The announcement of Max Verstappen coming into F1 next year at 17 years of age continues to prompt reflection and analysis on modern day F1 cars and there have been some interesting points raised over the past two days by drivers and senior figures alike.
Most drivers seem to have taken Verstappen’s presence on the grid with an open-mind; clearly he is a talented driver, goes the reasoning, he’s likely to make rookie mistakes, but Toro Rosso has a track record for developing young talents and they know what they are doing.
This site raised the wider concern last week that should the public see a 17-year-old jump into an F1, it could lead to a damaging perception that F1 is easy.
This line of thinking has resonated this weekend in Spa; 1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve has very strong views on the matter, seeing it as a lose-lose for the sport, “It is the worst thing ever for Formula One because it will have two effects,” he said. “It will either destroy him or, even if he is successful right away, then F1 will be meaningless.
“What will F1 be? It will be nothing. It doesn’t do any good for anyone.”
Red Bull’s technical boss Adrian Newey had to pick his words carefully when responding to questions about Verstappen this weekend, for obvious reasons. However he too expressed concern that the public perception of F1 as being made easier is not positive for the sport,
“I think the fact that young drivers – no disrespect to them at all – can jump in and instantly be at the front, or competitive certainly, is an interesting one, he said.”
“The critical thing is the cars should look fast,” added Newey, “And, if you’re sitting there watching television that it should be ‘Wow, those guys are superheroes, I couldn’t do that.’ If I’m honest I don’t think the current cars really do that.
“I think If you watch MotoGP then you certainly have that feeling, that those guys are superheroes, whereas the current crop of cars, their power-to-weight is not fantastic. Going back to the 1300hp in qualifying Formula One cars that were quite a bit lighter than they are now. Then those things, you had to bolt on some fairly special appendages to drive them in qualifying.
“I don’t think there’s an easy answer but I think it would be good to make the cars a bit more difficult to drive in truth.”
Ferrari technical director James Allison had a slightly different view; albeit agreeing with Newey’s point that it’s important that the cars look fast and exciting,
“I think what we have at the moment is fast. I think it looks dramatic, I think it requires skill from the drivers and I think it’s producing fairly good races. So I don’t really see any big problems in that regard,” he said.
Earlier in the weekend several drivers had aired similar concerns to Newey about the difficulty level of driving the current generation of cars, as highlighted by the ease with which very young drivers are able to jump in and perform.
Felipe Massa and Nico Rosberg (below in 2005), who tested an F1 car at 17, both said that the cars of 10 years ago were more physically challenging to drive, especially as refuelling meant that the races were a series of sprints, with faster lap times and higher physical loads. They both called for the cars to be more challenging physically, which would have the knock-on effect of making it harder for young drivers to cope physically.
Romain Grosjean gave a slightly different view, however.
“Don’t get us wrong, the cars are not easy to drive. They’re still performing very well. Yes, physically they are easy, but there are other challenges” he said.
“I think it’s still a tough job. I remember my time in 2009, and already then the cars were physically harder to drive. I would like more: the quicker it goes the more we enjoy it. We are racing drivers. If you give us 200 more horsepower and more grip, we will take it – but what we want is to really have good races.”
It’s an interesting discussion, which will continue no doubt. It’s part of the wider discussion on what the stakeholders want the sport to be for the future.
Part of the reasoning behind having a 17-year-old racing is that this will help to open up interest among the younger generation who do not relate to F1 and don’t watch it.
This may happen to some extent, but this site maintains that in the risk/reward balance on this topic, the wider negative for the sport of perceived as being ‘child’s play’ outweighs the positives of a few more teenagers watching the sport.
What do you think? Have your say in the comments section below