F1 Drivers – The Age Issue

15 Jul

Age can be a delicate subject for many, but in the world of Formula 1 it has become a somewhat contentious one. As someone of an age considered to be ‘a bit past it’ for sportsmen, I always find it somewhat bemusing to read about someone being too old. I can’t help but wonder, is 40 the new 30 in Formula 1?

Before I start to look at the age issue, here’s some basic figures for you:

The average age of the 2012 Formula 1 drivers is 28.75 years old

The average age of the 2012 race winning drivers is 29.75 years old

The driver contract ‘silly season’ always re-ignites the age debate in Formula 1, with contract lengths always being assessed against a driver’s age. Drivers of a ‘certain age’ who sign long contracts, such as Fernando Alonso and his contract extension with Ferrari until 2015, are predicted to see out their careers with that long contract. Alonso will be 33 in 2015 – not exactly over the hill – and the chances of him retiring then are incredibly small.

The ‘old timers’

The most controversial ‘old’ driver in Formula 1 is of course Michael Schumacher. He’s 43, on his second career, and his contract with Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 expires at the end of the current season. No decision has been made as yet about whether he will extend, but both he and Mercedes team principal, Ross Brawn, have alluded to him extending for at least one more season. After two difficult years with the car, and despite some awful luck this season, Schumi has found his feet and is pushing hard for more success. There is no reason for him to retire other than any lack of personal motivation to continue, and the 7 times world champion appears as motivated as ever.

Michael Schumacher on the podium in Valencia, 2012.

Second oldest is Pedro De La Rosa, the 41-year-old Spanish driver for HRT. It could be argued that Pedro has been HRT’s most successful driver. He has duelled very effectively with the Marussia drivers this season, and wrung everything out of the worst car on the grid. Like Schumacher with Mercedes, De La Rosa can be a very strong asset for HRT to improve their car in the future, given his experience and ability.

Pedro De La Rosa, HRT 2012

2011 saw the F1 retirement of Rubens Barrichello, who recently turned 40. After leaving F1 Rubens moved to Indy Car. Four days after his 40th birthday, Rubens won the trophy for Best Rookie at the Indy 500. Not bad for an old dog.

Fast heading in the ‘old timer’ direction is Mark Webber, with his 36th birthday only just over a month away. Everyone’s favourite Aussie driver is a serious contender for the 2012 title, and appeared to have a choice between driving for either Red Bull Racing or Ferrari next year. Mark has just signed a year’s extension with Red Bull, and it is highly unlikely that 2013 will be his last. Lewis Hamilton was very recently quoted as saying he hoped he’d still be racing when he’s as old as Michael. Sounds to me like Schumi is going to become a trend-setter.

Timo Glock and Heikki Kovalainen, both aged 30, are worthy of a seat further up the grid and Heikki in particular may well get one in the next year or so, rather than eventually slipping away.

2012 is proving challenging for all of the drivers on the F1 grid. Pirelli’s new tyre compounds, and a tighter development race are testing the patience of many. Maturity and experience appear to be serious assets for F1 drivers in 2012.

When adversity challenges drivers, maturity wins the day. Hamilton may be young, but he throws away points through a lack of maturity on the track and an attitude problem off it. Yes, there’s the principle of being a ‘true racer’, but at the end of the day points win prizes. When adversity strikes, whether it is your own doing or not, how you conduct yourself affects everything around you. One of the most impressive things about Michael Schumacher this year has been his ongoing public support for his team, despite the many technical failures which have put him out of contention for a shot at the title. A younger Schumacher, or a younger driver like Lewis would be highly unlikely to show such maturity and restraint.

The Young Guns

At the other end of the age spectrum from Schumacher and De La Rosa are the three youngest guns at the tender age of 22: Sergio Perez, Charles Pic and Jean-Eric Vergne. All have recently graduated from GP2 and Formula Renault.

Now if you’re a big fan of the F1 feeder formulas, you’ll be keen to see the top talents from GP2, Formula Renault etc securing a seat in F1. The longer the established drivers stick around, the fewer seats there are available for these young whipper-snappers. GP2 commentator Will Buxton highlighted this issue earlier this year in an interview with fellow blogger Jack Leslie: “There have been some incredible talents in GP2, but for as long as the likes of Grandpa Schumacher want to carry on trying to get a podium to prove to themselves they’ve still got it, there won’t always be space for them over the road in F1.” Derogatory references to Michael Schumacher aside, Will is right, and the lack of seats opening up, combined with the difficulties of obtaining sponsorship present a serious challenge to young drivers.

The current reality

With the majority of the top seats in F1 filled by drivers aged over 30 (only four out of the ten drivers in the top five teams are under 30 years old), a log jam has developed in F1. This will result in greater pressure on the young mid-field talent trying to push their way forward, and fend off the threat of ‘pay drivers’. If I could be confident that talent would always trump sponsorship money I’d be inclined to say this is a good thing as the quality of driving in F1 would increase further.

There will, however, be those who just don’t make the cut and never break in to F1 when they may have had the chance ten years ago. Given the years of dedication it takes to reach the top, this will always be frustrating for those who don’t make it, but the prize for those who do will be all the sweeter. Not only do they get to race at the top, but they get to do so alongside their heroes.

There’s no right or wrong opinion about the age of F1 drivers, as it is just that; opinion. My personal view is that having a range of ages and experience in F1 makes it a richer sport. The six world champions on the grid, and some top (more mature) dogs like Webber are making 2012 a fascinating season.

In other walks of life, the age of retirement is increasing. It would be naive to assume that the standard retirement age of an F1 driver should stay the same when the rest of us are going on for longer. 40 definitely seems to be the new 30 in the F1 world. Older drivers are here to stay, and the average age is only likely to increase in the coming years.

What do you think?

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4 Responses to “F1 Drivers – The Age Issue”

  1. Thomas July 15, 2012 at 6:25 pm #

    Personally, I can never understand it when people say a driver is “passed it”. Age should not matter if the talent is still there. As a Jarno Trulli fan, it really frustrated me to be constantly be told that he was just an old driver hogging a seat when Webber is not that far behind in age and Barrichello and Schumacher are older. Jarno still has talent, and could have shone this season, yet people wrote him off due to him being “old”.

    • schuvettelainen July 15, 2012 at 6:27 pm #

      Agreed. Jarno was still worthy of a seat this year, and it was unfortunate for him that Petrov’s rubles were worth more to Caterham.

  2. Katie Grimmett February 23, 2013 at 9:33 pm #

    I follow your blog and only just found this! Nicely written, not bias. I’m also pleased that your stats were the same as mine (it gives me more confidence in my adding up!) Ultimately the problem lies with that classic problem – too many drivers, not enough seats!

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  1. I just had a whimsical and ludicrious idea; entering Formula One at 30. - Page 5 - November 14, 2013

    […] saying I'm prusuing it; but this article on F1 drivers and age is quite interesting. F1 Drivers – The Age Issue | schuvettelainen Reply With […]

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