How much experience is necessary before starting F1?

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The new drivers signed for 2014 have prompted some questions over their experience, and whether they are ready for F1. Interestingly none of the three (Daniil Kvyat, Kevin Magnussen or Sergey Sirotkin) have any experience in the FIA’s preferred feeder series GP2.  Their experience is shown below:

  • Kvyat: three years karting; 147 races over four seasons (F BMW, F Renault 2.0, F3, GP3)
  • Magnussen: three years karting; 138 races over five seasons (F Ford, F Renault 2.0, F3, F Renault 3.5)
  • Sirotkin: two years karting; 81 races over four seasons (F Abarth, Auto GP, F3, F Renault 3.5)

This compares favourably with the top current F1 drivers (in that they have comparable levels of experience).  The current F1 drivers have this experience prior to F1:

  • Räikkönen: eight years karting; 23 races over two seasons (F Ford, F Renault 2.0)
  • Alonso: eight years karting; 26 races over two  seasons (F Nissan, F3000)
  • Button: nine years karting; 40 races over two seasons (F Ford, F3, Spa 24)
  • Massa: seven years karting; 48 races over four seasons (F Chevrolet, F Renault 2.0, F3000, ETCC)
  • Rosberg: seven years karting; 69 races over four seasons (F BMW, F3, GP2)
  • Vettel: three years karting; 73 races over five seasons (F BMW, F3, World Series)
  • Webber: three years karting; 73 races over eight seasons (F Ford, F4000, F3, F3000, FIA GT)
  • Bottas: six years karting; 88 races over five seasons (F Renault 2.0, F3, GP3)
  • Sutil: four years karting; 104 races over five seasons (F Ford, F BMW, F3, A1 GP, Super GT)
  • di Resta: nine years karting; 105 races over eight seasons (F Renault 2.0, F3, DTM)
  • Hamilton: six years karting; 109 races over six seasons (F Renault 2.0, F3, GP2)
  • Ricciardo: six years karting; 109 races over seven seasons (F Ford, F BMW, F Renault 2.0, F3, F Renault 3.5)
  • Kovalainen: three years karting; 109 races over five seasons (F Renault 2.0, F3, World Series, GP2)
  • Pic: two years karting; 116 races over six seasons (F Campus, F Renault 2.0, F Renault 3.5, GP2)
  • Grosjean: two years karting; 128 races over seven seasons (F Renault 2.0, F3, GP2)
  • Vergne: two years karting; 129 races over five seasons (F Campus, F Renaul 2.0, F3, GP3, F Renault 3.5)
  • Gutiérrez: two years karting; 130 races over six seasons (F BMW, F3, F Master, GP3, GP2)
  • Bianchi: five years karting; 133 races over six seasons (F Renault 2.0, F3, F Renault 3.5, GP2)
  • Hülkenberg: eight years karting; 144 races over five seasons (FBMW, F3, A1 GP, GP2, V de V)
  • Pérez: eight years karting; 151 races over seven seasons (Skip Barber, F BMW, F3, A1 GP, GP2)
  • Maldonado: four years karting; 165 races over eight seasons (F Renault 2.0, F Renault V6, F Renault 3.5, F3000, GP2, GT Open)
  • Chilton: five years karting; 174 races over eight seasons (T Car, ELMS, Mazda, F3, F Renault 3.5, GP2)
  • van der Garde: eight years karting; 211 races over ten seasons (Renault 2.0, F3, World Series, F Renault 3.5, GP2)

Interestingly, the five world champions currently racing are among those with the least experience when they graduated to F1 (Hamilton being the most experienced of that group – which is possibly why he made the impact he did on arrival).  Grosjean and Hülkenberg are the two highly rated drivers that stand out as having taken a long time to reach F1.  This surprised me in the case of Grosjean (as he definitely looked lacking in experience the first time he was dropped into F1, and the second).

So is a driver’s pre F1 experience important to their development, or is it just a showcase for their talent  to those F1 team bosses who are willing to take a risk on a new driver?  From the list above, the three least experienced drivers on entering F1 all became world champions, and all impressed during their first season at the highest level.

I think this shows that it would be far better to rationalise the number of single seater series below F1, so that drivers were forced to compete against their peers at the junior level.  Talent would then be easier to spot, and those drivers could be given an opportunity in F1 (or in today’s financial climate, attract the necessary sponsorship).

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