F1 Winter Break
Which F1 drivers would not have made it using new FIA superlicence system?
Posted By: Declan Quigley  |  06 Jan 2015   |  6:02 pm GMT  |  170 comments

The FIA’s new super licence system is squarely aimed at ensuring that young, inexperienced drivers don’t make it to the top level too quickly and there have been few dissenters to the governing body‘s initiative so far.

The new system is sure to place extra attention on Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Junior who wouldn’t qualify under the system which was introduced after they acquired the necessary documentation to allow them to make their debuts in Australia.

However, it’s worth noting that there are several other drivers who would have had to delay their first appearances in F1 had the same superlicence qualification parameters been in place at the time the F1 teams came knocking.

By our reckoning nine of the drivers confirmed for the 2015 grid didn’t meet the criteria at the time they made (or are going to make) their F1 race debuts.

This figure includes four world champions and accounts for the drivers who produced eight of the last ten world championship titles.

Almost no one turns down an F1 drive when it’s offered because it’s impossible to be certain that the results in the junior formulae won‘t dry up. So the obvious question is, if a tough licence system had been in place for many years would the composition of the grid for Melbourne in March be radically different? And, more importantly, is the system equitable?

Former F1 driver now commentator Martin Brundle commented on Twitter, “My main F3 rival and I went F3 directly to F1. New 2016 Super Licence rules prevent that. Ayrton Senna turned out to be quite good though…”

Having trawled the archives here are the drivers who we believe didn’t or don’t have the right combination of age profile, accumulated car race experience and points accrued from qualifying championships ahead of their first race .

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Fernando Alonso
The 2005 and 2006 world champion raced two seasons in now defunct series but even if you assume that the old FIA F3000 championship in which he finished fourth in 2000 is the same as GP2 and his 1999 title success in the Spanish-based Euro Open Movistar Nissan Championship was the equivalent of a national F3 series then he still misses out by ten points.

Jenson Button
Third in British Formula 3 preceded by strong European and British Formula Ford success which roughly translates to Formula 4 would see Button miss out on the Williams F1 seat for 2000. (But not to Bruno Junqueira. He wouldn’t have been eligible either!)

Marcus Ericsson
Tenth, eighth and sixth overall in three seasons of GP2 looks like impressive progression but it wouldn’t have been good enough for a super licence, something that might well have hastened Caterham’s demise, too.

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Felipe Massa
It’s tough to equate Felipe’s 2001 F3000 Euro title (not to be confused with the full FIA series) but it would need to be valued at about Formula Renault 3.5 level to earn him a seat with Sauber for 2002 and definitely not the equivalent of Auto GP which the FIA have ignored for super licence purposes.

Kimi Raikkonen
The Finn’s fast track to Sauber in 2001 after blitzing British Formula Renault arched more than a few eyebrows at the time and had him pounding around to get enough mileage to convince FIA President Max Mosley he was up to the job. He finished sixth on his F1 debut.

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Daniel Ricciardo
The 2009 British Formula 3 Champion misses out by just two points on the FIA three-season accumulator for his licence to drive on GP Fridays for Toro Rosso in 2011 and neither would he have been eligible to make his race debut with HRT that season.

Carlos Sainz Junior
The new Formula Renault 3.5 Champion wouldn’t cut the mustard in the corridors of power, his fifth in Euro F3 2012 leaving him two points short of a race seat alongside… well alongside who?

Max Verstappen
You sense that the driver who burst on the scene with a sensational third place finish in the FIA European F3 series and impressed mightily in his late season Friday drives with Toro Rosso is the one who kicked this review off. Verstappen is the only one who would miss out on all three criteria: age, years of car racing and points earned in championships. But he’s clearly a rare talent. So who’s right?

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Sebastian Vettel
Red Bull’s first F1 prodigy and the sport’s youngest ever title winner would have had to wait in the lower formulae for a little while longer if the FIA had these new licence arrangements a few years back. His points scoring race debut at Indy in ‘07 could only have happened if his Formula BMW ADAC title was considered the equivalent of an F4 series win.

So what does all this prove? Well all the drivers named have, and are perfectly entitled to, a superlicence to race in F1 and all have shown their significant ability behind the wheel of F1 machinery to greater or lesser degrees.

One effect of the system is likely to be to concentrate up and coming driving talent in the series listed. Also, it could well lead to a revival of national F3 championships and a widespread adoption of Formula 4 as the first stepping stone to the top.

But what of the speculative inclusion of the “Future FIA Formula 2 Championship”? Are there concrete plans for this and its position ahead of GP2 in the pecking order is likely to ruffle a few feathers. Likewise the position of the US Indycar series behind GP2 and on a par with FIA Formula 3 is likely to divide opinion.

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I am showing my F1 loving age, but what about Japanese F3 and F3000? If I can recall at the top of my head that Irv the swerve, Mika Salo, Ralf Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve all competed in this series and were excellent drivers, are we looking at being biased with the british series? or does rallying, series like the DTM, Italian Touring Car, Le Mans (Cough Mark Blundell and I think Martin Brundle took part). What about JV he was in a more car oriented series, does that not count?

I believe that Moto GP, Rallying , opened wheeled and series like DTM should be all as equally valid. To me it is about holding their own on the track, bar rallying, all series are on tarmarc.mainly.


It occurred to me this is pretty easy to fix, while still allowing the FIA to prioritize certain series–

Give drivers one point for each FIA sanctioned event they participate in without penalties.

Although I think open-wheel series (including IRL) should count as two points.


you know, I watched RUSH for the umpteenth time the other day – enjoyed it more than a few of the last F1 seasons frankly…and I think I know why…

back in the 70’s 80’s (when I seriously stared following F1 and 90’s (to a lesser degree), F1 was a sport for men. The cars were monsters which had to be wrestled around the track, the circuits were not as forgiving as now (tar run-off, pah!! if you lost it under braking like Hamilton did in Brazil you were out into the open arms of the gravel trap) and the drivers still had a bit of attitude…

Now, the cars are toned down so seemingly easier to drive physically, the tracks are mostly uber safe and the drivers are controlled in what may or may not be said…it’s like playstation – all I need is a scratch and sniff of the petrol fumes and i’m as good as in F1.

The qualifying system sucks. Make the cars harder to drive, faster, more brutal, bring back proper tyres which can be RACED on and drop the stupid fuel flow limit so we can see what these V6s can do when boosted to all hell like the late 80’s. if necessary let smaller teams buy a “customer” chassis/engine package so they save on developing from scratch each year…only having to develop from the base package onward…

I want to see real men having a real good go at it…not some youngsters driving to a delta in something sounding like a washing machine on spin cycle…F1 used to be exciting…I fell asleep a few times last year once the Mercs were out front and Hamilton was in the lead…

my 2 cents

Vandipurappu Laxman

Don’t worry too much

It will be demolished when the pressure comes from big manyfacturer

Just look at MotoGP. Marc Marquez wouldnt the youngest World Champion if FIM/Dorna stick with the rules preventing rookie riding for factory team. And whose the major player behind the it. Go figure out


This was very interesting, and so were all the comments I’ve read.

So what would have happened if none of those drivers made it to F1? We would have had other drivers.. And we’d still be looking at F1 as the pinnacle of motorsport with the best drivers in the world… And what about the drivers that now are out because they don’t have the money?

For once I agree with the FIA, I like the idea of experienced drivers in F1, basically because they seem to me more interesting, with more to say… but it’s just an opinion like any other…

(Unfortunately I haven’t read all the comments, so I’m not sure I’m repeating something that someone else already wrote… if it’s so, sorry about that.)


James – Based on the high hurdle set this seems to me to mark the end for pay drivers.

Do you think this is what the FIA is really after? Not sure that Verstappen to Toro Rosso is really negative for the sport whereas pay drivers are. I wonder how Sauber, Lotus will react.


Verstappen would get to F1 still, of course, just not as quickly. Same as Alonso and Raikkonen would have got there but not in so few steps

As for the pay driver thing, you can stay in GP2 for four years with bags of backing and put a run together of results so you qualify, so that does’t close the pay driver thing as far as I can see


Another question I haven’t seen asked anywhere is what does this mean for Toro Rosso?

Does Red Bull continue with the junior team now it requires more experienced drivers. What’s the advantage for them in running it as they will potentially have to fund additional seasons in the qualifying categories.


James, forgive the question if the assumption behind it is wrong, but I am hoping you will confirm that your site remains unbiased, and does not favour or promote one particular driver over all the others. Or has there been a change of policy on this matter?

Best wishes from D. H.


No change. We have no allegiance to, or preference for, any driver


Wow. The first bad-boy list for ages that doesn’t contain Lewis Hamilton.


Declan, you write

> Well all the drivers named have, and are perfectly entitled to, a superlicence to race in F1


So could you please tell me, because no one else has (including JA, though he acknowledged the puzzle back whenever) though I keep on asking, how Max Verstappen has achieved the requirement of Article 5.1.1 (of Appendix L, Chapter I), and therefore Article 4.3, along the way to getting his superlicence?

Much obliged!


(Note that 5.1.1 and 4.3 have been present and unchanged for many years past and are still due to be with us all the way through 2016 in rules published to date. Note also that the old and current through 2015 Article 5.1.2 has always had to be met “also” not “instead of” — I’ve yet to find any wriggle room in published regulations.)


Why is Seb wearing lip stick?


I think this is the FIA trying to ensure that if pay drivers are going to continue to come into the sport that they at least have something other than strong financial backing to justify themselves. Big OOPS on excluding Formula E, unless they are not sure it will last or it is a really seen as a not good enough for F1 series.


The problem is that there are no objective criteria, like power or laptimes, the FIA arbitrarily chooses the series and the points they’re each worth. So FIA can sink a series they think competes with any of theirs and promote their own, as we see straight away with WSR and F2. It’s obviously corrupt and anti-competitive.

So I don’t think it’s true that driver suitability is their only motivation, nor that there have been few dissenters, As you mention yourself James Brundle’s already tweeted than both he and a certain AYRTON SENNA would have been excluded under these rules.

In any case the governance should be discriminating on safety grounds, not achievement. Speed and talent should be for teams to decide. FIA should steward junior series to the same standards as F1, give out penalty points liberally, and use those and experience as the criteria for a superlicence.


I fully agree on the age and 2 years experience requirement.

What is puzzling is the WSR points to get in F1, since in truth you’d have to be working for Audi or Toyota to get the only title or podium shot, while WSR success is wholly dependent on the machinery at hand, plus the races always feature drivers working in teams.

Some drivers like Brundle and Kristenssen were really good, but upon the new points system, drivers like JL Schlesser and Baldi would have theoretically favorites to step in F1 by being Group C champion.

The drawback is that some very talented but underfunded drivers will have a much harder time climbing the ladder if they don’t have great equipment in the lower classes. Maybe the rationale is that the FIA wants to promote the second tier series.

One element I cannot conceive JA is how come a Nascar Sprint champion (a championship is way harder to earn than a WSR or Indycar title) cannot get a F1 license on the new system ?


Schumacher wouldn’t have been eligible for Spa 1991 in the Jordan…


Nor would he have been eligible for his comeback with mercedes, even though he was previously a multiple WDC and multiple world record holder (I read that elsewhere).


These regulations are a mistake. This is typical over-reaction from the FIA which we have seen countless times over the last 5 or so years. Sure, make the age limit 18 and you have to have a road car drivers licence. But this is too complicated, too political, too nanny-state! A real shame I believe.


this is like the “new points system imposed on past championships”.

All very good theoretically, but if this licence system existed in the past, those drivers would have chosen their career path differently to compensate and I would assume the current grid would be more or less the same.

Similarly, I assume Red Bull would have sent their youngsters through the most appropriate series.


I think those drivers who came through the British F3 championship would have earned more points. If that championship still existed, I don’t think the FIA would have lumped it in with all the other national F3 series in their points table. It has surely produced more F1 champions than any other series.


So Alonso wouldn’t have made the cut but Maldonado would? Hmmmm…


I’m still not sure why F1 have to change the superlicence rules. In other sports, if a 17-year old makes the top flight, the sport would welcome and celebrate a rare talent, in F1, rules are passed to block talent from coming into the sport. The team bosses aren’t stupid, they wouldn’t bring in drivers if they think they’re not going to do a reasonable job.

But anyway…

Maybe the young guys will make really rookie errors or they’ll light up the time sheets in Australia, it’ll be interesting to find out either way.


Indycar behind GP2, don’t make me laugh. With respect to GP2, Indycar should almost be on a par with F1 due to the greater emphasis on safe overtaking and control of backmarkers.


Love the retrospective analysis; thanks James.

I think Ayrton Senna would have only accrued ten points by his 1984 debut in F1, with a British F3 Championship.

And of course, Marton Brundle a few points less than Ayrton!


I think Schumi had about 10 points also. A F3 championship win in 1989 (according to wikipedia). I stand corrected as usual. Webbers tally Pre F1 doesnt look too impressive either.


While its tempting to do this sort of analysis, its comparing apples to oranges really. The cars were completely different when Alonso, Kimi, Jenson and Vettel made their debuts. Add the fact that they had unlimited testing, there were opportunities to gain mileage (Kimi was an outlier)

The reason so many world champions are figuring in the list is because the cars were a lot harder to drive back then so natural selection took hold and only the best made it irrespective of age. Make the cars as quick as they were in the early 2000’s and we’ll see good drivers make it, irrespective of age and superlicense qualifications. No more Maldonados and (early career) Grosjeans.


Great insight thanks James and it just typifies the extremes and reactionary thinking of the FIA in response to almost every situation. INMHO There are just 3 basic things an F1 driver should have to be able to drive.

1. Age/ Physical development

2. More than 2 years racing experience in a competitive formula

3. Prove the ability to race in F1

The only real test is to put them in an F1 car and see how well they go. I read somewhere that when most rookies drive an F1 car they are measured to within a certain gap of their test drivers. The second day they are expected to be closer. When Raikkonen tested for Sauber he was as fast as the test driver the first time round and almost a full second faster the next day.

There are so many engineers guiding you in F1 that a team can pretty quickly work out who is mature enough and sensible enough to race once the basic criteria are met. Besides teams wont be risking so much time and effort for the 3rd or 4th best choices in team.

If these new rules come to pass & we risk losing the very best talents in F1 and wr might as well watch other formulas to see who are those talents that we are missing.


I totally agree with your 3 point criteria. Simple yet fair.

Who was the Sauber driver that Kimi was 1 second faster than? Just curious.


It was Pedro Diniz who was Saubers driver for 2000 with Mika Salo.


P.S. I think you need to be old enough to drive on the road for at least 1 year unaided ,before you can be deemed “old enough”- this teaches you how to interact / react with others within the same rules.

In most cases that makes you 18.I think this is important too from a legality pov. As you are responsible legally if you do something that is considered illegal.


@kenneth chapman- If you want to play the school kids game of “no your wrong..” Thats fine it seems you just like responding that way when making “revenge posts” for the many times you’ve made wrong calls rather than understanding the broader context of what people are saying. There is no wrong or right here everyone is entitled to an opinion-and my opinion is just highlighting one of many facets of what the FIA may consider as being a reasonable age to apply for a super license. Myself & the many people you mentioned and many others Ive seen elsewhere have drawn parallels with the age for driving whether they agreed with it or not – they accepted as a reasonable parallel for the reasons I already mentioned- yet you seek to ridicule rather than realise this. Its ok for you to disagree- but sorry you dont have an opinion you just want to accept what is in place and leave it that- but even a half intelligent person would understand that there are reasons why the FIA are looking at in the first place!.. I hope Max Verstappen succeeds I dont want to see any young person fail.. However I would prefer to see someone whos succeeded in other formulas get recognised first. Sainz Jnr who has done just this, is 20 and just won the Formula Renault series still had to wait for Kvyat to move up whilst MV has not won any significant category and was already signed long before.. There are always political/ money / who knows who in F1 that take precedence over other considerations- youd be daft to not recognise that… but sadly this is just one of many things you just dont see & one of the many things being looked at by the EU Commission.

kenneth chapman

@ elie….sorry but you’re still wrong. a road driving license has absolutely no relevance whatsoever when considering whether or not a driver should get a superlicense. as for the ‘driver safety’ campaigns being used by drivers as ‘role models’ is quite silly really.

what i am saying is quite simple. people that know what they are doing, actual F1 people like jos verstappen/marko/horner/tost and probably many others have no doubts as to the drivers capability otherwise he wouldn’t be there. all this tosh about road licenses mean absolutely zip. he will either be successful or he will fall by the wayside. i certainly don’t know and i won’t moralise on the possibilities. only time will tell and when he has half a season under his belt then, and only then, can we judge whether he has what it takes for an F1 future.

in saying that i am certain that there will be a few people here just waiting to see the kid mess up in order to justify their calling him out.


I will go one step further now and say there is a road relevance with F1 drivers taking part in road safety campaigns and being role models, so what better way than being road licensed before being F1 licensed.

For those responses not/yet posted -your comments are noted and rejected on their very basis because racers pick up their bad habbits from racing in those lower categories at early ages and have not yet learned to “respect” a greater diversity of drivers as on public roads. this interaction is far greater and far more onerous to every day life that instills a greater maturity in everyone- not just a select few. This is perhaps why we see such great racers with bad habbits come into F1 – their bred to win and nothing else in lower categories, not even shaving yet and come into F1 doing a Maldonado or dare I say a Grosjean- sure they get better but look how long it takes.

I just think the measures recommended have gone too far, too clinical. There needs to be a balance – theres that word again F1 swinging up & down like a yo,yo!. I commend James on bringing this important subject to the fore and hopefully someone reads the measured and considered responses.

kenneth chapman

@ elie…that proposition is totally wrong. interacting with other road users has absolutely no bearing on how well a driver can perform. in most cases these chaps have been ‘interacting’ with other race drivers in different categories under strict rules and regulations on different tracks for years! setting an arbitrary age limit is simply wrong for the aforementioned reasons.


I was very definitive against Max V entering F1 now.

But many, many participants on this site will likely agree that with the benefit of hindsight, as presented more than adequately, by Declan, here, these new rules are NOT even close to being reasonable.

My only objection is the age issue. I don;t care how mature somebody is for their age, the decision to participate in a sport which elevates your likelihood of be maimed and/or dying, as a fact of life, simply requires more life experience.

Let us not forget the horrendous tragedies of the past year.

This ‘sport’ has traditionally been one of takes sometimes inspired risks, and reaping the rewards. If there is failure, as long as it is not sacrificing a child, that’s the way it goes.

Some age of majority (I say 18) should be the only show-stopping requirement.

These new rules are ridiculous.


If you make it harder you make it better. This great for the smaller categories and is better for everyone. You can say that these drivers on the list wouldn’t have been in formula1 but cream should rise to the top. Now its all about who has the most money. Also now there is very little testing in formula 1 these days so you can’t do a Lewis Hamilton.


@ paddyism….your first sentence reminds me of an ad for viagra!

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