Jacques Villeneuve, former F1 world champion, had some harsh words regarding the image of the premier Motorsport.
As technologies become more refined over the years, they become easier to use – that’s a given. The same, however, goes for those that operate within the sphere of motorsports. There is no question that the inventions and addition to F1 over the years has allowed not only the cars to be capable of more, but to provide an easier ride for the driver.
This has been evident in the way Max Verstappen jumped from F3 to F1 at the age of 18. Jacques Villeneuve – the 1997 F1 World Champion – has commented on how the allowance of teenage drivers might hurt the image of the sport:
“So there is something missing. You can have a lot of talent, you can be super fast, but it’s also the wrong image to give. It has to be hard to achieve to get there, but it’s not. That’s wrong. It doesn’t matter how talented you are, this is F1, it’s the pinnacle.”
– Jacques Villeneuve
Now, Jacques isn’t wrong. There is something to be said about having teenagers racing in a Motorsport’s Premier class. Not to endorse ableism, but the image does seem to conflict the current image of F1 where the racers we expect to see are ones that have proven their grit repeatedly. Incoming Williams teen Lance Stroll will have completed a small tour of circuits with a Formula One car, his own small race team and mileage for preparation. Where most gather experience in the feeder series like GP2, Stroll has a good seat in Formula One and is preparing in a way that most hopefuls simply wouldn’t be able to afford.
So, where does that leave us? Is there something inherently un-F1 about teenage drivers throwing their bid in for World Champion? Tell that to the cheering Brazilian crowd at a soaked Interlagos.
While there may be factors that drivers don’t have to worry about as much anymore, there is still the all-consuming focus of pushing yourself to be better, stronger, and faster than your competition. If the racer excels at that, if they can perform at the level required, let them race.
The 2017 regulations will demand much more from the drivers physically. This is an F1 factor that will separate the men from the boys. Whether age will have anything to do with this, we’ll find out in Melbourne.