We discussed the comments Jolyon Palmer had regarding Kimi Raikkonen’s switch to Sauber for 2019 and if you’ll recall, I said it was a great move for the team as he is a big Formula 1 star, will bring merchandising and attention to the team as well as help them develop their car. I received a couple of emails saying I was daft but Sauber has already stated that the announcement has had a big impact on their social media already.
I know that bringing in young talent is crucial to the teams and with success like Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc, it is hard to argue with the notion of developing talent for your program. Lewis and Seb are perfect examples of how that investment can pay big dividends provided they have the right equipment to show their talent.
On the flip side of the coin, not every young talent is Lewis or Seb. If you look at Toro Rosso and the drivers they churned through, you get a picture that even some of the best young drivers in the junior categories aren’t F1 material or their tenure in F1 was cut short because of their inability to deliver or worse, bad timing at a team with a struggling program.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff laments the current situation with a talent such as Esteban Ocon who may have to sit a season out in 2019. He told Autosport that their young driver program is at a crossroads and with other teams saying they aren’t interested in Mercedes-backed drivers, one can imagine why Toto would say that as he only has two seats.
Today I read an article at F1.com in which they suggest that Ferrari have left the door open for Mick Schumacher, son of 7-time champ Michael Schumacher. Mick has been winning in F3 and many teams are looking at the 19-year-old as a possible opportunity. What I found more interesting is Ferrari boss, Maurizio Arrivabene’s, comments about Mick.
‘The recent results were very, very good and I wish to him a great career,’ said Arrivabene.
“But let the guy have fun. I always repeat this: [young drivers should be] focused, concentrated, but at the same time have fun and grow up slowly but certainly. Then we will see about the future. How can you say no, in Maranello, to a name like this?”
The fact is, Ferrari have signed young driver Charles Leclerc for 2019 and while not precedent-breaking, it is unusual for Ferrari to sign such a young driver. They typically like to hire champions or drivers on the verge of becoming champions. Drivers with maturity, age, race craft and wisdom. Chances are, Lerclerc was too good to leave open for poachers.
Still, I’ve never been a fan of signing 18 or 19-year-olds to F1 team contracts to drive in F1. I am also equally disappointed by the ageist talk surrounding a driver like Fernando Alonso or Kimi Raikkonen. One can watch the races of Max Verstappen for the last three seasons versus Kimi or Fernando’s and regardless of results, car corrected, there was nowhere near the amount of gaffs, mistakes, broken wings or impact on a race by the veterans.
Nothing wrong with a young driver or person plying their skills. When I was 18 years old, there were a few things that I was pretty good at too but I’ll be honest—when you’re 18, you don’t know your butt from third base. Sorry, that’s the truth. When you are 25 years old, there are few things that you’d like to admit that you aren’t prepared to do and few things you’d admit that you don’t know, that’s perfectly normal but in truth, my older self would tell my 25-year-old self that “you don’t have a clue, young man, you have no idea what you are getting in to”.
We’ve seen this play out in the careers of young drivers for decades now. Think back to Hamilton’s challenging times from youthful exuberance sticking it to Alonso to flying over Turkish operas and then parting company with his father, the Nicole years and much more. It’s all part of growing up and to be perfectly fair to Lewis, he’s come out the other side as an astoundingly good driver and champion.
I’ve read Lewis’s lament about missing much of his youth and how he wished he had experienced the normal things his mates had. How he was catching up for all the lost moments etc. I completely understand that as his former teammate, Nico Rosberg, suggested something very similar. Perhaps Maurizio understands that being a young person should demand a little more sensibility from those wishing to exploit them before they become mature enough to carry the weight of F1.
A catch 22….No one doubts that Max Verstappen may become a multiple champion but the last three years he’s spent ping-ponging off of other drivers has been expensive and may better have been served in GP2 honing his craft. Difficult to know because that horse has run but Sauber’s Frederic Vassuer reckons there is a step between F3 and F1 with regards to Schumacher:
“Honestly, I think there is a huge step between F3 and F1,” he said, “and with the small number of test days we have during the winter, I think it’s… I don’t want to say impossible because we will see, but it’s quite difficult to do the step.
“It will make sense probably for him to do Formula 2 or something like this. But he could have a link with a Formula 1 team, he could do some FP1s. There are many ways to prepare for F1.”
Time will tell whether Schumacher makes the Verstappen-like leap to F1 but keep in mind, there’s another Schumacher out there who is very handy behind the wheel as well and that’s Ralf Schumacher’s son, 16-year-old David.
Hat Tip: F1.com