could this be because the recent formula has made Formula 1 cars easier to drive? Or are the rookies coming through the ladder of far better quality and recipients of training that’s evolved over seasons? Or are the teams working harder to help talented rookies settle in faster? There are interesting variables at play here.
Either way, in its attempt to keep attracting and promoting younger talent, is F1 skipping an entire generation of drivers? In 2019, we saw Nico Hulkenberg leave the sport because of a lack of seat elsewhere. Likewise, Daniel Ricciardo and Sergio Perez are two other names that come to mind of drivers who are waiting for a break with a big team. Incidentally, the last ‘older’ driver to benefit from such a break was Valtteri Bottas. At the age of 27 and after 5 years at Williams, the Finn graduated to Mercedes.
In contrast, Perez has started 179 races while Ricciardo has 171. Yes, one could argue that Perez’s big break came when he raced for Mclaren in 2013 – an unlucky season for both. Likewise for Ricciardo, he did have his big break with Red Bull Racing. However, his career gamble on Renault improving and Honda struggling with Red Bull Racing seems to have backfired both ways. Then there’s Romain Grosjean, one wonders what will become of his career in Formula 1. Will he get yet another surprise extension with Haas or will this be his final year in the sport only to make way for another youngster?