The sport has often been criticised for not doing enough centrally to develop and nurture young drivers.
It has been left to the likes of Elf, Renault, Red Bull and individual teams to run young driver programmes. These are very expensive and do not always produce results. Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel are products of McLaren and Red Bull programmes but there is a lot of wastage.
I was interested to see, while we were in Singapore at the weekend, that the FIA Institute has announced that it is going into partnership with former Benetton and Williams driver Alex Wurz to create an Academy for young drivers.
Each year the Academy will work with 10 drivers and over the course of five workshops, lasting three to five days, will train them to improve as drivers, athletes and ambassadors. The Academy won’t fund their racing programmes, but there will be some prestige on the CV attached to being a graduate and the driver who finishes top of the class each year is likely to be taken seriously by the leading teams.
At the heart of this initiative is a desire to groom drivers to be not just top class racing drivers, but ambassadors for the sport and for driving in general, with particular emphasis on road safety. The FIA is committed to a Decade of Action on road safety, last year 1.3 million people were killed and 50 million injured. In 20 years from now the number of deaths on the world’s roads will be roughly double the current level if no action is taken.
Racing drivers and particularly those with the biggest platform – Formula 1 – are a key part of getting the message across about road safety.
The thinking is that a graduate from Africa or India who makes it into a high profile racing series will then have a platform to deliver a strong message on road safety back in his own country. It’s a long term thing but in time you can imagine that working.
An FIA Institute statement says, the Academy’s objective is:
– to prepare young drivers to compete at the pinnacle of the sport;
– to increase skills in the area of driver and road safety;
– to actively promote the principles of safety, fairness and responsibility both on and off the track.
The Institute Academy will initially be based in Europe, but the intention is to broaden it out into regional programmes around the world. Certainly the pool of talent will be global from the ouset, the Academy is selecting 10 drivers, with at least one driver chosen from each of the following five regions: North, Central and South America; Western and Northern Europe; Central and Eastern Europe; Middle East and Africa; Asia and Oceania.
Applicants will be assessed at the end of this year and the first 10 students will be selected in February 2011.
Wurz will work with Richard Burns’ former rally co driver Robert Reid on the programme. Reid runs a company called ESP, which works on human performance.